There was only one place I needed to go in Cayo, and Bob did everything in his power to get me there.
To reach nirvana, Bob would have to drive our rental car into the Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, past Pine Ridge Lodge, Blancaneaux, and the Rio On to an obscure little cave beyond the Douglas D’Silva Forest Station. We’d heard the road was now paved all the way to Caracol, then learned later it was only partially paved and that it could take another seven years.
It had rained enough to make mud. We didn’t see any other vehicles on the narrowing road. I began urging Bob to turn back, but he said, “It isn’t as bad as it looks. He tapped the brakes to prove we still had traction, and on we went.
We’d driven to see the Mayan ruins at Caracol twenty-five years ago in an unreliable Isuzu Trooper, and it had been a harrowing trip. But we’d been in our forties, so there’s that.
Journal entry 9/9/97
We drove to Caracol to check it out. Its a rough road, impassable when wet. It takes two hours to drive the forty miles from Mountain Equestrian Trails. We met a logging truck on the way and had to wait on the other side while he eased his truck onto the long, concrete bridge, almost dropping a front tire off the edge into the Macal River. He stopped his truck in the middle and got out to fill up with water. When he had crossed, we continued on to Caracol.
I told myself that as long as we didn’t have to pass anyone, we’d be all right.
And then, sure enough here came a bus, just barreling on by without hesitating.
I felt like a weenie then, cringing in the passenger seat, and I started to laugh at myself. Then another bus whizzed by, followed by a caravan of military vehicles, and the joke got old.
When we saw a civilian vehicle on the side of the road, Bob got out and spoke with the driver. Timmy, it turned out, was hoping to reach the same cave with his friends Claribelle and Alo. We joined forces, and I took great comfort from their presence.
At least one puddle gave us pause. This time everyone got out, and Timmy, Claribelle, and Alo tossed rocks into the puddle to assess the situation. The water seemed shallow enough, so we got back in and drove onward.
We knew we were close when we reached the Douglas D’Silva Forest Station.
A little further, and the mud got too thick to drive.
Thick clay built up on my shoes and Alo’s treaded sandals but not on Claribelle’s flip-flops, so we asked what she was doing differently. She said it was partly how she walked—stepping down firmly without twisting—and partly because her shoes were too flat to hold the mud. Alo and I mimicked Claribelle’s walk and decided we’d wear flat soles the next time we had to off-road it in the mud.
Bob was beaming when we reached the cave. He had done it!
We both remember well the buttressed tree at the mouth of the cave.
There were no other people here. We had it all to ourselves as we had all those years ago with the kids. So now I was happy about the wet, unpaved road.
There was no trash or litter of any kind, proof that “No Tampering” signs—or unnavigable roads—work.
The five of us mingled at the entrance, giddy with success and strangely hesitant to walk up the tiny stone steps and claim our bliss.
But up we went into the holiest place on earth. Now you might sneer, thinking, what about Notre Dame? What about Jerusalem? But I assure you, this cave holds the power of absolute peace better than any man-made structure on this earth.
No matter your state of body or mind, put yourself in the middle of the Rio Frio, and all cares vanish. It may have something to do with air and water moving from one side to the other, creating negative ions that collect in the great stone dome.
Our adventure buddies made it down to the sand bar at the belly of the cave. The ladies told me later that they found it immensely calming and could have stayed there for hours.
We knew we would get the full effect of those ions—100% as opposed to 95%—by scaling the rocks to the bottom, but we kept our age in mind, knowing how easily a twisted ankle could ruin a spectacular day.
Funny how bright the world appears after spending a little time in the monochrome underworld. Yet, I find the black-and-white experience extremely comforting.
There’s a question I’ve deployed as a dinner party icebreaker that goes like this: Close your eyes and imagine that you are resting on a white bed in a white room. White ceiling, floor, and walls. There are no windows or doors. How do you feel?
I’ve gotten all kinds of answers through the years. Some people feel panic while others feel boredom. And some, like me, feel relief or a sense of freedom. “This is an allegory for death,” I say after everyone has described their feelings.
The Rio Frio is a place of ancient rock, tiny Mayan steps, and water running through a great, domed room. Its monochrome cave interior soothes my nervous system in the same way I imagine a completely white room might, giving me a break from all the colors of the world, from my phone, my calendar, texts, emails, newsletters, and task lists.