Pura Vida in Costa Rica

Jungle Limestone Caving
  |  Gorp.com
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The centerpiece of the CRROBS experience is found in the emerging field of ecopsychology. School founder Jim Rowe calls it "a marriage of ecology and psychology with the understanding that a human being can't be healthy if his or her environment is unhealthy." Coming to the rainforest offers people a reprieve from the artifice of big cities. "We instill the paradigm that the earth is a living organism and that human beings are a part of that organism," says Rowe.

One lesson in this paradigm comes inside a jungle limestone cave. The musty odor of mildew and bat guano hits my nose as we strap on our headlamps and enter. Bats and spiders—"big oss spiders," says Mau in his best English—make their homes in the nooks of the walls. Scooby-Doo images of flying bats and enormous arachnids dominate my thoughts as the light from the cave's only exit recedes behind me. We head downward, following a trickling stream, with fragile stalactites dangling overhead like a shiver trapped in time. The cave walls twist, turn, and drop, forcing us to crawl in some places.

A half hour later, we make it to the back of the cave, shut off our lights, and take in the complete darkness. The dependence on my eyes becomes immediately obvious; they serve no purpose in utter blackness. I begin to panic. My eyes keep trying to adjust, but there's no light to reflect to my brain. After calming myself, I sit quietly, connecting shapes in the darkness, enjoying my unadulterated imagination.

One Way Out
Our headlamps weren't coming back. After giving us some time to get used to the lack of light, the instructors gathered our lamps and quietly disappeared. We would have to find our way out in the blackness. For some, the idea of entering the confines of a cave with only one way out is a risky proposition; remove light and there's no way they'd go. Force them into it and they have no alternative but to succeed.

We link hands and begin to move through the cave in a long line. I find myself up front, using my hands and feet to monkey along, trying to remember the turns. Mark, or "Otter," an air-traffic controller from Colorado, manages to remember for us all. Moving slowly, we pass information down the line.

Trepidation gives way to giddiness. I fall a lot, laughing quite a bit. And before long, outlines of the others take shape and we emerge muddy, covered in bat dung, and smiling. It is like being reborn from Mother Earth.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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