Getting Deep in the Cango Caves

I joined up with Earthstompers Garden Route and Addo National Park tour for an amazing 5 days of sight-seeing and good company. Day 2: Cape Agulhas – Oudtshoorn


I was nearly at the end of the line. I hated going last, particularly when my heart felt like it was thumping out of my chest. What was it about crawling through a 27 centimetre hole, 27 metres underground that made me so nervous?

Oh right…

I’d opted for the Adventure Tour option of Oudtshoorn’s (nope, still no idea how to pronounce that one, tragic English speaker that I am) Cango Caves, because apparently that’s what I do now. Plus it came highly recommended by a new backpacking friend.

After a particularly uneventful few hours walking through an Ostrich Farm in Little Karoo (known as the Ostrich Capital of the World), cringing as usually humane people thought it was worth the money to jump on the backs of grown ostriches with bags over their heads and worn off feathers, I was ready for the change of pace the caves brought.

Descending down the 200 damp and potentially slippery stairs of Jacob’s Ladder to enter the The Grand Hall, a place where they used to hold concerts until some jackass inevitably wandered off and broke off bits of cave and ruined it for everyone, quiet descended. It might just be to avoid the echo, but I’ve never been inside a cave where everyone didn’t just automatically start whispering. Then our tour guide hit the lights.

As someone with an overactive imagination who jumps at her own shadow; standing in a pitch black, wide open underground space was not only disorientating, it was nerve-wracking. I was waiting for all the world’s bogeymen to reach out and stroke me menacingly. I was clutching for the three people from my tour group who had come along with me, but also trying not to move my feet for fear of falling over.


The lights did come back on, as our guide had promised, the whole thing had only taken about 2 minutes. If I’m honest, continuing on through the cave, while the structures were large and interesting none of them particularly stood out. So I may have been guilty of paying less attention than I should have.

Until I was faced with the 2 meter near vertical climb through a 75 centimetre opening that was Devil’s Tunnel. Come to think of it, this was probably a fairly significant contributing factor to that whole heart-out-of-the-chest thing. I’m 6 foot tall and nearly 5 foot of that is leg. How does one with zero arm strength get up a small tunnel without being able to bend your legs? How does one with mild claustrophobia get themselves into this situation in the first place? Honestly, I have no idea, but I did.

Now there was just a small matter of getting through the 27 centimetre hole. The only way back now was through Devil’s Tunnel, and once was enough. Let me tell you, nothing makes you more self conscious of your own body than sizing up a hole to squeeze it through.

You start coming up with little reassurances that are actually kind of horrible: See the shoulders on that guy? They’re at least double mine and he got through, you’ll be fine. And what about that girl? She’s definitely wider than I am and she got through, you’ll be fine. But goddamn I wish I was a skinny as that girl, I’d only need half the hole size. But I’m sure I’ll be fine.

And then you make it through. You were fine, and now you feel accomplished. You walk back towards The Grand Hall with your head held high, making a huge effort to befriend and be nice to all the people whose bodies you just judged in your head. You catch eyes with the rest of your tour group who opted for the calmer, less squeezy, Heritage Tour and both of you know, you made the right tour choice.

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