We’re not quite sure what we’re in for when the driver picks us up from our hostel. We booked the Jomblang Cave your as an adventurous extension of our comfort zones – entry to the cave is courtesy of a 60m descent down a rope. I’m feeling nervous as we get into the car for the two hour drive to the cave. But soon I relax into the air conditioned comfort of the drive along scenic country roads that cross a steep mountain range and roam through quiet villages.
Arriving at Jomblang Cave my concerns about the experience fade quickly. There are about fifty other tourists there, both domestic and foreign. The caving guides look focused, experienced and well-equipped with modern Petzl harnesses, helmets and headlamps. The ropes are obviously new and a two-rope safety system is being used to lower guests into the hole. There are also no ropes rubbing on the edge of the cliff and a massive concrete pillar with shining metal loops is used to take the slack. There’s a rhythm and routine to the operation. No one is chit chatting. The only conversation is Javanese words that must mean the equivalent of “on rope”, “on belay”, “lowering”, “raising”. And each operator has a piece of chalky rock with which they are counting the number of guests being lowered into and raised from the cave so as not to leave anyone behind. I’ve never actually felt so unafraid of a climbing situation before.
Helmets and harnesses on we join the queue to enter the cave. Before long we are clipped in (one rope on the front and one on the back). Let go of structure. Hold onto rope. Sit back. Look up and smile for the camera (we bought the photo to put on our photo shelf). And then slowly be lowered 60m (180 feet) into the ground.
It’s so peaceful here in the air. We are dangling on a rope and I am not afraid. The air is still. For these moments we are alone on this crazily hectic island. Tree branches brush past us, occasionally touching our legs or arms. This is not an abseil for the walls of the hole are meters from our bodies. It’s almost like we are flying our own private escalator into the land below our planet’s crust.
Touch down. We are unclipped and set off along the path into the tunnel section of the cave. Despite it being a busy day (there are usually only about 10-20 guests but it is a long weekend so there are many domestic tourists) the cave is peaceful. We clamber down a muddy slope and enter the darkness.
Looking back at the entrance hole is stunning. The green plants accentuate the beautiful golden sunlight. People are mere silhouettes in Mother Nature’s spectacle.
We are not quite sure what to expect but follow some white stepping stones into the darkness. Ahead there are some small lights but not enough to see with. Thank goodness for iPhones and their multiple widgets and apps. They make a great torch.
The ground is sticky with mud beneath our feet. Not yucky sloshy mud but that tacky but sticky stuff. Eventually we reach a rockfall that we must negotiate to reach the next chamber. It’s slippery and Paul takes a spill. I am grateful for the Scarpa trekking boots I bought when I was home between trips but poor Paul is wearing joggers and they have no grip.
And then we are there! It’s almost midday and sunlight shines angelicly through a hole in the chamber ceiling. We are on a short of shelf that goes around a deeper hole under the one through which the sun is shining. We can hear water rushing down there somewhere below us. It sounds like a raging underground river.
But all attention is on the magical angelic light shining into the chamber. It makes for stunning silhouettes.
Paul does his best impression of 007.
I poke out my tongue for my “glamour” shot. It’s absolutely fabulous. I am glad that I opened my tight ways to pay the $US80 per person (including private driver) to come here. Because it really is an experience not to be missed if you are on Java.
We make our way back through the darkness. Playing as ghosts with our phone torches along the way. At the cave entrance the sun is perfectly aligned to enjoy the silhouettes of other guests. We humans really are so small compared to the might of nature. I mean, this cave is so huge that it totally dwarfs us all.
We climb the steep exit and then wait to be hoisted back out of the cave. With so many guests it is a long wait because each pair of people take a little over one minute to be lifted out. The laugh of the day comes when a group of Chinese tourists push from the very back of the line to the front saying that they have a flight to catch at 3pm. It’s already 1pm when they make this claim so it is obviously a lie (from here it is still a 2 hour drive to the airport if there is no traffic so they cannot make a 3pm flight). When one of the ladies screams as she is lifted from the cave the rest of us all laugh at her. Even the usually reserved Asians for whom social harmony and face is so important cheer at the rude lady’s fear. A Dutch couple can’t let it go though. They whinge and complain the entire wait. The guy says things like “I hope the rope breaks and she falls”. While the girl with him says “Don’t say that or we will be stuck down here longer”. They become the second most unpopular group in the cave because everyone else has moved on. Personally, I didn’t mind sitting in the hole waiting. It was peaceful and a once in a lifetime experience.
Paul is first to be pulled out of the hole so I get to watch him rise into the sky above me. Then it is my turn. I am paired up with a young boy who has been giving me tips on fun things to do around Yogya (like sandboarding and quad bike riding). I thought I would be afraid on the ascent but, rather, I feel calm and enjoy the experience.
We return to the hostel around 5pm almost ten hours after we left. I’m exhausted so we just walk to the Alun Alun Kidul for dinner and to watch the nightly festivities of the cars again. It’s been another wonderful day in what I think is one of the most under rated South East Asian places: Java.