September 26, 2010

Caving in Roueiss

What’s this , you wonder? Well, that’s a mud butt.
You see, I got this invitation on Facebook; whether I was interested in ‘discovering the galleries of the Roueiss cave in Aqoura’.
I’m always interested, and I had never been to the Roueiss cave. I checked it up on the internet. The cave is very accessible for beginners, because 'you can walk from the entrance to the exit,’ I read. (Who's the clown that wrote that?)

That would be an easy Sunday, I figured. The invitation did mention that I should bring a change of clothing. But you know how people here can be so careful, so I did not think too much of that either. And off my 7-year old and I went. Didn’t it say minimum age is 12? Oops, didn’t read that one.

The Rouiss cave lies quite close to the Afqa cave, in this mountain range, in beds of limestone. There are some layers of volcanic rock as well, which keep the water from seeping all the way down.

The Roueiss Cave is Lebanon's second deepest cave, some 6 kilometers long (Jeita being the first), In spring time the cave is difficult to negotiate, since the cave floods. Together with the Afqa cave, it is the main source of the Ibrahim River. But at the end of summer, the river has totally dried up. Or so I thought.

When we got there, with the guide, there was another group, of some 30 people, all gearing up, and ready to explore the exact same cave; Hardhats on, lights lit.

The 'real deal'; carbide caver lamps

‘That won’t do,’ says the guide, ‘in that case, we’ll explore the upper one.” The upper one, however, is not the one you can walk from entrance to exit, as promised. Are you kidding?

In the beginning you try to keep your hands from getting muddy. But then you’ve got to grab onto the mud in order to steady yourself. So you try to keep your pants clean. Then you have to slide down a mud-covered passage to get to the next one. You try to keep your knees clean. Until you’ve got to climb on all fours, because the opening is so narrow, you cannot even squat your way through it. But your shirt is still clean.
Until you’ve got to slither on your belly, like a snake, though the mud, and your camera -which you’ve got hanging on your back, because it's got mud all over - gets hooked by the overhanging rock. Boy, this is no sport for claustrophobic people.
 A National Geographic documentary in the making

And then through the water up to your thighs, 15 degrees Celsius, the mud sucking at you shoes. I swear, if I would have lost my shoe in that water, I would have left it there. I had to crawl sideways through tunnels that would hook my hips (“mom, you’re too fat to make it through here’).
I got a helmet with a lamp (very useful, as it is dark, and you constantly bump your head against the cave roof), but the ‘real people’, the ones that do this for fun, had carbide lamps. They put carbide in a container they carry with them, mix it with water, and this produces a gas that they light. It gives a very pretty light.
So here I am, expecting to keep it clean, and next thing I know, I find myself in a National Geographic documentary, crawling through tight passages, sliding down muddy shutes and wading through water-filled tunnels. But it was totally fascinating. This cave is a true labyrinth of passageways shooting off left and right. The guide with us, Joe, knew his way around, but if you get lost, you can roam around for days, and you won’t find your way out.

Experienced caver

In retrospect, the 12 year minimum age had a reason. A 7 year old has short legs, and cannot bridge the gap from one slippery rock to another, trying to climb over some deep dark hole that is who knows how many meters deep. However, after 2 hours of slithering, crawling, walking on all fours and pushing myself sideways though crevasses, I was tired, while the 7-year old was hopping left and right.
Fellow cavers (with the 'real' lamps)

There was a German lady with us, probably in her early seventies, and in the mud she went, through the water, on her belly, and her behind, and not one complaint. The only remark she had was that maybe they could have informed her better what to wear. She was wearing a white woolen sweater. For a while.

So. Don’t know what to do next Sunday? Get a guide, and go explore Roueiss. Or go with these guys. It’s absolutely worth it. And take a camera with you! And if you’re into the geology of things, check out this document.


Miss Footloose said...

I loved reading this, and loved that I was sitting in my chair rather than crawling though the cave with you ... It's not the muck and dirt that bothers me, but the claustrophic part, being underground.

Ik neem mijn petje voor je af, as they say in Holland. ;)

Francine said...

Wonder how on (in) earth you kept your camera and lens clean :)

gingerbeirut said...

You actually make it sound almost tempting! With the exception of the very narrow parts - glad you emerged unscathed instead of getting lost for days...

Anonymous said...

You, all of you, your kids, are so courageous! I'm completely astonished.

Danielle said...

As soon as I saw the third picture,,the one with guy squeezed between the rocks..I knew this activity isn't for me! I'd freak out! I'm definitely too claustrophobic for caving..glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for sharing your experiences with those of us who will never experience the same!

H. G. said...

so was there anuthing worth seeing?I caved in Afqa once but didnt come that far,we lacked some protecting clothes.What i heard from an old lady is that in Afqa is that there are lakes inside the cave and many of them.Her husbend went insid with a group of a french army in the fiftees.Was there anything like that in Roueiss?