If you've spoken to me about this trip, you've heard me mention glow worms. I became a little bit obsessed with them after seeing one of those ridiculous, "30 things you must do before you die!" lists, or whatever the silly title was. There are a number of reasons for this: caves, bioluminescence, worms (they're actually maggots, and what glows is their shit), and the stars, which is what the constellations of glow worms look like down in the cave. The second I saw them in the list of awesomeness in the world was the second I swore to myself that I would go there hopefully a lot sooner than before my own demise. That dream came true recently.
As with everything in this fair country, taking one of these tours is expensive. And there are options for how you'll spend your money. There are the regular tours, and then there's the option to black water raft, a fancy term for inner-tubing down the under ground river beneath the glowing worms. I've been taking the When in Rome approach to this trip, winging positively everything mostly to great success, so I invested in the longest black water rafting tour that included a 35 meter abseil (rappel) down into the cave, a zipline across an abyss, a hike around the cave, a tubing excursion down the river, and a scramble up two waterfalls to get out. It was, by all estimations, awesome.
I've been caving, like proper caving with gear and abseiling and scrambling through tiny openings, once before. It was between high school and college, and I don't remember who organized it (Jeremy?) but it still sticks in my mind as one of the most amazing things I've done in my life. So needless to say, I LOVE caves.
All in all, I wouldn't say this was a particularly physically difficult trip. There was a bit of scrambling, and a few dicey moments, like when we had to jump off the cliff (ha, that's an exaggeration) into the water below landing in our inner tubes. I jumped on cue just fine, and got a righteous nose full of water when I dunked under. No harm, no foul though. Climbing up the waterfall on the way out was a little nutty, but I'll get to that in a bit. First: GLOW WORMS!
Seriously, look at them. Gorgeous blue dots illuminating the entire ceiling. After we jumped into the icy cold river and floated down quite a ways, they had us link together, human centipede style (the PG version, sorry if you've seen the movie, I haven't, thankfully), and then the guide pulled us along while we just looked up at the "sky." When you turn your headlamp out, it's just blackness and blue light. Your eyes slowly get used to it and you can see the outlines of people and rocks and stalactites and anything else that exists down there in the depths of the earth. We were 20 stories down at this point. Magical, strange, and perfect.
After our guided float, we emerged for more scrambling. This tiny tunnel was one of our tightest squeezes of the day. So naturally we got our pictures taken upon our re-entry. My crooked helmet was a hallmark of every photo of me. Nobody's perfect, especially not me.
If I remember correctly, this mustache pic was taken after scrambling up the first of the waterfalls. It's LOUD under the water, so the guides just tap your arm or your foot and point to where they want you to put them. It's a little confusing to navigate your way up, not down, a waterfall, but eventually it makes a little sense and you can scramble your way out. I'm grateful for my inherent upper body strength, and for my years of Pilates, yoga and soccer to solidify the muscles there. I needed my arms to help climb out; legs too, but arms most of all. I have a distant memory of scrambling up a series of tiny squeezes in my last caving experience, and climbing a ladder they called the stairway to heaven, but like all memories, this one has the gloss of age fogging it up, so all I really remember is the challenge and the happiness of succeeding. This was less challenging, but no less fun. I mean seriously. Glow worms. Nuff said.
The glow worms are amazing. Knowing that they exist at all makes me happy. Knowing that I've seen them, and in such spectacular fashion, thrills me to no end. The more my bucket list gets checked off, the more I add to it. Glaciers and glow worms are checked though, I'm happy to report. But I'd do both again in a heartbeat.