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Crossing the river before summiting 17,500 Pico Austria. Photo by Ella Williams (2016 Fall Semester Photo Contest, 2nd Place), South America Semester.


Hola parents, family members and friends

Today was an amazing day, as we got our first taste of Andean hiking (see Zoe’s post). At the end of our hike, we were rewarded with an amazing experience in a massive water-filled cave.
The entrance to said cave was marked by a sign in Spanish that when translated to English read, “don’t make loud noises or do anything to disturb the bats” an ironic sign considering that most of us did not see any bats. As we journeyed deeper into the cave, the roof and the floor came together in such a way that the way forward was only a few feet high, making the taller among the group crotch way down to pass through. The whole cave was lit by a myriad of lights that gave off just enough light so that we could see the wet floor we were descending on as we went deeper into the looming abyss. As we came into the main cavernous space of the cave, we we greeted by a breath-taking view of a water filled space on which floated a handful of old peddle boats. One of the peddle boats was adorned with a “figure head” of a duck and it was the squeakiest by far of all the boats, so much so that the noise downed out the occasional squeaks of the bats.
After half an hour of peddling and squeaking around and trying in vain to see any of the promised bats, something amazing happened, as if on command everyone stopped peddling (squeaking) and simply drifted on the calm water of the cave. With the calm came a flood of different noises both natural and unnatural; the quiet hum of electric lights and more prominently the eerie shrieks of bats and they shifted on their dark, lightless perches.
Some of us students were ready to make noises of our own to add to the bats, and after putting their boats ashore burst into singing and laughing. The cave had very nice acoustics and the sounds reverberated around the space for the better part of 10 minutes before everyone was done looking for bats.
After retracing our steps out of the cave, we profusely thanked those who ran the cave and asked about its history.
Suffice to say that the cave’s history extends back hundreds of years when, as legend has it, the Incan people used it as a means of transport between cities. In more recent memory, scientists have tried to study it but each time ran out of oxygen. The cave also has a more macabre side after a tourist and his dog went in and only the dog returned. Since then, we learned that the keepers of the cave asked the Bolivian navy to study the cave but they reportedly refused saying they were too frightened.
After such an amazing, fun filled day we headed back to the comfort of the Altai Oasis where we said goodbye to our guide Don Ricardo and our van driver before heading off to eat dinner.
We miss you all and look forward to keeping you updated with our adventures in the coming months.

– Jackson