Nathan Krishnamurthy WG’15 is Wharton’s latest and most famous shark attack survivor; his recent snorkeling escapades minting him new MBA-lebrity status and earned him bad-ass Belizean scars for life, forever attesting to how seriously he takes his leisure time.
Although Nate bit off the greatest amount of notoriety from our Belize Fall Break trip, fellow trekkers Anant Gupta WG’15 and John Withers WG’15, and I shared in the weekend adventures. Aside from learning to never trust a shark promising to nibble just the tip, our trip was a bizarre mix of absurdity and danger as we navigated Shark Tank: Belize.
Our first venture to the Xuantunich ruins revealed the benefits off-peak travel as we explored the gorgeous array of 100ft Mayan structures with nary a tourist to ruin our dozens of exotic selfies. On the way out, we chatted up two heavily-armed and bored Belizeans in military fatigues. They assured our safety, telling us they were there to protect against Guatemalan tourist-robbers, two of whom they had shot a few days ago. When Withers identified their rifle safeties were off, they laughed, re-set their safeties, and reassured our safety. Our adventure had begun.
Tikal’s Mayan City was even grander than Xuantunich. We learned how to embrace nature and dodge the shit-bombing howler monkeys, famously mocking their soggy, bulls-eyed targets with their dominant, triumphant screeching. Personally, my cultural outreach for the day consisted of challenging the local kids hollering ‘Gangnam Style’ at me and delivering the obligatory ethnic dance-off smackdown over a river of their tears. In a cultural way, I suppose I was a howler monkey too.
Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) was the crown jewel. Enroute to ATM, our guide effortlessly macheted through flora and fauna to demonstrate the jungle’s resources – a sunburnt salve here, a hangover cure there, chewing gum It was a pharmaceutical goldmine. Still, the jungle held perils – jumping vipers. Because our guide noted the nearest hospital was an hour away and would have about three before the venom ended us, we gladly let machete man lead ahead.
As we Indiana Jones-ed through the jungle, forded rivers, and arrived at ATM, we hopped a few stones and swam 50ft into the cave to begin spelunking. As Withers jumped into the river last, we heard two slow explosions. Seconds later, a barrage of dirt, rocks, and a gigantic tree trunk crash landed a few feet behind him. Stunned, soiled, but luckily unhurt, we marched on. Because locals feared cave spirits, many 1500 year old artifacts and skeletons were remarkably well-preserved. Our guide embraced our whole, cheat-death kind-of-thing and had us swim through tight, pitch-black river passages and took us to remote cave areas far beyond the cave’s safety ropes. ATM was by far my favorite.
Navigating San Ignacio & San Pedro, we gorged ourselves on endlessly delicious iterations of tortillas, refried beans, rice, and random meats with diabetes-inducing cocktails with little umbrellas. For dessert, we celebrated Anant’s birthday at every restaurant we ate at. One evening, a friendly-ish local invited us for drinks with his friends. When we changed plans, he tried to shake us down for his hospitality. As requests turned to threats, we laughed, arranged to meet later, and bailed into a cab, where the cabbie confirmed he was a violent, recently-released ex-con drug dealer. Our Belizean adventure was truly everywhere.
To conclude, we spent a day snorkeling off San Pedro’s waters. As our boat reached Shark Alley, we were repeatedly reassured that these sharks were safe, but one shark didn’t get the memo. As we happily jumped into a scrum of 20-30 nurse sharks, within seconds, Nathan’s succulent hands attracted a nearby shark who wanted a taste. With his arm halfway inside the shark’s thrashing jaws, Nathan kept his cool, wrestled his bleeding arm back, and swiftly exited the waters to avoid a feeding frenzy. Our guide called shore and found the one available doctor on the island – a gynecologist. At the good doctor’s house, Withers played nurse, and the duo sewed up Nate just in time for Anant’s final birthday celebration.
Belize offered a rich, occasionally harrowing Fall Break alternative to the pleasures of other Carribean beach destinations and the safety of the US legal and criminal justice system. Embracing our journey, we sampled the local fare, were sampled by the local fare, and returned from the adventure we sought, mostly intact.