Budapest - Caving

Stomach flat to the ground, I had army-crawled about 15 feet into the 3-by-2 foot tunnel when I remembered something: I’m afraid of tiny tunnels. The feet of the girl who had entered before me disappeared around the bend ahead and my heart dropped as the light diminished to the low glow my headlamp was struggling to maintain. I touched the wall, imagining creeping cracks and falling boulders, but all I found was damp clay. Things would hold. Within a few yards I had rounded the bend and was met with six faces peering back into the now-near exit. I crawled faster, ignoring the rocks biting through my coveralls and into my knees, before tumbling out into a larger cavern where my group had been waiting.

We had just completed what our two guides labeled as “The Worm”—the smallest tunnel on our tour of the maze of caves that spill out under Budapest. An hour earlier we had descended a ladder more than 100 feet to reach them before picking our way up slippery rock faces, sliding down naturally formed chutes and admiring fossils still embedded in the earthy smelling clay that now caked our coveralls. We picked out faces and books carved into the orange-brown walls and dangled our feet from a narrow stone bridge that stretched across a steeply inclined cavern. Now, the Worm had brought us to the deepest part of our journey, and it was time for a break.

"Who wants to turn off their light?" laughed one of the guides in a soft and yet harsh Hungarian accent. We laughed too, no one wanting to go first, but slowly we clicked them off and laid back on the gradual curve of the rock the chamber rose over. We fell into silence, listening to each other rustle, shift, squirm toward comfort. And then the real silence hit. No one moved, no stomach complained for food. The swish of trees or drip of a drain was yards above us, separated by unforgivingly dense rock. All there was was the rush of blood in my ears. I opened my eyes, wondering if I was still in a cave or somewhere else now, but all sense of light and direction had left with the sound. I waved my hand in front of my face but there was nothing.

We existed like that for a full 15 minutes. Others later said they thought about life, the past, the future, but I didn’t. I couldn’t recall for you now what I did think about, but when the headlamps came back on I was in a state so relaxed the task of climbing back up through the sprawl of caves felt enormous. Every whisper was painfully loud, each light a blinding white. I was spaghetti, the barbells strapped to my feet pulling me back to the ground.

Later at the bus stop, that same warmth I had felt after the baths returned. Something terrifying had been ended by the need to finish what is started, and then had opened into a place where the opposite was acceptable.

24 November 2010 · Comments

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