Friday, August 04, 2006


I love caves, even man-made caves. When we saw information listed in the parks festival brochure about a free tour of caves not far from here, we decided to check it out. The caves, "Tane del Diavolo", (dens of the devil) are located just outside the small city of Parrano, about an hour's drive from San Venanzo.

The brochure listed a meeting place, but as we passed by a white road we saw the big sign for the parks festival, so we turned in. Of course we didn't find anything, and eventually the road came to a dead end where work was being done. We turned around and headed back out to the main road. On the way we saw this amazing spot, which only made me more anxious to find out more. We read that the water is this beautiful shade of blue due to the sulphur in the water.

We drove up into town and discovered a group of people waiting outside the local school. When we asked we were told that yes, they were there for the tour, and that yes, there was still room for us.

Eventually we learned that small groups were being taken to the caves, and we had to wait for the first group to return. I started to get worried when I noticed how seriously everyone was dressed. I had on my regular walking shoes, but Art had left the house in a rush and only had sandals. Everyone else had hiking boots...serious hiking boots. And then we saw people with hard hats with lights attached. Hmmm....

We were told to go down to the school to take a look at the temporary (I think) exhibit. On display were hundreds of shells and shark's teeth, as well as a map showing what parts of the area had at one time been underwater. We also saw a tusk, tooth and collarbone from a mammoth. All in all, pretty impressive for this tiny little town.

Eventually we had to sign consent forms....what a shock! Art was told that because he had sandals, he could go TO the caves, but once we got there he couldn't go inside. If only we had known what was coming......

Once it was our turn, everyone in our group drove their cars to a parking place not too far out of town. What we couldn't figure out was why we had driven UP from the city when the caves, or at least what we had seen earlier, were much further down. We would soon find out.

The group headed down a trail and walked through a field. The walk was a gradual downhill slope. Eventually we entered the woods, and the trail, although narrow, wasn't too steep or too difficult. And then everything changed.

Suddenly the trail got steeper...and steeper....and we now had to hang on to the steel cable that ran alongside the trail to keep from slipping. The rudimentary steps, when they were there, consisted of a board at the back of the step, held in place by two sticks pounded into the ground. Some of the boards had rotted away, leaving just a series of narrow terraces in the steep hillside. Additionally, every step seemed to be at least 15" high...sometimes 18", and it was quite difficult for me, a short person, to navigate. Thank god for the steel cable!

As the trail continued on, we were beginning to get nervous. How much further would we have to go, and how much worse would it get? My short legs might have presented a problem, but Art was in sandals...not exactly the best footwear for the circumstances.

Eventually.......we got to a man who was handing out the hard hats (complete with lights), so we thought we were close....but we weren't as close as we had hoped. The trail got even steeper, slipperier and narrower. We edged our way along the edge of a ravine, slowly, cautiously, nervously. And then we were at the bottom, on a series of huge boulders. The entrance to the cave was in front of us.

At the beginning of our hike the guide had told us that the river had cut out these caves, but of course I don't know more specifics. We do know that these caves were inhabited during the Bronze Age, but that covers a long period of time. Anyway, just as we had seen earlier, it was evident that these caves had been carved out by rushing water. The huge rocks were smooth and curvy, and we couldn't even see inside the cave from where we stood. This was where Art would have to wait. I forged ahead.

Although I'd worn shoes that at least covered my feet, they still weren't hiking boots, and they didn't give me much grip. Additionally I'd worn 3/4 length blue jeans, so every time I had to take a big step up OR down, my legs were bound at the knees. Entering the cave involved literally pulling yourself up a rock wall into which iron steps had been implanted. Of course the distance between each step was better suited for someone who was 6'4", and not someone who was only 5'1".

After dragging myself up the rock wall, I then had to pull myself along a narrow rock ledge that was slippery with powdery rock dust. Again, a steel cable along the side was the only reason I made it. Eventually I reached the entrance to the cave. Our individual lights were the only illumination as we got deeper into the cave.

One small room led into another, and although the idea of the cave was interesting, this cave wasn't particularly interesting. No cool stalactites or fact, no formations at all. Just the rounded, curving rocks forming twisty, turny paths. I continued inwards, squeezed through a narrow passageway that required some contortions, and then I had to wait for the people in front of me to continue. Once they had moved I saw that the next passageway was not just narrow, it was only about four feet high.

In addition to being narrow, and having to walk like a duck, the passageway was also eight to ten feet in length. I could see the people in front of me....or rather I could see their legs from the knees down. They didn't seem to be moving forward, and I wasn't sure how many people there were, or how large the next room was. Decision time.

Based on what I'd seen so far, I didn't think that going forward was worth the effort. I'm not claustrophobic, but I still wasn't thrilled with the idea of being in some small room with a bunch of other people....especially if there wasn't anything interesting to see.

There were a few people behind me, but they were even more hesitant than I was, and when I made the decision to turn around and head out of the cave, they all followed! Slowly we edged our way back down the steep, slippery rocks, and back down to where Art was waiting. I told him that it really hadn't been worth all the effort and I apologized for getting us into this mess! And did I mention how very HOT it was that day? At least in the cave it was cool, but now that I was out of the cave the heat felt even more oppressive.

We began our climb to the top, knowing that it would take us a long, long time. This time we used the steel cable to pull ourselves back UP the hill, UP the steep steps, and UP the slippery trail. Eventually we reached the edge of the woods, hot and sweaty. Now we had to walk through the field, in full sun, up a slight incline for another fifteen minutes or so, All in all, from the car to the caves the journey took us probably forty minutes, and I’m not sure which journey was more difficult, going downhill or coming back uphill.

I know this story has gone on and on, but I really wanted to write about this so that someday, when Art and I are reading these stories, we’ll come across this one and say “Oh my god, do you remember THAT day?!?!”

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