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Fri Jan 26 2018: Cango Caves

Great riding day yesterday, but today we're taking a break from the bikes and doing some touristy stuff!

After a leisurely breakfast, we pack up and leave the campsite in Oudtshoorn

No big mileage today. The Cango Caves are only a half-hour outside of town. Next to having a braai, it's one of South Africa's most popular tourist attractions. We passed by it yesterday afternoon on the way back from the Swartberg Pass and Die Hel.

There are two tour options once you arrive at the Cango Caves. There is the normal Heritage Tour (otherwise known as the "wussy route" by the locals) which only descends 600m underground.

And then there's the manly-sounding "Adventure Tour", which continues even further and 600m lower. By the description, you have to clamber and crawl through the slimmest of gaps, your chest and chin and back of your head scraping the narrow, cold cave walls, floor and ceiling. Best to stick to the Wussy Route if you have a fear of Christmas, because Claus-trophobics need not apply.

To hammer home the point: you know those warning signs before you get on the rides in the amusement park? The ones with the measuring tape and arrow that reads, "You must be at least this tall to ride"?

Good thing we are visiting the caves before lunch!

Our guide leads us down a set of very dimly-lit stairs for what seems like an eternity. Further and further down we go, surrounded by complete darkness, unable to see anything but just a few stairs in front of us.

Until finally, the descent stops and we follow more dim LED lights set in the floor.

Our guide walks over to a fuse panel in the wall and flips a switch. Oooh! The Grand Reveal! Lights turn on all over the cave and we realize just how large this main chamber is. It is cavernous! (Edit: Neda says, "WHAT? You can't describe a cave as cavernous!" I have to listen to her. She's the RideDOT.com Neda-tor-in-Chief)

The main cavern is 90m long x 50m wide, which coincidentally happens to be the size of a soccer field. The highest point of the cave roof is 18m high.

The main cavern is called Van Zyl's Hall

The purpose of descending in darkness was to reproduce what the local farmer Jacobus Van Zyl might have experienced when he first stumbled onto the Cango Caves in 1780. In the darkness, he just thought it was a small cave until he brought candles down and lit up a huge area as large as an airplane hangar. If airplanes had existed in 1780...

With the lights on, we're free to roam around the soccer field and explore (I checked - Soccer was invented 2000 years ago)

Dioramas showing how the cave was in use during the later Stone Ages, about 40,000 years ago

The scale of things down here

I'm standing in front of a stalactite "organ" hanging from the ceiling. I always remember when I was a kid learning the difference between stalactites and stalagmites: stalactites hold on "Tight" from the roof.

I've also heard that other people learn the difference in that stalactite has a C for "ceiling" and stalagmite has a G for "ground". But that doesn't help me much because stalagtite/stalactite and stalacmite/stalagmite sound almost the same to me...

So spooky down here. We hang on to each other stalagtitely. Or is it stalacmitely? Bah.

As we venture deeper into the caves, we have to proceed while hunched over in some places

(l)Giger-like Alien sculptures (m) Cango Worms! (r) Ladder takes us up from King Solomon's Mines

They call this feature The Coffin

The Coffin is a hexagon-shaped hole that you drop down into. From here, it's a circular route, exploring the nether regions of the Adventure Tour. We'll have to pass through here again on the way out.

We have to do a lot of crawling, sometimes on our hands and knees, but other times, we have to get on our chests and wriggle like snakes to get through some of the lower-ceilinged passages.

The rock is worn smooth by the hands and feet of thousands of tourists before us. Neda says it reminds her of the cobblestones of the Appian Way in Rome, worn smooth by the sandals of hundreds of thousands of Roman soldiers.

Squeezing though various nooks, crannies and crevices

Picture on the left is The Chimney. We were warned there might be insects here... a special species only found in this part of the cave: Chimney Crickets.

The Devil's Post Box. Only 27cm (10.5") high!

They call it the Post Box because you feel like an envelope being pushed through a letter-sized slot. I dunno. Being squeezed, headfirst out of that small hole, I would have called it the Delivery Room.

Because that's where the mail gets delivered to... the delivery room... It was quite a Labourous process. We had to take a Pregnant Pause at the bottom to catch our breath.

In 2007, a woman got stuck in the Post Box. The ticket-sellers and guide initially tried to dissuade her from taking the Adventure Tour, suggesting the Heritage Tour instead. But she became "extremely offended" and insisted on taking the narrower route, despite her weighing over 100 kg (220 lbs).

Delivery Failed, Return To Sender.

Except that she couldn't squeeze back out the way she came. She was wedged in.

The Post Box was the only way in and out of the final cave of the Adventure Tour, and there were 12 other people in the tour trapped inside.

One of the trapped tourists was a diabetic and he had to have extra insulin delivered to him.

They sent in a team to extract her. Despite getting permission to drill through the surrounding rock, they opted to cover her with liquid paraffin and used pulleys to lift her out. She, and the other tourists had been trapped for close to 12 hours!

Since then, they've built that "You must be this thin to ride" display booth at the entrance of the caves and have enforced it strictly.

This is the same narrow crevice that the display showed

The woman in that picture must have been tiny! Nobody in our group could fit through that gap without turning sideways. Slim Neda even had to take off her backpack!

We're more than a kilometer underground! How cool is that?

Neda climbing back up the Devil's Chimney

The sun hurts our eyes once we're back up on the ground floor.

What a fun adventure! While the history of the caves was interesting, we really enjoyed spelunking, crawling and squeezing through all those tight crevices! Would definitely recommend it to anyone!

Okay, back on the bikes, heading further south to the coast

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