Adventures from Back of Beyond

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Lost in the Jungle on Cano Island

One of the most terrifying moments of my life came on Cano Island, about 10 miles off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.

We were looking for the enormous stone spheres, mysteriously placed there thousands of years ago by a pre-Columbian culture. These near-perfectly round spheres, carved from a grey granite-like rock, are up to 6 feet in diameter and weigh up to 16 tons. How they got out to this remote island, and for what purpose, remains today an intriguing mystery.

Working our way through dense jungle, we found the balls roughly a mile inland from the beautiful coral-fringed beach. Enroute, we stopped to warily observe a huge boa constrictor laying motionless on the jungle floor; it would've been maybe 12 feet long stretched out.

The pattern and coloring of the snake concealed it well. If you weren't paying attention, it would be easy to walk practically right next to the snake and not notice.

Continuing on, in a small clearing we found several of these huge petrospheres, along with a number of smaller basketball-sized globes. The rock is not native to the island. Who carefully carved these smooth well-shaped balls, then hauled them out to this remote location? We were awed thinking about how much work and effort it would take to get them here, of all places. Must've been one powerful brand of medicine, perhaps, used by shamans for reasons we did not know.

I lingered, absorbed by the perfectly smooth spheres, intrigued by the entire scene. Suddenly I found myself alone. I had no idea the others left, or where they went. Very strange, and disconcerting.

I looked around for the others. No sign of them, and no sounds. In the jungle, beneath a dense canopy of trees, everything looked the same. Usually I have an excellent sense of direction, but here there were no shadows. I couldn't tell north from south, and landmarks were nonexistent. I tensed up knowing I was disoriented.

I remembered the boa, and decided to get the hell out of there. Fast. But I wasn't thinking clearly, and didn't know exactly where I was going. I walked fast for awhile. Nothing. I began to run. I couldn't hear anything, no sign of anyone. They were too far gone.

I ran and ran, and slowly the terrifying thought emerged that I was heading in the wrong direction. There was no trail. I didn't know where I was going.

The ground was littered with leaf detritus, and thick tree roots above the jungle floor made rough going. Carelessly I twisted my ankle on the edge of a root. I stopped, heart now pounding. It was utterly silent. I was lost and alone in the jungle in this powerful and very strange place.

I took a few moments to just stop and compose myself. Only then, beginning to get my wits about me again, did I think to retrace my steps, back to the general direction of the clearing with the spheres. After a few minutes, I found it. Then I began to look for tracks.

Once I took the time to look, the fresh tracks on the jungle floor were obvious, thank God. I began following footprints. Walking fast at first, I began to run again, bad ankle and all. After an excruciating 15 or 20 minutes of running alone, but following the tracks, I caught up to the others, feeling incredibly relieved.

Breathing heavily, I acted as if nothing had happened. No one asked me where I was, and I was too embarrassed to bring it up. It was a very scary moment, and something I'll never forget.