In New Zealand I suddenly found myself wearing a wetsuit, standing outside the mouth of a cave surrounded by bright green rolling hills, being given a rather short tutorial on how to abseil down a waterfall in the dark. It was one of those moments where I did realize that I was present for everything leading up to this moment, yet I still wondered how I managed to get there.
Next I knew I was in a cave, with the guide’s headlamp flashing in my eyes as he roped my harness for my first decent.
“How far down is the bottom?” I asked.
“This is a short one, only about 10 meters,” he responded.
Down I went, rather slow at first, because I thought I should take my time and enjoy this. Then once I got the hang of it, “Shwoosh.” I landed with a giggle rather suddenly to the worry of the guide at the bottom.
We made our way through tight passages, following an underwater river which caused us to have to dive completely underwater to stay on it trail.
It was the first time I had seen glow worms, though the guides said that there were other caves which had heaps more of them, which I did end up seeing eventually in my journey.
For the next waterfall I volunteered to go first, headlamp off. I didn’t go so fast this time because there were no lights to see where the bottom was and the freezing water was strongly pouring down on me the entire time. In the pitch black I ended up swinging somewhat awkwardly and touched down in a sitting position, in a two foot pool. From there I had to un-rope myself, signal with the rope that I was unhooked (the water fall was so loud that even yelling couldn’t get the message through) and feel my way around the cavern that I had lowered myself into tog et myself away from where the next person would land. The idea was to keep my headlamp off so that everyone could experience the process in the dark. So from there I waited, and waited for the next person. I oddly enjoyed sitting in a dark cavern full of water alone. The wet suit kept me warm enough, though there was definitely holes in the boots, but at that point there are much bigger issues at hand, like, where is the exit?
Finally the rest of the group made it down and we could continue on our way. For an hour and a half we repeated this process of roping down waterfalls, I going first each time because I’m like that.
Then there was a point were we had to start going up and it was then that I hit a wall. Literally it was at least a 14 foot wall we had to climb. I didn’t go first this time. I tried and tried but I couldn’t get my footing, the wetsuit wouldn’t let my legs stretch up far enough for the next optimal spot to push up from, frustrated tears were building my eyes just as my belt got stuck on a ridge, rendering me helpless and forcing me to step down and start all over again from a different section. So there I was analyzing this wall, with the realization that there was no other way to go but up and I had to do it. Everyone was waiting at the top, so up I went, with a little boost from the guide below me, exhausted, I managed to get my upper body over the top, just as my belt got stuck AGAIN, AGAIN. I was shaking and stuck. With a little pull from inside the small opening I had to get through, I finally made it out of the water fall.
The guides gave us some sugary candy of some sort and of electrolyte drink to boost our energies. Reinvigorated, we proceeded to make our way out of the cave. Next I remember being born into a sunny green sheep pasture. I sat down once I was out of the way of those behind me and watched each of them slowly drag themselves out. And I couldn’t help but laugh at how it would look for a random passer by to suddenly see a bunch of people in black suits and helmets emerge out of the ground like aliens.