Published: October 8th 2011September 21st 2011
Today was a long, but fun day. We got up at 6:15a to get ready for the caves. Had a few pieces of toast (and tasty local fruit jam) and some fruit for breakfast and our ride came at 7a. We picked up 4 other people and were on our way. The road to the cave was unpaved and very bumpy. It took at least 30 minutes or so to get to a main area and park. We left our dry clothes and anything we didn't need in the van, and were given our helmets. We hooked them to the back of the small backpack Adam was carrying. We started our 45 minute hike in. Not very long into the hike we had to cross a river. It was about waist high, and the water felt nice. We continued on our hike, which wasn't that hard - but I'm kind of clumsy so I had to be careful about watching my feet - there are some ups and downs over roots and rocks. We saw a few cool butterflies while walking and the surrounding jungle was just beautiful. A lot of the hike was next to the river as well, which
provided a nice soundtrack. We ended up crossing the same river 3 times during the hike. It's depth varied from waist high to about knee high. The second two times we crossed it it was filled with slippery rocks. I had move kind of slowly but made it across only falling once. Luckily I was quick on getting up and wasn't swept away in the river current!
Eventually we came to a small eating area/campsite (apparently you can do an overnight and sleep by the cave) and took a quick break to eat anything we wanted too (no food allowed in the cave) and get our helmets fitted with headlamps. We left our backpacks, put on our helmets and walked down to the mouth of the cave. We had to jump in and swim about 30 feet or so into the cave. Just that first leap into cool water was exhilarating. Hiking through the caves was so much fun. We climbed over, through, twisted around a lot of rocks and waded in water from our ankles to our necks. Most people thought the water was too cold, but I thought it was just right. Refreshing.
When we first got into
the cave we saw some bats flying around, and as we got in farther we saw a ton of awesome stalactites and stalagmites. There were different colors in the formations and a lot of them sparkled because of the calcite. Our guide was good at stopping and pointing out different/interesting formations and giving us time to take pictures if we wanted too (he kept our cameras in his dry bag). The scariest part for me was when we had to climb up a rock out of the river (about 10-12 feet tall) and kind of step largely/leap over the gap to a ledge. I was terrified about slipping or falling down the gap hitting the rock on the way down. But it wasn't so bad, and the guide was at the top to help you across.
Eventually we got to the part farther in where you have to remove your shoes and continue on in your socks - a precaution against damaging any of the artifacts on the ground. A lot of the pottery is encrusted in the floor and just all around. It's really cool. There are parts of skeletons around too. Also there are scorpion spiders that hang
out in the cave. They are so funny looking - and reminded me of the spider in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire that Prof. Moody uses to demonstrate the unforgivable curses.
The hike culminates in climbing up a slightly rickety 14 foot ladder to a small chamber where "The Crystal Maiden" is - a calcite encrusted skeleton of a girl. We were the first tour group of the morning so everything was quiet and empty. Only when we started heading back did we run into some of the other groups.
Afterward you do everything in reverse and have to go back down the rickety ladder and over the gap and climb down the big slippery rock. It got pretty tiring on the way back, because we had been climbing and hiking around for a few hours. When we got out of the cave we headed to the lunch area and ate our sandwiches, which tasted fantastic since it was after 2p and our bodies were tired. Hiking back to the van was extremely tiring and beginning to get difficult. My legs were exhausted. On the hike back through the jungle we saw another tarantula. Adam didn't hold this
one, but liked looking at it. I waited until it was off the path and then ran by it!
While the day was hard work, I'm so happy we did this. I was afraid I wasn't in good enough shape or strong enough to make it, and I felt fairly accomplished afterward. While it wasn't a breeze, it wasn't as hard as I had feared.
We made it back to the van and changed into some dry clothes. It seemed to take longer to get back, but finally we got back to our place. We hung out for a bit reading, but then went and took a much needed (and wanted) nap.
We had another excellent dinner (and we were starving) then took a nice warm shower before bed. We have no idea what we are doing tomorrow, or if we'll be sore from all the climbing around. We'll see how we feel in the morning.
There are more photos below