Originally published in the Miami News-Record on October 18, 2015
Back at camp, Lana praised me for passing my free cardiac stress test, but kept a close eye on me. I know she loves me and all, but really didn’t want to do CPR on her friend. I drank a bottle or seven of water, rested my shaking legs, and was excited to hear Tour-guide Lumberjack Barbie say that the cave entrance was “only a minute” from our camp. I was fairly certain I could handle a minute of walking. As we started for the cave I tried to ignore the nagging voice in the back of my head that kept saying, “This path is preeeeeetty steep which means coming back up later is going to finish you off where the other hike didn’t. You better call your mom and tell her you love her.”
At the entrance, the guide warned us about low hanging ceilings, fluttering bats, and slippery surfaces. He cautioned us to not touch anything with our hands and to stay on the path because some of the critters living in there were so small we could knock out an entire community with the toe of our shoe. “Horton Hears a Who” flashed in my head. He said if there were hand rails we could touch those, but to be very careful to not bump other surfaces with any body parts. I vowed to lovingly make those hand rails my new best friends.
And thus we began our descent. Our friends’ youngest son had been very nervous and scared to go in the cave and they had been praying God would help him overcome that fear in the weeks prior to the trip. I know in my heart of hearts that God conveniently placed some salamanders in the stairwell as we entered. Ezra was fascinated with those scurrying boogers and we were 20-some feet underground before the little guy knew it. I, on the other hand, didn’t do so well on the trip down. I am terrified of heights and the stairs were steep. In order to keep from breaking my hip, I had to look down at the steps. Looking down made me light-headed and I lost my balance and bumped the wall….and felt something wiggle. I called down the stairs. “Uhm…..Nathan? I’m pretty sure I just killed a salamander with my butt.” Paul whacked me on the shoulder and shushed me. He said didn’t want me banished before we even got in.
We went 170 feet below the ground that afternoon. We saw all the usual cave offerings: stalactites, stalagmites, bats, lizards, frogs, unknown drippy things and wiggly things. I saw this cool looking stuff on the handrail and hollered to the guide to see what it was. “Oh that? It’s a fungus growing in some guano.” It was then that I shone my flashlight further onto the handrail and realized that the rail that I had been clinging to was pretty much covered in bat poo. So. Much. Bat. Poo.
Sam entertained us all with random Batman quotes and declarations to save Gotham from the Joker. Everyone over 5’ tall whacked their heads. For once Kady and I felt pretty fortunate that we’re short. We saw a pile of guano that had to have been 12-feet tall. I heard the folks at the head of the line say, “We’re almost there!” and I assumed that “there” meant “exit”. No, “there” meant “as far as we can go and now we have to turn around and walk all the way back out.” It was a half mile in and the same half mile out, but it took a quarter of the time to get out than it did to get in.
It was a really cool experience and I’m glad we did it. I’d even do it again someday. But I’m hoping that between now and the next time, that special cave snail pays for a golf cart and paved pathway to and from the cave. Nature schmature.