Sunday, January 29, 2006

"Cave Scene Investigators"

Things have been busy these past few weeks. I've started up school again, and getting used to the alarm clock's 6:30 am ring has been tough. Even when I'm not teaching, it seems all I'm doing is preparing for lessons. When I have free time, I spend it relaxing, 100%--1 hour vegging out in front of the TV, 1 hour checking email, 1 hour taking a nap. Being productive, when I could be napping, seems to be my biggest problem. Those little adventures that Corrie talked about have been all too distant from our current daily life.

But that changed last Sunday. Late Saturday evening, Antonello and I headed out of Macerata north to Sapigno, near Urbino, where we met some of our caving friends to explore two recently discovered caves. It's been a couple of years since our friend Roberto became passionate about the area there and began searching out caves in the region, and I can still remember clearly two years ago driving up north and playing cave 'hide-and-go-seek' in search of holes leading underground. This time we were going back to the "found" caves to do some tests and various research that Roberto had prepared. We were trying to discover if two caves in the area were actually just one--linked in some way by an unseen tunnel. Our friend Cristina said, as we met with Roberto Saturday night to go over our upcoming tasks, "I feel like I'm in an episode of CSI."

While Sapigno is no Las Vegas, our caving excursion did have an air of professional research about it. Roberto, pulling out various test tubes, machines, syringes, chemicals, and powders, explained in detail how we would gather sulfuric water and fresh water, test it using a machine he had, and then, at the very end, dump florescent powder into the water flowing through the cave to see where it went. My task was the florescent powder, and before we headed out the next morning, we grabbed a couple of coffee spoons and the little jar of powder, for I had already been advised to not put TOO much florescent powder in the stream (all of the water for miles around would turn color, I was told).

Yes, my job was serious. I was in charge of keeping the Adriatic from turning bright yellow.

As we left the next morning, all things CSI about this excursion disappeared. We parked underneath a centuries-old church and changed into our muddy caving suits and boots as a group of church goers passed by, slowing down to stare at us and point . We made a deal with the city's hunting group--they promised not to shoot at us during our research trip. We prepared our backpacks, donned our helmets, braced ourselves against the thought of running into angry wild boars, and headed toward the hills, dogs barking at us and townspeople joining us in parade-like fashion as we made Sunday morning in this hill town an event for the locals.

The morning was spent exploring only one of the caves, because the entrance to the second cave was blocked by mud and dirt that had gathered since Roberto's last visit. This meant we'd have to return at some point, but for now we could do a little bit of research based on the water gathered in this section of cave. Antonello and I and a couple other spelunkers began exploring the cave first, immediately coming across the river that we would be working with. I admit--it was more of a stream and not the rushing Mississippi that I had imagined--but climbing through it, splashing through its puddles of freezing water that flowed quickly over the smooth rock, it felt enough like a river to me. The cave was small, and almost immediately there was an opening, and we came across a room where bats were nestled, sleeping, in their corners. The water continued on but we couldn't see it, as the tunnel it went through was too small to enter. After exploring a bit (I almost killed a bat, but that's another story), the others joined us, and our CSI-like research began.

It was too cold for me to really pay attention, but, as I shivered away, I know that we took measurements and wrote a lot of stuff down in a notebook. Finally it was time to add the florescent powder. With all of our lamps shining on the muddy water around us, I added a small sliver of powder, mixed it around in the water, and waited. No turning nearby rivers yellow here--the water wasn't going anywhere. We had only touched a small puddle of water that didn't seem connected with the larger stream. After another try, adding more powder a little further down the stream where we could see water flowing, we watched it finally begin, the typically brown stream of water spreading its yellow fingers through the cave, between rocks and down the tunnel until we couldn't see where it was going anymore. I smiled proudly.

"Now, where is that water going?" I asked Roberto, wondering how we'd know.

"Oh, it's impossible to know," he said. "This was just a trial run to see how the powder worked. We'll have to wait till we return next time to try out the test for real."

Oh. So that was pointless.

After that, we headed back to the hill town, passing through the forest and up a long, grassy hill past skeletons of houses that must once have been home to someone or other. It was cloudy and grey, but once we got back to our cars, changed clothes, and ate our lunches, the sun began to peek around corners. We left in the middle of the afternoon, and it seemed as if the day was just beginning.

The drive home was beautiful. That part of northern Le Marche is home to some of the region's most historic and cultural treasures, but I had only seen Urbino and Pesaro, always on the superstrada and never getting off to drive through the hills. Here, while the sun graced the hills with gold, we could see all around us as each hill reached up into rocky cliffs, with some church or castle at its precipice. This was the land of San Leo, of Sassocorvaro, of Sant' Agata in Feltria,--of hill towns like fairy tales and foreboding fortresses. Cristina was in the car with us, and as Antonello drove, she and I pointed out the windows and searched out the hill towns tucked into the land. We made plans to return when we could enjoy the area on a peaceful afternoon in warm weather.

And the day ended like that--an adventure that included florescent water and test tubes and wild boar hunters, and castles built on rocky peaks, and the sun, finally, waking herself up to greet us on our drive home. Roberto wants to go back in May for another CSI-style research trip, but maybe we'll go back earlier. It's hard not to. There's so much waiting for us between caves and castle cliffs.



At 4:40 PM, Anonymous Jeff Cottrell said...

I want to go caving again! There are no caves or mountians around here! BOOO!!!! Watch out for those damn pipistrelli! Run quick!!!!!

At 6:44 AM, Anonymous Ivonne said...

Sounds delightful!

Just reading about Macerata, Urbino and Le Marche brings back so many memories. I can picture a lot of the places your talking about.


At 11:25 AM, Blogger Stelle In Italia said...

Ivonne--what part of Le Marche have you visited (or lived in?)? Have you visited San Leo before? We really hope to return there--I've read so much about San Leo and those fortresses around that I'd love to see them up close!

Jeff--yes, the bats were scary. I pulled on a root that was hanging from the ceiling of the cave, and a bat fell down into the water below me! it was a darn cute bat :). one of my fellow cavers saved it, but it freaked me out for the rest of the caving experience! :)

At 7:48 PM, Anonymous La Finestra said...

Hilarious! I laughed out loud on this one :-) I have so much respect for you, b/c you do this. We both know that I wouldn't have stepped one foot in cave, well I might have put a foot, but once I saw the bats I would have been out of there so quick I would have then dumped all the florescent in the water! Love ya!

At 9:05 PM, Blogger Stelle In Italia said...

la finestra: luckily i didn't have any florescent powder on me when I almost killed the bat, or else I'm almost sure the Adriatic would be yellow by now :). Miss you, bella!!

At 10:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you didn't happen to see our bottle floating through the stream of the cave?!

At 10:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

happy giorno (almost) del messagio nella bottiglia!



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