Drums from the Deep
Denise, Kin, Wendy and Ben perch cliff side for lunch during the hike to Pagat Caves.
For more wet and wild photos from Guam, click here.
I didn’t want to get up this morning. I suspect it was the days of rain keeping me in bed. Still, we had signed on for the hike and we weren’t about to let it go to waste.
The blue sky put a smile on my sleepy face as we drove to Rec N’ Crew for the early morning meet. Unlike Sunday’s fiasco of a kayak trip, we were the only ones there besides Kin, our Chamorro guide, when we arrived. A few minutes later Wendy showed up, jonesing to hike to a waterfall to swim. Luckily for Denise, Kin decided the hike to the falls Wendy wanted to take was too hard (though I’m hopeful to join them next week if no one else shows up). We piled in the van and took off through base, headed to Pagat Caves on the North side of the island.
Pagat Caves are an interconnected series of small caves that fill with limestone filtered water. In olden days, a small village located nearby had utilized the main cave as a ritual bathing area, with its clear, fresh, mineral infused waters keeping salt and vermin out. Today, the cave is visited regularly by hikers and swimmers.
We pulled up by the entrance, which was marked by piles of trash and a dilapidated toilet that someone had left. We were the only vehicle there, though it was still quite early. The trash did nothing for my confidence in the hike. Colorado parks have always kept their trails immaculate, levying heavy fines to litterbugs and vandals and leaving nothing but a sterile purity to the entire ordeal.
As we marched into the woods, I began to notice that some sections were immaculate a gorgeous, complete with salamanders, geckos, toads and butterflies. Other sections were maligned by trash, junk, and a strange worn out Camaro.
The further in we got, the less trash we saw. The trail became a dense jungle surrounding us from all sides. Wendy, who’s a regular on the Thursday hikes, stopped with me to admire the throngs of butterflies flowing around us like logs in a river.
From here the hike got steeper. We began to crest downward at a light decline, our path slightly muddy, yet dry where the sun was breaking through the branches. The trees and brambles on either side began tightening, and soon I could feel the excitement of being out in the jungle for real.
The shift was probably more gradual than it felt. One moment I was in a light wooded area, the sun still visible in nooks and crannies. The next moment we were carefully trading over slick rock in the dim confines of viney wonder. As suddenly as the shadows had wrapped around us, our path began to offer ropes and and vines to aid our steep descent. I couldn’t help but fear for the safety of my camera, still clutched in one hand as I traversed the same cliffs my hikemates were struggling to conquer two handed. Luckily, I did not let my pride cloud my judgment, and when it got too difficult, I passed my camera down.
We began ducking beneath vines low enought to catch at our backpacks. Thorns and brambles reached out from all angles to grasp as our passing bodies. Several times, I had to stop and unravel myself from the jungle’s snares, but we were not to be dissuaded.
And then we were there.
I wasn’t even paying attention as we reached the lush basin, still sweaty from the hard descent behind us. As I wandered down and tried to figure out why we had stopped, I noticed several large banana spiders thick in their webs. Intruiged by the enormity of their size, I stood there watching them stalk their prey as a challenge to my general fear of spiders.
“We’re here,” said Kin, alerting me to our arrival as he descended into the entry way. Wendy quickly followed suit, Denise and I bringing up the rear. Just a short drop down, we reached a resting spot. Several more spiders had spun thier webs across the mouth of another opening to the jungle above. There was still enough light to see, so we set our things down and changed into our swimming gear.
The breeze from the cave was cool and clammy. It was dark enough beneath our ledge that I couldn’t see the water until we were almost on top of it. Kin led the way without a flashlight so I heard him enter the water before I saw it. You could feel the temperature drop nearly 10 degrees as we reached the edge of the water. Candles we arranged sporadically around the edge of the water, though none were lit.
As I waded into the water, I could feel my balls shrivel at the merest hint of the cold. Though the initial cave was merely a few feet deep, I knew what was to come. Denise winced visibly as she struggled to dip into the water. Kin, meanwhile, let out a yelp as he scurried around the next rock and dropped below waist depth. I soon followed suit, carefully holding my camera up as I leaned in against the rock to pass.
The cavern suddenly opened up on the other side, revealing a gentle slope upward to the left and deep ravine to play in to the right. Kin dove in immediately while the rest of us tepidly wandered toward the central cavern. I ditched my camera and glass off to the side, keeping the waterproof flashlight as I dove into the water full force.
If I wasn’t fully awake yet, the cold shock of suddenly dipping fully in certainly did the trick. At its deepest point, I couldn’t touch the floor without dropping several feet under the water. Most of the time, we chatted and floated close to the shallow points. If we had brought a lighter, we would’ve lit up the candles for a gorgeous effect, but none of us were smokers.
After an hour of playing in the water, searching for a second connected cavern (only partially successfully as we wouldn’t brave the possible path without proper gear), and generally enjoying cooling off, we were ready to continue our journey.
We climbed back up to the surface of the cave, tossed our shoes back on and began to climb out. We set our water shoes on the sunny rocks at the top where Wendy had been drying in the sun.
One of the spiders at the entrance had caught a grasshopper in its webbing and I watched as it devoured it, slowly pulling the poor bug into its razor maw. Wendy and Kin, meanwhile, discussed our path to the cliffs that would be our lunch site. After a false start on the wrong path, we swung around the proper way and slipped up a steep incline toward the remnants of the ancient village.
Chamorro villages are marked by two telltale signs: grindstones with circular openings where coconuts were prepared; and large stones that acted as stilts for buildings. Though the stones were pointed out to me, I couldn’t visualize what they were supposed to look like, but the grindstones were readily apparent.
The brambles and vines grew thick as we neared the coast. In all likelihood, fewer people had made the trek past the cave, leaving the trail overgrown and underused. All the same, we could hear the ocean as we plodded slowly toward the cliffs.
The view was spectacular as we came out on this mottled ridge of sharp rocks. Plants had grown over much of it, leaving it verdant and filling in some of the small gaps. The natural effect of heavy rains on the limestone was readily apparent in the almost igneous form the rocks took. Meanwhile, a young reef could be seen growing beneath the sharp waves over the edge.
We perched here, admiring the natural bridges created by the waters and enjoying our lunch and drying in the sun. The breeze kept us cool, though it ocassionally attempted to wisk our trash away. We finished our lunches, and despite the earlier suggestion of returning to Pagat’s main cave for another dip, began the slow loop back up to our drying shoes.
As we arrived back at the cave, we noticed quite a number of people had arrived. Earlier, it had been just the four of us swimming, but now there were nearly ten people milling around and waiting for their group to congregate. One of the locals had built a torch to light their way. I was mildly envious. In addition, I could see the gear of several others lying by the entryway, indicating even more people inside enjoying the water.
We collected the last of our gear and turned tail to get out. The hike back up was quicker, but the heat had descended like night under a new moon.It was dense and torrid, leaving my shirt drenched with the sweat of my labor.
When we got close enough to the road to hear the passing traffic, my legs began to feel the weight of our journey. I sped up a little, pushing myself to finish strong, and beneath the hot sun I came out beside the van victorious.
Though the hike had worried me with its initial signs of mistreatment, it more than delivered with beautiful vistas, deep caverns, and a swim I won’t soon forget. Hopefully next week I’ll be back out there swimming beneath a waterfall in a remote corner of Guam. Or maybe I’ll be content enjoying another beautiful sunset like the one we found tonight.