Caving

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Friday, February 15, 2008

After spending our first day and eve in Sappong celebrating the Lisu new Year and working w/ silver, I decided to go exploring and headed off to what was called the Coffin Caves... prehistoric burial sites that were hidden in caves around this area. I drove our little rented Toyota truck into the countryside, and turned off onto a side road after going through a military checkpoint (they have lots of them around here because we are very close to the Burma border). As I drove, two monks dressed in their finest saffron waved at me,and I stopped...after much gesticulating, I realized they needed a ride, so they hopped in w/ their big box. We drove & drove up some heinous roads that used to be paved some time in the distant past, and the hairpins made the Santa Rosa look like a freeway...anyhow, I dropped them off at their Wat (Buddhist temple/monastery) and headed out to find the caves.
There were signs in this little village saying coffin caves, 300m, so I knew I was close..... boy, was I wrong. It also said ask local tourist council for info... no local tourist council, .only locals. So we wave hands, point, and say things that neither understand, until an old man (his name was Baba I found out after introducing myself) stepped up and motioned to follow. He had a cloth pack, which had a large transistor radio in it, and a large machete stuck in his belt. So we walked together, me & Baba, up the road, around several corners (its about 35 C in the sun now) and up into a meadow, where there were cow trails.lots of them, going every direction. We continued to walk ( he was old & walked very slow...stopping every 100m or so to catch breath and look over the countryside, which was beautiful).
With a big grin, he told me he smokes Opium up by the Wat where I delivered the monks.... It was his only English sentence of sorts. He kept looking up at the steep cliffs beside us and motioning, but we keep walking, and walking.... Finally he points to a rickety set of homemade ladders, going way up the side of this cliff, and nods his head..we found it!
Then he stops, I go on... he motions to show me that the rungs might break, and I take note, they look old... After about 15 mins climbing, I get to what looks like an opening, and go through.... Far out! It's a cave, stalagtites & all! As I go inside,I'm feeling like Indiana Jones looking for the lost treasure, and waiting for the traps to spring, the ladders to break, the bats to fly out, etc.... then I came around a corner and I saw my first Coffin, about 10 m in length, propped up on stilts in the cave, with carvings on the head & tail, and the lid off. No skeletons in this closet, however, which was a relief. As I went in further & further, there were more of them, about 7 or so, in various states of disrepair, but think, these are several thousand years old, and they're here, and I'm here, looking at these incredible museum relics in the flesh. I was blown away... also by the fact that these huge dugout canoe type coffins were way up the side of a steep cliff.... How did they get them up there? Ropes, slaves, Hiab??? The mind boggles...

So, I was happy, and made my way down very carefully (it dawned on me how precarious this whole thing was) and met Baba at the bottom. We walked back to the village, I gave him a good tip and said to the townspeople how good a guide he was. The three women wanted their pic taken, and then I showed it to them, plus the other pics of the caves... seems like not a lot of people had seen them, cause they all were ohhing & ahhing. I drove back to Sappong, feeling content and happy to have seen the coffins (turns out they are supposed to be restricted because they are being studied, but I did'nt know).... I jumped in the river below our little cottage, and cooled off... it was an excellent adventure!

In the afternoon, Lucinda decided she would Brave the Cave, so we traveled to another area up windy roads and through small villages...they're everywhere! Little wooden houses on stilts, with laundry hanging, dogs lounging and people sitting here & there, doing who knows what. We got to the entrance of the cave with water buffalo lounging outside and our guide fired up the old Coleman lantern as we headed in. This one was huge, with enormous rooms and great formations of stalagtities, etc, plus a river running through it.... You could take a raft through if you wanted the total cave experience...
We heard that there were swallows that flew in and bats flew out at sunset, so we walked up a wooded trail to the other end on the cave, and there they were, thousands and thousands of swallows, diving and swirling in some crazed dance to line up for "permission to land", the sky was almost black at times. I wandered further in the cave to take more pics and found out why the rocks were all green.... My head now was the same colour! Anthow, we got out before the guano started to fly, and We went back to our cottage to find Ken, an old friend from Nelson (who told us about this place) and his Thai girlfriend Busaba, there to join us for another unbelievable Thai meal.... Did I mention the food is amazing??
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