We waded in knee-deep water for a while, then the cave seemed to expand and the ceiling was suddenly 40 feet above us. The river had done a masterful job of carving its way through the cracks in the rock over the millennia. In this expanded section, we stepped around small pools of water and slide down flumes of slick rocks a few feet at a time.
The cave got narrower and the water deeper. If you turned off the flashlight or moved out of the path of the light, the darkness was absolute. I directed the flashlight to light the way for Lina ahead of me. The person behind me did the same.
Jesus started describing some of the inhabitants of the cave. Most notably the guácharo birds that roost in the cave walls near the ceiling.
We slid down an especially well-designed rock flume, and as people began to mill about, Jesus directed the flashlight beams at the ceiling. Unseen birds suddenly came to life. A number of them screeched in protest. A couple of the cavers that hadn’t followed the flashlight beams jumped in surprise. They laughed nervously upon discovering it was only some fat, roosting bird and not a menacing cave monster.
Jesus continued talking, his tone serious now. Not close enough to understand, I saw him leap backwards and disappear. A quiet splash could be heard over the agitated guácharo.
The nearest cavers stepped forward and peered down. They didn’t look too satisfied. One person jumped. Then another.
When it was my turn, I peered down into a sea of lights. As my eyes adjusted, I saw a small pool about 12 feet below. So this is how it ends? My body shattered by some unseen rock just below the surface. Brilliant.
I jumped. It was surprisingly deep, my feet did not touch bottom.
Once everyone was treading water, we swam towards a fast moving chute of water. It projected us down a few yards into a smaller and narrower pool.
As I waited, I flicked the light around and noticed an especially dark crevice in the wall. A trained beam into the depths of the gaping hole, revealed a large, angry crab, orange pincers ready. It dawned on me that this whole time I had been sharing these dark pools with all his fighting buddies. I suddenly felt an urge to get out of there, sure there was a fleet of surly crabs aiming for my tender parts at that very moment.
The group continued down the descending river, with nary a report of crustacean attack. Relieved, I zig zagged steadily from deep pool to deep pool, never pausing long enough for the crabs to hone in on my location.
We journeyed in silence for a time. The dark gradually lost its absoluteness, and a faint glow gained ground. There were no other huge leaps, but we did have to repeatedly sluice and slide down rocks with short bursts of momentum.
A final large pool came into full view. Beyond it was the exit with such light you could see the ceiling 30 feet above and a lip of a cliff that was the only way to leave.
The entrance was below the edge of the cliff, so you could not see out. Only the light came in. Maybe another leap of faith was in order.
Someone must have felt sorry for us, because they had built a chain/rope ladder against the cliff face. Peering over the edge, you could be forgiven for finding little reason to be impressed with their craftmanship. It was a solid 20 feet down. Next to a roaring waterfall. Jumping was not an option, as one sharp boulder and her family occupied the exact spot your flailing body would strike.
The Rio Claro was directly below us. Swift and gorged and not at all merciful. The strategy was to climb down the ladder, hop across a fierce channel a few feet wide and grab the sharp boulder. From there, two permanent ropes stretched across the width of the river, which you would use to pull yourself across, while the current did everything in its power to take you from this world.
Jesus said a few things and headed down the ladder. I was among the first to go down, Lina ahead of me. As I fought the wet, awkward rope ladder for the reward of staying on it, I intensely studied the cliff face and didn’t look down. Hopping across the channel was difficult only because everything was wet. Reaching the bottom you alighted upon another slick rock that did not want you there.
The two people ahead were already putting the rope crossing to the test, while Lina and I made it to the boulder. Just behind us, a women slipped while transferring from ladder to wet rock and plunged into the river. Without thinking, I slide into the current and grabbed her by the life vest and pulled her back. One less victim to mourn.
We crossed with little fanfare, although exhausted when crawling up the sandy beach. Other people were swimming and milling about, oblivious to the dangers we had faced and the fact we had just survived a journey to the center of the Earth (well, at least underground through a tunnel carved out by a river).
Alex was waiting on the river bank, and after a short debrief, he affirmed his decision to stay behind. Probably wise, as he would have made excellent crab bait.
We hiked back to the main lodge, and finding nothing of note happening, we drove to a nearby restaurant on the main road.
After devouring a healthy-sized repast of bandeja paisa, we made it to our cabin and got comfortable (me with a hammock) for the evening.
- River rafting
- Pablo Escobar’s resort and dinosaur park (Hacienda Nápoles)