Bat Cave Misadventures

by shelbylewis /
shelbylewis's picture
Mar 10, 2013 / 0 comments

“Surprise!” my mother said, “We are going to go with an indigenous family to tour the bat cave on Bastimentos Island.” Oh brother, I thought. We loaded up our water bottles, rain jackets, and sunscreen, and headed to the dock. I took a big leap to step carefully from the platform onto the boat that was swaying back and forth with each misplaced footstep. It soon became less than ideal for beginning an adventure. We would soon be setting sail from the canopy covered dock into the wild blue yonder. If you have envisioned setting sail into the deep blue sea with the sunshine beating down on your head, glistening in the sun, enjoying a peaceful ride to explore a cave in Panama with an indigenous tour guide, guess again.


exploring Bastimentos Island


We set sail to a weather condition comparable to the storm on Gilligan’s Island. We were under attack from the rain. Left with only jackets for defense, we were pelted with heavy, forceful rain drops.  We were also crashing into waves two feet tall. As each wave hit the boat, my vertebrae crunched together even more, consolidating into one piece, and even then, jamming closer together. The boat was swaying from side to side as the waves washed up over the boat. Our boat captain was driving - but also dumping milk carton-sized buckets full of water over the edge of the boat. The only thing I could think was, “Let’s sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a faithful trip, what started on this desert isle, aboard this tiny ship.” I kept replaying episodes of Gilligan’s Island in my mind, preparing for what could happen if we didn’t make it back.


exploring Bastimentos Island, Panama



As the boat motor began to slow down, and the pelting rain turned into a heavy mist, we started to go through a swamp. We meandered up a mangrove-lined muddy water estuary river, with monster-sized Caiman swimming underneath and around the boat. Every time you looked out of your peripherals, you would catch a glimpse of gigantic, dusty brown, slightly hairy spiders…each spider being the size of an adult male’s hand. The spiders cringed at the sight of a rarely seen human, much like we cringe at the size of these ginormous spiders.


Finally arriving to land, we began our (what seemed like fifty) fifteen minute walk. The water that had collected in our rain jackets now poured down my legs and made my shorts even soggier, if possible. Our hike began on a firm grassy surface, which soon changed to a previously hard dirt surface, which then turned to ankle deep mud. Each footstep dove deeper into mud the consistency of pudding. The viscous mud enclosed around each little piggy, making an escape seem less and less likely. After yanking my foot out of the mud concrete, and dodging several branches, I hesitated to  place my foot back into the feet-eating mud. 


Bat cave, Bastimentos Island, Panama


Upon reaching the destination, I began to become even more disappointed. Right off the bat, the cave was waist-deep in murky brown water. Looking up, you could see hundreds of bats perched up on a rock, beaming down on you. Climbing into the cave, I attempted to make a grip on the slimy bat-guano-covered rocks, so I didn’t face plant directly into the spring cold, bat guano-filled river.


Bat cave, Bastimentos Island, Panama


Delving into the cave further, the musty, damp smell grew thicker. The light began to fade, so we took out our flashlights. Turning on our flashlights triggered a horrible reaction. Now there were hundreds of bats in everyone’s face, attacking each person to find the light source. Moving down the path of the cave, the ceiling kept closing in on us, and the stalactites kept getting longer. The water was becoming deeper, and we were maneuvering around rocks that were big enough to swallow me whole. Wading in water up to my neck, carrying my flashlight and camera, I did my best to stay afloat and dodge the toe-stubbing, knee-shattering rocks. I continued wading through the hopefully mud, could be bat guano, water for a long time. My hands began to prune as I kept climbing up rocks, swimming around boulders, and wading through the water.


Bat cave, Bastimentos Island, Panama


Finally, we arrived at our final destination: the swimming pool inside the cave. The water was crystal clear, surprisingly, and we were offered the chance to jump off a boulder and dive into the water and swim. I opted out of that opportunity because in a moment of clarity, an important realization hit - that we would have to start this whole journey over, turning around, repeating it backwards.


Bat cave, Bastimentos Island, Panama


Overall the trip to the bat cave was worth it. Despite driving, torrential rain and huge, noisy waves; bats and their copious and foul-smelling guano; and painful cuts and scrapes at the hands of rocks, the swimming at the end was worth the effort involved getting there. This experience teaches people that you have to go through troubled waters to get to the treasure at the end. The tour guide was a great guy who knew the history behind the cave and lead a safe, adventurous tour.





Shelby Lewis is a member of the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program



All photos courtesy and copyright Shelby Lewis