Honestly, Who Really Knows What Spelunking is?

2012-08-19-cavesby: Patrick T. Tobin, Marist Italy FFE, 2013-14

“So what exactly are we planning on doing?” I questioned my friends while on a crowded bus in Budapest, Hungary. All I was told was that we would be spelunking, but honestly who really knows what spelunking is? Endless questions rattled my mind. Would I need to do some warm-up stretches? Should have I brought a snorkel? Possibly a change of underwear? Well luckily I did not need any of the above. As it turns out, spelunking is cave diving, or cave exploring. Basically, you meander through a system of tunnels underground. On a side note, if you manage to lose the tour guide, you’re basically stuck until they find you. So as Stiv, our expert spelunker, was explaining all of this to us, I suddenly became aware of my claustrophobia. How bad could it be? Little did I know of what was to about to come…

Stiv led us all to the entrance of the cave, informing us on all of the scientific facts about caves and how they’re formed. Then we came to our first trial. We had to climb down a rusty ladder about 20 feet in order to get to where we would actually begin to explore. My fear of heights mixed with my sudden claustrophobia tightened my joints to the point where I had to mentally yell, “Alright, you CAN do this! Just go!” And with one last audible gulp, I gripped onto the ladder for my life and began the decent. I breathed a sigh of relief once reaching the bottom but what I should have known was that the ladder was going to be the easiest part of the entire exploration.

The continuous physical demands began right away, as we had to scale our way down further below the earth’s surface. The temperature was much warmer than the 20 degrees it was outside. The path continued to narrow and the ceiling continued to shrink down on us. Before much further, we were crawling on our arms and knees. Not much longer after that we had to army crawl and push ourselves through tiny spaces that sent anxiety through the room. The faces that I was making to express my anxiety, frustration and pain would have been great selfie material. But, however nervous I got whenever the spaces grew smaller, I felt a stronger rush whenever one of the tiny crawl spaces led us into a huge cavernous room.

After waiting for everyone to join us, Stiv began to explain to us how this room was called the, “Theatre.” Apparently some other spelunkers had decided to host a Christmas concert in the Theatre. They managed to bring down instruments as large as a bass into the cave; I’m still trying to understand how they were able to do that… Stiv’s voice echoed, the shuffling of feet, and every breath echoed off of the walls of the Theatre and came right back to us. The Christmas concert must have sound like three different orchestras mimicking each other. He asked us to sing a song in order to imagine what the concert sounded like. The group was torn between Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball,” or “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”  Luckily for Stiv and anyone else who might have heard, we chose, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” It sounded like there was a completely different group on the other side of the room singing back to us.

Stiv told us that unlike some other caves, like the ones in Australia or New Zealand, there was no natural light in this cave.  He sat us down in a circle and told us to turn off the lights mounted on helmets. As the last girl switched off her light, blackness engulfed the world around us. I held my hand in front of my face as a test and failed miserably. There was no possible way to see. After some time in the dark, Stiv asked us if we wanted to continue. Personally, I didn’t feel like spending the rest of my trip in that cave without my sight. So we turned on our helmet lights and continued through the tour.

The path away from the Theatre was much easier till we reached the, “Birth Canal.” Stiv began to describe the reason behind this part’s strange name. He said, “ It will feel like you are trying to climb back up the mother’s birth canal.” When in Budapest, right? And it was the only way to get out. We had to lie on our backs and push off of the wall in order to make our way up the Birth Canal. After waiting for each person to make the ascent, it was eventually my turn. I’m not exactly sure if I would describe it as climbing back up the Birth Canal, but it was definitely a hard effort on my part. Once everyone made it up, we continued on our way.

Before we knew it, we were back at the dreaded ladder. The climb up was much easier than the climb down, but it still made me nervous. Throughout a large part of the tour I felt very anxious, but I managed to calm myself down and get through even the tiniest places. Even though I was nervous, after every crawl space, I felt a huge rush of adrenaline. I had so much fun squeezing myself through the path or even climbing up the birth canal. Now that I know what it is, spelunking is exciting and a really unique opportunity that made my trip that much better.

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