Nandan Joural, 2001

Nandan Joural, 2001

by Erin Lynch, May 2001

14.5.2001 Heading to Nandan. We changed buses in Hechi. Waiting in the station, a man sitting behind me tried to strike up a conversation. He noticed my computer, and wanted to know all about it. Then he wondered at the great mound of luggage we had with us-- weren't we tired? I explained that we were cave explorers, and it was our equipment. He was eager to be helpful, and told me that there were wonderful caves in Bama--an area previously explored by the CCP. Then he told me that there had recently been some very big caves discovered in Guangxi. Rob started to smile, trying not to laugh. I said, yes, that was us, and the man was duly impressed. It's good to be famous.

We arrived in Nandan , and were picked up by on official car, which drove us to a very posh, very new hotel. With its chandeliers and brass fixtures in the lobby, we knew it was going to be way too expensive. It seemed like a good time to start kicking and screaming, although without James around we were a little at a loss. Zhang told us "Don't worry about it. I will make the best bargain for you." Not totally convinced, we agreed to eat dinner and then go to another hotel.

Dinner was a festive affair, and the ganbei's flowed freely. At one point I counted 25 empty bottles of beer. Dinner was just getting started.We met all the usual suspects: three journalists, the mayor, the communist party secretary, and about a dozen directors of tourism.

After dinner, as a special treat, we were taken to a hot spring owned by one of the officials. I was given a very fetching 50s style fuschia bathing costume, that left a trail of hot pink puddles everywhere. Rob and Olly got speedo style suits The "basic level" pool was wide and shallow, with seats around the edge and across the middle. The water was piped up in the middle. Around the edge of the pool were swings where you could sit to cool off. To the side were smaller pools. One of the women indicated that I was supposed to use a side pool, perhaps to protect my modesty? But I ignored her.

Rob asked one of the attendants how late she had to work, and when she told him 10 (it was 10:30) we knew it was time to go. The hot water, and a refreshing iced coffee (Zhang's first time!) left us sober enough to drink more, so on the way back to the hotel, we stopped at an outdoor restaurant for hotpot.

Under the standard blue, red, and white stripped plastic sheeting, we sat on low chairs around a small table. We crouched around e table a mere foot off the ground, the chairs only coming up to our lower backs. The hotpot was of a kind I'd not seen before. It was divided in two, one side a fiery red from chillis, the other a tamer thin white broth. Snacking on boiled dumplings, vegetables,and bits of meat, we drank a vast quantity of beer, and proceeded to serenade the Chinese with Auld Lang Syne (I don't think they were impressed).

15.5.2001 Sporting huge hangovers, we staggered down to the lobby for a breakfast of rice noodles, buns, and steamed milk. The plan for the day was to visit the cave entrances and "view the landforms", and that we did.

Rob Garrett in Crouching Dragon Chamber

16.5.2001 Surveyed 1.7 km of huge passage in 3 hours. Another day on the job.

17.5.2001 We wanted to tackle the streamway in Solution cave. There were mutterings about a lost route through the cave. Later we learned that the locals had constructed a path throughout the entire thing. We were reluctant to use a local guide, but in the end we relented, and they showed us the path which we hadn't known existed. It was mostly high level traversing on flowstone. Our guides were keen for us to move quickly so they could get home. Once they'd watched us survey for a while, they decided to lend a hand, and so they'd run ahead with the tape, shouting in Chinese about where they thought the best survey station was. I think that all they need is a set of instruments and we'd be out of a job. At a few minutes past nine,we emerged from the cave, a covering of vegetation the only thing to indicate that we were not still far underground. Back at the village the locals had slaughtered an ox for us.

18.5.2001 At breakfast the locals warned us to be careful of the water, as it had rained the previous night. As we drove to the entrance, water levels were definitely higher. The river had swelled considerably. We changed inside the entrance to the sound of drips hammering on flowstone. All along the fossil passage gour pools that had been dry two days ago were brimming with water. It didn't look good for going upstream.

Crouching Dragon Chamber

To put off the inevitable, we decided to survey some dry bits first. We went up to the left in Crouching Dragon Chamber, following a crawl from the top. It soon petered out, and we had no option but to consider the more aqueous option. The river was in spate, but nevertheless the bobs needed to be retrieved. Olly was persuaded to do the job, and things went swimmingly until he rounded the corner on his way back with the bobs, perched atop the two of them. He drifted past and was swept into the rapids, pinned against a large rock. After we fished him out, we decided to retreat to less damp leads.

Rob and I constructed the ultimate bob: two tubes tied together with a mess of webbing, and bits of bamboo for paddles. With the SS Bob we floated across the static pools in Cholera, getting wet cheeks, but staying dry otherwise. It went well, with 2 leads going to the downstream river.

19.5.2001 The day began with a bit more efficiency than usual. I declared that I didn't want breakfast, and went shopping instead. I found some bargains: cakes and buns for 5 mao apiece, and a bunch of bananas for 3.5. Breakfast for 3 for under 1 dollar. In the time saved, I managed to get a little data processing done. We'd been playing a constant catch-up game. The 1 to 2 hour commute to the caves combined with 2 or 3 hours of dinner and ganbei's in the evening made it hard to find the time to draw up.

We arrived at Liang Feng in good time, unhindered by the usual breakdowns. Unfortunately, overnight one of the bobs had gone flat, leaving us with just two. Olly declared that he'd be happy to swim anywhere he'd be happy to bob, and then proceeded to attempt to reduce our bob supply even further, by throwing the one he was carrying down the slope and into the rushing water. After a few minutes it popped out into the light, tumbling down a small cascade into the surface river.A short way downstream, a dozen locals were trying to get a truck out of the water that had apparently taken the 4 metre drop from the road to the stream. I don't know what was more amusing: the sight of us scurrying around the river, chasing after a tyre tube, trying to keep our feet dry, or the sight of a huge truck spraying water everywhere, but obviously going nowhere, as a dozen men tried to heave it along.

Despite the delay, we soon got underway. I'd been keen to do book, so I asked to sketch. The passage was wide right from the start, and my feeble, often misbehaving, light did little to illuminate it. Luckily, we were hardly ever out of the sight of daylight.

We carried the bobs along with us, leap-frogging our way along the left hand bank. We reached a bit where the way on was not obvious. Rob and Olly took a high level traverse while I volunteered to take the tyres, and built myself a little raft. It was quite relaxing, sitting in my bob, sketching whilst Olly called out the numbers. After only a few legs, Rob and Olly ran out of bank, so we all made a crossing. A short while later we encountered a big chamber, the Karst Cafe, complete with mine works, a shelter,and what looked like old fire rings.

At the top of the chamber we were surprised to see daylight. We weren't sure if it was light from a second entrance,or from the one by which we'd come in.

20.5.2001 Today we surveyed downstream from the upstream entrance, connecting to our previous survey.

As I went to bed, I looked out the window, and saw rain thundering down .It looked like wet caving would be off for a while.

21.5.2001 A rest day. Over breakfast Zhang Hai explained that Luo Jiejie and Chen wanted to film us caving so that they could introduce British and American cavers to the people of Guangxi. He was struggling to describe what they wanted, and we suggested , "You want us to do a show", he thought that was a good word for it. Some things never change.

Rob suggested that they could film us floating downstream out of Liang Feng cave, and Zhang Hai declared it a good idea. We decided to give water levels a day to fall, and spend the day looking at entrances.

Our first stop was a "skylight" where the downstream maze cave water surfaced between two entrances. The water looked quite high, so we trooped along to where we were told the jeep would meet us. Rob and I rounded a corner and suddenly recognized where we were: back at moon hill. It was a surprisingly short distance over land from one entrance to the other.

We walked up the road, with Zhang Hai pointing out many of the entrances we'd seen before. We continued on to a farmers house in the fields in the next valley over. After a long discussion it was decided that we'd look at entrances with Luo Jiejie and Chen, while the others looked at a different river system.

A muddy Luo Jiejie

Rob fancied the lowest entrance we could see from the farm house. He hoped it would connect to the water. We wandered down to it and did the disappointingly short through trip through some gloopy mud. When we emerged, we were greeted by more locals, keen to show us a cave where you could cave for over an hour. We hiked back the way we'd just came, Olly protesting that they were taking us where we'd already been, but we soon passed that cave and came to a more promising looking hole. Chen and Luo arranged for the guides to carry their camera gear and purse respectively, and we were off. We followed the guides through big passage, coming to a junction, with air going through a "small" passage. We all went through, and then Luo sent the guides on ahead to find the way. It takes some of the fun out of cave exploration when someone else is being paid to do the exploration for you.

In the sloping crawlway Luo declared that we would talk, and she set about arranging us for an interview. We had to hide our backpacks, and Rob was made to sit on a particularly spiky patch of rock. I was asked what my favorite cave was, and although I was tempted to say 2/7 (the truth), I went with Mao Chi Dong instead, as it's always good to plug Leye. The guides returned and gave dire warnings of small passage ahead--you had to stoop!

23.5.2001 Showtime again. Rob and I were to perform for the cameras. We had hoped to finish off Liang Feng, but high water levels and the fact that it would leave the camera crews with nothing to do for the afternoon killed that plan.

Rob Garrett hard at work

After a long time giving interviews in the sun and making carbide bombs, we narrowly avoided being filmed changing into caving gear. First we did some fictitious survey legs along the bank. The most important thing to remember when choosing a survey station is the camera angle. We tried a survey leg across the water, then we did a succession of bobs along the river. At one point whilst we were banked, Luo Jiejie gave a short background blurb for the cameras. I thought it was funny because her colleagues not only told her exactly what to say, they also made her remove her socks and shoes so it would look better. For the grand finale, we bobbed out the entrance rapids. It was good fun-- I'd recommend it highly to anyone. We offered to go again, and suggested that Luo give it a try, but she was too scared, although previously she had wanted us to show her how to "drive" the tubes.

We dried off in the sun while the others made plans for us. It was decided that we'd go back to the precious day's cave to film the "dangerous work" at the sloping mud bank where Luo Jiejie had balked the day before.

We went in the entrance near the water,and surveyed as we went. We leap-frogged our way down the slope to the water, and then headed off down a side passage. The first branch we explored went 60 metres to some very pretty deep still pools. At first the passage reminded me of Visa Extensions, with it's mud bank sides and carved inlet running down the middle. There was a good draft, and I would like to go back at some point. Rob climbed along the side of the pools to show off his climbing skills, and later he was asked to climb through a window so they could get a good butt shot.

We looped around, coming back to a passage just before the slanting stoop-way of the day before. Rob asked Luo Jiejie if she recognized it, and after a minute a smile of recognition crossed her face. We suggested going out the easy way, but she was keen to do the same route as yesterday. I think that maybe her camera man friends were not so keen. Through the most constricted bit they asked Rob to hold his head in an awkward position, pretending to be sketching for a long time.

We managed to close the loop, with a bit of route finding trouble getting down to the streamway. We'd hoped to blast through the last bit, leaving enough time to perform at the dodgy traverse and sneak a peek beyond, but it was not to be.