by Oriana Biela-Lieu, Registered Dental Hygienist
My kids are obsessed with three things: Legos, Spiderman and Batman. Life is simple when you are little – there are good guys and bad guys. I get tough questions from my boys about superheroes, monsters and their whereabouts. For example, Is Gotham City in the United States? Does Spiderman wear Spiderman underwear? Does Aquaman eat fish? I usually answer with the truth … .sort of: “I don’t know.”
Recently, I was showing my oldest some pictures from our last vacation adventure. There was a picture of a bat. He asked me why I took a picture of a bat. To celebrate our 10-year anniversary, my husband and I went to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
My husband has been talking about doing a five-day cave exploration trip in some recently discovered caves. He’d been trying to find someone to go with him, with no luck. So I decided to surprise him with a rugged afternoon of cave exploration in the rainforest of Puerto Rico!
Our guide was great and explained all kinds of stuff. He pointed out plants and beehives and animals. We learned all about the ecosystem of the Caribbean and a lot about calcite and cave formation.
What he never mentioned, as we hiked to the first of five caves, was how much bat feces we would be trudging through! He never mentioned that we would have to climb through small, dark tunnels and sometimes repel down from the mouth of caves holding onto vines.
It was a rainforest and a cool day; so, it was only about 75 degrees outside with 70% humidity. On the adventure scale, I would rank this a 10. On the yuck scale, also a 10. … I don’t know what I was thinking!
This year has been about challenging myself to do things outside of my comfort zone. When on vacation, my husband generally only cares about what the next meal is coming from and where he can get a beer. I thought he would be excited about this surprise adventure, and he was … until we started climbing. At cave #3 I was tired, but our guide was insistent that he show us a couple more.
We were a small group and my husband was interested in cave exploring (at least he was at the beginning of the trip) and I asked lots of questions, so why not? Each cave got more interesting and had unique characteristics.
The last one we went into was huge, and filled with thousands of bats and giant cockroaches. It really was like a scene out of the movie Batman. There was a trickle of a waterfall on one side. We had to climb down between some tight, slippery rocks to reach the base of this cave.
Inside it was like a cathedral – except instead of stained glass there was just darkness –and the sounds of thousands of fruit bats! Apparently, the light “excites” the bats.
When we turned our headlamps on and looked around, the bats started flying everywhere and the nearest cave wall was crawling with cockroaches. This cave was very long. We walked about 15 minutes to get to the mouth of it and most of the time in the dark.
I was really glad to get out of that cave. I was even more glad to get back to the hotel and shower.
When I look back, exploring those caves was very symbolic to how I have been living the past year: Stumbling through the darkness, knowing that there are scary things around me, and being uncomfortable. I have been trying to be different in how I live. I came to a point where I wanted to change certain things but was stuck. I found the tools to help me move forward.
However, when you are used to being a certain way for most of your adult life, it is hard to retrain your brain. I realized that, just like when I was in the cave, most of the monsters I was worried about were all fabrications of my own mind. In trying to be the best I can be, sometimes I get in the way of myself.
Sometimes I slip or bang my head. Some of the things I fear are nothing to be afraid of. (Fruit bats and cockroaches do not eat people.) If I just keep moving forward, eventually things will get clearer as I see the light.
In stumbling through the dark, I was really glad I had my husband there with me. Being covered in mud, sweat and bat poop, I’m glad my honey still thinks I’m beautiful.
Feeling the warmth of his death grip on my hand and knowing I had him to lean on if we slipped was very comforting.
Oriana Biela-Lieu is a registered dental hygienist and the wife of Dr. Anthony Lieu. Being part of the amazing team at her husband’s dental practice in Rohnert Park, California, is an important part of her life. Teaching chivalry and a balanced life to her two sons, Isaac and Logan, is also a priority.