Budapest, Hungary, is quite famous for its thermal baths. Everyone I spoke to before going- locals and travelers alike- and every website, tour guide, hostel reception and guidebook said the same thing- Don’t miss the baths.
Unappealing though it may sound, soaking your grimy body in a pool (even though the hot spring waters have medicinal properties- supposedly very good for patients of Arthritis) full of hundreds of other grimy bodies (a lot of backpackers who stay in less-than-hygienic hostels come here to take bath because their hostel showers are too dirty- true story, thankfully not mine), I was quite excited about the idea. Budapest is a relatively inexpensive place, and an entry into a high end bath (everyone highly recommends the Szechenyi bath) the hot spring waters apparently have medicinal properties), along with a massage (which I desperately needed at that point after nearly 4 weeks of vagabond-ing), would set me back by less than 20 Euros.
When I reached Budapest, however, the idea of spending a day in 28-37 degree Celsius water (cooled down from the natural spring temperature of 74-77 degree Celsius) in the 40+ degree Celsius weather was something I couldn’t bear to entertain. Quite disappointed, I started looking for other things I could do.
That’s when I came across Caving, also known as Spelunking.
The hot springs of Budapest have created many labyrinths of caves underneath the Buda side of the city (Buda is the hilly side and Pest is the flat side on either side of the river Danube)- two of which are open to the public without any previous caving experience- the Szemlo-hegyi cave and the 29.1km long Pal-volgyi cave.
To be completely honest, the major reason I decided to sign up for the caving tour was the fact that the caves were a gorgeous 10 degrees Celsius (it’s very rare to find European homes or hostels with air-conditioning, fans are absolutely unheard of, so I had pretty much been boiling or roasting- depending upon the humidity of the city I was in- for the past one month).
The tour I opted for was a 3-hour long one, in which, the website promised, I ‘will often have to climb on walls and crawl through narrow passages so you have to be prepared for adventure’.
10 clueless and overexcited participants and 1 (slightly creepy but knowledgeable) guide… It was 3 STRENUOUS hours, but it was also among the 3 FUNNEST hours I’ve ever spent. In spite of being very cool inside, we were all sweating profusely (which was kind of disgusting, because it meant the overalls I was wearing had also soaked up sweat from who-knows-how-many previous wearers).
It’s not a purely physical activity. We were showed rooms- living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms, a theatre (with amazing acoustics- five members of our group belonged to a band on tour in Europe, Rainbow Girls, and they put up a spontaneous little show for us), a bar, and even a little chapel- that were in use during the 2nd World War.
The website wasn’t lying. Except the first 15 minutes, when I had just begun to feel that it was too ‘easy’, we climbed, crawled, slid and pushed ourselves through seemingly impossible cracks the entire time. None of the group was out of shape, but by the end of it, most of us had gone through at least one minor ‘I’m going to die here’ moment. One girl tripped when she was trying to clamber over a high rock, another was stuck in a hole for a while because she couldn’t squeeze her hips through.
I was feeling quite smug, till my moment happened. I missed my footing during a particularly long, narrow AND slippery climb and went sliding down all the way for a good 3 or 4 seconds (it doesn’t sound like a lot, but believe me- the terror was intense!!).
The end of the tour was very welcome- because all of us were exhausted- and, at the same time, very disappointing- because everyone agreed it was an incredible experience, and we wished it had lasted longer.