The next day, we woke up and got ready for our cave tubing trip. Having no idea what this would entail, I put on a bathing suit and a pair of loose cargo capris. We had a quick breakfast of eggs & bacon. Then Carlos from Mayawalk came to pick us up. Also in the van were Jessica and her mom. Jessica is a book editor from NYC and her mom is from New Jersey. They go on mom & daughter vacations every year, and I thought that was a great idea. If I couldn't travel with Alli, I'd love to travel with my mom. At any rate, Jessica used to date someone who went to high school with Alli in NJ! It was all very strangely connected. Jessica had also recently returned from Turkey, as had we.
I have changed into little sandals with a slight heel - the closest thing I have to real sandals. Alli is wearing hiking boots with her shorts & bathing suit top. Neither of our footwear was appropriate. I was wishing I had splurged on those Tevas before we left.
First you walk up and down hill through the forest. Carlos tells us stories about the plants and the wildlife, and I even eat some of the native plants. In particular, I will never forget the taste of a plant they call "Jack-Ass Bitter". For all its bitterness, it does prevent malaria and I figured that I might as well cover all my bases.
Finally, we arrive at the cave and get into the water. I gingerly lower myself into the cool water of the cave in my tube. I'm afraid I'll be swept away by the current - but that doesn't happen. I'm wearing my sandals and Alli has tied her muddy hiking boots around her neck. Later on, when Carlos mentions the wonderful smell of the forest, all Alli can smell is her boots. At any rate, we have little elastic headlamps on and definitely not the huge lights we had for the canoe trip.
In the first cave, I am very afraid. It is a low cave and becomes completely dark with exception of our lights, and I'm afraid I'll be swept off into the earth. We have to paddle with our hands and I'm getting behind. At one point, Carlos even has to hold my hand.
By the second cave, I figure out that I was sitting wrong in the tube. I shift my body weight and suddenly it all gets a lot easier. I'm getting more confident and starting to appreciate the view - particularly as we float towards the entrance and sunlight hits us again.
In some parts, you do have to get out of the tube because the water becomes too shallow. Here, we hold hands in a line to ensure that no one falls. Jessica's mom has my wrist held so hard that it doesn't feel right for a week.
Did I mention the little fishies that nibble on your butt?
For lunch, we disembark and eat a packed lunch on the side of the river. The river comes out of a cave here and enters another, and it reminds me of a pirate movie - of a treasure island with secret caves. This could be a pirate hangout. The vegetation is just so lush and the water turns turquoise and green. We sit on the pebbled beach and soak up the sunlight, while we watch another small group of tubers continue through. Carlos tells us that he likes to take his time on these tours, and well, isn't that the point? He clearly loves his job.
In the next cave, Carlos warns us that something is coming up. We can hear rushing water and I thought perhaps we're going to go over a waterfall. Carlos can tell that I'm scared, so in Spanish he whispers to me "No hay nada." He has hooked onto my tube with his feet and this comforts me.
There was a waterfall, but we simply pass by it. Not even pass under it as you would in one of those theme-park water rides (which I suddenly realize are based on experiences like this!). Just pass by it - and then you see the most beautiful cave entrance of all. We turn out our lights and just float by it, watching the ghostly light sift through the canopy. I tell myself I will remember this moment forever, and I think that I will.
I do not remember much of the next cave, but eventually we do come out of the cave sand just tube on the river. We're all hooked to each other now in one long line, but Jessica's mom keeps flailing off. At one point, she has to be saved by some spear-fishermen that were diving in the cave for catfish.
At this point, we were about to encounter rapids and we had to follow instructions carefully. Paddle forwards, paddle backwards, paddle right, paddle left. Nothing too bad but you can get swept right into a rock. I did - feet first thankfully. Also, sometimes you have to lift up your butt or it gets scraped on a log or a rock. All in all, it was pretty exciting and my confidence has been built up over the course of the trip. It's also an amazing workout for the upper body.
At the end of the day, this was the best excursion of the entire trip.