Everything is pitch black. Not even if you sat here for days, would your eyes adjust to the missing light.
This is true darkness.
You wave your hand inches in front of your eyes, and you think you see it. But you don’t. It’s just your mind conjuring up the image from memory. It expects the hand to be there and so it tries to trick you with a weak silhouette. Spooky.
But there’s something more. It’s not only the darkness keeping you company – down here you find complete silence too! That’s until you start realizing how many weird noises your own body makes. Usually, you wouldn’t even notice, but down here, all sounds are amplified.
You hear a slight buzzing in your ears – one that slowly increases in volume… “It is your blood flowing,” said Ava, who was our guide for the day. We couldn’t believe it! These caves are SO quiet that you can actually hear your own blood flowing through your brain? That must be a joke! But then you realize that you can also clearly make out the sound of your own eyelids flicking, and you are convinced.
This really is complete silence – like hitting the mute button on a speaker. You suddenly become acutely aware of your movements, and your breathing sounds much louder than usual. Something is itchy, but you resist the temptation to scratch it. You know it will sound like nails on a chalkboard. However, over time, as you adjust to the peculiar setting, you begin to feel more at ease. After a while, you even start to enjoy it.
Eventually, sitting there in the complete darkness and silence, we felt calm and relaxed. There was nothing scary about it.
We experienced a deep sense of relaxation that we had never felt before.
We were suddenly utterly free from the noise and the light pollution of our everyday lives, and this felt like the greatest escape!
But then a phone starts ringing; “Do you have signal down here?” someone asked. And just like that, you are jolted back, realizing that you are still in the 21st century. Sure, you are sitting in a cave more than 30 meters under the bustling city of Budapest, but technology always finds a way.
It turns out there wasn’t signal after all – it was just someone’s alarm clock. But still, the moment was gone. We turned on our headlamps and Ava guided us even further down into the cave system.
Deeper, deeper, deeper. Nick, being a big Lord of the Rings fan, half-expected to hear drums in the deep. But, thankfully, the Orcs from the depths of Khazad-dûm never appeared.
In the cave, all surfaces are moist and dusty at the same time. This leaves a clay-like texture which makes you capable of sliding down the occasional ramp. You feel it when you breathe; the air is dry, but everything you touch is wet and slippery. It’s almost like you have found a way to another world. A secret world that was meant to be discovered by none other than you. You’re a cave explorer. You’re Indiana Jones. You’re badass. This is clear from just looking at you! You, wearing your blinding headlamp and your overalls – which have been used so many times that they are cracked open right on the butt.
We moved ever-further into the caves, guided through tiny holes, long tight tunnels and scrambling on the slimy limestone. We knew from the get-go that we were on a proper adventure.
An underground adventure.
It was thrilling having no idea what kind of nature-made “room” you would enter next, how long the next tiny tunnel would be, or even how deep underground you were.
Yet, we felt safe.
There wasn’t cause for panic, claustrophobia or discomfort at any point. Well, at least not until we had to get to the other side of a tiny hole that even Kia had to wriggle her body through. Nick knew it would require a near superhuman effort for him to squeeze through. It was a struggle, but of course, he managed. Perhaps if he had been proper stuck, we would have panicked?
We were exploring a cave system, one that was more than 30km long and who knows how deep. The thought of not knowing where we were, which direction we came from, which way we were going, or how deep into the cave we were, made our adrenaline flow. Don’t get us wrong, this was a good thing. Especially because it was pretty chilly down there. You definitely noticed when you were sitting still on a cold and wet limestone, waiting for the next tiny channel to be ready for your passage.
Being part of a group of about 10 people, we did have some waiting time here and there, especially as we were often the backmarkers. We had no intention of moving quickly – there’s always another dark corner that needs to be checked out, you know?
We loved it. We loved the whole thing. It was fantastic to be able to calm down at one point, taking your time to explore a dark corner of the cave, and then the very next minute you were sliding down a ramp in a speed that was way too high for comfort. It felt good to be completely isolated from the busy world above, to have so much room to breathe, while moments later, you were pushing yourself through narrow shafts, getting the air squeezed out of your lungs.
The experience had everything we look for in a proper adventure, and we are quite hard to impress!
It wouldn’t last forever, though. We had been exploring the caves for more than 2 hours, but it still felt like we had only just begun. We stopped to catch our breath, and Ava showed us a map describing where we were, and where we should go look for the exit. Sadly, it seemed like it would all soon be over.
We made our way, sorry, we climbed our way, back and upwards through the many steep burrows that we had previously been sliding down. This required a bit more effort, and it got our hearts racing. It also gave us a proper sense of just how deep into the cave system we had actually gotten. With the help of a lot of scrambling, and our bright headlamps guiding us, we started to recognize the shapes of stones we had seen earlier in the day. We were finding our way out.
If you were down there alone, and your headlamp failed you, we dare say there is no way you would ever find your way up again. The place is a labyrinth, and we’ve now got a real sense of respect for caves and professional cavers.
Eventually, we reached the 10-meter long iron ladder that had carried us down into the caves. We made our way up, spent a few minutes adjusting to the bright sunlight, and got on with our day.
The highlight of our week in Budapest had come to an end.
These caves are not regarded as the biggest tourist attraction in the city. However, we think they should be. They are even made from the same thermal underground water, as the hugely popular thermal spas. They are a proper natural phenomenon that we think everyone should take time out of their busy itinerary to experience. Your mind, and your sense of adventure, will thank you for it.
We know that we loved it. We were thrilled by the experience, and are so glad that we decided to take on a more adventurous approach to our Budapest visit! It is definitely not the last time we will seek out such exciting tourist activities when on a city break.
As Seth Godin said: “If it scares you, it might be a good thing to try”.
Company: Caving Under Budapest
Location: 2nd district, 162 Szepvolgyi Street, Budapest
Price: 10,000 HUF per person (approx. 30 EUR)
Note: Not recommended for overweight people. There is an age limit of 10-55 years (you can probably talk to them about an exception). EVERYONE can partake.