Sunday, November 16, 2008

Caving

Here's more photos... however, this post is not about photos.

I should have written my caving adventure as soon as I got home. Right now it doesn't seem like it was a mentally and physically demanding excursion.

Travis, Andrew, Rachelle and I went on a 5-hour caving adventure in the Waitomo Caves. Our guides were awesome. We started off by getting outfitted in some heavy-duty wetsuits. Double-layered, kevlar patched wetsuits, with booties and boots. Rachelle and I also had to wear balaclavas to keep our hair from getting caught in the abseiling device.


Then we were taught how to use the abseiling equipment, and needed to practice before heading down into the cave.




This is Travis and I as we're hanging 8 storeys (or 37m) above the ground.




So, we slid down the rope (I was quite anxious about it, so I went really slow. I'd like another few times to practice so I get good and fast at it). Then we went for a little walk, and the next thing you knew we were at a "flying fox" (or a zipline). Remember, this is all underground with only the light of our helmets and the glow worms to light the way. I would have enjoyed the ziplining much more if Alan (one of our guides) had let me know WHEN he was letting me go so I could have enjoyed all 4 seconds of the zipline rather than freaking out for 2 seconds and then going "wow, this is awesome" for 2 seconds... and being jolted to a halt at the bottom.

Then we walked a bit more, and ended up in a cavernous area with a stream beside us. They asked us to sit on the edge of this 3m high cliff, and the water was below us. We ate our awesomely decadent snack on the edge of this cliff, like construction workers perched on their beams in the old photos of New York.



Andrew and Travis jumped off the cliff into the water below, clutching their inner tubes to their butts. You couldn't have paid me enough... okay, I probably would have done it for $200... but I didn't know how deep the water was there! I was only jumping into water that was WAY over my head, and they weren't giving us a definitive answer as to how deep the water was, so I opted to go for the lame-o route.... jumping backwards .5m into the inner tube. Then we floated. There was a lot of screeching due to the chilly water temperature. I loved it. The only thing that was really cold was when I laid back completely and floated my head in the water. My wetsuit would then scoop up water and it'd go down my back. I giggled like a little girl - yes, it was cold. But, the wetsuits warmed up the water quite quickly. We floated along, looking at the roof of the cave and all the lovely glow worms. Stewart, our other guide, was trying to gross us out by telling us that the beautiful glow worms were nothing but assless maggots with glowing shit. That didn't really bother us. I had already read that description on their website. ;)

Continuing on, we then got rid of our innertubes and were thrown (well, ya, thrown) backwards down a waterfall (slide). There was a slide on the waterfall. Stewart was trying to be sneaky by telling us to turn around while he pushed us down the slide individually. Like I mentioned earlier, I much prefer being told what's about to happen, or what I'm going to experience so I will actually enjoy myself. I've found that if I'm kept in the dark about what I'm supposed to be doing, I will be a lot more belligerent, which takes us to later in the expedition.

Stewart said he was going to have a nap, and that we'd have fun going through a little hole in the cave. He began by asking if any of us were claustrophobic. My hand shot through the air. He asked, "Well, how claustrophobic?" How do you answer that? I panic when I can't get my sweater off? I'm not bothered in elevators. He asked, "If you were in a wardrobe, would you freak out?" I replied, "How big is it? Am I locked in there? Is it full of clothes? There's a lot of factors to be being freaked out." So we began our trip. Andrew, Rachelle, and Travis entered the cave first. We're talking a pretty tight squeeze. I walked into the cave... sorry. I CROUCHED down to enter the hole in the wall, and I heard Rachelle say, "I'm coming out." I said, "Are you serious? If you're not going, I better not go." She decided to persevere, so I thought I'd give it a go.

I have to explain the tunnel we went through. The bottom was clay. Slimy, thick, red clay. There weren't a lot of sharp edges for us to hurt ourselves on - it was mostly clay. If we encountered sharp-ish rock, the kevlar suits kept us pain-free. Travis mentioned later his arms were sore from pulling himself through on his belly. So, he just slid through. The top of the tunnel, though, was more rocky, and only high enough to allow you to be on your hands and knees. This is when we were grateful to have helmets on. My story continues...

I got 3 meters into the cave and said, "Nope. Not gonna do it." Stewart woke from his 3 second nap and said, "Really? No, we're going to do this." Travis, Andrew and Rachelle reached their destination. Stewart followed behind me and encouraged me through the tight squeezes. He said, "You'll be fine. It's all in your head. This is just problem solving - you have to find the best way through." So whenever I started to panic, which coincidentally happened whenever my chest was getting squished, I had to close my eyes and breathe deeply, and wiggle my big butt through the clay-filled tunnel. Travis and Andrew and Rachelle were encouraging me from the "cathedral" where they had stopped to wait for me. There were promises of space, plain nachos and 1 litre containers of salsa. None of that waited for me. The "cathedral" where they were waiting for me was not large at all. It barely fit 4 people. And then I said, "Well, shit, now I've gotta do that all over again." Because we had traveled this tunnel before, the way out was much quicker. I heard Stewart coaching Andrew and Rachelle through the twisty, tricky parts of the tunnel. I heard him say, "Go head first, go head first. Wiggle through like a dolphin." Rachelle had already gone feet first, so she was afraid of getting stuck. I followed Stewart's advice and went head first, squirming through like a dolphin. I described the experience as "like being birthed". (or, at least, how I imagine being birthed would feel like.) It was fun - I stuck out my hands like I was diving, and basically slid down a c-shaped decline. We're close to the exit... I managed to crawl under a ledge that, on the way in, I had tried to climb over and nearly got stuck. Crawling under was the way to go. When we got out, I jumped up and down and yelled, "I DID IT!!!!" and unzipped my wetsuit. I could breathe again. Lots of hugs and high-fives. But, we had to wait for our photo-op before we could clean the clay off ourselves.

Floating, washing, laughing in the water, we continued on our way. Walking through 3 inches to 3 feet of water down "Drunken Alley", we found ourselves at the edge of a cliff with a rope hanging down. It seemed like an easy maneuver. This is where I became belligerent. Stewart wouldn't explain to me what I was supposed to be doing. All he said was "straighten your legs." It didn't make any sense to me why I needed them to be straight. I could see the ground, he was standing on it! All I needed to do was go off the cliff holding onto the rope. He kept yelling. I just wanted to get down, and I was trying to do it my own way. He grabbed my legs, yanked them down, and I proceeded to slide down the rope burning my hands. It was at this point that I started to fume. I was SO angry I walked away from where we were and tried to stifle the tears. Who does that? Really!!!! I would have been perfectly fine had he just said, hold onto the rope, you're only 5 feet off the ground, just come down slowly. But, instead, all he did was yell, "Straighten your legs!" and pulled me down the rope. Not impressed.

We still had about an hour left of our trip. We climbed up into a different part of the caves where other "walking" tours go. Climbing the stalagmites was a bit tricky because we weren't supposed to be touching them.




Here's another photo-op, just as we were ending our trip.


We climbed up a few waterfalls (Rachelle HATED climbing up the waterfalls. I quite enjoyed it), watched Stewart play with an eel, then followed Stewart's instructions of "left, left, don't fall in the hole, right, left". It makes no sense until you actually went left, left, saw the hole and didn't fall in it, right, left, and voila! one more waterfall to climb up, and we could see daylight!




We hiked back to the van, found that it had a flat tire, so Stewart changed the tire while we all watched. We just wanted to get back to shower off and head to the hotel in Rotorua, which was still a 2-hour drive away. That gong-show of a story is for another day...

4 comments:

Sharon said...

Reuben & I really enjoyed reading about your cave experiences- sounds exciting!

Sharon said...

Reuben & I really enjoyed reading about your cave experiences & seeing the pictures- sounds exciting!

WorldEmpress said...

That's pretty awesome. I'm glad you did post it.

(The rope burn thing had me pretty incensed too. My son got pulled down a rope and ended up missing layers of skin from his hands. It was all kinds of traumatic for all of us. I hope you weren't really seriously burned - but people don't think about how dangerous that is.)

Glenlily said...

I didn't hate climbing up the waterfalls - at first scared to do it. Once I climbed it, I was glad I had done it.