It is March and spring is here already. Every week the weather is improving and with it lifting my mood and spirit for adventure! I said okay.. Let me break my winter hibernation and go on an EXTREME Adventure tour to a cave! okay.. sounds ironic.. ending hibernation but going to a cave! 😀
The weather was perfect and it was a short drive, roughly 90 km from Szekesfehervar. The drive was pleasant and relaxing. The last 2.5 km or so was a mud path with a little climb and the view of the Balaton (Lake) was amazing from here. Balaton is so huge, it almost looks like a sea.
We were the first ones to get there. There was a small wooden hut which I assumed was the office but it was still closed. After taking a couple of snaps of the nice view we had, we noticed that there were other cars being parked and other people had also arrived to join the cave tour. Finally the organizer also joined us but he knew only Hungarian and a little bit of Deutsch (German). He gave us a jump suit, helmet with lights and after wearing them, I was beginning to feel adventurous already!
We were a group of 10, with one guide. To get to the cave, we had to hike for around 40 minutes. Along the hiking path, there are some info. boards about the flora and fauna in the Balaton Nemzeti Park. The Balaton Nemzeti Park has a number of caves and was a terrain with a lot of volcanic and tectonic activity many millions of years ago. The Csodabogyos Barlang (Barlang is Cave in Hungarian), which we visited is a limestone cave formed due to tectonic activity. The cave is 6.5km long with a depth of 650m. There are plenty of sections and routes still to be discovered. We would be covering around 1.5km in the cave and going approx. 250m deep.
Just before the cave entrance, there was a small pile of stones and the guide asked us if we have any fears then collect a stone for each fear and pile them up and leave them behind. I guess he meant there is no room for fear when you go into a cave. Fear of closed spaces, fear of darkness, fear of insects, bats etc. leave all that behind and enjoy the adventure. Right! Hmm.. I put just one stone for my fear of dark enclosed spaces.
I was very excited to see the entrance to the cave. I was imagining a dramatic entrance
from one of the foothills, but sadly was a little disappointed looking at the entrance. It was just a hole, similar to the water sump entrance at my home in Bangalore! 😀
As I was staring at the cave entrance, a woman came to me and gave me some leaves to eat. She said eat this, it tastes good! Oh, finally somebody who could speak English. The leaf did taste good. It had a strong flavor of garlic and as I began chewing, it became strong and I got a burning sensation on my tongue (like the wasabi feeling). The leaf was strange and nice but made me search for my spearmint gum! 😀
So, the lady who gave me the leaf was Agnes (Agi), who would be our guide. I was so glad we had an English speaking guide accompanying my husband and me throughout the tour.
I took the first ladder into the cave and came to a small opening where we had to leave all our bags etc. in one corner. Agi told me “You don’t need your bags as you have to get into very narrow spaces”. OMG! a little bit of panic started setting in at that point. But I told myself that I had left my fear behind.. the pile of stones… yes.. if only it were that easy!
We started moving inside the cave, following each other, Agi leading the way and then it was me, my husband and another young couple from Budapest. It was 4 tourists with one guide. After 5 minutes in the cave, I started getting used to the damp smell of the cave, the darkness and only the light on my helmet guiding me through the narrow spaces. We walked a little bit then there was one more ladder. After I got down this ladder (Slippery, clad with wet clay,steel ladder) I noticed that the ground was not flat but sloping down, and as I started slipping down a little I noticed that Agi in front was comfortably rappelling. That’s when I noticed the rope next to me and started imitating Agi (well, as much as I could).
As we started climbing down, we entered a chamber with a few stalactite and stalagmite formations. I was wondering how many centuries, if not more, it would have taken for these formations to take place. Stalactites are formed because of the mineral deposits as the water keeps dripping from the ceiling of the cave. And stalagmites are formed from the floor of the caves as the minerals accumulate due to the water dripping from the ceiling. When the stalactite and stalagmite meet, they form a column. These caves are also known as dripstone caves for this obvious reason. I was remembering all that I had learnt from my high school geography lessons. These were small formations and not very huge or dramatic stalactites and stalagmites like I had seen some before in the caves in India.
Basically, there were narrow passages which we had to negotiate to get to chambers (read: relatively wide spaces) with dripstone formations. There were some very tiny fruit bats, hanging from the ceiling, hibernating, in a few chambers as well. My guide pointed out to a narrow creek in the stones and she said that it was called Hell Hole! as it was really narrow to enter it. My instincts made me take a few steps back, and my first and obvious question was if we were going into it. Oh no, don’t worry, you won’t be going there. Even Seasoned cavers are scared of it. Phew.. a sigh of relief. But it’s not all hunky dory from now on. I wish my guide had warned me like this. At least I would be prepared mentally. Nope, she never told me that basically after this chamber, everything is going to change drastically.
We suddenly arrived at this very narrow crevice which was curving to the right. I could not see how deep it was. It was just really dark. As I was staring into the abyss, my guide suddenly disappears. Okay. Agi! I call out. Then she comes back from the narrow crevasse so quickly with amazing agility and made it look so easy. Oh yes.. I will tell you how to come now. “Just press your arms and your thighs against the walls like you are pushing it wide open and then move forward”. I had so many questions in my mind. “Don’t worry, even if you lose your grip you cannot fall. The space is too narrow”. At this point, she swings her body left, right and shows that she cannot fall. Okay.. that helps me a little bit. She added “But'”… yeah there’s got to be one… hmm.. but what? my heart skipped a beat. I was beginning to think that my guide was enjoying my nervous smiles. But make sure you are not slipping deeper into the crevice as it gets very narrow and you might get stuck. OMG! at this point all I thought was the 127 hours movie.. Oh no.. Focus and you can do this. So I got into position. and pushed my arms against the wall. bent my knees and took support of the walls using my thighs and I started moving forward and it was so much fun! I really loved this part. It was so nice to just push myself and I felt really strong and awesome. Yeah! At this point, all my fears disappeared and I started enjoying, really enjoying the whole experience. Come on! Bring it on!
After this, there were so many other ladders to climb down, more ropes to hang onto, narrow spaces where we had to twist our bodies to get into them, crawling on all fours. I was loving it so far. Then came a sort of dead end. Agi pointed that this was a little tricky bit as there was a narrow opening at the bottom where we have to go feet first, belly to the floor and push ourselves through this hole. And the adventure doesn’t end there. At the other end of the hole is a deep ditch, so make sure you don’t fall off. At this point, when are feet are dangling from a hole, high above the ground, Agi said she will guide our feet to the ladder and then we have to climb down. It sounded very exciting to me. I was ready for the challenge. Agi went first and gave the signal for me to come. I went into the hole, it was narrow, but not as narrow as I had imagined it to be, then she directed my feet to the ladder, it took me a while to feel the ladder steps as it was not directly below my feet but to the left, so I had to twist my body to my left and feel the ladder and then finally climbed down. Wow! I did it. It felt great. After this we went to another big chamber after which we would return and climb back the way we came.
We started getting back, now, the route seemed familiar, I knew what to expect and seemed easy. I negotiated the narrow hole again,this time climbing into the hole from the ladder, face first, lifting my body using all my strength from the upper body and started pushing myself into the hole and then came the exit. At this point, the group was cheering everyone who was getting out of the hole and giving everyone a piece of chocolate. Oh yes! this made me realize I was beginning to feel hungry. It gave me instant energy and I felt better. I realized that I had spent almost 3.5 hours in the cave.
I started feeling the physical and mental exhaustion. I could feel my arms and thighs aching, my knees were hurting because of all the crawling. I imagined my body shouting at me “you hibernate for 2 months and now suddenly you put me through this! You B**ch!”. After crawling out of yet another narrow hole, I realised that we had started taking another route and were in the wettest section of the cave. There was mud, slush, clay everywhere.
Then everyone was going one by one into a narrow hole head first and I noticed that everyone was struggling to get into it as the hole was at an elevation and we had to put in a lot of effort to push ourselves in. I tried but needed a good push by my guide to get in. I was just exhausted. At this point, all the energy was drained from my body, and I was really just waiting to get out and see sunlight again. But after wriggling myself into the narrow hole, I expected to enter a chamber or at least a wider space, but by now I surely should have realised that caves don’t turn out to be the way you “hope” or “expect” them to be! And I guess that is the thrill for a caver.
The narrow passageway seemed endless. The fear was creeping back again. The darkness, the tiny holes were getting to me. My palm and my fingers were hurting because of the crawling and gripping the ropes, and creeks or whatever there was to hold on so that I can hang in there. Finally the passage became a little wide and then after 10 min. Or so, I saw the first ladder that I took to enter this cave. Oh! Yes! I did it. I climbed out of it and was so happy to feel the sunlight on my face again. Wide open spaces again! The earth seemed so vast! I was so happy to just spread my arms wide and not hit any wall.