Caving in Budapest

Budapest – the city of caves, stalagmites and hotsprings!

After a big night out in Budapest I ambitiously started my day early and took a long walk through Heroes Square, the museum area and Central Park as well as to the Opera House and a second hand book store. I was exhausted by the time I arrived back to the hostel mid-afternoon. My intention was to take the rest of the day easy, which was really an unrealistic luxury at my particular hostel. Every hostel has a unique culture, and my hostel in Budapest (Carpe Noctem Vitae – highly recommend!) was all about having a good time. So, instead of relaxing, I found myself on a bus on the way to a cave.

Myself, my friend from England (who was to start studying in Maastricht this fall. Small world!) and another friend from Brazil lucked out and somehow managed to book a private caving tour. The only reason that there was an afternoon tour was for a group of 10 from another hostel, but this group didn’t show up so it was just the three of us with two tour guides.

Be it boredom with the same path, or a slight resentment to the three of us for forcing the guides to work the afternoon, the guides decided to take us on the advanced caving route. They reassured us that we were young and fit and could manage it. Feeling empowered by the prospects of adventure, we suited up with all the confidence and excitement in the world.

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The first thing we did was climb down a ladder – easy!

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Then we walked for a bit, occasionally having to crawl – still so easy! What fun to be underground! Then, we turned to the advanced path…

Our first obstacle, called “the sandwich” where the rocks are bread and you are the meat – and you have to make yourself very, very thinly sliced meat to fit through. The fitting, squeezing, scrunting, pushing and sliding wasn’t the worst part. In fact, I enjoyed all of it. The challenge came from having no idea when the end of the sandwich was. Our guide said it was a long passage, but when your body is jammed to the point of minimal mobility in the middle of the earth with no visual or idea about how much longer you have in your current position – the mind gets to working. A few times I had to stop my movement not from exhaustion (though it was quite difficult) but to just take a mental moment to reframe my mind from freaking out.

When we finally reached the end of “the sandwich” (a good 10 minutes which felt like ages) I could tell that the other two had struggled just as much as I did, if not even more. Our brazilian friend was buff, which in most physical activities is great! But in the case of caving, he had much wider shoulders to deal with fitting through small crevices and I could tell that he was worried about what else we were going to face in the cave.

After surviving the sandwich so early in the trip, I felt fairly confident when the next real challenging obstacle appeared. The whole trail was a challenge but about 6 times we reached climbs and crawls that seemed way, way out of our league and were probably too difficult for us to be doing – but when in Hungary! Safety precautions don’t dominate much like they do in The States. I felt safe with our very experienced guides, yet the danger of messing up was always very obvious (as in straddling a 40 meter drop into darkness obvious).

Our guides also took us to two challenging holes: Winnie the Pooh and Mother Nature’s Womb. The Winnie the Pooh hole is perpendicular to the ground and none of us could make it through. I got close, and then got overly determined and managed to wedge myself into the hole and couldn’t get myself out. One guide had to pull my feet to get me down, which was just down right humiliating and hilarious.

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I had to put up with a fair bit of teasing and a moment of uncertainty if the guides would actually help me out.

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I was the only one out of the three of us to make it through MNW, so I had some redeeming dignity after the Winnie the Pooh failure.

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But that is the thing with caving. You put yourself in absolutely ridiculous and vuldnerable positions and often have to rely on your team to give you a hand and then turn right around and have your hand ready for the next person. When you cave everyone is as strong as the weakest on the team, so you really work together to get through the terrain. Everyone is entirely focused on the tasks at hand and regards both their own safety as well as the teams safety with the highest attention. To some extent, we were working to survive, and even only 3 hours of working together to survive we emerged as a very close group.

Cramped together in the sandwich, pushing each others feet, you felt almost like one unit. But, caving also has an element of feeling like the loneliest place on the planet. We once all turned off our cave lights, and sat in total darkness. TOTAL DARKNESS. We were seperetaed by tons of earth and solid rock from any kind of light. It was an incredible experience to feel total, immersive darkness. Your mind ended up playing tricks on you. When I waved my hand in front of my face, I was convinced I could at least see a shadow of movement. That was just my brain trying to see what it should see – the darkness felt unnnatural and forboding.

But, the greatest feelings to come from caving are a mix of pride, awe at all the wonders happening beneath or feet, and shameless affection for everyone in the caving group. We went out for beers with our guides after, then we didn’t have time to shower before going out that nights. At the bars, I could easily spot my friends by finding the dirtiest heads. We were gross, but we had caved, so it was nothing but pride!

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Posted on by Reagan J Payne in Part II, Uncategorized

One Response to Caving in Budapest

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