Do you know that scene from Legally Blonde where Elle (Reese Witherspoon) interrogates a girl on the witness stand regarding the death of her father? And she says “You were in the shower?” about 9 times, until everyone is laughing at her and thinks she’s a complete idiot? For those who haven’t seen it, check out this clip (starting around 1:30). On Saturday, that was me, except replace “You were in the shower?” with “Wait, so the easy way is down? The hard way is up?” And I wasn’t in a courtroom but 30 meters underground.
But let’s start at the beginning. A few months ago, my dear friend and former roommate Laura mentioned that she and her husband Blair were considered coming to Budapest as part of their European vacation this year. I put aside any shred of dignity I might have had and begged, nay, insisted they come. Laura said that they always try to do at least one sort of out-of-the-box thing while sightseeing and asked if I had ever gone caving in Budapest. I’d heard of it several times – the underground cave network in Budapest is vast, with labyrinths under the castle, an underground WWII hospital, and several hundred kilometers of national park caverns – but so far we hadn’t done it. Laura and Blair were excited to find something that we hadn’t already done with other visitors, so we decided to be adventurous together.
We used the Caving Under Budapest company, which has two different kinds of tours: one similar to what I’ve experienced in caverns in Texas, with underground tunnels and walkways and lighted paths, and one where you enter the caves in their natural state and wiggle through. We chose the wiggling route, which takes between 2.5 and 3 hours and brings you 30 meters underground. (They do have more advanced tours that go 100 meters underground, where you can visit an underground lake, but that one’s not for novices.)
We started the tour by meeting up with one of the guides and the other adventurers at the Nyugati train station and took two buses to the cave entrance, where we suited up in outfits that essentially looked like the jumpsuits the guys wore in Top Gun. At the time we noticed nearly every suit had a camouflage patch on the butt area and we wondered why. We quickly found out… there’s a lot of booty-scooting in caving.
The access to this section of the caves is through a locked metal door; our guide mentioned that you have to either go with this tour company or obtain a key from them by showing your caving expertise license. Past the metal door is a man-made tunnel that leads to a hole in the ground with a 10-meter ladder. Once you touch the bottom of the ladder, there are no trails or ropes or rails. There was one spot that the guide mentioned was “widened” so that people could get through… but it was still only wide enough to belly-crawl through, one by one.
Laura and Blair were brave enough to take a camera down, but Richie and I weren’t, so here’s a quick Instagram photo that they snapped:
The aforementioned Legally Blonde moment came in one section where you had a choice – to go over or under. Either route landed you in the same spot, but there was a large rock that split the tunnel into two pieces, a top half and a bottom half. The bottom half LOOKED harder because it was smaller and full of jagged rocks, but the top half actually WAS harder because you had to lift yourself up (probably a meter?) over the rock and drop in. Still, I was at the very end of the group (with Richie and Blair behind me to assist in case I got stuck) and kept saying, “Are you sure down is easier? Up looks easier. Is up easier?” I’m very surprised that one of the fellow cavers (there were about 6-8 that weren’t with our group of four, plus the guide) did not strangle me and leave me behind. It did in fact turn out that down was easier.
As we worked our way through, the guide told us the names of the various “rooms” and tunnels we entered. Most of the rooms were named based on features of the rocks, like “The Library” which had rocks hanging from the ceiling that looked like book covers, and “The Bar” that had a long, flat rock off to one side like, well, a bar. She was quick to tell us that while the memorials in “The Chapel” were dedicated to Hungarian cavers who died, no one had actually died in *this* cave (whew). The tunnels had encouraging names like “The Mousetrap”, “The Rat Hole”, and “The Worm”. At one point in the worm, you had to belly-crawl for a few meters, angle your head and legs in a position to flip your body around, and scoot on your butt the rest of the way so that your legs would be in the right position for a 1.5-meter drop. I think it was in The Worm where I bashed my knee, said a very loud expletive, and made Laura and Blair worried that I would hate them eternally. I promise I don’t! I had so much fun! And I would TOTALLY do it again. But maybe next time I’ll bring kneepads.