TOMB HUNTER The Adventures of Larra Court Episode 2 Larra’s Mayan Adventure By L’Espion [email protected] Chapter 4 The Mayan Road The next morning the camp began to stir before dawn and the arduous task of loading the mules began. By nine o’clock everyone had breakfasted and the mules were under way. It had taken a good three hours to get the loads properly placed on the balky animals. Larra could only hope that as the days progressed the muleskinners would improve their speed. The expedition followed the Mayan causeway. It led through a narrow valley that was thick with rainforest vegetation. They made very slow progress. Much of the trail was choked with vegetation that had to be hacked out of the way by the Mayan villagers that Larra had hired when she had picked up the mules. The Guatemalan villagers had had a free ride up until now, but now they really earned their money, working in teams to slash a path for the mules. The first day the expedition made only three miles. The next it made only two, and the third just four. However, as they worked their way up the valley the vegetation began to thin. The rise in elevation led to rockier ground where the vegetation was not as thick. Larra hoped that her hunch about the causeway would pay off. She had not been able to decipher enough of the glyphs on the stele to be really sure that she was on the right track, but someone had cut the track originally, and that someone did not seem to be about anymore. Slowly but surely the party wound itself deeper and deeper into the mountains. On the Monday of the second week of the mule-trek the there could be heard a distant rumbling. “That sounds like falling water,” speculated Amy. “I think you are right,” answered Larra. We have crossed quite a few streams already so I guess it was only a matter if time.” An hour later the expedition came upon a spectacular sight. To their left a high waterfall plunged down a sheer cliff above them and splashed at their feet. There it formed a deep plunge pool before it overflowed and dropped into a deep chasm. Far below Larra could make out the glint of water. They were completely blocked. To their left was the sheer cliff and its spectacular waterfall; directly ahead and to their right was the yawning canyon. They could go no farther. Amy and Katie stood beside Larra, looking into the canyon. “This looks like the end of the line,” said Katie. “There is no way we can get the mules past here.” Larra was puzzled. She was still standing on the Mayan causeway. It didn’t make any sense to her to build such a road to the edge of a cliff without some sort of rationale. “There is something strange here,” she said. Suddenly she turned to Katie and Amy. “You know, after all those days of marching through the damned rainforest, I feel like a swim.” Larra shouted to the Indian villagers. “Set up camp back down the trail. We’re staying here tonight.” She then ducked behind a large boulder and stripped off her clothes. Within a few seconds she had jumped into the plunge pool and was swimming across it towards the bottom of the cataract. She turned over on her back and waved to the other two women. “Come on in, the water is fantastic!” Katie was into the water within a couple of minutes. Amy was a little slower. “What if one of the Indians peeked at them?” she thought. She was also acutely aware of the fact that compared to Larra and Katie she appeared a little undeveloped. But then again; “What the hell am I thinking about?” she muttered. “No one is going to give a damn.” She plunged into the water, noting that Katie was floating on her back, apparently held afloat by some mysterious source of buoyancy. Larra by now had almost reached the base of the waterfall. As she approached it she suddenly she pointed her shapely derriere into the air and dove out of sight. “Where did she go?” shouted Katie, as she neared the spot where Larra had disappeared. “I don’t know,” Amy returned. She began to breaststroke towards where Larra had been. The water felt deliciously cool after the ordeal of the rainforest hike. This was paradise, but she was almost in a panic about Larra. Suddenly Larra re-emerged almost at the spot she had disappeared. She had only been gone for a minute, but it had seemed like an hour to Katie and Amy. Larra was grinning from ear to ear. “I found the trail,” she said, “It is on the other side of the waterfall. We camp here tonight, and tomorrow we go exploring. Unable to control her pure exuberance, she let out a long joyful scream, an action that got her more than one strange look from the Guatemalan villagers who had assembled at the edge of the pool. “Loco,” muttered one of them, while the rest of them took in the remarkable sight of three naked nymphs swimming jubilantly in a forest pool. The next day dawned clear and cool, but there was a level of humidity in the air that promised the day would be hot as usual. The three women breakfasted and prepared for their adventure. The first trick would be to get past the waterfall without getting all of their clothing and equipment soaked. Larra had already come up with a scheme. She had their clothing and all necessary gear placed inside a waterproof poncho and tied onto a small raft that she had the Indians construct. “As long as we don’t completely submerge the poncho,” Larra explained, “it should keep everything dry for the short time it will take to pull it through the waterfall. All we have to do is swim underneath it the way that I did yesterday and then pull the poncho through with a length of rope.” “Let’s try it,” said Katie. “We can always try again if it doesn’t work the first time.” In preparation for the swim all three women were wearing only shorts and light vests. It had not occurred to any of them that they might need bathing costumes, but these outfits would do. They could change out of them on the other side of the waterfall. Larra led the way, wading into the pool and then swimming across to the base of the waterfall. As on the previous day, she upended herself and disappeared at the base of the falls. Katie followed, emulating Larra. She held her breath under the pounding water and swam as strongly as she could. When she found herself past the turbulent water she headed for the surface. She emerged in a quiet pool. Behind her was a falling curtain of water. Ahead of her was a stony beach covered with assorted pieces of driftwood and boulders. Larra was already there, pulling on the rope attached to the raft. Katie joined her and helped pull the raft through the waterfall. A few seconds after the raft emerged, and Amy also bobbed up, swimming strongly toward them. A minute later, all three women were assembled on the stony beach. The raft had been pulled safely through the falls and Larra was already divesting herself of her wet clothes. Amy looked about her. They were standing in a sort of grotto. Behind them a huge sheet of thundering water marked the presence of the waterfall. In front of them the shallow beach opened up into cave. Natural light filtered through the waterfall, providing enough illumination for the women to see everything quite clearly. It was like being in a kind of giant natural cathedral. The sight of it took Amy’s breath away. “What a place,” she breathed. “Yes,” Larra agreed, “it is spectacular. It reminds me of the cave I explored in Uganda.” Her face clouded a little. Biting her lip she turned away from the other two women. That other cave held some very strong memories. The father of her son had died there. She sighed deeply and finished stripping off her wet clothes. It was cool in the cavern, in the absence of sunlight. Pretending not to notice Larra’s melancholy, Katie and Amy followed suit. In a few minutes they had unpacked their gear and were dressed in dry clothing. The raft had come through the falls without a hitch. The villagers who had helped them were not coming. Not only could they not be persuaded to enter the plunge pool, but they were adamant about not going any farther than they already had. The best Larra could get them to do was wait near the waterfall until she, Amy, and Katie returned. Larra belted her Browning .45 around her hips and then braided her hair into a waist-length ponytail. Amy and Katie packed lighter firearms. They did not like the heavy recoil of the Browning, and so each packed a Beretta 7.65 mm semiautomatic. Amy, with her experience on her South African homestead actually preferred a rifle, but on this reconnaissance mission she elected to take a weapon that was easier to use. She was a crack shot with a rifle, but only passably accurate with a pistol. Although Katie had practiced assiduously since teaming up with Larra, she was far from being much of a shooter. She could handle the gun well enough, but her aim was far from accurate. Still, both of the less experienced woman in the party felt that they could rely on Larra’s shooting skills to get them out of any jams. Amy had woven her long hair into two long braids, which she then proceeded to wind around her head. Katie tied her blonde tresses off into two small ponytails that pushed out pixie-like from the sides of her head. All of the women were similarly dressed in robust cotton shirts and pants and broad brimmed hats. Larra was the most conventionally dressed, with no special adornments to her outfit. Amy and Katie had wound wide sashes around their waists. “We’re tomb hunters,” Katie said. “We have to look the part.” Amy’s sash was emerald green in color, setting off her eyes, while Katie had chosen bright crimson. As a further difference Katie had the side of her wide-brimmed hat rolled up. She claimed that she had seen Australian stockmen wear their hats that way. “That will probably give you a sunburn on one side of your face,” joked Larra. “Not so,” rejoined Katie. “I’ll just rotate the hat every half hour.” “I’ve had some experience with sun,” Amy remarked. “But it’s your complexion.” The women picked up their packs and set off. The walking was quite easy at first. Near the waterfall there was enough light that they had no difficulty picking their way around the numerous boulders that had fallen from the cave ceiling. Gradually, as the cave darkened it became more difficult and they had to use their electric torches to light the way. Katie, being American insisted on calling her torch a flashlight, which both Larra and Amy found amusing. The first part of the walk was a lighthearted affair. The women bantered back and forth with each other as they walked. Far ahead of them they could see a faint glimmer of light. More important to Larra was the occasional Mayan glyph cut into the walls. It told her that she was on the right track. After about a half-hour of cave-walking they came to the light. Here the cave opened out into a steep sided canyon. Now they no longer needed their torches and they stowed them in their backpacks. Far above them the canyon walls were bordered in shades of green as the rainforest closed in at the rim. Here and there small waterfalls tumbled to the canyon floor and formed a stream that flowed in the same direction that they were going. Larra was glad of this, it would provide them with a source of water so that they could preserve what was in their canteens. Another half-hour of walking took them further into the canyon. Always the floor of the canyon moved slightly downhill. Ahead of them the three women could now hear a faint roaring. The roaring got steadily louder. “That sounds like another waterfall,” suggested Katie. A minute later she was proved right. Thundering down from the high canyon rim, a huge column of water splashed into the chasm and roared directly across their path, disappearing into a cleft in the canyon wall that was at right angles to their approach. It formed a water barrier over thirty feet wide and ten feet deep. All of the women could see that the speed of the rushing water made fording or swimming it impossible. The three women halted. There did not appear to be any way around this obstacle. “Looks like we need a bridge,” said Amy. “Maybe,” Larra replied. She was looking at a huge tree trunk that had toppled into the canyon on the far side of the water barrier. Without further comment Larra put down her pack and took out a length of rope she had brought with her. She had brought it along in case it would be necessary for the women to lower themselves down any cliff, but now she was considering another use for it. Larra began to look around on the ground. The other two women watched her wondering what scheme was percolating through that keen mind. Larra finally found what she was looking for. She picked up a rock about the size of a softball. Carefully, she wound the rope around the rock, and then taking a piece of string from her pack she used it to make sure that the rock would not slip off the boulder. The two women saw what Larra was up too. “Great,” said Katie, “but I doubt that I am strong enough to hang onto that rope long enough to get me across.” Larra looked at her. “I have faith that you can. You have been getting stronger every day.” What Larra said was true. Larra always made a point of stopping early each day so that the three women could work out together. As best she could Larra wanted to pass on some of her martial arts skills to the two other women. The workouts were quite strenuous and both of Larra’s companions had developed muscle where before there had been only fatty tissue. Larra was swinging the rock back and forth now. There was room enough in the canyon for her to swing the boulder ten feet to either side of her, provided she had the strength to do it. Amy and Katie stepped back to give her more room. Larra widened the arcs of her swing, and then seizing the rope with both hands she began to twirl around faster and faster, like a hammer thrower. Finally with a grunt of effort she released her grip and watched the rock sail upward. The rock carrying the rope arched high and then fell back. It had missed clearing the tree trunk by about three feet. Undaunted Larra tried again. And again. And again. By now she was getting quite tired. Hurling the rock upward required maximum strength. She tried one more time. The rock sailed high, cleared the fallen tree and began to come down on the other side. Larra watched it fall and then gave a sudden jerk on the rope, pulling it taut and causing the rock to swing around the trunk. The speed of its descent resulted in the boulder wrapping itself around the trunk twice before it ran out of rope. “Time for a lunch break,” Larra gasped, as her two companions applauded her efforts. “I need a rest!” The three women sat down and unpacked their lunches. There was plenty of water in the rushing stream and Larra used a small pot to scoop some of it up. Gathering up a few sticks of wood she soon had a small fire going. Placing the pot on the fire, she heated up some water for tea. “You Brits,” laughed Katie. “I’ll never understand your passion for tea.” “I haven’t noticed you turning it down,” rejoined Amy. “I think you are becoming one of us.” “Funny,” said Larra, in her cultured British accent, “I have never thought of myself as British. I never lived there you know.” “Nor I,” said Amy. “I’m South African. A wild girl from the colonial veldt.” “All right,” said Katie flashing a smile that displayed her beautiful white teeth. “I apologize.” They finished their meal of tortillas and beans that the Indians had prepared for them. After washing the spicy food down with unsweetened tea Larra felt ready. The two other women watched her attentively. They would have to try to emulate her if she succeeded. Grabbing the end of the rope Larra looked around for a launching platform. She spied what she needed in a small projection jutting out from the canyon wall. “Give me a boost girls,” she called to Amy and Katie. “You’re not really going to trust that rope are you?” asked Amy. “It could give way when you are halfway across.” “I don’t think so,” said Larra. “Anyway there is only one way to find out.” Amy and Katie pushed on Larra’s shapely rear end, allowing her to scramble up the canyon wall to the small ledge she had spotted, while taking the end of the rope with her. Pulling the rope tight, she grabbed it as high up as she could and then jumped into the air. She swung in a rapidly accelerating arc across the raging torrent below her. If the rope gave way she would be plunged into the foaming stream and carried away without any chance of rescue. But the rope did not give way. Larra swung out and over the stream and at precisely the right moment she released her grip and slid rapidly down the rope to the canyon floor on the other side of the river. Attempting to retain her hold on the rope, she made an ungainly landing and bounced off the canyon floor on her bum. She had, however, made it across to the other side. Regaining her feet and dusting herself off a bit, Larra tied a small rock to the bottom of the length of rope she had brought with her. Then she tossed the rope back across to the other two women. “I’ll try it next,” said Katie. “Boost me up.” Amy gave Katie a push and she too managed to make it to the small ledge. “Maybe you should give me a hand up before you go,” suggested Amy. “Is there room on that ledge for two?” In reply, Katie lay on her belly and extended her hand down to Amy. Between her pulling and Amy’s scrambling, the lighter woman made it to the ledge. Katie now launched herself across the rushing water. She timed her swing a little less well than Larra and had to completely let go of the rope to make sure that she made it across. Larra, however, was waiting for her and caught the rope before it could swing out over the water. She then tossed the rope back to Amy. Amy did not have a good feeling about jumping across the surging stream, but she reasoned that since both Larra and Katie had made it across and they were both heavier than she was, there shouldn’t really be any problem. “Yeaahh!” With a Tarzan-like scream Amy launched herself across the stream. This time both Larra and Katie were waiting for her and caught hold of her as she came down. “Made it!” Amy exulted as the three women engaged in a hug. “I’m proud of you two,” Larra exulted. Both Amy and Katie beamed. Larra was a natural leader. For Amy it was natural to gravitate to the older more experienced woman, but for Katie it was a bit of a paradox. Katie was actually a year older than Larra, but readily accepted her leadership of the expedition. “Now,” said Larra, “it’s time to get moving. We want to be able to get a little farther down the canyon, and still get back to camp before nightfall.” The women resumed their trek. The canyon continued its slight downward slope for a few hundred feet and then slowly began to climb. As it was early afternoon, the temperature was beginning to increase. All three women were beginning to perspire quite profusely and they all drank freely from their canteens. Larra was glad that the canyon offered frequent shade, it tended to keep the temperature lower than it would have been. The canyon was now beginning to curve slightly so that the three women could not see very far ahead of them. They trudged on for another half-hour, and Larra was just about to call a halt, when suddenly the canyon opened out. Before them the canyon divided into two branches. One took a sharp turn to the right, but the other continued straight on before them. “I think this is as far as we should go today,” Larra said. “We’ll head back to camp, pick up a little more gear, and then explore a little farther tomorrow.” Suddenly, the ground surged beneath their feet. “Earthquake!” Larra shouted. From the sides and top of the canyon boulders of all sizes tumbled down toward the three women. With nowhere to run they were exposed to a hail of rocks. “Move to the sides!” screamed Larra, dashing toward the canyon wall. It was a desperate hope, but there might be some chance of shelter there. A large boulder bounced off the ground in front of Amy and rebounded into her leg, knocking her to the ground. Too late to get to the canyon wall, she simply covered her head with her arms and curled up, trying to make herself as small as possible. Larra made it to the wall, but as she did so a large slab of rock detached from the cliff and dropped behind her, grazing the back of her head as it passed. The blow knocked her senseless and forced her tightly up against the base of the canyon. By sheer good fortune, the huge slab that had knocked her unconscious fell against the wall of the canyon, providing a shelter against the other boulders raining down from above. Within a few seconds, Larra’s refuge was covered with several tons of fallen rock. Katie dashed back up the canyon, trying to avoid the falling rock. Small boulders rained around her and several smaller rocks actually struck her. Holding her arms over her head she was able to deflect these smaller objects away from her, suffering only bruises. Behind her Katie heard a gigantic crash. Glancing over her shoulder as she ran she saw the entire side of the canyon wall crash down. The canyon was now blocked by a huge pile of rubble that she would have to climb over in order to rejoin her companions. The earthquake stopped as suddenly as it had begun. A few more boulders crashed into the canyon after the earth stopped shaking but then they too stopped, leaving the area where Katie was standing shrouded in a huge cloud of choking dust. Coughing, Katie moved farther up the canyon in the direction of their camp. She would have to wait a few minutes, before attempting to find Larra and Amy. Farther down the canyon. Amy Price got to her feet. Incredibly, she had escaped serious injury, having been struck by only a few small rocks. She was bruised, but basically unhurt. Immediately she clambered over to where she had last seen Larra. Before her was a huge pile of rock. “Larra! Larra! Larra!” Amy called out in desperate hope of an answer, but a cold dread filled her. Where Larra had last been was a massive pile of stone. No one could hope to survive under that mass of rubble. But Amy would not give up. Desperately she tossed aside boulder after boulder, straining hard to roll some of the larger rocks aside. Eventually, covered with sweat and dust she collapsed sobbing on the pile of debris. She had hardly been able to move any of the rock material. If Larra was still alive, she was entombed without hope of rescue. Farther up the canyon, Katie began to climb over the huge mound of rock that now blocked access to her companions. The climbing was difficult because she had to be wary of boulders that continually came loose under her hands and feet. Abruptly, when she was about twenty feet up, the boulder she was standing on came free. Katie went crashing to the canyon floor. For about five minutes, she lay there dazed, her eyes closed and bright colors dancing before her eyes. Slowly consciousness returned. She opened her eyes and found them focussing on a pair of brightly polished boots!