. We each had a candle to light our way, though I had that trusty (and getting cooler by the minute) headlamp that Mom had bought me for Christmas. The caves themselves were impressive, but the real attraction of the tour was what happened afterwards. At around 6:30 pm every day, right as the sun is setting, the thousands of bats living in that cave start to come out. So at 6:30 the seven of us went the mouth of the cave and sat and watched. At first you could only hear them, but then our guide turned his headlamp onto the main cavern. There were shadows everywhere, thousands and and thousands of little bat shadows flying around and filling the enter area. As people took pictures, their flashes lighting up the cave like lightning, we were treated to little freezeframes of the chaos in front of us, and around us. I could feel the air moving around me as some of the flying critters whized past my face. It was truly amazing, unlike anything I have ever seen or felt before.
That night there was a massive BBQ and party at El Retiro, one of those special hostels where people tend to always get stuck. Amoung its other more normal features, there was a giant jenga game, swings instead of chairs at the bar, eco-friendly toilets, and a constant party lit only by candles stuck in wine bottles. Needless to say it was a fun night...that quickly became morning. And I didnīt exactly make it to the tour for Semuc Champey, the famous torquois-colored pools that were my main reason for ending up at El Retiro in the first place
. Instead I slept and ate and tubed down the river with a beer and my new friends from the night before - Graham, Harry, Lauren, and Martin. Afterall, this was my vacation. The pools would still be there the next day.
And they were. And they were beautiful. But it was my second cave adventure that was part of the tour before we went to the pools that was really the highlight for me. Stylishly clad in my swim suit, zip-off shorts, and keds borrowed at the entrance of the cave, my headlamp was the coolest part of my outfit. But as we descended into the cave, I didnīt care. We had to swim the first part of the way, most people one-handed because the other hand was meant to be holding up the candle to light the way. Once again, thank god for my headlamp. When we got to dry, well drier, land, we could see our breath and most of the candles had gone out. Harry had actually broken his in half in the excitement of the first swim. Our guide (not the fifteen year old this time) relit all the candles and I gave Harry my extra, and off we went again. In the couple of hours we were in those caves, we climbed up rickety ladders, jumped off ledges, rope climbed up a waterfall, and dropped through holes filled with rushing water. We saw massive stalagtites and stalagmites, more bats, and spiders. We swam, scrambled, and waded through freezing water. All of us came out cold, dirty, scraped up, and deliriously happy. And after a little tube ride down some rapids, we jumped off a bridge 8 meters high. It was definitely a day of adrenaline rushes!
My last night at El Retiro, sitting on a bar swing, sipping Cuba Libres, and discussing everything from Beowolf to phalic monuments around the world, I didnīt want to leave.
I had missed this these past six months. I missed the backpacker scene, meeting new people, having conversations that donīt revolve around lesson plans and group chisme. I missed being about to fully express myself in my own language. I liked the anonymity of this sort of travel, the freedom of being just another person passing through, not Teacher. I wanted to stay and be lazy and have random conversations and share travel stories. And I loved those bar swings!
But the morning came and it was time to leave. After all, I still had another country to explore, new adventures to experience, and leaving is part of life on the road. Half of the friends I had met my first night had already left. And so I got on the bus...
My first day in Lanquin a bat flew into my hair. Yes, a bat. Another one made friends with my back. And I would like to say that I was calm through all of this, merely saying, "Hey guys, a bat just ran into me. Isnīt that interesting?" And I would like to think that someone might actually believe me when I said this, at least for a couple of seconds. But alas, no, as the bat beat its little wings against my back, I was jumping up and down screaming. The echoes in the cave were amazing. And then we get to the truth of the matter. Yes, I was in a cave. Yes, I was sitting at the mouth of a cave actually waiting for the bats to come out...but that still doesnīt mean I was prepared for one to actually touch me! But I must admit, it was pretty phenomenal...not the bat touching me, what I saw in that cave. I had just been on a tour through the Grutas de Lanquin with a group of about seven other people. Our guide was a fifteen year old Guatemalan boy who liked to say my name a lot and call me things like "gringita" and "chica" though Iīm ten years older