“Did you bring a flashlight?” a hiker asked me when our paths crossed in the middle of the rocky trail, me heading towards the cave, him already on his way out.
“No. Do I really need one?” I hesitated.
“It’s pitch black in there for quite a while. Until you get to the view.”
He must have sensed my sudden worry for he added “Don’t worry. A cell phone will do just fine. Enjoy!” he said over his shoulder as he walked away.
We decided to spontaneously visit Cueva Ventana, roughly translated 'Window Cave', because everyone always said the view was to die for and the pictures often come out as a snap meant for a postcard. The ‘window’ part of the name refers to that view the hiker mentioned, an enormous hole at the end of the cave that displays the green plains and river of Arecibo, Puerto Rico. Nature’s window.
The drive on Road 10 towards the mountains of Utuado took us to our destination that can be easily missed since all there is to announce it is a wood sign next to a gas station that reads Cueva Ventana.
While it used to be an ‘on your own’ kind of experience, without any guidance or tours, they are currently charging $3 per person, for regulation purposes and because the cave is located in private property.
It’s not crowded but people are always coming and going, the newcomers excited as they start their hike and the one’s leaving always giving tips and tricks as to how to find the place.
I imagined sneakers and worn in clothes were a must for a fifteen minute hike through the mountains. But the heads up for a flashlight felt like I was headed for more dangerous, risky type of adventure and I need to mentally prepare for those.
After the short walk, fit for pretty much anyone, we reached a rocky descent into darkness. The people gathering around or waiting for their friends to come out signaled we had arrived.
The cavernous entrance demonstrated a tricky climb down into the cave and the rest was to dark to make out. The slippery rocks and the mud made each step down a possible hazard and a sure promise to fall over the bigger rocks accumulated on either side. Even with the thick rope tied to a tree to help people on their way down, the descent is slow and steady but people didn’t seem to mind. Once inside the cave, the surface is relatively smooth but not necessarily flat.
The remaining light guided us a few yards in the right direction but soon enough, we were surrounded by silent obscurity. We were lucky to have one among us with a flashlight app in his iPhone. He led the way and we walked very close together, trying not to disturb the bats that flew by the stalagmites while containing any cowardice we brought along.
The natural silence in the cave and the lack of direction were only accentuated with the darkness that covered the unfamiliarity of our surroundings. However, even if we were not a big group, only five of us, there were others before us and the people who already knew the way kindly told us to go straight ahead. “You can’t miss it.”
Only three minutes in, we noticed a stream of light coming from a narrow path. We had to squat and squeeze through it but the guidance of stronger light was unmistakable. We were almost there.
After we all made it through, there was no need for the artificial iPhone light. This spacious part of the cave was fully illuminated by an enormous opening at the very end. At first it is hard to I walked closer and the surface started to incline, the famous view was exposed.
People sat around, some close to the edge of a free fall, others on a flatter, safer surface, to admire the view of the wide plains of the bordering town, Arecibo.
The textures and patterns of green in the landscape are cut in the middle by the curving river that looks so small from such a distance. It’s not until I noticed the miniature size of the trees that I realize how high up we have been the entire time.
It sent a sense of unease through me, but not as much as seeing the young kids daring each other to get closer to the edge. Some sat right on it, their legs dangling while resting their weight back on their arms. I’m all for double dog dares, but this one, I sat out.
The view continued to amaze me. From all the pictures of my friends’ silhouette with the view as the background, it seemed the ‘window’ was much smaller, literally an opening you could peek through. But this was something else, like the cave had crumbled down to create a back entrance. It was luminous and beautiful, worth sitting down a few minutes to take it in.
Or take funny pictures.
After we finished admiring nature’s beautiful accident, we headed back this time not worrying so much about the bats that watched us upside down and seemed at ease with our presence.
As we climbed out pulling ourselves up by the rope, excited newcomers asked us if it was cool. “Very cool”, we replied.
“You have a flash light, right?” we asked them as they were mid way down.
They hesitated as they looked at each other for a response. Amateurs.