When we first heard of the sleep out in the cave – the response to whether we were going or not was a no-brainer. Obviously it would be a fantastic experience! The fact that half of our group had dropped out, even before we set off, surprisingly did not perturb us and ignoring the sarcastic “have fun”, like merry children we set off for the
Our hearts didn’t even sink when we turned left to go into the Spirit Forest. They did however on the steep climb up due to the added weight in our packs. Finally, breathing like wounded buffalos, red-faced, and drowning in a pool of our own sweat, we collapsed at the top. To take our minds off of the hard trek up, Susi proposed a challenge of what team could collect the most mushrooms (we collected about four in between all of us, as Phoebe remarked, a portion that definitely could sustain us for a week).We were awarded for our efforts when we emerged into the valley; we had to pause at the sheer beauty of the landscape that surrounded us. There are parts of the jungle where it doesn’t really feel like a jungle, but here it definitely did: lush vegetation, vines, and a beautiful view of the mountains. As we clambered up the incline towards the cave we were met with a pungent aroma of cave, which we actually got used to fairly fast. We went to collect firewood and leaves and came across a half-eaten buffalo making us wonder what the hell killed it (for example, a tiger). Reassured there were no tigers and hearing some interesting village tales about the tiger’s wife, we began to build a fire. Laura’s fear of snakes was appeased by Dee and Root, who had a special way of keeping them away – lemon juice. Then we began to boil water in tubes of bamboo, its uses are never ending!
Finally the moment we were all waiting for – the adventure into the cave.Root led the way (Dee stayed behind because he didn’t want to chance an encounter with the spirits that lived in the cave). It was definitely a different world in there, the stone forms hanging down, some trickling water, the silence, punctuated with squeaks from somewhere up ahead and our echoing footfalls. Our first impression was of complete awebecause one would not expect to find such a vast chasm in the middle of the forest. Some of us, Laura and Nicole, did feel slightly claustrophobic, annoyingly so because rationally, we understood that there was nothing in the cave that could hurt us. Going further in, Phoebe saw a rat, and jokingly told Root that we should have it for dinner. Root obviously did not take it as a joke and the next second it was down, killed by an agilely thrown rock. As we proceeded further into the cave, the bats were seen swirling and one nearly took out Laura who emitted a girly scream. We inspected them closer; they appeared to be hanging on to the ceiling, some nestled in crannies in the rock, subtly vibrating. And then suddenly they would unfold their wings and take off for a night of hunting.
Dinner was a grand affair, probably the highlight of the sleep-out. Besides the rat, we had a fair share of everything (except Nicole who couldn’t get over the rat incident and didn’t eat meat that night; she also idiotically thought that the two giant slabs of meat that were roasting were also the rat versus the pork that it actually was). We also had the beloved egg musato, noodles with the chewy mushrooms Root found (there was a spicy side and not so spicy side in our bamboo dish), boiled eggs, fish with spices, a chili sauce, and of course rice.
After that the evening wound down, we huddled by the fire, drinking delicious, steaming hot chocolate. It got dark really quickly and we all sat about, yawning and decided to turn in. At about 8. Root, glancing at the meager pile of leaves we collected, cut down a tree with his machete. The tree supplied us with a striking pile of leaves which we spread about the fire. Unfortunately they weren’t as comfy as they looked and did not fully protect from the rocks underneath. Just before we were about to go to bed, Root spied a gliding squirrel up in the tree and pointed it out to all of us. Its eyes shone in the darkness. We also saw a huge moth with fake eyes, a means of camouflage. As we snuggled into our sleeping bags, the fire still strong, we expected a good night’s rest away from the roosters! Phoebe appeared to fall asleep straight away, waking up only when Nicole accidently punched her in the back. The rest tossed and turned trying to get comfortable and then decided to just lie there, taking in the mesmerizing flickering fire casting shadows on the cave and peaceful sound of the rain. The real trouble began at about 1 a.m. when we got in the way of an ant colony that for some reason needed to pass across our little encampment. The surest path for them was across our faces, especially Nicole and Susi’s who were on the outside. Susitook out the trusty bottle of bug-spray and tried to ward them off, but to no avail. Sleep evaded us until the early hours of the morning, Nicole figured out that she could use the rock as a pillow, Laura put her blanket on and we all got a few hours of much needed rest. Upon waking up, we disgruntledly discussed the ants, which for some reason only went through us. Dee’s biggest problem was that his back was sore from sleeping on a hard board.
At dawn we saw all the bats making their way back into the cave and Nicole, Susi and Root went back in to see what the cave looked like in the morning. Susi took plenty of pictures with La Momia, her travelling companion, which are displayed here. Filled with hot chocolate and the promise of a shower and restful day back in the village we slung our backpacks over our shoulders and proceeded back to the village. The experience was obviously not one of lux and extreme comfort,but definitely one that every person needs to have, as the feeling of accomplishment and connection to the forest cannot be matched by anything we’ve done so far.
By Nicole and Laura