Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Millennium Caves

We embarked on the Millennium Cave tour without a real understanding of what the tour entailed except we would be visiting a dark cave after a walk in the woods and would definitely be getting wet.  People who had taken the tour prior us always came back looking exhausted so we knew we were in for a long day.  

The trip started in the back of a ute ( pickup truck ) for an hour or so ride along a very potholed road deep in the jungle.  We received warm smiles and waves from the locals we passed along the way.  Our guide met us at the first village and took us on a trail through the jungle to a second village where we picked up torches, another guide, and got a quick briefing of the intended route.  Then it was off through the jungle for an hour and twenty minute walk to the caves. 

Along the walk, the guide gave us a crash course on local plants found along the side of the trail.  We were introduced to wild ginger ( not edible ), pin/pine tree ( smells like cucumber ), wild kava ( not used for drinking ), red and white taro, some tree that smells like Mentholatum and is good for wounds, and several species of vine and low growing plants.  He also told us some of the 101 uses for various sizes of bamboo: frame their homes, cook rice, make a type of BBQ, build bridges, etc.  It definitely made me look at the jungle a little more carefully as we walked along.

When we got close to the caves, we stopped for traditional face painting to protect us from the spirits in the cave.  The various symbols represented nature around the caves such as bats, waterfalls, and the river.  Next it was man the torches and head into the water for a trip through the caves.  Inside the caves was very dark and we walked through water that was anywhere from shin deep to chest deep on me.  The bottom was covered with slippery rocks and made keeping your footing quite difficult.  Close toed shoes are highly recommended, preferably something with a sticky sole like approach shoes or hybrid Tevas with a toe cap.  My hiking shoes were just too slippery for me and I turned my ankle numerous times along the way.  After about half an hour, we emerged from the cave and sat on the shore for our much needed lunch.  

After lunch we were issued inflatable floating rings, the kind little kids use when they are splashing around the pool, and started out for the river portion of the tour.  We had to climb over, under and around some fairly large boulders to get to a point where we could enter the river.  Once on the river, the only challenge was staying on top of the little ring.  ( Here's a short video I found on YouTube. )  

I wish we could have floated all the way back to Luganville, but instead we reluctantly climbed out of the river and up several stages of steep rock to our short hike back to the second village.  A short stop for coffee and collect our bags then it was off in the rain for the hike back to the first village and the ute.  All in all it was a challenging but fun adventure and nothing like we've done so far this trip.  

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