Monday, March 23, 2009

Our Last Afternoon

I figured I would describe a scene from one of our hikes. It was much like of any of our other hikes. The jungle was slick from a light rain that happened earlier in the day and we were covered in sweat, mud, and bat guano after hiking up to Bloody Nose Ridge and into the caves there. We probably saw the coolest cave while there that morning. It was high up on the ridge and not easy to reach but inside the cave rested the normal gas masks and mess kits, AND some ammunition boxes, mortar rounds, and live land mines that were crystallizing from their leaking ‘juices.’ (No worries, loved ones! Lucille, our guide and trip nurse accompanied us safely through, limbs intact). The leather items were mostly intact, as well, which is rare. After the trip into that cave, I honestly did not expect to see anything that would top it for the rest of the day. We unloaded the bus and ventured into the jungle to a spot called “Temple of Doom.” Evidently, little is known about the concrete structure and it was only discovered a few years ago. I was tired, but followed along with a camera, anyway. I was tired and the exhaustion that had been creeping in all day began to full set in. “This had better be good,” echoed in my head.

We approached a scene straight out of Indiana Jones. Green and black mossy growth covered most of the building. There were rusty remnants of 55 gallon drums and Quonset huts surrounding the building that had some severe structural damage. A banyon tree had pushed its way through the bottom of the building and was growing out through the roof. Other smaller trees and vines were creeping their way into and around the building. It appeared the place was a repair shop of sorts. The evidence pointed to a direct hit slamming into one side of the building, stopping any activity happening at that moment.

Most of the sites we saw resembled each other. A battle fought, the land abandoned after the War, and the natural environment growing over the scene. Some weaponry or at least munitions scattered on the ground and lots of rusted pieces of metal surrounded by years of growth designated these spots. This site contained a different feel and I can’t explain why. Maybe because the site was largely untouched for the last several decades, as nobody knew about it. I think it had to do with it being the most obvious place that showed human activity before the attack (and that may because looters had not previously known about the site so the remains actually remained).

I don’t believe in ghosts in the traditional sense that there are the invisible souls of the human dead floating around. But I do believe in invisible spiritual happenings (I just can’t explain what they are). Belief systems aside, the place had a weird vibe. I walked over to Lucille and she pointed to a cave and said that there was some bones and mess kits in it, but that it would be a tight squeeze. Most of the group had left to explore another cave so I decided to go in. I had to shimmy down flat on my rear. Camera and flashlight in hand, I began to work my way down. Lucille called down and said that there would be a room to my right and if I looked I would see a skull. I don’t know what I expected when I looked into that room, but the skull startled me. The dark pockets of eye sockets pierced into me. I heard someone trying to come in after me and I asked them to wait so I could get out and I shimmied out of that cave faster than a bat out of… that cave.

I wasn’t scared so much as I was put off. I was already emotionally dealing with the idea that people lived and worked at this site before probably being killed by the direct hit. I think I was bothered by the idea of disrupting the burial site. Soldiers lived in that cave, attempted to survive in those caves, and were killed in that cave. I’m not sure why I ventured into the cave knowing dead people were in there. I almost felt disrespectful. I am not saying others who venture into the caves to see these sites are disrespectful; I’m not judging at all. I am just saying that I did not feel comfortable with it.

I am going to carry the eeriness of that site with me. Both sides lost a lot of men on that island. And while I am learning and growing from this visit, I am still working through some of my own personal issues while here.

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