by Kate Janossy
(with help from logbook entries by Anthony, Steve & Duncan)
After five weeks in the land of much prussikking, hanging death and surveying, seven sensible members of CUCC decided it was about time to check out the obviously superior part of the (former) Hungaro-Austrian empire. "The caves are all easy stomping passageway littered with pretties", or so goes the tale... (and beer is 25p a pint).
So, after much non-trivial Emailing in Hungarian and last-minute wibbling, my stupidly complicated network of random rellies finally came up with the goods. Balázs turned up in Austria (despite the fact that his mates had found far better things to do), and by the end of Expo he was still prepared to show us a good time in Schlobbl-dobl land. What a nice man!
We said goodbye to Hilda (sob) and the blue rusty bastard (hurray!); and Anthony, Steve, Duncan, the enormous pile of shit and I set off in the trusty Lada. Some comedy navigation followed: "Head for Schlobbl-dobl. What do you mean you can t read Hungarian? It's phonetic - the long word beginning with s with lots of z's and silly letters in obviously." But I learned my lesson and our Lada, feeling at home, conveyed us epiclessly to our destination - Granny's. After half a glass of lager each and some fussing (in schlobbl thank God) we escaped to meet up with Wook, Tess & Andy at a random campsite on the outskirts of Budapest.
Much to my surprise, my childish Hungarian with an English accent was not only comprehensible, but succeeded in amusing Mr. Campsite Man into giving us a discount on top of blatant lies about numbers of tents and students. Sorted!
Now it was time to settle down to some concentrated festering. Eating out was cheap, beer was very cheap, the sun was shining and there was sightseeing to be done. One of our excursions was to the famous healing thermal baths at Gelért Hegyi, or so we thought. Never trust the locals. After some wandering around we were directed to some baths, but they didn't look quite right. Never mind, it was getting late and it was cheap at least. I left the lads with a very large, worrying looking man in a towel and went off to get changed. When I emerged, I saw a small, smelly pool full of decrepit geriatrics swimming lethargically up and down, with one sat under a stream of warm water completely oblivious to the hilarity of her resulting hydro-tits. Then I saw a horrifically amusing sight - three grotty cavers in swimming trunks wearing hats resembling my cycling shorts. I took the piss mercilessly, until I was told to put my hat on. It looked like a femidom so I shut up.
The following day we found the real Gelért-Hegyi baths which were, as promised, full of attractive posers of both sexes and had a wave pool, hot baths, sauna, etc. This was more like it - well worth a visit.
Soon the inevitable approached - we had to go caving. True to form, the heavens opened.
We set off far too early in the morning in the rain and successfully negotiated various forms of public transport with too much shit (and a busophobic Andy). We met up with Balázs, and arrived at this show cave with a surprising amount of enthusiasm left. Our guide, Csaba, shook hands with everyone and introduced himself. Team Brit thought "Csaba" was some form of Hungarian greeting but fortunately no-one said it back to him. We and assorted Hungarians agreed on a 4 to 6 hour trip (!) still under the impression that this was an easy walking cave.
It was indeed easy for a bit, but not far into the tourist show cave, Csaba disappeared down a side passage where, much to our surprise, some proper caving was required. The cave had a Mendipish feel to it with most time spent crawling through muddy boulders separated by small chambers and the odd dodgy fixed ladder. This was accompanied throughout by class bullshit from Csaba.
The bullshit goes that this cave is very young (130-180,000 years old) and was rapidly formed where hot water from below met rainwater from above. The hot water containing strange minerals led to the formation of a few pretties composed of gypsum crystals (CaSO4.7H2O) and a vein of barytes (BaSO4). There is also a big joint of limestone weathered very fast by the passage of hot acidic water, making it look rather like clay. The cave is 12km long at the moment and still being dug, hoping to connect it to another nearby cave. Hungarians seem to have a remarkable love of digging as an awful lot must have been done to find most of this cave and the many others like it in Budapest. Maybe this is why almost every cave has its own caving club.
We pottered around for about three hours in the end, and emerged above a large party of tourists who were duly terrorised and laughed at while enjoying the cheesy music. This was generally considered to be a good trip with some interesting caving, but not quite what we expected.
The following day we were fortunate enough to be taken down Hungary's prettiest cave. Having been repeatedly told how lucky we were, we expected a few nice pretties, and we got somewhat more than we'd bargained for.
We started, predictably, with a comedy bus ride, hit a few people with tackle sacks, and nearly got off at the wrong stop despite a nice man offering in English to tell us where to get off. We then wandered around the houses a bit, still somewhat confused about how to find caves in a residential area with no dead sheep. Eventually we found the right house (still no obvious caves around though) and met Gábor, our guide. He was a jolly chap with plenty of good bullshit about the epic muddy slime climbs near the entrance and the frantic race against time when the cave was discovered.
The first hint of a cave was when builders were drilling down into what was supposedly a solid chunk of granite (or something good for building houses on). It was January and -15°C so they were a bit surprised at the sudden rush of air at +12°C coming out of the ground. Local cavers got wind of this (pardon the pun) and were given three months to find cave before houses were built anyway. They dug like bastards and, as in all good stories, broke through with one day to spare into a fantastically beautiful chamber covered in crystals, with several more to follow. We were looking forward to seeing this!
The cave has an artificial concrete entrance (which looks like a drain) containing a wobbly ladder. This is followed by a couple of not-that-epic-at-all mud climbs, and not too much scrotting around before the main chamber is reached. Washing our oversuits was a waste of time though. The main chamber is 70m x 40m at its widest point - the largest chamber in the Hungarian thermal caves (the 2nd and 3rd largest are also in this cave). The walls and floor are covered mainly in calcite and also gypsum, with a large vein of barytes across the chamber. The area is floodlit with a marked path to avoid further damage to the fragile calcite crust on the floor and the white walls. This shows off many interesting features like calcite "Christmas trees", walls with black crystals of manganese minerals, and strange flowstone and calcite formations.
From here we went round the corner past walls of overhanging white blobby calcite to the ice-creams - these are pink stals which look exactly like melting scoops of strawberry flavour. According to Anthony these are thought to be formed by either Fe3+ or Mn2+ substituting into calcite, but really it was when prehistoric children dropped scoops of ice-cream down drains from the street above (so say the Hungarians). After more of the usual sparkly walls, stals, broken calcite sheets etc., we came to a hole in the wall through which the "river of blood" can be seen. This is a beautifully spooky large area of flowstone with lots of red and reddish-brown colouring, which does look like it ought to originate from dead bodies stuffed down rusty drains. In the next chamber were particularly good examples of the calcite straws hanging from the ceiling like crystallised worms.
We were taken up a slope of rubble into a restricted area with more elaborately decorated rock and strange formations. Wookey, his camera and I were taken to see the beautiful gypsum flowers nearby. These are about 2 inches high and look like a stem with leaves and petals curling off, a bit like miniature palm trees made of sugar. Gábor also told us about other more protected areas where there are 2 foot long gypsum crystals which sway when you speak, and pure white chambers where you cannot wear an oversuit or wellies.
When we had seen all the bits we were allowed to, we reluctantly left, still in awe of what is certainly the most amazing cave I have seen.
The following day, Steve, Anthony, Duncan and I left for Miskolc while the others festered before going home. Miskolc is a dump with no sightseeing potential whatsoever so we were forced to lie around all day in the sun. I made the mistake of trying to eat a tin of unidentifiable meaty stuff against the others' better judgement. It was utterly disgusting - this, I found out later, was because the word I couldn t understand meant tripe. Yuk! The meal at the local restaurant turned out to be far better with no particularly strange food and plenty of beer.
Attempting to find Miskolc station the next day involved more comedy navigation. The lads had almost mastered reading Hungarian words, and were amused to learn that the way they pronounced the word for police (rendörség) actually meant police arse. However, this new linguistic prowess didn't help when the road signs used a different word for station each time. We met up with Balázs eventually though (avoiding "the seggs"), and were directed effortlessly to their caving hut in the Bükk Hills.
"A two and a half hour trip with no string gear"... This was naturally misinterpreted as meaning an easy stomp (we're experts in wishful thinking). There was even bullshit about doing two caves in one day. This was obviously not going to happen, but just to make sure (and to save face with the Hungarians), we locked both sets of keys in Anthony's boot.
The dreaded half hour walk to the cave in gear turned out to be not too bad wearing only thermals and oversuit (these caves are also at 10-12°C). We had a leisurely fester while Balázs-Houdini struggled with the thoroughly locked entrance, then off we went.
Once in, things began to deteriorate. The easy stomp turned into 120m series of "fixed" ladders separated by mud climbs. It's quite fun slithering your way down as long as you avoid falling out of a mud tube and down a pitch (which I'm told happens now and then), and you don't pay too much attention to the shit old ropes tying ladders to dodgy naturals.
At the bottom we arrived in a chamber which sometimes contains active streamway. From here it's 20 minutes caving one way to a sump, then one hour of passageway in the other direction. This is all impressive and pretty, including water pools, splashy streamway and some entertaining traverses and climbs. These are worryingly slidey in places but not too exposed. All pretty good stuff, for a conventionally formed cave.
Then came the way out - the bit we had been trying not to think about. The ladders were fine if a bit creaky and wobbly (with occasional large holdless gaps between them). Thrutching up near-vertical, body-sized mud tubes, however, was pretty atrocious but thankfully not impossible. We eventually escaped after four hours and went to rip Anthony's back seats out. Strangely enough, no-one wanted to do another trip.
Overall it was much harder than expected but a very satisfying trip.
That evening we drove up to Jósvafö near the Slovakian border. This is a pretty little village with assorted farm animals wandering around and water supplied from hand pumps in the street. We were introduced to the owners of a house there which accommodates any random caver who may be passing, and were invited to stay in their barn with a wonderfully comfortable hay loft. Formalities completed, we proceeded to check out the local bars. Beer is 25p a pint and drinkable (anything's drinkable at that price but it's better than Gösser at least). What a brilliant place! (Oh, and the caves are good too.)
The next day was one of enforced festering (damn shame). The drinking started predictably early, need I say more? Unsurprisingly, we completely failed to meet Balázs to say goodbye and thank him for all his help, which some of us felt rather guilty about. Comedy highlights of the day included pissed if-you-shout-loud-enough-they'll-do-as-they're-told ranting in the restaurant, a comical "heated conversation" in the pub, and to finish, a large serving of Duncan's finest yak served over hay loft and other people's belongings. It was not until the next morning that we realised that all the shouting, ranting, swearing and yakking had been overheard by two young girls sleeping in the corner of the hay loft. Oops!
The next morning, just about recovered from hangovers and embarrassment, the local cavers came round to ask us what we wanted to do. "Drink beer" was probably the wrong answer, so we settled for "something easy".
From past experience, we expected something moderately easy preceded by several hundred metres of thrutching and ladders, so were a bit apprehensive about wearing shorts, but this was a proper cave. Our guides didn t even take lights. "Stomping passageway littered with pretties" sums it up quite well. Even so, I was amazed at the amount of miserable whinging that went on just because I said we'd carry on through a slightly small bit that was full of water two weeks ago. I should have known better, I suppose. After a few muddy holes, we were back in utterly trivial, pretty passageway. The grumbling finally stopped when we came out, with a TU of only one hour.
It was generally agreed that this sort of caving is actually quite fun, and all except our resident pillar of Yorkshire wisdom had enough keenness left to do a second cave.
This was billed as muddy and wet with no pretties whatsoever. Sounds delightful, I know, but it seemed like a good idea at the time (??). Just to show we're poofs really we donned Helly Hansen "warm when they're wet" thermals and wet socks with our shorts.
The cave turned out to be a really entertaining splashy streamway with some wading and swimming. At the end was a deep underwater shaft which we swam across to look at a rift with divers' ropes in. We didn't hang around in the water too long because 10-12°C is not all that warm, instead we headed straight for our favourite environment - slimy mud. This we found around a body sized muddy tube, ideal for rolling around in and slinging mud at each other. The Hungarians were delighted as this is the local custom.
The way on was up a vaguely desperate mud climb, followed by some slightly harder caving. I'm accused of missing out the bit of translation that said "you'd have to be a nutter to do this in shorts", but I don t recall our friendly hosts mentioning this. Anyway, off went Steve after his oversuit-clad guide, followed closely by Duncan who gave up when a large mud "hold" came off in his hand. I didn't bother trying and amused myself chucking mud around and watching Duncan blowing bubbles in the mud. But what of Steve?
"After it became clear that there was just going to be the two of us, I proceeded to scrape the skin off my knees and shins through a smallish awkward crawl on sharp limestone, eyeing my mate's red oversuit with massive envy. When I'd had enough, I told my mate, and he said he wasn't surprised and that I should really have an oversuit in this bit of the cave. No f**king kidding I thought, as I smiled sweetly and said that it wasn t that bad really but please, pretty please could we go out now?
Steve returned from his epic ordeal and we all splashed our way out with another hour's TU - a jolly good last trip.
That evening our guides Judit, Zoli, Gyurma and Abel treated us to some fine food and 'ungarian 'ospitality, which we thoroughly enjoyed. They and assorted other Hungarians more than matched our bullshit on refined subjects like drinking, chundering, crapping etc., and I had an amusing time attempting to translate various crude jokes with a limited and somewhat inaccurate vocabulary.
Some caving bullshit was inevitable, and we might accidentally have given the impression that if we return we could be interested in doing the most technical string cave in Hungary - about 160m deep with fixed ropes replaced every three years (wibble) and probably some crawling, thrutching and dodgy ladders too (can't be a proper cave otherwise), so be warned! Alternatively go to Transylvania where there are infinite unexplored big caves near the surface, which no-one can even be arsed to survey. The food costs nothing (but there isn't any) and the bears aren't really a problem and never eat people, honest.
Our T-shirts caused much hilarity since "CUCC" in Hungarian means "shit" (as in things/stuff). walking round all week with "shit" written on our backs had probably given a fairly accurate impression really.
We reluctantly left the following day, accompanied by large quantities of cucc, heading for Austria and then Prague with dreams of nice beer, festering, sightseeing, more nice beer, and for some a few sex shows. A certain blue rusty object sitting at Hilda's had other ideas, but that's another story.