This morning we take a boat up the river to Racer Cave. The river is quite low and presents some difficulty to the boatmen. But we make it to the park headquarters without having to get out and push and are joined there by two rangers. They accompany us to the cave mouth, where we don overalls ready for our first taste of adventure caving.
It is already hot, almost unbearably so inside the overalls. It’s not much better inside the cave either. I had expected the cave to be pleasantly cool, but not so. We enter along a broad steeply upwards-sloping passage, made slippery with guano. At the top is the first rope. It is not too high, but those with shorter legs find it a challenge to reach the foot holds. I find it easiest to simply lean back and haul myself up hand-over-hand. There follows a narrow squeeze and Ronnie decides that enough is enough and returns to the entrance.
There are a lot of us to get though each obstacle, one at a time, and progress is slow with much queueing. It is very hot, and the pungent ammonia smell from the guano clings to the stale air. Occasionally we hear the rapid clicking of cave swallows flying around near our heads.
There are three more ropes, up and down, before we reach the furthest point, a large cavern where we rest for a while. We then divide into two groups and are told to try to meet up “somewhere over there.” My group follows a narrow passageway to the left of the cavern. We pass some extraordinary rock formations on the left side of the passage – large circular holes with tapered edges worn in what seems to be a thin limestone wall, with other similar structures dimly visible in the space behind. It has an organic quality to it, like something by the Spanish architect Gaudí. We walk for ten minutes, but there is no sign of the other group or any way across so we turn around and retrace our steps to the cavern.
We return to the cave entrance not before time. I’m hungry, hot, and fed up with staring at the back of someone’s head from close quarters while trying to keep my footing on the slippery guano. It is a great relief to get out of the sauna-like overalls and to have some lunch by the cave entrance.
It is a short boat ride back down the river to the jungle walkway that returns us to the park entrance. Part board, part concrete, it is very tourist-friendly, for that “taste of the jungle” without having to get one’s feet dirty. While we wait for the mini bus, there’s time for a drink at the park entrance, just across a rickety suspension bridge on which only five people may stand at any time. Back at the lodge, I can’t get down to the river fast enough for a cooling swim. It is just starting to rain, sending up miniature stalagmites from the water’s surface.
Later, the heavens open as we watch from the veranda. Mark gets some washing done in the downpour. Most of the group have decided not to do the longer caving trip tomorrow. Graham, Rob, Mark, and Helen are up for it though. I am in a state of extreme indecision.