"The Adventure Mystery Cave Tour"

by Mayumi Green for Butterfly Tours 

Pictures by Wil Walles of Aore Resort

I embarked with four Japanese volunteers and two English backpackers.  We were picked up at 8am from Aquamarine and Unity Park motel by comfortable van.  Our lead guide, Sam, introduced us to his 2 assistants and we departed for the cave he discovered.

We drove for 30 minutes on a rough road through the old airstrip, built by the Americans during WW2, and through jungle. The road became increasingly narrow and less traveled but our experienced driver navigated it without problem.

We stopped at a small clearing where they left the vehicle and we set out on foot.  We had a pleasant 20 minute walk in the bush that took us through Samís small village.   After the village we walked about 1 hour of difficult terrain.  It is important to wear proper shoes.  Everywhere we looked was thick tropical jungle with many different kinds of plants, trees, wild flowers, and beautiful singing birds.   Sam stopped every now and then to explain their medicine leaves and the eatable plants that would sustain them while on a long wild pig hunt.

It was a hard walk for a person of my advanced age (early 40's !!) who doesnít exercise regularly other than scuba diving, but I still tried to be the first in the line after the Sam to hear his running commentary. After about 50 minutes of steep climbing I was very tired.  

I could hear the water running of a river ahead. The river was crystal clear water and there was a sort of bridge made of bamboo. The bridge spanned about 5 metres and the drop below was nearly 10 metres. I've never seen such a home made bridge but the guides assured us it was strong.  I went across with some trepidation but I could feel that it was secure and my fears were unwarranted.

After the bridge we climbed another 10 minutes down a hill while holding vines attached for support. We arrived and could see huge rocks all over the place. Above us, the cave ceiling is about 40-50 meters high. We climbed over the big rocks with water running all around and got to the bottom of the cave.   The water was deeper than I expected. I jumped in and it was cold like our local blue holes and was about chest high on me (I am not too tall).  

We brought torches with us but we wished we had more powerful lights because such a large cave could not be properly illuminated with small lights. The guides torch showed us the way. This is not a dry cave. Walking in the cave is not that easy.  We climbed over rocks and waded through water. Inside, the ceiling was so high, you can not see the top by torch light. There was a distinct smell of bat guano and there are droppings on the ground. . You can see hundreds of small bats on the ceiling and walls and they even sleep at eye level, so you can have a good look at them.

In the middle of the cave there was a water fall of pure clean mountain water.  The flow is fast enough that the water is not polluted by the bat droppings and it is very pure.   We all went under and tasted the very refreshing underground stream.

After nearly an hour of climbing in the cave we came out the other side and it was good to see the light again. It was just so beautiful seen from the blackness.  You could see the trees and plants of the jungle illuminated from behind. It was like someone opened a huge door.

Out in the open in the middle of thick jungle, we faced the giant cave we just exited with a water fall on our right and the river running on our left.   It would make a magnificent picture but we did not have waterproof camera gear and we had left our cameras at the entrance.

Sam placed banana leaves on the stone floor and he cut up several pamplemousse with his bush knife.  The pamplemousse is a sweet grapefruit with green flesh that is not as tart as pink grapefruit.  It is a wonderful treat.  We had picnic lunch of the snacks we had carried.

He told us we could go back the way we came or we could swim down the river and end up 10 minutes from his village.  Unfortunately we were not prepared for the swim so we went back the hard way but it was easier than the trip up.

We had a quick swim and we all felt very refreshed before going back through the cave and on the jungle walk. At the village, Sam provided us fresh coconuts juice straight from the green coconut. It was delicious after the hard walk in the jungle.

You probably get the impression that you need to be reasonable fit to do this tour.  It was hard work, but worth it. My legs were sore for 3 days, but I will go again and do the river swim this time!!  Sam said he only started this tour in July 2003, and we were the only 8th group, and first Japanese to visit!!  I've been living in Santo for 15 years and I never realized that we had such impressive caves that could be explored without scuba gear. This tour was one of the best experiences I have had in Santo!!

Mayumi Green - Aquamarine Santo

Who to contact: Butterfly Tours (Glenn Russell - 44314) or Aquamarine 36196

What to wear: Swimwear,  Long trousers (to prevent to cut your legs by long grass, and mosquito)

What to bring: Water, Picnic Lunch with drinks, Snacks, Running shoes could get wet, Camera (better with underwater housing), Spare dry cloths, towel, jacket. Water proof bag or Garbage bag(to keep your clothes dry), Insect repellant.

There is plenty to bring but try to pack light so you are not carrying too much on the hike.  Do not plan to leave valuables in the bus. 

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