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Ch. 5. Cave

Author: johnmedler Total hits: 3832 User hits: 11 Date: 03-03-2014

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Chapter 5. Cave

Present day. Mahale Mountains, Western Tanzania.

"Dogo, look here!" exclaimed twelve year-old Akili to his ten year-old brother. "I have found a new opening!"

Dogo and Akili lived in a small Watongwe village near Kasiha in western Tanzania, on the white shores of Lake Tanganyika, the world's longest fresh water lake. The two boys were natural adventurers, and spent most of their days exploring the forests of Mahale Mountains National Park in search of some of the nearly eight hundred wild chimpanzees that claimed the region as their monkey home. The Mahale Mountains chimpanzees became accustomed to humans after Japanese primate researchers first began exploring the area fifty years ago, so it was not that difficult to get a good view of one of the chimps. Today, however, was different. The boys were not wandering the forest today, but were inside a cave in Mount Nkungwe, the park's largest mountain, which towered over eight thousand feet above the lush, green trees below. Two days ago, Dogo had found a small hole in the mountain wall. When the two boys entered the hole, they were surprised to see that it opened up into a large limestone cave. For the last two days, the boys had spent all of their daylight hours spelunking with torches, staring in wonderment at the stalagmites and exploring every inch of the cave. This morning, Akili had cut the bottom of his right foot on a sharp rock inside the cave and was hobbling a bit. The laceration had not dampened his spirits, however, and he enjoyed himself immensely exploring the cave.

Dogo, having recently lost his two front teeth, gave a broad, gummy smile to his older brother. Dogo's huge Afro bounced as he scooted through the dark cave tunnel to the place where his brother was standing. Akili did not understand why his brother wore his hair so wild and long. He looked nothing like any of the other men of the Watongwe tribe. Dogo was always a goofy little kid. Dogo said he liked his hair like that. Akili, whose name meant "wise one" in Swahili, was proud to wear his hair short like the other men in the village. Dogo shivered, using his hands to rub his shoulders. It was much colder in here than he was accustomed to. Dogo was wearing an orange and yellow Disney Lion King t-shirt which had been given to him by a primate researcher several months ago. Dogo liked the picture of Rafiki, the baboon, and wore the shirt constantly.

Dogo gave a mischievous look to his older brother. "Akili, that hole looks very small. Do you think you will fit? You eat too much ugali, you know. You are very fat."

Akili gently shoved his brother, hitting him in the shoulder. "What do you know? You scare the fish with your hair! That is why you are so skinny."

Dogo laughed, and shoved his brother out of the way, scrambling into the newly-found cave opening in the wall. "I will go in first, because I am Rafiki, brave and strong. You can follow me!"

Akili grabbed his brother's ankle as he scampered into the hole, pulling him back out of the opening, and shoved him backwards, taking the opening for himself.

"Hey!" said Dogo. Akili climbed through the small opening and looked back to his brother.

"Dogo, hold my torch!" Akili passed his torch back to his brother. Curling himself around the rock, Akili came out into a clearing on the other side. It was definitely big enough to stand in, but beyond that, he could not tell anything. His feet felt squishy, like he was standing in mud. It was as black as ink in here. "Dogo!" exclaimed Akili, reaching his head back into the opening and stretching out his arm. "Pass me the torch!" Dogo did as he was told.

"Now take mine!" said Dogo, handing through the second torch to his brother. Dogo quickly scampered through the opening to join his brother and regained his torch once he went through.

"Yuck!" said Dogo in disgust, "What are we stepping in? It feels like caca!" Dogo giggled at his joke.

The two brothers turned around. This inner area felt as cold as the fish freezer. As their eyes strained to make out shapes in the darkness, Akili lifted his torch high over his head, and the two gazed upward. There was a rocky ceiling to this small room, maybe ten feet high. Along the ceiling were hundreds of little dark blobs. What were they? Akili thought at first that they might be some strange kind of black rock, but then his brain made the connection. Some of the blobs were moving!

"Bats!" screamed Akili.

Dogo and Akili did not have time to react to the giant wind-thrushing and the vicious fluttering in the air. Hundreds of cave bats descended on the two young boys, causing them to drop their torches, and sending them screaming in terror back through the hole. Akili made it back through the hole first, leaving poor Dogo to fend for himself with the bats for an interminable extra few seconds. Dogo screamed, "Akili! Help!" Akili then pulled his brother back through the hole and the two ran down the cave passageway blind, with the swarm of bats following all around them. The two boys swung their arms wildly to fend off the swarm of airborne creatures. A few seconds later, Akili and Dogo saw the flurry of bats swing ahead of them, bound for the cave entrance, wherever that was. Akili and Dogo hit the floor of the cave, letting the bats pass overhead. Akili then held his little brother's hand, feeling along the rock wall and retracing their steps silently and slowly back to the cave entrance.

"Akili, I want to get out of here! I don't like caves anymore!"

"I will help you out, Dogo. Do not be afraid!" He only made one wrong turn, and, with his innate sense of direction, Akili managed to find the entrance of the cave where they had come in. They both squinted into the bright sunlight. After holding up his hand to ward off the sun, Akili's eyes soon adjusted to the bright light. He looked at his own body. His feet were covered in black bat guano, but he appeared to be unharmed. He could not see any marks on Dogo's body but Dogo assured Akili he had been bitten. Dogo began crying.

"It's OK, Dogo. The bats are gone! Dogo, I do not see any bite marks on you. If they had bitten you, I think there would be teeth marks."

"It hurts!" cried Dogo. "I know I was bitten! I could feel it! I do not think I can make it home!"

"Akili, you are being a baby. You must come with me. No one even knows where we are. We have several hours to go in order to get home before dark. Come on. I will help you." Akili gave his brother a drink of water from a small army green canteen at his waist and then put his arm around him for support.

"Let's go."

Akili and Dogo walked along the forest floor, passing half-eaten fruit and chimpanzee dung piles. Normally, this would be cause for excitement, an indication that monkeys were in the area. Now, all they could think about was getting home. They followed their way along the streams, using the sausage trees, baobabs, and other landmarks for orientation. Akili's cut foot really made it difficult to travel, but he pressed ahead. By the time they arrived in their village two hours later, they were dehydrated and exhausted. Their mother was dismayed at their condition, and took them immediately inside their hut.
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