The River Cave Expedition is the first of series of expeditions we went on together with our friends, the Friendship crew and the Czechs, on the north and west shores of Lago Izabal, Guatemala’s biggest lake where we sailed together for two weeks.
The members of the River Cave Expedition include four adults, one teenager, and four kids. Josef and Katchka 4 (s/v Blizzard); Daeli, Noial 10, and Lovam 5 (s/v Friendship); and Ivo, Mira, Viktor 16, and Maya 10 (s/v Fata Morgana). Total of nine people.
We start at the Agua Caliente waterfall going up river. There is no other path but the riverbed. In the beginning it is wide and shallow surrounded by lush jungle vegetation. But soon it gets narrower and the water becomes deeper and faster, cutting a deep canyon through the mountain’s grey rocks. An awe-inspiring view.
Some places are difficult and dangerous to pass; we help the younger kids climb big boulders and swim across deeper waters. Josef has to carry Katchka most of the time. At least, she is not complaining. Lovam accepts help very rarely and only if he truly needs it trying to keep up with Maya and Noial who are jumping from rock to rock with great ease leading the expedition.
After a while we get to a small pool of green water where the river suddenly stops, turns towards the eastern wall of the canyon and enters a dark cave. We follow. The water inside the cave is still, deep, and freezing cold. This is the place where the river sleeps. We only have two submergible flashlights for nine people, so we keep one in front and one in back of the group. We swim in the dark cold water getting deeper and deeper into the cave until we don’t see light from the entrance any longer. The world becomes black. Colors never existed here; the sun has no memory of this place. We are blind.
It is a completely new and bizarre feeling swimming in a cave, in total darkness. We hear the tiny sounds of bats above our heads. We are trying to hold on to the wet slippery rock-walls covered with guano. Everything is mysterious. Who knows what thing without eyes is lurking in the waters beneath. Who knows what thing without soul is listening from the cave’s ceiling some 30-40 feet above our heads.
Only if you abandon yourself to the cave and its secrets you will be able to feel and enjoy it. Fear should not enter the river-cave.
Everyone is silent. At places there are big rocks we have to go over one by one helping each other. I am expecting some of the kids to start panicking in the darkness, but it seems they all are truly enjoying the ride, even Katchka, she is so brave! Even Viktor told me later this was his favorite of all expeditions so far.
The silence is filled with the muffled sound of water booming in the distance: an underground waterfall. The roar trapped in the cavern gets louder as we go further and soon we cannot hear each other anymore. We now feel the strong current against us. The waterfall is about fifteen feet tall and the only way to continue would be to climb over it. So we turn back. We now have to go to the beginning, the same way we came.
Exiting the cave is a happy moment. I think of Plato’s caveman and his amazement at the outside world. The trees, the river, the clouds, the rocks. We look at each other and we lough. Wow, what an experience!