From the four-book collection of
My Costa Rica Nightmares
By Dusty Pilot
All material contained herein is Copyright Dusty Pilot 2015-2016.
Excerpt From Part 1: The Picnic
CAVES HAVE ALWAYS fascinated me. When I was a child, summer vacations were spent traveling around the country with my parents, and every time we happened upon a cave we stopped and visited. It had always been my dream to discover a cave one day; a cave of my own, to wander through without guides, walkways or unnatural light. My dream not only became a reality while I was living in Costa Rica but also one of my worst nightmares.
* * *
Juan, wiping sweat from his face, said with a broad grin and one raised eyebrow, “Time to get out and hike.” We unpacked our gear and wound our way down a narrow, zigzagging path flanked by exotic tropical plants which led us to the picturesque Damas River. My friends couldn’t resist taking a dip in the deep blue pool in the river’s elbow.
Not being a swimmer and having a fear of deep water I perched on a large, smooth rock at the river’s edge and watched my friends playing like dolphins —splashing, bobbing and swimming.
“Come on in, Dusty,” they shouted.
It was a hot muggy day, and the water looked inviting. Feeling light-hearted, I laughed and said to myself, what the heck? I slid off the rock, flung my flip-flops toward a cloudless sky and began wading through the water in their direction. As the water became deeper I felt a strong current against my legs, causing my brave attempt to join them vanish.
I stopped and yelled to Gabriela, Juan, and Rico I would rather go exploring up the river in the opposite direction. This was because I could see the water wasn’t as deep upstream.
“Tengacuidado, muchasserpientespeligrosas y caimanesaqui.” (Be careful, many dangerous snakes and alligators here.) Rico shouted, in a way that made it difficult to determine if he were kidding or not.
Oh, well. I’d rather die from a poisonous bite or be eaten by an alligator than drown, no matter how cool, blue and crystal clear the water is, I chuckled to myself as I began walking upstream, staying close to the foliage-covered bank.
Not long afterward I came to a clearing where I spotted a variegated philodendron plant atop a small hill. Unable to resist taking a cutting from the plant to add to my “rainforest” garden, I scrambled up the slope. When I reached the top I saw another hill, very steep, with what appeared to be an opening in the earth halfway up its side.
My heart pounded. After a moment, I sprinted toward the opening as fast as I could, slipping and sliding on the stones and loose earth. It seemed to take forever to get there. Before I made it all the way up the slope I began slowing, panting and trying to catch my breath, all the while hoping what I was headed for was what I thought it was; an opening in the earth leading to a cave. If it did that would turn my lifelong dream into reality.
As I drew closer I could see there was an opening in the vegetation. I approached the entrance slowly, in awe. Then, in my excitement of having found a cave, I threw all caution to the wind, sat on the ground and scooted my way inside. Suddenly I was sliding down a slippery slope of moss-covered rocks which were causing me to bounce around like a ping-pong ball. It seemed an eternity before I finally hit solid ground.
What have I gotten myself into? I wondered as I lay there laughing at myself. Whatever it was. it couldn’t be as bad as all the things Rico warned me about. I knew I would be bruised, but I was still alive to explore the cave. My own cave! Unbelievable.
After a few minutes waiting for my eyes to adjust to the darkness, I looked around and found myself inside an enormous chamber with what appeared to be huge stalactites dangling from the ceiling, illuminated by the dim light filtering in from the mouth of the cave. My dream came true right then and there.
On hands and knees, I scrambled to the mouth of the cave and raced back to my friends with the exciting news. Much to my disappointment and disbelief, they were not impressed. Worse still, they pooh-poohed the idea of exploring the cave.
* * *
They had no idea the disappointment I felt by their lack of enthusiasm for going inside the cave. I sat down to think, dangling my aching feet in the river’s comforting water.
Okay, tomorrow is another day, I told myself while planning the details of my adventure. Tomorrow I’ll explore a small portion of the cave myself and return another day to do a full exploration with other friends willing to join me.
Yes, having a flashlight was a good idea and, yes, short pants and flip-flops wouldn’t do.
Excerpts from Part 2: Exploring The Unknown
Now there was nothing but total darkness. After what felt like a lifetime of being in this damp, chilly, unfamiliar, spider-infested place panic took over again, more intensely this time. My mouth became dry; so dry it was impossible to take a breath of air or swallow. My tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. I felt like I was near death. My body tingled. I felt dizzy, stars were dancing in front of my eyes and I become totally disoriented.
I instinctively felt for my pants zipper and pulled it down. I stood there quivering, waiting, and finally urinated into my cupped hand, held it to my parched lips and slurped up as much liquid as I could, then I fell to the ground. The ground was covered with guano and cockroaches, but all I felt was a sense of relief as I began breathing again. Then all mental and physical sensations ceased.
* * *
Something forced me to lift my head even knowing the nightmare hadn’t gone away. The bouts of unconsciousness did not compensate for my lack of sleep the previous night, and I fell into delirium. The journey was over. Forget “forever onward.” I gave in to the exhaustion and curled up in a fetal position, praying feverishly for some kind of help as I drifted in and out of sleep.
The snippets of sleep were dotted with snapshots of memory: the slippery moss-covered rocks I’d slid down the first time I entered the cave; the magnificence of the stalactites when illuminated by the flashlight; the frightening whooshing sound of bats fleeing from the plume of smoke from my cigarette when it reached the ceiling. Whoosh! Whoosh! The familiar sound kept ringing in my ears.
I made a fist and slammed it against the ground as hard as I could and shouted, “Stop! I can’t take any more.”
Excerpts from Part 3: Another Bout With The Cave
THE CAVE INSPIRED yet another dream. The thought of spending more time in the bat cave was tantalizing. I wasn’t about to let the first experience in the Damas cave deter my interest in it, or in wanting to own my own cave.
March 12, 2003
Creating new businesses and running them had always been a passion of mine.
One day, about three months after the cave fiasco, I was relaxing in the Jacuzzi portion of the pool where I did my best thinking when an idea popped into my head.
During one of the times my friends and I had returned to the river for a picnic I’d met Jose, the owner of the property. He was a middle-aged man with a face weathered beyond his years by so many hours spent outdoors tending to his farm. He was not the least bit annoyed by people visiting his property. In fact, he seemed to enjoy it.
Another six months passed before I took action on my idea of negotiating a deal with Jose to lease the land encompassing the river and cave. My plan was to turn the cave into a tourist attraction by installing lighting, cement walkways and all the other amenities I once deplored finding in caves.
* * *
When I’d moved to Costa Rica in late 1997, friends in the States would ask, “Where is that island?”
“Costa Rica is not an island,” I would explain. “The country is located in central America, between Nicaragua and Panama.”
Because it was not a well-known place back in the 90s and before, it had become a mecca for fugitives and people conducting illegal activities. However, now Costa Rica was finally on the map and tourists from the States, Canada, Germany, and even the Middle East had begun flocking to the beautiful, friendly country, I figured it was a perfect time to open the cave as a tourist attraction.
Excerpt from Part 4: Haunted By The Cave Eight Years Later
AFTER RETURNING TO the States, one day I woke up feeling not quite right. I knew I was still depressed about losing my entire life savings, homes, and everything else in Costa Rica, but the feeling went beyond depression.
May 5, 2008
I went to my doctor for a routine check-up. Everything was normal, except for my red blood cell count, which was elevated.
“This could be caused by your smoking,” Dr. Miller explained. “Sometimes your bone marrow produces more red cells than usual, which your body uses to carry oxygen to your organs. It’s not uncommon, but just to be safe, I want you to see a hematologist.”
During my first meeting with the hematologist, Dr. Gardner, he ordered blood tests. I went directly to the lab where they poked me with a needle and drew 14 (yes, fourteen) vials of blood. They told me I would be called when the test results were in. Three days later, I received a call. It wasn’t the results I’d been anxiously waiting, but a request to return to the lab for additional testing. Eleven more vials of blood were drawn. Now I was really alarmed.
Excerpt from Part 5: Question & Answers
DURING SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS when I share experiences of living in Costa Rica and my cave adventure, I end with a Q&A session. The most often asked questions by attendees are answered here.
Q: Were there any signs people had been in the cave before your visit?
A: Entering the cave, I dreaded finding graffiti on the walls, which I have seen in manycaves in the States. The defacing of those cave walls had been done long before they were opened to the public…
Excerpt from Part 6: Official Short Cave Description
“There is no running water inside the cave, but there are sections filled with mud and pools. It is mainly horizontal and easy to navigate with the exception of narrow passages connecting the chambers.
“Thousands of bats inhabit the cave; one species captured belongs to Saccopteryx sp. There are also troglobite spiders, along with crickets,centipedes and cockroach
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