My overnight train from Romania went splendidly, and I even managed a bit of sleep. I arrived in the morning at one of the more distant stations and had to walk a few kilometers to my hostel. In addition to being the cheapest option, I liked the name too – Tiger Tim’s. He met me at the door and gave me the run down on where to go and what to do. One of the tours that he mentioned was a spelunking expedition through the nearby caves. I had heard something about it online, and some of the others at the hostelers mentioned how great it was. The main station.
Budapest is famous for having a lot of geothermal and tectonic activity thanks to the fault line that runs below the Danube River. This fault explains why the Buda side of the river is hilly and the Pest side just across the river is completely flat. Throughout the eons, this cave system has formed in the limestone layers and exists today as a UNESCO protected 66km of tunnels.
I threw down 5000 of my newly acquired forints, gathered with a number of adventuring souls and then took the bus over to where the trip would begin. We got broken into four smaller groups of about 8 each. I was with an interesting mix of Singaporeans, Germans, and a fellow compatriot. We all hit it off pretty well, and we were in high spirits.
Part of getting ready was changing into some proper caving duds and equipping ourselves with headlamps. I had done some caving before but it wasn’t going to be nearly as hardcore as this. Then I was with my family and likely claustrophobic mother at Mammoth Caves so we just walked through that. The Philippines had a pretty cool cave that required us to walk through in our swimsuits and through neck deep pools of water. This however was going to include some seriously tight spaces through rugged, one-way tunnels.
We entered the cave and lowered ourselves down a steep ladder into the abyss. Straight away our guide gave us some of the geological history of the area before we moved onward through our first narrow space. There were a number of low passages where we had to stoop or crawl in order to get through. We also had to work together here by passing along the best places to step and in some cases how to position ourselves to get through easily and safely.
Once we reached a large room, he asked what sort of challenge we were up for. I assume that it takes a certain type of person to come on an outing like this, but I was still relieved that we could all agree on taking the most challenging route. So off we went through our first hole necessitating a fully prone position.
I can’t really recount the nature of every room, but there were a couple noteworthy characteristics. In the largest room we stopped to turn out our lights, and then our guide treated us to a Hungarian folksong. The deal was that we had to sing something too, so we played it safe with ‘Yesterday’. The acoustics of the chamber gave both pieces an ominous tone.
In another room we had to go through our tightest passage of the tour. There was an easy way past it, but of course we all wanted to take the challenge. There was one guy who didn’t fit, and I was absolutely the biggest person to make it through, but only barely. I had both arms up ahead of me and had to pair exhaling with using my toes to push through. I had my doubts about making it, but going backwards was no longer an option. The guide anchored himself and heaved on my arms, which got me a few crucial centimeters more. After a good five minutes I was finally through and feeling good.
The lowest point we reached was about 60 meters below the surface, and then of course we needed to start heading back up. There were some rock walls that we needed to scale and a few more tight squeezes, but it wasn’t long before we were up the ladder and out again. I was surprised to see that it was already night up above ground; one has no concept of time down there. This was another tight spot, though gravity helped a lot once you got your body in the right position.
Our jumpsuits protected us from both abrasions and a lot of filth. When limestone wears away, the clay trapped within it gets deposited in the cave. By removing it, cavers can discover new paths and rooms, but it also means that we get gross.
I returned back to Tiger Tim’s to socialize just a bit, but the overnight train and day of activity meant that sleep wasn’t far away. Budapest had really proved itself as an interesting place already in day one, so I had high hopes for the next day too.