Yesterday I went spelunking.
I was excited when my friends, Sana and Steve, invited me to join. Though newlyweds, their kindness and inclusiveness from the day we met blessed Taylor and me. Trusting them as history teachers and adventurers, I did no research but quickly scanned a few photos online and took off. As I’d been thrilled by Venice last January, I wanted Santo Domingo to share some of its secrets as well. I wanted to be surprised. I needed to feel wonder. For awhile I hadn’t had the energy or desire to explore, but last week I’d begin feeling like myself again.
Located just outside the city, Los Tres Ojos (The Three Eyes) costs a mere 100 Pesos/$2 and is open until 5:30 (though ticket sales end around 4:15).
As I journeyed into the dark bowels of the limestone labyrinth leading to underground lagoons, thoughts of spiders made me flinch at water drops from stalactites above. What other creatures might swim and slither within?
The three underground eyes are Lago de Azufre (Lake of Sulfer) discovered in 1916 , La Nevera (Known as “The Fridge” for its icy cold water) and El Lago de las Damas (“The Lake of the Ladies”) where Taino women–first inhabitants of the island of Hispaniola (now Haiti and the DR) — bathed their children.
The second lake was darker than I’d hoped, and Steve and I joked it was the stuff of the Sci-Fi Channel. I remembered a movie about a mutant shark grabbing a victim gazing into an underground river, so though I wanted to take the boat into even darker depths, I was nervous. Normally I’d take photos with flash, but as we crossed the water I was afraid of arousing bats hidden in holes overhead. My trypophobia was kicking in and I remembered, Katherine, my role model for adventure in The English Patient, had survived desert storms and a war but died in a cave.
On the other side, I crept off the boat, peering down into the dark at the slippery rock beneath my feet. Determined not to sink into the river we’d just crossed, I carefully groped my way around a corner of the cavern. Then, as in every miraculous moment of my life, I looked up and all changed.
My eyes filled with light. I hadn’t read that here was hidden the fourth lake–discovered after the park was named for the other three. But unlike the others, this lake opened fully to the sun. To the sky. To the heavens.
My eyes filled with wonder and recognition as another heart’s desire was fulfilled. As I’d dreamt as a girl of exotic Arabian gardens, then saw them come to life in Morocco, I stepped into another secret place I cherished as a child. I’d watched Tarzan movies my whole life–loving most the black and white Sunday morning Johnny Weissmuller films. But here in living technicolor, realtime, were vines hanging like party streamers beckoning Jane to swing. Turns out, this lake was a location for Tarzan films and Jurassic Park. Memories of dying Katherine vanished. Instead I was strong Kate on Lost and smiled remembering my kids’ groans as I’d drag them around Radnor Lake and tell them to pretend we were on the tv series island scouting for treasure. This island, too– just outside my new city– was mysterious, unearthly, ancient. And alive.
We boarded the boat, left that piece of paradise, and climbed up, then down to the third eye–the most most gorgeous blue water dappled with sunlight. On a walk around the perimeter of the park, I marvelled at this tree and its green bean pods fit for a giant.
The fourth lake, Zaramaguyones, was beautiful from above. But somehow, discovering it on the other side of a darkness and fear made it much more breathtaking.
For all my déjà vu movie moments, the expedition reminded me most of a cave of my childhood and its metaphor guiding my second-ever blogpost written so many years ago. It calls me back to my main mission for writing.
When I was a little girl in Kentucky, the Mother of All Field Trips was going to Mammoth Cave. While I was told not to fear the Natural Wonder, I wasn’t all that excited about going deep into the black unknown, feeling my way down damp, winding paths… The tour guide seemed so calm. She had a light to guide us but no map. She had obviously been in that cave before—many times–and was so familiar with it she could have led us through that vast cavern even if the batteries in her flashlight died.
The only good I can make of getting older is that I’ve lived long enough to have gone into some terrible darkness but emerged again into the light…
Though I have survived great losses, I rarely emerged from the black by way of a blowtorch or floodlight. God usually just gave me a candle—one that flickered—and He whispered He wouldn’t let go of my hand even if the flame went out. I still grope but know He’s there. Even if I can’t feel his fingers interlocked with mine. Even if I can’t feel his hand at all and seem to wander in the dark for days…or weeks….or years. I write to share my cave experiences—those I’ve emerged from blinking in the light as well as those I’m still mining through—looking for something of value as I wait and work and wait for release.
The last few weeks I’m often felt confused. Disoriented. Exhausted. I’ve had health issues and struggled at times to embrace all the changes that have flooded my life this year. Selling the home we loved, then transitioning from Marrakesh to Nashville to here has been fraught with questions about where I’ll ultimately put down roots again. Taylor moved back to Nashville and I couldn’t be happier for her as she goes after the life she wants there. As Paulo Coelho said, “Love never keeps a person from pursuing his or her destiny.” We agreed if living abroad wasn’t right for her–as it isn’t for many people–she could be proud of herself for taking this opportunity and return with no regrets. Though I’d hoped we’d have more time together, I’m so thankful for what we shared while she was here. Letting go again is so hard as all parents know no matter how many times the nest empties, but she and Cole are both in really good places and that soothes my soul. In a week he flies to Washington, DC to start his new job in Knoxville–something he’s waited a long time for. I love and miss them both madly.
So in this silent apartment I’ve been spending a lot of time lately with old friends– like Elizabeth Gilbert –who comforted me with these lines from Eat, Pray, Love:
In the end, I’ve come to believe in something I call ‘The Physics of the Quest.’ A force in nature governed by laws as real as the laws of gravity. The rule of Quest Physics goes something like this: If you’re brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting, which can be anything from your house to bitter, old resentments, and set out on a truth-seeking journey, either externally or internally, and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher and if you are prepared, most of all, to face and forgive some very difficult realities about yourself, then the truth will not be withheld from you.
As for this new relationship with the DR, I cling to the Message version of Matthew 6:22-23: “Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light.” I’ve experienced beauty, adventure, and relationship here. And caves. Big ones. Beyond my two human eyes is a third one of faith–the door to all things bright and beautiful. I remain thankful for the One who holds, now and always, my family, future, hand, and heart.