Yesterday, after school, we took a field trip to one of the most famous caves in Southern Thailand: Le Khao Kob Cave.
Two tours were offered--a half tour for the faint-hearted and the full tour for the completely insane. (Although we didn't know this at the time.)
We all chose--every naive one of us--the full tour.
First, you board a boat to get into the cave. Two boatmen--one at the back, one at the front--paddle the boat through some canals to get to the mouth of the cave.
Once inside the cave, the boatmen paddle in semi-darkness to all the inner caverns. Florescent lighting here and there provides the only illumination. You get on and off the boat numerous times to explore, sometimes walking hunched over like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. It is so hot in the cave that you drip just like the stalactites. We were all soaked after a few minutes. We visited at least four caverns, including one called The Sleeping Elephant.
The stalactites and stalagmites (one grows down, one grows up) were gorgeous. You cannot touch anything because the sweat from your fingertips will stop their growth.
This constitutes the first half of the tour, at which point you can choose to turn back and go out the way you came in.
The second half consists of lying down in the boat so you can traverse the rest of the cave on your back, while the boatmen use their hands on the ceiling to propel the boat forward through the darkness.
You are warned not to lift your head or even your hands. The head boatman made me remove my sandals because my feet stuck up too much. He pushed my feet over sideways and motioned that I should keep them there.
I then started worrying about my nose which sticks up a good bit, too. He nodded in approval when I turned my head to the side so it wouldn't stick up at all.
Thus arranged in the most un-comfortable positions possible, we set out to enter pitch black darkness through a very narrow passageway. We'd been told that the second half of the tour only lasts 15 minutes. I reminded myself of this as the passageway got narrower and the ceiling got closer and closer.
One or the other of the boatmen would turn on a flashlight every so often so you could actually SEE the ceiling of the cave about three inches or less above your face. (Less for me because of my nose, since I did have to look up and see what I could see! You know what they say about curiosity...)
Once, the flashlight revealed a stalactite hovering about an inch above my left eyeball. There was almost NO clearance in many places. We could not risk trying to take a single photo and lay rigid as corpses.
Things dripped on me.
A huge bat fluttered its wings no further than 8 inches away from my face.
My cheek itched but I was afraid to reach up and scratch it.
The volunteers next to and behind me kept shrieking and asking for Divine Help. ("Oh, my God!")
The boat bumped and scraped against things unseen.
As the senior member of our little boat (Gerry was in one somewhere behind us), I had to keep reminding everyone that "Mai pen rai. They do this tour every day of the week and surely everyone emerges alive." (Minus a nose, maybe, but alive...)
I breathed and centered my way through the cave, especially at those points when even the boat men seemed afraid we didn't have enough clearance. They would exclaim the Thai word for "Down! Down!" (Can't remember the word but we all knew what they meant and I turned my head sideways on each hollered cue.)
Fifteen minutes of adventure and sheer terror later, we did indeed emerge into the light. Ah, sweet light!
By the way, this tour does not operate during the rainy season or at high tide because you can't get into the cave at all. It's underwater. (I have no idea when "high tide" occurs, but the thought did cross my mind a time or two that I sure hoped the boatmen knew when it was.)
Click to enlarge if you want to read what this sign says.
Boats lined up waiting for tourists.
On the way to the cave.
Entrance to the cave.
Ashley, Jack and Madeline, fellow adventurers.
Tinu lights up the cave with her mega-watt smile.
Back into the boat headed for the next cavern.
Dodging stalactites while we're at it--and this was before the second half of the tour.
Entrance to a cavern.
Offerings in the cavern of The Sleeping Elephant.
Creeping through a low-ceiling part of the cave.
Lending a helping hand.
Jack explaining that to enter this particular cavern, we had to choose which route to take through the stalactites according to our marital status, e.g. married with children to the left, engaged through the center, unmarried to the right. The cavern inside was likened to the stony boudoir of a bride awaiting her bridegroom.
Bats on the cave wall. (Tinu took this shot but didn't even see the bats until she downloaded it into the computer. Probably a good thing. I didn't see 'em either.)
Last view of stalactites before we entered the black void.
Our group getting ready for the "second half" of the tour. (Courtesy of my buddy, Tinu.) She was in the next boat.
Do we look like we're having fun yet?
Starting into the passageway.
Geez! It's lookin' close already! And we aren't even in there yet.
No Photos while we WERE in there! (I don't do photos when I've just become an endangered species.)
Volunteers who were behind us in another boat arrive at the disembarkation dock.
Looking back at the exit from the cave.
A buddha and the old man and woman of the cave gave us a send-off as we left the area.
It really was a cool thing to do--and very memorable. Best of all, I lived to tell about it.