20 hour flight plan passes through Narita airport. Despite warnings of overweight checking luggage, realize I could have spared ten whole pounds. One bag of rolled oats sadly sacrificed to this cargo ideal. Forcing self to stay awake has its uses when I land early in the morning at one, but I may have hallucinated the truly awful dinner on the Narita leg. But wait I have photographic proof! Unknown green blob is tasteless. Single baby carrot and steamed green beans are affront to vegetarian principles.
Flight to Sydney the next day is uneventful. Sydney airport is unremarkable and in fact rather small (to our seasoned traveler eyes). We pick up our car with enough room for all our luggage and trundle into Meriton service apartments. I sustain mini apoplexy every time dad turns right, being used to driving “on the wrong side of the road”. Meriton has put us up in the 53rd floor as recompense for not being able to check into our actual room until after two. View is spectacular over Darling Harbor.
Next morning we pack everything up (again) and head to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains region. We take a look at the Three Sisters, which is about 30 seconds away from our front door. The view over Echo Point is stunning: a blue-ish (as promised) vista of mountains, plateaus, rainforests blanketing the floor, and a remarkable undisturbed stillness.
Brother and I get kitted up for the Plughole Adventure Tour, which involves a prodigious amount of climbing and squeezing and general hijinks inside a cave that could be, according to our guides, about 340 million years old. It has the fossils to prove it, too.
The earliest cave writings are around 1854, and many of the passages were found by J. Wilson. J was in fact Jane, who at the time would have scandalized men and women by ferreting around in caves. If she’d left her full name up, it would have been scrubbed off by passing puritans.
In any event, we find multiple writings on the cave walls, including Arnott of TimTam fame – the grandfather of the guy who started Australia’s most famous biscuit scene, as well as the Obituary Wall, where a group of adventurers who had assumed they were going to die there had written down their names as a kind of proof or memoriam.
Brother and I squish ourselves through progressively smaller holes, including a memorable one called the S Bend, a vertical drop called the Letterbox, and another called the Armchair. Photographic evidence of our adventures has been obtained – me and brother grinning maniacally and sometimes painfully as we squeeze through.
Astonishingly we are the only two people on the tour so it’s just us and the guides. We get shown through the Chapel, where our guides introduce us to the mindset of the 19th century cave explorers — stumbling around with candles only, unable to see their feet, far less the exits of the current cavern. Enigmatic “out” signs with a pointing arrow sign technically help future explorers, but are by no means comprehensive guides.
Occasionally we see chipped off stalactites where people have taken home some (not quite) souvenirs. Since it takes about 100 years to grow one centimeter of stalactites, this is a fairly grievous crime. Our guides Geoff and Graham consider these homely caverns to be the real show, rather than the display caves. “This is what we really do with the caves, you get to see that instead of the pretty display caves.” Geoff does caving on a regular basis, so getting paid for this is pretty sweet, he says.
In the meantime, mum and dad have been exploring the Oriental Cave. It’s a beautiful structure with steps leading all kinds of places and sheets of stalagmites hanging down. Technical issues with brother’s phone camera mean that only half the journey is recorded but even those are hauntingly pretty.
Back from a full day of exploring, brother finds an Indian restaurant called Anki’s, which is small enough to qualify as a hole in the wall. It is here that brother’s heart is broken very slightly, because he finds the best dal makhni he’s eaten so far. Near an out of the way mountain range in New South Wales, no less.
This post is a series I’m challenging myself with – the Five Minute Tale. The goal is to get back into writing a little bit, every day, so that I never lose touch with it.