Chechem Hah – Maya pottery cave

Atop the Vaca Plateau in the Cayo District, rests a small subsistence farm belonging to the Moralez family, who only recently discovered a cave on their property while hunting with their dogs. You can imagine their amazement when, upon later exploring the cave, they found over sixty intact Maya jars and other pottery that have remained undisturbed since the cave was abandoned around 900 A.D.

This interesting day’s outing begins in Benque Viejo del Carmen, where you turn southward on the locally named “Hydro,” or “Arenal Road.” This well-maintained dirt road, which is not shown on some maps, would eventually take you to the Mollejon Hydro Project, but, about ten miles from Benque, you will see a small sign pointing down a narrow drive (4WD recommended), indicating the direction of Chechem Hah.

After parking our vehicle, we walked down a few meters to the main camp area. This short path takes you across a clear stream, which, if you follow it about 30 feet, makes a straight, 200 foot drop on its way to the Macal River below…not a view for the faint of heart. This is Vaca Falls. We’ve been told there is a great swimming hole down there, but those who go down, must also walk back up! After a short briefing by the local guide, we were equipped with flashlights and led up a rather steep trail through the jungle, on a 20-30 minute hike to the mouth of the cave. We’re no spring chickens, but even the younger folk in our group got a good workout on this journey.

The small, unimpressive opening of this cave, discovered in November of 1989, divulges little of what lies beyond. As you step into the cool darkness, the cave opens up to reveal tall, narrow rooms, littered with pottery, and winding limestone passageways. There are many overhead ledges, which are viewed by climbing handmade ladders and standing at the top, admiring the cluster of pottery displayed there. While the Department of Archaeology (DoA) has not yet conducted an official excavation, to determine the actual date of the pottery and the purpose for which the cave was used, it is estimated that many of the pots date back as early as 200 BC. It is possible that the cave was used as a grain storage depot, but it may also have been used for ceremonial purposes. While some of the pottery has been moved to the “Vault” at the DoA in Belmopan, a special arrangement has been made to allow the majority of it to remain in the cave, exactly as it was found.
The tour of the cave lasts an hour or so, and involves several ladders and even some modified “rope-climbing” through narrow corridors, as you explore the many levels and channels. At the end of the cave is a large, high-ceilinged room, where it is believed that sacrificial ceremonies were held.

From this point, we retraced our steps back to the daylight for the quick, downhill journey to the main camp, where cool shade and refreshing cold drinks awaited us. Belize is known for its adventures and those who make the trip to Chechem Hah will not be disappointed.

Morning cave tours start at 9:00 and 10:30 a.m., and afternoon tours start at 1:00 and 2:30 p.m. Prices are: (Belize Dollars) $50 per group of 1-3, and $12 per additional person. Flashlights rent for $6.

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