The Grotte di Toirano chamber wall
Blame Mr. Leonard my fifth grade teacher for introducing me to Pierre Berton’s book, “The Secret World of OG “. I have been interested in the underworld ever since. The underworld of caves and caverns was a fantastic concept. A world under the earth that creatures inhabited and people visited on rare magical occasions. It was fiction of course and at the age of eleven I may not have been worldly, but I certainly possessed enough street smarts not to ask my teacher if such places really existed. I would have been laughed at and ridiculed by my classmates.
I should have asked.
Two years later my Father took me and my younger brother and sisters in our first cavern. I had found a new world.
We could ask questions of our guide on our underworld tour. I had a question burning a hole in my brain if I could summon the courage to ask it. I remember raising my hand, which I quickly pulled down too late. The guide, smiling, said “yes”? ” Will we see the end of the cavern” ?, I managed.
The Luray Cavern
The guide answered with the statement “that the end of the cavern and its many passages has never been found.” It was the answer I had hoped for ! Trolls ,could be here ! All these years later, I laugh thinking about my naive fantasy but my interest in caves and caverns hasn’t dimmed.
When Paula and I research upcoming travel these days, caverns are “Googled” along with RV parks, Hotels and cheap diesel, ( now there’s a fantasy for you).
A few days ago we visited the Grotte di Toirano. Our tour of this cavern conducted in Italian was interesting but the likelihood of me summoning the courage to ask a question in Italian was more unlikely than ever. Paula lacks the social fears that keep me as silent and rigid as the stalagmite I stand near.
Our guide politely answers a couple of questions in English which allows us to see the stone embedded Cro-Magnon hand and footprints we may have missed otherwise. We decide to become tail-end-charlies in the group. Paula is hoping to get some video which we have alternately translated as not allowed or not allowed with the use of a flash.The official looking man bringing up the rear of the tour notes our delay tactics and so Paula engages him in English conversation. He is happy to talk and points out unusually formed stalactites that are rounded like melting ,dripping, Mozzarella cheese. A fitting Italian analogy but despite his twenty years as a guide in this Grotte he is still very animated when he points out the next find. Below us in a partially excavated pit lay the fossilized bones of more than a hundred giant prehistoric bears.
Legs ,ribs and even a skull with teeth that would have bit through a Cro- Magnon arm like a chiken bone. On the walls were the sooted hand prints from the cave mans torches. Had they ventured into the cave during hibernation season to hunt bear ? It would have been a very desperate and starving man that tried. The bears were three times the size of todays Grizzlies.
Our tail end guide decided to let us shoot some photos and I used a low light setting on the camera and disabled the flash. We had no sooner started filming when the back of the line Italians spotting our picture taking pulled out cameras quicker than a stiletto in the wrong neighborhood. Our guide was not impressed with his countrymen and their flashing cameras but he reconciled the situation with the standard Italian shrug.
It had been another fantastic cavern tour and the hour and a half seemed too short. We thanked our guide for his English tour.
Earlier this year we had toured a cavern in Belize that required swimming, wading and climbing upstream with miners helmets and flashlights for more than a mile. Sock footed we trekked amongst Mayan pottery and long since sacrificed Mayans,their skeletons embedded in the calcified cavern floor. A Mayan temple in a cavern!
As a youth of thirteen I had imagined all sorts of fantastic sights to behold in the underworld. What I have seen after all these years of visiting caves and caverns has surpassed my youthful fantasies and the trolls are all above ground.