Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The Stuff of Dreams

So we went caving. I've been sitting here a while trying to think of something to follow that sentence. We started off around half four, us three, Courtney (who works at the hostel, Chris' girlfriend, originally from St Louis, US), a South African couple from Joburg, Charle (without an 's') and Catherine, and our two guides, Mseni and Sipho. We were decked out in Ghost Buster jumpsuits (in white, so that we can be seen easier), helmets (that didn't quite fit), belts with battery and light on a wire (which clips onto the front of the helmet).

There was a 45min walk through the forest before we get to the cave, I was glad we didn't do biking and caving in the same day because my joints were still stiff. Felt uncomfortably warm in the jumpsuits, though the sunset was very pretty. Was in high spirits considering I was apprehensive in committing myself to caving in the first place, I was looking forward to pizza and hotsprings after the caving (part of the same package by Swazi Trails), but I wouldn't say I was looking forward to the caving part. Not when I was already struggling to keep up with the group's pace during the walk there with my awkward joints.

I don't have words for how scary some of the caving was to me. I have a fear of falling, and I am also a bit claustrophobic, so it wasn't looking good to start off with. The bats were adorable though, they would often fly around, and I even got a photo of me very close to one and pointing at it, as requested by Sipho who lead us through the cave. He took so many photos, I mean MANY. Before caving, during, and after, many when we were at very awkward places too. At the end of the 7m crawl for example, I was in the smallest place I have ever been in (in memory anyway, I'm sure my birth was similar) and I was so fatigued that I could barely drag myself the last few inches. Still, I had to lift up my head for a flash to go off in my face. Looking through the photos in the combi on the way to hotsprings though, I could appreciate them better, but back in the caves, no one was particular happy about the continuous snapping. Alice said she had a couple of mini breakdowns, and at one time, 'my bum is stuck' was heard in varying degrees of loudness until we fell about laughing. At one point, all Courtney could see were my kneecaps downwards, hanging out of a hole in the wall with no light around it.

We stopped to have a good look at the stalactites. Water carrying minerals would periodically flow down these stalactites in a shimmery wave. I was probably the slowest one of the group, my joints didn't help but my hearing isn't perfect either and down in a cave, it's hard to lip-read. I tend to scramble words when I'm feel stressed anyway. Still, I was doing alright up until near the end, we needed to scale a smooth rock with the help of Sipho. High enough to definitely fracture something, we had to wedge our left foot as high as possible into a vertical rock crevice, hold onto Sipho's hand, and on a count of 3, pull on his hand to swing the right foot upwards to gain footing onto the rock. 

Two people had gone before me, but I knew my knee was going to be a problem. I remember the count down. I remember almost making it and then both of my legs dangling into thin air - I was literally hanging on by one arm. Everything got a bit blurry after this because I started crying from fright, but I was apparently hauled upwards by both guides pulling on my arm. Charle spoke to me as though I was a wounded animal and gave me his hand to help me get to somewhere I could sit on a rock.  Alice said afterwards that she was so worried they were going to dislocate my arm, I joked that I almost died, but at the time, words could not describe how scary it was. There was another tricky part, where my helmet fell off and crashed a few feet below by Alice's feet - she thought my head had fallen off. 

I have never been so glad to see water bottles, we left them near the entrance to the cave, and I knew the sky was not far away. We still had the walk back to the combi but it was amazing. The stars blazed white in the inky sky, seen in between almost impossibly tall sap trees rising straight up into the night.  Sipho showed us different types of vegetation and tried a couple of strange berries (red, green and then white ones), and how the angelsis tree is becoming extinct because Swazi people loved making bowls out of them. He pointed out a young scorpion, scuttling to the shelter of a rock, and told us that baboons eat them. The forest was filled with sounds of the night, some made by bats (different to the ones in the cave, bigger and more owl-sized), crickets and birds. Apparently bush babies are in the area, but they like trees that are closer together - Sipho's impressions of bush babies made me laugh. Judging by how close his impression of bats was, I'm sure that's exactly what they do sound like.

I was glad to be out of the jumpsuit, which by now was looking less white. We drove to Cuddle Puddle, silly name, but essentially a giant hotsprings bath under the stars. It was amazing beyond words, floating on my back looking up at these stars as I moved through the water by making angels. We had our pizza and beers balanced on a stone island and it was awesome! Never thought I would be doing anything like this. We got there about half ten and stayed until gone midnight, definitely another mental picture moment lying there in the water. We were telling Sipho about the pot of gold on the end of the rainbow - a leprechaun sounds pretty ridiculous when you're trying to describe one. Sipho loved learning about space, and his face lit up when we explained the moon cycle and why there is a shadow, light as a waveform, red-shift, seeing into the past through a telescope as light from distant galaxies take so long to reach us, black holes, gravity and the conspiracy theory of the US moon landing. We even got onto talking about Guy Fawkes Night. The hotsprings done wonders for my aches and I kept wondering if it all really happened, even as I looked back at the pool.

So today has been a lazy day, none of us were up to biking after all the exercise in the last few days. Revisited craft shops to get a few keyrings, was sensible about not getting a beautiful sterling giraffe hair bangle that would have burned a hole in my account, and then we went to Royal Swazi Hotel Spa by combi and then shuttle. Courtney told us that as long as we buy a drink, we can just turn up and have a swim. Lizzie had Pimms and I had a cocktail with ginger beer, passion fruit cordial and angostura bitters. The sun was shining, there were mountains, and we were lying in lounge chairs under a big umbrella drinking cocktails, it was great. We were joined by Courtney and eventually, we went for a swim. The water was pretty cold in comparison, but Lizzie and I stayed in a bit longer, and did a doggy paddle race (I won), we also spent a long time racing as plankton, though we didn't get far and it was really funny for some reason. It basically involved tucking your knees up to your chest in the water, and paddling madly with your hands by your side, seeing how far you can go without sinking. A monkey watched from the roof and snatched a ping-pong ball mid game from some kids, tried to eat it and was bouncing it as the young boys below protested.

The sky was looking more and more grey, we knew a storm was coming by forecast but my, it happened so fast. A gale rose suddenly, leaves were blowing everywhere, and out of nowhere, our waitress (who made us add up our own bill earlier) was running towards me as I was quickly packing my bag.

'Madam! Madam! You need to come out of there!'

As I looked back, I realised that the umbrella was blowing over and almost collapsed onto me.

On the way home in the combi, I was offered 17 cows for my hand apparently, I wasn't paying attention at the time, but the girls refused on my behalf. I only cottoned on when Alice said 'Nah, she's expensive, more like 200 cows.'

Anyhow, leaving early tomorrow to get back to Tim and Anna's, really tired now! Sorry about typos, will correct later.

1 comment:

  1. Glad you're alright after caving! Sounds terrifying, but must have quite an experience in retrospect. 17 cows for your hand, love it!!! haha Hope you enjoyed the royal wedding - I didn't think I would but even I found it all tear-jerking! Take care. Hope to hear from you soon! x