So the guy who organized this trip to Guatemala is someone I’ve known for many years now. I like him, I respect him… But I don’t think I can say that I trust him much anymore, because I’m pretty sure he’s a terrible liar.“Let’s go to Yalijux cave,” he said. “It’ll be fun. It’s just a quick drive from here in the back of a truck, and then we’ll just have an easy walk throu this nice, level cornfield.”
Lies. All lies.
First of all, the “quick drive” took about two and a half hours. We stood in the back of this tiny pickup truck the whole time – ten of us, crowded shoulder to shoulder, or, more accurately, elbow to solar plexus. We could barely see the road ahead of us by squinting through the driving rain, because of course it was raining.
And, for extra insanity, I neglected to wear one of the three sweatshirts I’d stupidly brought with me to Guatemala, so I was freezing, as well. The only protection I had against the wind was this yellow plastic sheet which I’d bought for about twenty cents. The thing whipped about in the breeze – which at least meant I looked a little like a superhero. But otherwise did nothing more than irritate the face of the persona standing behind me, so I took it off.
The roads we drove on weren’t even roads – they were more like procession of ruts with road-like ambitions. That means every twenty feet we’d hit a dip or a bump that would send shockwaves bouncing back and forth between my knees and my lower back. The violent rocking of the vehicle caused us all to hold on to the guard rails with a death-like grip that makes it difficult for me to uncross my fingers, even today.
And then, just for good measure, we often found ourselves driving at an angle along a horrible edge without any sort of fence or barrier between us and a very scenic, if deadly, drop.
After such a horrendous drive, I was about ready to go back to the hotel and sleep for the rest of the trip. Luckily, at this point, we only had a pleasant hike through a cornfield. Then, at long last, we’d be at our destination at Yalijux cave.
Now, our leader could hardly be held accountable for the rain, which had rendered the trail we intended to follow into a mile-long slog through ankle-deep water and mud. I don’t hold that bit against him. Doesn’t make him less of a liar, though. The so-called level path started off with a brisk slide down a steep hillside (directly into a bunch of puddles, of course). The next little stretch was pretty level, but the well-worn trail soon disappeared under a cover of bent grass that required someone with a deep and slightly unnatural connection to the earth to read. The trail forked off in multiple directions, too, so the slower moving members of our group got a little turned around (which, by the way, is a euphemism for “almost completely left behind”).
The closer we got to the cave, the more that simple trail turned into a barrage of hills and dips, large stony paths slick with moss (and, of course, rain), and large green plants that obscured the next step to take just as much as they unloaded buckets of water on the heads of passers-by. A couple of times, the ground underfoot just disappeared, and our feet slipped between tough old tree roots. We endured many a twisted ankle, atop the rest of the cuts, bruises, and other assorted indignities.
Of course, when we reached the cave, we found out our leader had lied again. Yalijux was situated behind a curtain of deep green trees. Its roof reached over us so gracefully that we almost didn’t see it there. The cave filled with grey light, filtered through the distant storm clouds, but, just beyond, there was darkness. Darkness so thick that, more than a few feet in, we lost sight of nearly everything.
“Fun” was not the word I would use to describe the experience. “Harrowing, certainly. “Unforgettable” suits as well. “Transformative”… well, that’s probably laying it on a bit thick, but it was good nonetheless.
As we hiked back through the not-a-cornfield, I took a moment to look around. The hills were lovely, deeply green. The sky, though still cloudy, had an almost ethereal glow. And here I was, wrapped up in a yellow tarp, and the darn thing was actually keeping me warm. I laughed at myself, and the only thing I could think was, “What the %#&@ am I doing here?!”
At this point, I felt like anything was possible. That girl I’ve been afraid to approach? Yeah, I can ask her out. Skydiving? I say thee, “Yippee-ki-yay!” Those books I’ve been wanting to write? Cracker, please, I’ve been through the &%*$in’ jungle. I am Braddy, Lord of the Yellow Tarp-Thingie, and I fear nothing!
So, yeah, never mind, I guess. Sorry I called you “cracker.”