Sunday, January 16, 2011

Caving with Glowworms

1/12/11 Yesterday, with considerable trepidation, we took a guided “adventure tour” (Tumu Tumu Toobing) “blackwater rafting” through a cave in Waitomo.   In general I detest organized adventures and am embarrassed to be caught on one, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to see glowworm-adorned caverns and couldn’t scheme a better adventure on limited time. In fact, the trip surpassed all expectations and the guides (angular Tony and petite Becky) were great. We geared up in thick 4mm wetsuits and tromped past well-grazed grassy sinkholes to a forested pit with limestone walls. The ladder dropped down through a surprisingly tight squeeze. I landed in swift flowing water and stumbled downstream. The cave was surprisingly complex, with braids and junctions.  Tony always forced us through the narrowest passages, squirming on hands and knees through a 50’muddy pipe which felt like a birth canal. Later we swam through a narrow channel whose ceiling occasionally came as low as a foot above the surface.

Glowworms comprised the piece-de-resistance. Scientifically, they lack marketing appeal – a type of arachnid which metamorphoses through a larval stage; glued to the cave roof they drop tiny threads to catch insects attracted by eerie green phosphorescence. “Cannibalistic cave maggots with shiny shit,” Tony called them. But the experience was magical. Myriad jade dots trailing infinitely fine gossamer filaments, which barely caught the light of our lamps – iridescent, like as the jellyfish exhibit I once saw in the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  We each took an inner tube, rafted together and gently floated through an endless cavern with lights off. Above us, the chamber’s ceiling swirled invisibly, but we gazed at the slow drift of emerald constellations undulating in complex curves.

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