Thursday night - armed with flashlights, cameras, gumboots, and Tanuki-made tools - I was privileged to join Amadeus, J Peterman, Matthias, and Soren in exploring the conduit. After meeting, we drive to the entrance in the JPmobile and plan the order of entry. I will be second to last and will help JP replace the cover if need be.
At the site, the cover comes off with some difficulty; though I presume it would not come off at all save for Tanuki’s distal contribution. Glow tubes commit suicide off the edge. We climb down, more carefully, many rungs (about three storeys’ worth, I estimate). This, being my virgin conduit experience, I have no idea what to expect. I ask if our talking can be heard above. Experienced faces smile, “No, it’s too far above us.”
We pause to examine what appears to be an old lantern.
The bulb or filament is hidden and covered by a piece of nearly-opaque white plastic. The lantern, made of what appears to be oxidized copper, is off. But, relatively new electric wiring attaches to it fed from near the entrance above. I wonder where the on switch is.
In single file, we proceed along the conduit.
I am amazed at how many meters are available for us to walk. Periodically, we see steel bars, like candy canes, reaching down to us from the rock ceiling.
Perhaps they once held cables, or air hoses, or were used for hanging lanterns or transporting rock.
We come across three cocoons.
The silken wisps dance to our breathing. I snap pictures with my camera - it’s Ziploc shield temporarily removed. We walk further.
Above us, the bedrock weeps and I am told that the ground water above us leaks through the ceiling.
I am suddenly nervous at the idea of water being above me and I have images of walking under a lake bed. I know the cavern won’t collapse; it has survived earthquakes for many decades.
We reach an empty bottle - signed by familiar names - and a bank card, whose name has been washed away. Many meters later, we hear water gushing. A downspout waterfall blocks our path. We make our way over the dividing wall to the other half of the conduit. Straddling a two-gumboot-deep stream, we shuffle our way farther.
Up ahead is the first bend in the cavern.
It is too wide straddle and the water is too deep to wade. I have memories of Goonies and Venice and I wish for fishing waders, or a small inflatable dingy, or a gondola. Without them, this marks the point of return.
We make our way back to the entrance. I am astounded by how much work has gone into this conduit…decades ago - blasting, a decade ago or so - concrete.
We plan our order of exit. I go second to last - my hand is only stepped on once and I get very little mud in my eyes. The cover slides back on and my heart is racing. The air is fresh as we walk back to the car. We are all muddy and we look like conspicuous fisherman lost in the city.
Not satisfied with our journey cut short, we drive to other locations. The first location proves to be too wet, the second, a dead end right at the entrance. We have one last place, though it is in the most precarious place. Too many windows. Too many lights. Too many passers-by. A taxi drives by. We jump in the bushes. A flashlight has been left on. I cover it with my hand. We try again. Another car, another grass stain. We try further down the road. I notice a police MPV is parked a few blocks away…interior lights are on. I suggest we abandon the night. We all agree.
As we walk back to the JPmobile, another taxi roles by - slowing, laughing at the lost fisherman. I am suddenly very conscience of my pants tucked into my gumboots. I return them over the uppers. Some others do the same. I suggest that we look suspicious enough for a taxi driver to radio the police. We speed up.
Driving back to our original urban meeting place, a police car speeds by towards the ruffled yard foliage we left behind just minutes ago. Lights on. Siren off. No warning. Trying to sneak up on us, like a drop of slime on the ceiling of a cavernous conduit.
The journey was a pleasure and I am honoured to have gone on it.