A visitor recalls...
What a good idea it all seemed. After talking to our beloved chairman after his Easter visit, and having been regaled with tales of caverns measureless, and a bar where the beer flows like wine, (well that's how it sounded, we all know that Fry is capable of the odd malapropism and we shall not hold it against him.) I thought it might be rather diverting to spend some time in Matienzo over the summer. All was not rosy, in my life as a high flying executive I am graced with meager holiday entitlements and a very busy schedule. Consequently when push came to shove, I realised that all told, and in a manner of speaking, my Hispanic odyssey was going to be 9 days tops.
Ah ha I yelled, as I came upon this fairly gruesome realisation, I shall go to the ball! I will simply use up all those damned airmiles and fly there for free! I reached for the phone...
"Air miles, can I help you?"
"Good afternoon to you madam, do tell me pray the number of your collectibles I have amassed?"
"Certainly sir-you have 432 airmiles to date"
"Magnificent, How many do I need for a return ticket to Bilbao, that Basque town of character and repute ?"
"One thousand nine hundred and forty sir !"
"Splendid and good day" .
I hung up despondently, the only way I would get that many airmiles was if bought a small nuclear submarine (a new one that is, the price of nuke subs with one careful Russian owner would only get me enough airmiles to fly half way into the Irish box before leaving me to plummet Biscay-wards-wards to my fate at the hands of marauding Spaniard fishermen.). Next stop, British Airways . . Yes! Fly the Flag, arrive in better shape. I heard the slogans, seen the adds. The worlds favourite airline beckoned. At £249 plus tax they could fuck off. The same goes for Iberian and Sabena ! and no sir, there are neither standby tickets nor charter flights. Rapidly I began to wonder about my credit card bill when the mistress of the blue horizons saved the day.
"You could always go by train dear" she called into the loo. (Yes I was sitting on the Khasi using the phone, try it, it gives great pleasure when you say "I was just thinking of you! "when you answer.) Returning to the dialogue for a minute - if I can-
What a good idea was my response. My overactive imagination was instantly filled with images of huge steam engines thundering across Europe in the dead of night, restaurant cars with dinner jacketed guests, spies murdering each other for secret briefcases in the corridors. Yeah, that would be cool, very cool, romantic, in a way, the Sean Connery-esque figure striding confidently across Paris "Gare Austerlitz si vous plait". "Guard a first class compartment and a bottle of Dom. Perignon '56 Ice cold please".
No, no, no and no.
She who must be obeyed purloined a set of staff overseas passes for me and did a little booking. The total cost, £25 for the channel crossing and £14 for the first class sleeper (each way). Either way, it panned out that I was to leave Ashford at about 5.30pm on a Friday and by Saturday lunchtime I would be in Santander. I hastily telephoned our great and wondrous leader Mr. Fry (hail to the chief and all that) and arranged a lift from Santander to the Matienzo depression.
The best laid plans of Mice and Men...
The night before arrived rapidly and I packed earnestly. Crown Prince Chris of Croydon was doing me a massive favour of taking my big top over. Still, by the time I got my act together, I had filled an entire 75l rucsac. I was yet to include either my clothes, washkit or cooking junk. Shit. I repacked, left out everything but the essentials, well nearly, and got everything into my 75l sac and my small daysac. No problem I exalted, I shall be on a train for 95%of the journey
My plans to pack were put aside when Tania arrived home late from a do at the office. She was unfeasibly drunk. She stripped off for bed and disappeared leaving me, rather bemused, cramming SRT kit into a space the size of a tin of sardines. I was startled by a loud crump, I attended at once. There she was the apple of my eye fast asleep, stark naked in an empty bath tub. "What ails you wife ?" asked with the concerned but unsympathetic tones of some one who suspected that he may experience at first hand the contents of a drunk's stomach. "too hot!" was the terse reply. I stumped off to continue increasing the density of my rucsac to neutron star proportions. A few seconds later another crump. Beloved, who was rapidly plummeting in status, was now asleep, head down the toilet. Having considered flushing it I completed my packing and headed for bed.
I fled the office at noon the next day and made may way to Ashford from Sittingbourne, a journey involving changing trains in Faversham and Canterbury. I was already sick of my load. My rucsac was heavy and this was extemporized by having the damned day sac attached to my abdomen like a foul smelling papoose (my fuel container had started leaking). Ashford. I got rid of my luggage with an obsequious porter and stumped into town, purchased a couple of cans of anesthetic, a magazine and a dirty book. At last I was ready!
I can think of little to say about the Eurostar to Paris, it took 2hours (ex time change) and was smooth, quiet, clean and rather dull. Nothing to write home about. I dozed off and awoke in Europe, faintly depressing when Ashford to Paris took less time than Sittingbourne to Ashford - and that includes the time change.
I stumbled rather than strode out of the station, into a taxi and across to Gare Austerlitz. It was here that I was to get the sleeper. I had imagined something clean, efficient and organised. I was wrong- again. The place was rather like Athens airport in the 1980s when travelers were less common and so were the flights. It was dirty (very dirty, my only entertainment for 1.5 hours was watching people slip in an enormous mound of dog turd that was migrating piecemeal across the slick concourse) noisy and thoroughly disorganised. I am not totally surprised it only took Hitler a Saturday afternoon to invade the French.
I waited for the obligatory two hours, then the train was called. Since it was a sleeper service, you had to check in. Picture the scene, Exodus meets the Gallic bureaucrat. I was finally allocated by cabin. Expecting something of taste and style I was horrified to find that the cabin slept four. (What on earth was second class sleeper like ?)
My fellow travelers arrived, a child molester and an Algerian drug peddler were to be my traveling companions to the town of Irun on the Franco-Spanish border. This as going to be a long trip. I bagged the prime couchette and settled down with my cans of lager. The child molestor stripped off, displayed his underpants (gray y-fronts - like what Steve Wray wears when he's caving) proudly and climbed into his hastily constructed pit. Meanwhile the dope peddler settled down to picking his toenails.
It was at this juncture that I decided that in the true spirit of British stiff upper lip(c.f. Cecil Rhodes), I would remain aloof from my companions. Drawing my curtain, I swallowed the lager and tried to get some sleep. At about 11.30 the train pulled out of the station. Soon we were speeding across the French countryside.
Train journeys as a whole are uneventful, and one is usually saddled with unsavory companions. (I write this on the 1830 from Cannon St. on a Tuesday evening. On my right is a denim clad elderly has been (probably in advertising) desperately pretending to read the Times while gazing at this document. On my left is a bloke with spectacularly bad BO.) This journey was in many ways no different. My sleep was interrupted by a) the guard checking tickets and b) the train stopping every hour and the intercom noisily (and incomprehensibly) announcing our arrival in some French dump of a market town. At some stage I must have fallen unconscious, as by dawn's early light I awoke with a start as we pulled in to Irun.
Next stop bus station. It was here that things went a little grey in my plans. My thoughtfully planned itinerary did not give details of how to get to Santander. I marched up to the desk...
"Uno ticketo pour santander pour favour, chop chop gratsi !"
"Que?" came the reply
"SANTANDER PLEASE GUNGADIN CHOP CHOP !!!"
The woman behind the desk turned the full power of her heavily made up glaze (no I meant to say glaze) on me and sold me ticket that would have bought a couple questions in parliament from a minister of my choice and still leave change for an evening's lobbying with Madame whiplash. The bus was modern, air-conditioned and driven rather competently if I may say so. Some fitful dosing deposited me in Santander, journeys end as far as cattle transport went.
Welcomed into the bosom of my friends who were knocking back coffee in the town square I was driven by Chris and Vicki to the campsite. On arrival I was informed that due to spatial differentials, I was now to reside in the tent of Fry, while loves young dream stayed at chateaux Davies. "Oh and by the way one of your tent poles broke !" I glanced briefly inside my (sequestered) tent at the repairs. I could see cushions, a fountain and what looked like a Jacuzzi. What was in my new abode? - a colony of spiders.
Saturday afternoon, having arrived, saw us headed into the nearest town for some shopping. In the late afternoon, Chris was drawing up recent finds which involved a bit of paper some unintelligible numbers and at least 6 glasses of beer and maybe a tinto or three. No caving done, but ah ha ! as a new arrival, it was obligatory that I go to Pablo's with the rest of them and get mindlessly pissed. Ho hum, after much arm twisting I was persuaded to have a glass of sherbet. Two things to note. 1) I became aware of Matienzo time and 2) I discovered that there were no more T-shirts left.
Matienzo time is a curious concept, it would appear that Matienzo inhabits a strange, parallel space-time continuum to our own. Clocks and watches read European summer time, yet the valley appears 4 hours behind everywhere else. Thus you get up at 12 EST (8am Matienzo Summer time) Go caving at 2pm (10am MST) get to the campsite at 10 PM ( 6pm MST) and then drink in the bar until 4am (12 MST) strange but true. When people went on heavy binges, they went to bed at sunrise, spent the day in bed and went caving the day after. Unless your name was Dalek, on his first night, he got pissed (till4) had a fight with the misses (what a scrap it was to!) and then went on a 24hr caving trip.
I'll talk about T-shirts later
The rest of the day was spent relaxing and drinking very cheap but palatable beer. I was asked, rather strangely whether every male in CCC was foliccally and vertically challenged. Why yes I said, take my friend Fry here as an example, he was 6'2" and had the locks of Samson when he joined. Alas he is now but a shadow of his former self !
While enjoying my beer, I was brought upto date with the happenings so far. However, it appears that in many ways Spanish beer (Whether bottled or draught)has the same effect on our very speleological Dalai Lama. Yes you guessed CPF started talking bollocks. Well, not so much start as continue with fresh and unparalleled vigour. Luckily since the author is also the editor, you, our hapless reader will find some of the choicest cuts in the mites and Tites section.
And so to the actual caving trips undertaken. For those of you still reading this drivel, they can now read on with real rather than feigned interest. For those of you interested and possibly reading on hoping for details of caverns measureless to man, you can skip to the funny bits in mites and Tites.
Alas it will remain a testament to the selling power of Paul Stacey, that I found myself ensconced in "toad in the hole". It was a Sunday that dawned fresh and bright like any other, at least on a caving trip, it was sunny and we were hung over, not badly, but enough to make struggling up a hill in a furry suit in 30C temperatures a very unpleasant experience. Stacey thought nothing of this, he knew what was to come. Our mission was, since we chose to accept it, check out the very recent extensions, do some surveying and do a little pushing.
Well, the trip to the area of interest was of no consequence, other than it was tight and very sharp, causing no amount of damage to Vicki's oversuit. We made our way to a small, low chamber formed by collapse more than anything else. This chamber had several ways off and I poked about while Paul, Chris and Vicki did some surveying.
A shaft was examined. It seemed very out of character to the rest of the area. It appeared to be about 40m high (a real guess!) They may have been a high level passage going off, it was hard to see. After a quick poke around we returned to the chamber.
The group started pushing into a completely new passage. This passage was clearly phreatic in origin, but had developed into an angled trench about 4 feet deep. The phreatic part was the only part big enough to move, falling into the narrowing, angled trench would result in severe hassle. This was compounded by the entire place being covered in a 2-3 inch layer of glutinous, slippery mud. For some reason, this place became instantly known as Paul's putrid passage. Thankfully this terminated in a small chamber. I say terminated, Paul was keen to check out every nook and cranny. The rest of us went on strike, returned to the low chamber and staged a sit down.
At this point, we munched out choccy bars, drank our drink and headed back. Surface was reached after about 8 or 9 hours underground. It was dark, there wads food awaiting and the bar was open. Sunday night flew by in orgiastic inbibation of tinto, canya and mediya.
Monday. Following yesterday's entertainment, I took some time off. I lay around ate enormous amounts of scoff and basically loved every minute of it. I fished out my radio and was soon listening to the test match. Oh the BBC world service "This is London calling". Food was cooked, beer was drunk in the sun and life was good. Tuesday was, as I recall very very wet, so was Wednesday caving was not going to happen while it pissed down.
I did manage to get a short trip down Mustajo with Dalek and Gonzo. This was a cracker of a cave. The entrance pitch soon led into a very large passage with a vast traverse. We belted across this and through the sand swims into the really big stuff. Destination: The Golden Void. Well we had a little trouble finding it at first, but we soon found the eyelet and began to rig. It was here that I discovered that I had been less than observant during my rope packing. The rope pulled out of the bag looked suspiciously like braid line. Oh fudge.
Never mind we can see anyway, we rigged a friction free hang and went for the pitch -extra carefully. Now things once again become vague - the directions said "Get to the bottom of the pitch and follow the obvious route into the void. It is misleading, no simply wrong ! We went for ages and couldn't find a thing. Lights began to become an issue as Gonzo announced that the had about 2 hours of light left and wanted to do some sketching on the way out. The troops beat a strategic withdrawal and then spent hours hanging on the ropes as Gonzo shouted "stay still!" and "stop swinging". still the picture is really good.
Onto the surface o more manky weather and a curry. Thursday as another day of idling around, cleaning kit, shopping, eating out and so forth. Actually, here is a tip. If you are going to Matienzo, you only need buy breakfast and attendant implements. Why? do I hear you ask -the prices dear reader, the prices. We ate at a nearby restaurant and enjoyed a starter (soup and bread), a main course (chop and chips) an after (Ice cream). This was followed by coffee and enormous liqueurs. The meal was washed down with about half a bottle of the local rotgut. Total cost about £5. At that price people don't need to buy food - well maybe, but it was rather cheap.
Friday came and I was to go down Valline with All. I heard dire reports about this as a few days earlier CF had declared it a big trip and then spent 7 hours on his belly surveying a tight crawl. However, I was pleasantly suprised. A few wriggles and awkward bits soon led into some spectacularly huge passage. This was big, really big. All and I moved swiftly to the double dutch pitches with me battling witha crap tackle sack. The first pitch was muddy and awkward but this led into the second pitch. This was a truly fine cylinder dropping some 35m to a streamway below. We de tackled and headed upstream. This soon led to some classic streamway with deep pools.
Our target was the end of the cave where we were to reccy the area for a potential dive. Also this area was unsurveyed. At the figurative end, the roof dipped and some 50 yds back, there was a small passage of the the left. This led to a constricted set of passages and a small chamber. To the right was a squeeze in the direction of the main stream. Off from the chamber in the floor was a small hole leading into a very constricted and wet passage. All and I decided that while Paul Stacey would think it roomy, it was not a priority. We quickly surveyed round and back to the streamway making a nice survey loop.
Ducking under the low roof the stream led to what looked like a roomy sump. the water as about waist deep and very cold. On the right hand side was a passage - not on the survey. The passage was human sized and you could proceed with a slight stoop. This continued for some 30 or 4Gm upto a choke. We were now quite cold and a rapid survey was made and we headed out. At the bottom of the pitch things All's carbide began to fret, and a quick refill all round was had. Suitably refreshed we belted up to the main passage. Then All's light gave out, time for strip and rebuild, some improvement. This did add a little urgency to the equation and we did not tarry as we headed skyside. As can be predicted, by the time we got out boit carhides were producing a large and merry flame - typical. The other teams from the cave were already out and waiting for us in the cars. A consensus was taken and we ate out again Yippee
Saturday and Fiesta !!. Not before I was shoe horned down Horror-molenos (Colemenas to the rest of us). This was a 7/8 hour Stacey special. A cave where you don't so much cave as wriggle pu.rposfully. We did a little surveying and pushed a few leads, but no major breakthroughs on this trip. I did manage to completely knaoker my sigg water bottle - my SRT bag still smells of peach juice. (Why peach juice - well less acidic than orange and much much sweeter - YUM!). We faffed about in small teams and generally had a fun time until we had to head out again. Though the tight bits, through the wet bits and just for Vicky's delictation and pleasure though the SPIDER ZONE. (On the way in it required Mr Fry having to mash several small critters but one did hide away and make a beeline for Vicky producing the following results. .VS"Chris - theres a spider here" CF"So?". VS "So bloody get back her and kill it now!". Chris later admitted some remorse at squashing innocents - the things we do for love!)
The fiesta came and went in a blur of beer, Unto and rock music. I was treated to a rare demonstration of Miss Stratton doing an impression of a Flamenco dancer. Well she stamped and waved her arms and looked sultry. Chris thought it was the time of the month. Next morning was home time.
The journey back was entertaining. CF and VS dropped me at Baranga station where the timetable insisted that there would be train to Santander and onto Irun in a matter of minutes. I waived them off into the distance and sat on my rucsac. Nothing, I waited an hour and half and no trains. There was a spaniard on the station who spoke a little English and he was soon subverted to asking the nearby shop. He returned glumly and said "Somtimes the train, she comes and sometime she does not". SHIT SHIT SHIT. I was now stuck in a foreign country, unable to speak a word of Spanish and I had to cross 150 miles in 5 hours.
1/2 an hour later I stood on the sliproad of the main highway. Thumb outstretched as people alternately made rude signs or pulled over and drove off again. A young chap In a completely knacked old renault said he woul give me a lift to Bilbao - 100 miles or so away. Thus began the worst hour and a quarter of my life. This car had bald tires, buggered seats and dod~T electrics. The engine must have been provided by McLaren though. On every corner the wheels squealed and he had two speeds. 1) MaxImum acceleration and 2) maximum brakes. He also gave me a drive by tour of the docks and a commentary on where the cheap and the better whores were to be found.
With relief I finally got to the station at Irun after getting a bus from Bilbao. The journey from Spain to Paris was even duller than before. I locked my self into an empty compartment and snoozed all the way to Paris. The Eu~rostar too was dull but I was picked up at Asbford by Taxua who took me back to our new house. (Yes just as we moved house, I fled the country to go caving.).
Conclusion - Matienzo - an efflng great place to go caving - it couldn't be better setup with the camping and the bar and the caves in such close proximity - Thanks for having me along boys. I'll come again!
PS About the T Shirts - I never did get a Matienzo t-shirt - but CF gallantly offered to sell me asecond hand one belonging to him! I politely but firmly refused. - Well wouldn't you!