Posts Tagged With: caves

Firsts…

On the eve of our leaving the Pyrenees Orientales, I feel compelled to mention some of the previously unmentioned amazing things we have experienced here. There have been many firsts for me. Here are just a couple of them:

Cave Paintings – always been on my bucket list, so when the boss of this trip (you know who you are) reminded me of some fairly local prehistoric caves, off we went to the Ariage to visit Grottes de Niaux, an amazing cave whose enormous mouth right on the side of a mountain is visible from the road below. This experience was a little different from the one I blogged about earlier. This system of caves was in more of a natural state – uneven, sometimes slippery floors, no lighting other than the flashlight provided at the beginning of the tour, and a few fairly narrow tunnels. It was a bit of a hike to get to the parts with the actual paintings, and along the way there was some “modern” graffiti on the walls. As in, 1605ish. Crazy. At that time, the people doing the graffiti didn’t know they were defacing prehistoric paintings because they didn’t know there were prehistoric people! It’s nuts. Really hard to get your head around. And when you get to the Salon Noir, where the really spectacular animal paintings are, it is just mind-boggling. They didn’t have language. They couldn’t count. But they could paint. And not just paint, but paint well. The likeness to the animals they depict is incredible. 13,000 years ago! Remember back when we were amazed at the age of the city of York? Built by Romans and Vikings? That was only 2,000 years ago. Like I said, mind-boggling.

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Hot Springs – another phenomenon I’ve never experienced. So, off we went the other day to one of the many thermal baths in the area. We would have taken this one in sooner except that we had no bathing suits, but this particular place rented bathing suits, so that’s what we did. Weird, yes, but better than buying a $50 suit I’ll never wear again. And WAY better than Dev buying a Speedo, because that’s what the men-folk have to wear in there! It was great. Good for a few giggles due to the rented bathing suits, but all forgotten once we submerged. The sensation of being in steaming hot water while surrounded by the chill of the autumn air was both restful and invigorating. We could see the snow covered mountains all around us, and actually, we wished it was snowing, because that would have made the experience even more of a paradox. Anyway, we loved it, (what’s not to love?), and the kids loved it, despite some initial protestation from the one who does not like hot water.
Ugh, it makes my muscles feel all soft and floppy – like I can’t stand up. It’s called relaxing. Give it a shot. It’s good for you.

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There’s more to say, but now I need to pack. A bientot!

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Caves: Who Knew?

I have never really understood the fascination with caves. Dev used to go “caving” when we lived in England, which always involved helmets, flashlights, and lots of dirty clothes. And in my imagination at least, lots of sheer drops, ladders, and narrow, dark tunnels. As inviting as that may sound to some people, it wouldn’t really float my boat. And maybe the caves he went in were like that, and maybe they weren’t; I don’t know. But after yesterday’s trip to Les Grottes de Grande Canalettes, my views on caves have changed quite dramatically.
There were no sheer drops, or at least, I didn’t have to go down any. There were no narrow, dark tunnels. Or again, none that required me to duck. And no ladders of any sort. (I researched extensively beforehand to ensure that this would be the case). In fact, there was nothing even remotely claustrophobic about this enormous, cavernous even, system of caves. Surprisingly, there was nothing scary at all. Except for the oddly deformed cat that was hobbling drunkenly around the gift shop after us at the end of our visit. Now that was scary.
Anyway, back to the caves. Saying they were amazing is so inadequate. I can’t think of anything that has filled me with such awe. And we’ve been to some awe inspiring places over the last couple of months. The beginning of the caves is a pathway of tunnels that were hollowed out by underground rivers millions of years ago. You can see the rushing water in your mind and imagine it carving away at the rock, millimeter by millimeter over the years. There are some stalagmites and stalactites here, and it’s really cool to see the water dripping onto the stalagmite, building it up even more. The kids held their fingers under the water and swore they grew!
But it’s when you get through these tunnels and come into the first of the chambers that it becomes suddenly mind-blowing. I can’t really describe it – in this case, the pictures will have to speak 1000 words. But the sheer vastness of the chambers, the columns of calcification that you can’t even wrap your arms around, the 30 foot high stalagmite towers, and the thousands of icicle-like stalactites hanging from the ceilings are just so unbelievably impressive. And they just keep getting more impressive as you move along. The chambers get bigger and bigger, you come across a lake full of cauliflower shaped calcifications, there are draperies of mineral deposit like lasagne noodles stretched across the ceilings, and the colours of the columns change depending on the prevalent mineral, from the pure white of lime, to iron red, and manganese black.
And finally, as you climb up to the most enormous chamber of all, it’s just everything. Everything combined and more. Accompanied by coloured lighting and classical music, we sit on benches here and just take it in. Weirdly, this is one of the most spiritual experiences I think I have ever had. Maybe it’s just the realization that you are sitting under a mountain in a cavern that has been shaped by Mother Nature over millions of years. Or you feel the presence of an omniscient being in such stunning, yet completely natural phenomenon. I don’t know, but it makes you feel very small and insignificant. Such a minute part of this vast, incredible world.
In any case, I’m a cave convert. Obviously.
Oh, and the educational implications….just an afterthought really, but still. Our oldest said it was one of the most amazing things she has ever seen. She wouldn’t let any of us speak as we went through! The middle one said, “Did you take a picture of this?” approximately every 4 seconds, so we’ll assume she concurs. And pearls of wisdom from the youngest? “This place would be so much better if it had burgers and fries you could eat on the way around”, and “This opera is giving me a headache”. Oh, well, you know what they say – two out of three ain’t bad.

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