While Natasha and Tara are hanging out in town, Pete and I have walked to the end of the village's only dirt road, and turned off into the the fields in search of a nearby cave. After numerous failed attemps at cave-hunting, my hopes aren't very high that we'll find something noteworthy. Still, even if this path leads to a tourist-trap with tons of people, a ticket booth, and a lit, guided walk in a sanitized underground cavern, I'm glad to be out for a hike in this beautiful countryside with such good company.
I'm just getting into field recording, and Pete has a degree in audio engineering, so as we walk, I pepper him with questions. Things like: in what practical applications would you choose a cardioid microphone over a supercardioid, or, why are omnidirectional capsules so much better at handling wind noise? I love talking with people who have skills outside of my areas of expertise, there is so much to learn!
The cave is supposed to be around six kilometers outside of town, but we make it there in no time—it can't be more than two or three. A little river runs past the mouth, and our guidebook says that in the right season, you can swim under the river and into the cave! We look for that entrance, but don't find it. Instead, we follow a sign into the overland opening, pleased that we're the only tourists about.
We enter the grotto and it's pure darkness in every direction, except the way we've come. I flip my headlamp on, and Pete does the same, but we're dismayed to find that his batteries are nearly dead. We push on anyhow, with me leading the way. Initially, it seems like this cave is going to be another disappointment. After the first hundred meters or so, the ground gives way to giant cracks and crevasses. I doubt we'll be able to go far.
After about ten minutes, we're both nearly ready to be done, Pete moreso than me. While he opts to hang back, I go a bit further to see if there is anything compelling enough to warrant continuing. A few semi-precarious rock hops later, and I am faced with a steep drop, down to an underground pool. This is so cool! This is exactly what I've been looking for!
I rush back and try to convince Pete to come with me, but he is content to wait above the water's edge. So, we part ways for a few minutes as I carefully scale down the rock face to explore.
There are two mini-waterfalls, one on the left which flows out of the pool to a slightly lower level, and one on the right, which drains into it from a foot or so above. The pond is crystal clear and inviting; cool, but not cold. As I wade to the fall on the left, with no light but my headlamp, alone in the darkness and rocks, the symphony of water falling around me, every single nerve in my body is vibrating with excitement.
Climbing down the the small waterfall on the left, I take slow and cautious steps, extending my bare feet out one at a time, feeling for a firm footing. If I slip under water, chances are strong my headlamp will go out, and then we'll have to find our way out of this cave by the light of a camera flash.
At the bottom of the short drop, there is waist high water and an opening maybe ten feet wide. I follow the path for awhile, sloshing through the water joyously as it snakes circuitously into the earth, one hairpin turn after the other. After rounding several corners, I reckon I should probably return to make sure Pete knows what is up.
Pete is right where I left him, sitting peacefully in the cave above me, waiting. When I ask for the camera and explain that I want to take some pictures, he happily hands it down and sends me on my way. Back I go, down the waterfall (even more carefully), into the rocky tunnel, around it's corners, deeper and deeper into the darkness.
After a few minutes, I arrive at a place where the water gets much deeper, and I can't continue without swimming. Not ready to leave just yet, I flip off my headlamp for a few minutes, basking in the all-encompassing blackness. I've experimented heavily with sensory deprivation over the years; it can be a fascinating experience. I wish I had more time for it at the moment, but Pete is waiting, and I don't want Tara and Natasha to worry, so back I go!
After safely navigating our way out of the cave (including a few slightly confusing wrong turns!) we make the short walk home. On the way, we pass a father and son with the longest fishing rods I've ever seen, and a guy with a handmade rifle. He beams proudly when we ask to take his picture, but the interaction happens so quickly that we don't really get a chance to examine his handiwork. What a cool thing to see!
Back at the guestouse, Tara and Natasha are swinging in their hammocks. They welcome us with smiles, putting down their laptops and the photo editing they were busy with, asking emphatically "how did it go!?" Tara is overjoyed to hear that I finally found my cave. Of course, now I just want more. I'm sure there is some cool caving to be had back home…
Then, Pete and I leave the women once more, heading down to the riverbank where we've been invited to play a round of petang with some of the local guys. We leave after the first game, though, as one of the drunk players gives us a shifty vibe. We don't feel unsafe, we're just not enjoying ourselves around him. So, back to the hammocks we go.
More relaxing enuses, and much later in the evening, we cajole Pete and Natahsha out for a final drink…
With a lot of will power we tear ourselves away from our linen cocoons and head out for a drink. Its 9 pm when we venture out into the dark street. Most places are closed, but we find a little restaurant with a few lights on and two puppies playing on the floor.
We drink ginger tea and Bear Lao taking turns holding the soft furry creatures. One falls asleep inside my jacket. With a content smile and a puppy in his hands, Tyler says, concisely summing up the last 12 hours… "It was a good day."Natasha