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    In the Belly of the Beast

    February 2nd, 2008 by mary

    Laos is cluttered with limestone mountains which is prime for caves. What better way to explore them than by innertube. In addition to the big rubber donut we were given headlamps, though Steve’s was as bright as Mars as seen with the naked eye standing in downtown San Jose. The battery pack was what killed me. They looked just like car batteries, except a quarter of the size and weight. They were attached to the lights by exposed wires and were made to hang from your neck. Supposedly they watertight and I was going to test that out as mine kept slipping into the water. There was a rope that we could pull ourselves into the cave with. The jagged entrance was no more than two feet high so you had to flatten yourself and exhale to pass through unscathed. The sunlight didn’t penetrate very far into the cavernous tunnel. The rope led us farther into the pitch with only our headlamps and echos to break the darkness. It was a good thing there were so many of us. Advancing along the rope while dodging the many head gashing traps in the meek light was trying enough then add keeping the camera out of the water to take video and I was at my multi-tasking limit. Next we hit a shallow flat with about six inches of water so we walked our tubes across. The cave was so low we had to stay bent. On the other side we hopped back onto our tubes but this time we linked up to form straight lines with the guide at the lead. I had to give up my light so he could navigate us as we went deeper in back first. With our shoes on our hands we all paddled slowly through the water like a caterpillar walking on water. The light from the other tubers’ lit up the cavern walls. They were twenty feet across, curved and smooth on the sides and came together in a jagged crevice ten feet overhead. That gave the illusion of a rib cage a spine. As Steve put it, we felt like Jonah inside the whale. It would’ve been nice to have a light but it was also a good idea not to look at the water or the cave too closely. Watching all those points of light dance on the curved tunnels lighting us various features and colors was mesmerizing. The guides sang soothing Laotian songs that echoed through the chambers as we paddled to the end then turned back. That was good, dark, wet bum fun.

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