Cueva Aguas Buenas

Ashlee peers into the impressive resurgence of Aquas Buenas

Not sure why they call this ‘Good Water Cave’ considering the amount of bat guano leaching into the stream there, but Aguas Buenas is ‘good’ in many more ways than one. Firstly, it is a two-story cave. Above, is a dry, upper passage––good for prepared cavers looking to cut their teeth and learn navigation (as we did)–– and below, the river passage, which requires a rope to access.

Depending on how you get to the lower level (there are many) the river passage may require you to climb, squeeze, slide, downclimb, swim, etc. and is a full body workout.

The second time we visited the cave, Ashlee and I found ourselves 20-minutes in from the entrance. That’s a long way inside an unfamiliar hole-in-the-ground if you’re new to the sport of caving.

Whip Scorpion

We had six headlamps between the two of us and batteries to spare. Also, on the fly, we had come up with a rudimentary system of navigation. We harvested a handful of leaves back in the jungle and were placing them behind us as we went, using them as breadcrumbs like Hansel and Gretel. You can certainly get lost in Aguas Buenas. Deep in the back recesses of the cave, we came across the skeleton of a large iguana which had somehow gotten in there, gotten lost, and spent the remainder of its short life crawling around in circles. Bad way to go.

Unexpectedly, we saw a flicker of light in the distance. A lone person with a headlamp was coming towards us. We waved but he did not return our greeting. As he approached, we saw a very thin young man. His helmet and headlamp were well used and his clothes were ripped in places. We asked him some questions in Spanish but he just stood there––in the glow of our headlamps––and did not speak. The corner of his eye twitched. He had a small backpack, nothing in his hands. No weapon on him that I could see.

Ashlee rappels to the river passage. Photo credit: Lukas Eddy

We stood there staring at each other. Then I looked at Ashlee and said, “Uh, okay––time to go now.” We continued walking deeper into the cave. Heriberto, which was the name written on his helmet, wandered in front us. Whenever we had the option of going a different direction than Heriberto, we did. But our route always pinched off and we’d end up following him anyway. Then we realized the kid was trying to lead us somewhere. We followed him under a boulder, up a steep ramp, and into a large room with a multitude of bats. Then down another ramp to a creek with a beautiful little waterfall cascading down from the ceiling. We wouldn’t have found the place on our own. 

The Waterfall. Photo: Lukas Eddy

We ended up visiting Cueva Aguas Buenas a dozen times. Heriberto is usually there. He cleans up the trash around the cave and near the parking area. He clears the vegetation from the trail, and occasionally guides wandering cavers like ourselves. If you see Heriberto, make sure to give him a few bucks. Aguas Buenas wouldn’t be as clean, safe, or interesting without him.

The Spirit of Adventure

In my opinion, Indiana Jones and The Temple Doom is not a movie for six and seven year old children.  That said, it was Dad’s turn to watch the kids, Dad wanted to see the movie, and my six year old sister and I weren’t complaining. For children, everything is an adventure.  The simple pleasures in life that adults tend to forget––tying your shoes, going up an elevator, using the public bathroom––all still adventures in their own right. So one might imagine, for young impressionable children, a simple trip to the movies might resemble boarding a space vehicle bound for another planet.  And so it was for my sister, Lexie and I, in the summer of 1984.

Check out my giant head, and that weird levitating hand.

 Lexie and I pushed together against the heavy door, excited to enter the theater. Once inside, we were hit by the chill of well conditioned air, always a reprieve from the sweltering humidity of a Florida summer. The fresh popcorn caught our noses and we instantly yearned for the sweet fizzle of soda pop––Nectar of the Gods.  In the background, muffled sounds of laughter, cheers, and explosions filled us with a sense of eagerness, to get our seats and see what everyone was oohing and awing about. But first we would need to stare longingly through the glass cabinet at the over priced candy. Dad never got us any but we begged like dogs anyway.

  We entered the theater itself, which was larger than life, and took our seats as the lights dimmed. Indiana Jones, the savvy treasure hunter, appeared on seen.  About five minutes into the movie I realized what I wanted to be in life. That, of course, was Indiana Jones. As the movie continued, however, I started to change my mind.  They had to eat disgusting things like monkey brains and slithering unborn snakes. There were insects all over them, big, hairy ones; crawling in their cloths and squirming in their hair.  After a series of narrow escapes that left me trembling, they came to an overlook that allowed them to secretly witness a gruesome sacrifice. A satanic priest chanted excitedly to his entranced followers, “Gali ma, Gali ma, shuk dee day!” 

Lexie and I started to get scared. We could see for ourselves that the devil, was in fact, REAL. Then unexpectedly, the evil priest drives his hand into a man’s chest and rips out his beating heart. That sent Lexie and I over the edge and we both began whining.  Unbelievably, the man with no heart is still alive. And he’s being lowered into a pit of lava! As the man burns alive his still beating heart bursts into flames in the evil priests hands. This sent our whining up to a new level. Dad, who was really enjoying this part of the movie tried his best to ignore us but our whines soon turned into cries and then wails.  Dad could not ignore us now and I’m sure he was given some bad looks from audience members. Much to my father’s dismay, he had to take his two crying children out of the theater, where he explained what we saw wasn’t real (yea right Dad) and he was forced to take us home. 

  Back then, after every movie I saw, I tried to relive it in my backyard, me as the hero. The backyard of 3121 Hillside Lane was my personal jungle, the deck under the house my secret cave. Karate Kid was especially hard on Lexie and she soon stopped being my playmate but that didn’t dissuade me. I had a hearty imagination and would spend hours a day, by myself, pretending to be Indiana Jones deep in my cave under the porch.  I so badly wanted to have those kinds of adventures which I assumed only happened in the movies.

Fortunately, I was wrong.

  I am now 42 years old and I can tell you this- I STILL want to be Indian Jones.  Now I would never go so far as saying that I’m some elite adventurer and I would never compare myself to my childhood hero––Dr. Jones.  But I’ve had adventures and they’ve taught me this––adventuring isn’t easy. In fact, the life of an adventurer is actually quite hard. The ‘perils of the unknown’ right?  Where am I going to sleep for the night?  Where is my next grubstake going to come from?  How am I going to dodge this giant bowling ball?  The true adventurer will find out very quickly that his or her exploits are very rarely enjoyable experiences.  At least at the time. It’s not till the adventure is over and one is well fed, with a roof over head, do you come to appreciate the experience for itself.  In fact, over time, the bad experiences will very nearly be forgotten––the wet socks, hordes of mosquitoes, the heart-sinking realization of impending doom––all this will fade. 

  What I’m saying is that with all the hardship that adventures bring, they are worth it. I’m saying that I BELIEVE in adventure. This isn’t some religious innuendo, I’m saying adventure is a good thing.  It’s kept me young at heart, open minded, healthy. Adventures are about learning something about yourself and for god sakes enjoying life, right?

  I’ve been fortunate in my life to have had many adventures, some fun, some not so fun.  I’ve traveled to exotic places and met some amazing people. But one of the most important things I’ve learned in life was at that tender age of seven, watching Indiana Jones with my Dad at the movies––you’ve got to put yourself out there, show some gumption, be willing to sacrifice. And the hardest part of any adventure is that first step into the unknown, beyond the comfortable, beyond the secure, just one scary step, beyond the backyard.