Caves and canyons

Trip Start Dec 28, 2006
Trip End Dec 2007

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Our bus journey to San Rafael was interrupted by a little drama.  We got a semi-cama bus for the 14 hour journey and a couple of hours after heading off we came up against a roadblock.  We were delayed for an hour by protesters, no idea what they were protesting against, who had blocked off the road with burning cars, human barricades and rubble.  To be honest, it would have been dramatic if we had known what was going on but the tailback was so long we couldn't see anything.  On the up side we did get to share a beautiful semi-desert sunset over the pampa with our fellow passengers.  I think we all learned something that night.

We arrived in the pouring rain at 6am and stood for 10 mins waiting for a taxi only to find out that the taxi office was 10 meters away.  Doh!  Then we had a frustrating day in the hostel as we tried to organise our activities but due to the 4 days of rain we had to wait until the next day to find out what tours were possible.  So all that really happened that day was us getting totally soaked going to the shop.  Felt like home.

2 days later we set of merrily for white-water rafting.  We were a little confused as to why the 1 hour rafting ( 29km away ) was going to take 11 hours but the hostel assured us this was the right tour.  At 9am we all piled into the mini bus and set off.  We were surprised by the number of pensioners on the bus but admired their spirit.  First stop was a mirrador overlooking the Corre Sierra with a statue of St. Francis who is the protector of the area.  Ok just a wee stop on the way to rafting we thought as nobody spoke English or tried to tell us what was going on.  Off again and next stop was a wee village beside a reservoir with lots of boats so we thought "yeah, rafting starts here" but alas no white water could be seen.  Tried with no success to get empanadas but soon we were off again.  Surely we must be going to the river this time we thought.  Nope, we went to a dam.  A dam which not only was amazingly boring but we couldn't understand the talk either.  The river in front was just a trickle and we wondered how we would raft on it.  Some people walked on the dam but we just stood by the bus waiting to go.  After all the pensioners had been to the loo and bought ham sandwiches we were off again.

Unsurprisingly we stopped five minutes later at the village on the other side of the dam.  When was the rafting?  We stayed for an hour and a half to get lunch and then we headed off again to go to the canyon but of course not to raft.  Even worse the guides turned round a third of the way down as they said it was too dangerous even though everyone on the bus thought it was fine.  Got a quick look around and the guides were surprisingly unconcerned with the dangers of people running to the edge of the cliff and posing for pics on a rocky overhang.  Anyway back in the bus for a long drive back the way we came, up a hill, through a tunnel, across another dam, further up the hill, back down again and FINALLY we arrived at the rafting centre.

Here we found out the majority of the younger people on the bus spoke perfect English and they explained that the rafting was an optional activity on this damn tour and most of the pensioners wouldn't be joining us down the river.  The river was in a gorgeous narrow canyon surrounded by trees and impressive cliff faces.  It was only grade 2 but after the day we'd had it was as exciting as grade 4.  We had great fun and got completely soaked, as much by people in the other boats throwing water at us and crashing into our raft to try to make us fall out, as by the river itself.  At one stage T, in need of an extra adrenaline rush, voluntarily jumped in the river and was dragged along behind the raft.  The guide instructed Sara to paddle on and assured her that Tony was not important and would find his own way.  All in all great fun in a spectacular setting.

Next day it was a trip to La Caverna de las Brujas (the witches cave).  This is a marvelous cave that plunges deep into the earth at an altitude of just under 2000m.  The journey there took us over the scenic Cuesta del Chihuido and although the road was unpaved and rough we got fantastic views of the surrounding area and also of the many volcanoes hereabouts.  The cave lies in a provincial park and we had to register and go with a guide.  We were given miners helmets with torches and told "You will get wet."  The caves are filled with amazing rock formations which the guides like to name and find shapes in, like looking at clouds.  We were shown a sow and her piglet, the bat, the old man, and so on.  When we first went in we were in quite a large space but later as we moved further in and down the passages got very narrow and at times we were crawling through on our bellies, with the constant "Aoow!" from people banging their heads.  We were all glad to have the helmets.  In various areas we switched all our lights out to experience total darkness and during one of these times the guide took out a little glow-in-the-dark skeleton to scare us.  You would be amazed at the screams this caused haha  We, of course, were far more sensible and kept the side up.  There were some really impressive stalactites and stalagmites and it was a great experience.  We'll have to visit the Marble Arch caves again when we get home!
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