Sunday, February 25, 2007

Caving in the Jungle

On Tuesday our program was to visit some caves.

They are in the jungle. I would try and describe their location as on a hill side, but this doesn't do justice to the real thing. Imagine walking down hill on a path that breaks through the jungle. As you walk in single file, trying to avoid tripping over roots or slippery rocks, around in mud up to your ankles and falling on your butt, the image of a hill doesn't sound quite right.

After a short while you stop noticing the insects, the plants, the birds and trees. In fact as you sweat your senses are so over used, things begin to look normal.

When puffing away as you run out of breath you can only focus on the boots that move in front of you.

The line stops, you look up and find your guide explaining about the tree in front of you. You get "sangre de drago" from the tree sap. A literal translation is "Drago's blood". This is used for cuts of all sorts, even stomach ulcers, as it has great healing powers.

Three thoughts cross your mind.

  • Amazing. Why is our guide so fresh and clean when I am a right mess?
  • Thank goodness for this rest.
  • Oh yes - a great tree.

As we try not to slide through the jungle into a hidden hole, we are told we have reached the first cave. This one was discovered by a group of men thirty years ago, one of them, our guide's father.

We put our helmets on with flash lights strapped over the visors and the first group of ten goes in. After a few minutes the sounds fade away. Maybe half an hour later we hear them coming back.

The first mud monster appears, a great white grin contrasting with the rest of this alien.

The next group is ready and we walk in. The ceiling is around seven feet high, the ground full of mud and columns of stalagmites. (If I got this right, the stalagmites are the columns that grow upwards, the stalactites grow downward - or maybe the other way round).

As we look at the roof of the cave, we see movement as dark objects begin to slide away from our lights. Bats.

It is funny, but every time something out of the ordinary happens, it is always the same people who scream and the same people who love it. Anyway, with the screams four or five bats drop down, fly over our heads and cause further havoc.

We come to what appears a dead end. Our guide tells us to turn our torches off. We are in pitch darkness, and after a short while we manage to keep absolute silence. I feel completely cut off from everywhere and everybody. I like it but know I couldn't stand it for more than a few minutes.

We turn on our lights and the guide is no longer with us. Seconds later, before panic sets in amongst our screamers, we see a light that comes straight out of a wall in front of us.

The fun, and the mud, begins in earnest. We have to slide on our chests, not even on all fours, through an opening. It is easy to slide as the floor is covered with an inch of mud, or is it an inch of bat goo?

We come out into another chamber. It is like a scene from a science fiction film. Earth has been destroyed and space travelers come back after hundreds of years only to find ruins of skyscrapers.

Planet of the apes?

It is really beautiful and over far too quickly.

We return, exhausted but happy.

We visit two more caves, each one more impressive that the previous.Our guide explains that there are over 25 caves distributed round the surrounding hills.

After more than six hours wandering around caves and trekking through the jungle we reach a delightful, non polluted river. Without a thought we wade in fully clothed and enjoy the cool water.

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