Our current time zone: GMT +8 (We're home in Singapore!)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Playing Dirty

It was only after we had signed up for caving at Cueva Vaca that I realised that we were in for a really dirty time!

This was not any ordinary visit to a cave - strolling along a wooden broadwalk, ooohing and aaahing at stalactites and stalagmites, playing with echoes, while staying dry and snugly bundled up in warm clothing.

We were going to get down and dirty! We started by hopping through a seriously icky minefield of ...

Guess how Cueva Vaca (Cow Cave) got it's name? Thankfully, I was wearing old sneakers borrowed from the hostel.

Then, we had to brave The Path Of Big Black Scary Birds. We joked that these ugly misfits looked like vultures all hanging around, waiting to pick the rotting flesh off our dead bodies should we not emerge from the cave alive...

Shopping vultures...

Holy Cow! I just found out that they ARE vultures! The Black American Vulture which locates carrion not only by sight, but also by it's keen sense of smell. It's comforting to know that if we really got lost underground in the deep bowels of the cave, somebody would be sure to find us... or smell us....

Their standard pose - as if waiting to take flight at the whiff of a potential meal. Muy feo.

And along with strange birds, the path was littered with strange plants... or rather, the skies... There were air-plants on all the overhead cables everywhere we looked!

Nyah, nyah, The Very Hungry Caterpillar can't get me here!

I remember my parents going nuts over these plants that literally live on air and water, even to the point of flying them back from Chaktuchak Market in Bangkok and waiting 5 years for the flowers to bloom. One of the perks of being the offspring of Botany grads: being surrounded by air-plants all my life while other tourists pay COP 4,000 (US$2) to view the very same plants at the botanic gardens in San Gil.

Rapunzel on a bad hair day. A sample photo taken in our garden back home.

"Landmines" and vultures successfully avoided, we finally arrived at the entrance to the cave. And down we went through the mossy stone gateways and into the black hole...

Our new friend Ivonne from Bolivia. If not for her, we would not understood our Spanish-speaking guide's instructions! Beside Ivonne is a Finnish guy whose name I've forgotten how to spell (it's only 4 letters long but isn't spelt like how it sounds!)

We were equipped with helmets and headlamps... and our own scruffy clothes! My white t-shirt had already been dyed a lovely shade of cafe from the rafting expedition (I wasn't expecting the river to be that brown) so I took it for another ride in the mud.

Everybody turn on your head lamps!

Ooooh, it's getting really dark in here!

We started off by navigating some really slippery muddy uphill slopes. I slipped and slid around so much that I was seriously starting to doubt my sense of balance.... so much for years on pointe shoes and pirouettes! I felt like an elephant in a china shop. Within the first 5 minutes, I had fallen so much that I looked like a chocolate Easter Bunny. At least the guide confirmed that the mud was good for our skin...

Then we got to the fun part - we slid down a natural mud-caked slope on our butts! It was a seriously fun side-splitting enjoyable wheeeeeee!-moment. We felt like kids at the playground all over again! Once again, my trusty Sony Cybershot and waterproof housing came in handy for some wet, muddy, splashy shots!

And Ivonne from Bolivia hits the mud pool at the end of the slide!

Kamile from the Netherlands comes in a splashing second!

Then it was time to test our flexibility. I regretted being lazy and not finding more opportunities to practise some yoga stretches and poses over the past weeks. If I knew we had to twist like pretzels to get through the tight spaces in the tunnels, I would have put more effort into warming up before getting into the cave!

This one's easy - tunnel is big enough for me to crawl through it like a baby.

This ones a bit more of a tight squeeze... I really shouldn't have eaten an entire fruit salad and Colombian set meal for lunch...

Made it through to the other end of the tunnel!

Getting down flat on my belly and squirming like a snake to get through this one

It's a tight squeeze but just enough space to pose for a picture!

This is definitely not an activity for the claustrophobic. I'm surprised that I signed up for it without a second thought (the COP 25,000 or US$12 price tag probably did the trick!) When I was a child, I hated crawling through any tunnel of sorts in which I could not immediately see the opening at other end. I had a phobia of being lost forever inside the curly intestines of the cartoon worm/snake/dragon/eel and that my parents would never find me and just wander off home without me :( Those of you who celebrated your childhood in the early 1980's and lived in the eastern part of Singapore, would remember a rooftop playground called PlayDeck on the 7th floor of Parkway Parade. There were these twisted white tubes which kids could crawl through. The one time I agreed to attempt to conquer the tube, I ended up panicking halfway through and out of desperation to escape, squeezed myself out of a small breathing hole. I then gave my mum, who had her head in other end of the tunnel and cheering me on, a fright by walking up behind her and going "Hi Mum! I'm here!"

Well, the tunnels were just the easy part. We reached a point where the water level was so high (or rather, the ceiling was so low) that the only way to cross was to totally submerge ourselves and swim underwater to the next air pocket.

As if this wasn't scary enough, we didn't fully understand the guide's instructions in Spanish. Thank god for Ivonne who translated the instructions into English and then bravely plunged herself into the murky waters and disappeared from sight. A few seconds later, we heard an echo-ey "Hey guys, I'm okay! It's okay! Just take a deep breath when the guide counts uno, dos, tres and he'll pull you through the water to this side."

One by one, we watched the others dive and go.... dive and go... dive and go.... Then it was my turn *GULP* I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, felt the tug on the rope in my hand, dived down and kicked my way through the watery brown wall. I surfaced with the upward pull of the rope a few seconds later to a lungful of air and cheers from my team mates. I had made it!

There's no way around that but to swim underwater

My fingertips are the last to go down...

A murky swirl is all that's left of me on this side of the wall

We all crossed safely to the other side! Caving champions from left: me, Ivonne, Finnish Guy, Iris, Kamile and our guide

We trekked onwards while the guide pointed out some stalactite and stalagmite formations, from delicate spindly needles to thick sturdy columns. After he let us revel in the mindless fun of striking silly poses, he dropped the bomb...

Bearing the weight of the world on our shoulders...

...the cave only had one entrance... and one exit. Which meant that we would have to backtrack and go through the entire obstacle course again in order go get out! Thankfully, the water level had fallen slightly on the way out and we didn't have to submerge ourselves entirely and swim underwater again. We had just enough breathing space if we tilted our heads to the max...

Air... precious air...

And with that, we made it out alive and in one piece!

I used to be a Brownie... I still am one but I've stopped dancing around toadstools

Freezing our way back to the civilisation in the rain...

We had a helluva time painting the town brown that day (or maybe just ourselves!)

Cueva Vaca - highly recommended! 5 outta 5 stars!


Tracy Su said...

YOW! That looks mega scary. Especially the vulture spreading his wings at the beginning...

Yi Lin said...

Yeah they look mean. One of the girls ran past the row of them, hoping to scare them off in a big flurry like jittery seagulls.

They didn't give a sh*t.

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