Sunday, January 8, 2012


The descent into a sky of blue stars.


When I first saw the glowworm caves of Waitomo it was on a BBC documentary about the most spectacular phenomena that occurred in caves. The documentary was one of those that left you wishing that you were an explorer one day in the distant future and could go to all these nearly unknown places where nature shows its true colors. While watching the documentary I could have never imagined that a year from that moment I would not be sitting on my comfortable chair, but at the Waitomo glowworm caves watching millions of phosphoric glowworms illuminate the roof of the cave into a sky of blue, twinkling stars.

We arrived to Waitomo with high expectations, which were not quite met by the quiet countryside. There was nothing around the hostel but vast lands of green fields that streched over hills and small streams. We booked a caving experience from our hostel and didn't exactly know what we were booking, even though the brochure said what the experience would consist of.

In the afternoon we were picked up by a local with a van that smelled of mud and sand and made our way on the bumpy roads to a remote office, from where we were taken to the changing rooms in another van. At the changing rooms, which were, in fact, in the middle of nowhere, our group – three Americans and two Finnish first-time cavers – changed our casual clothes into wet suits and helmets. There was adventure in the air.

The same van took us even further down towards the centre of nowhere and we stopped at the end of a dirt road and made our way down a hill to a wooden fence. After practicing the mechanics of our safety gear we were ready to start the descent into the cave. This was done by abseiling a 27-meter-rope into an offspring of an abyss with tropical plants surrounding your body as you could hear the sounds of water dripping into the deeps. I have never abseiled, so even though not too high, the experience of clinging onto a single rope and making your way down with it was exhilirating. At the bottom of the descent a cold stream and endless black caves awaited.

During a total of three hours inside the caves with only our headlamps and the neon-blue glow of the worms luminating our path we crawled through the tiniest holes, dived under a few hole-like passageways, rafted our way down the forceful stream on black tubes and experienced the long darkness of a natural cave system. Our guide kept us moving with a fairly fast pace and my muscles were aching until we got a piece of chocolate and cup of warm juice during a short break in the dark. I don't think chocolate has tasted that good since the time I gnawed at Finnish chocolate bars under a pine tree in a military forest training session.

After heading for some time upstream we made our way back to the abseiling rope and were faced with the last obstacle to climb up a rock wall by hanging onto a rope. The ladders that waited on top of the wall were welcoming and the feeling was unimaginable – exhausted, but triumphant.

If opportunity comes only once in a lifetime I think I used mine this time around. The realization that travelling provides you with so much more than your comfortable life back home struck me again and made me feel satisfied. I am where I'm supposed to be right now, doing things that I took the chance to do. Uncomfort zone has never felt this good.

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