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Caverna de las Brujas – day trip from Malargüe

As we couldn’t get to Laguna Diamante we had a day spare so we booked the Las Brujas Cavern excursion with Karen’s Travel. Santiago, father of ‘Karen’ and our guide for the day, picked us up from our hotel in a Transit van.  We headed out of town,  Santiago asking a Russian guest to translate for him as she is married to an Argentinian, living here and spoke very good English too!

It was clear early on that Santiago is a character, a cheeky glint in his blue eyes, and in between the banter and stories lies the truth of the matter.  The itinerary didn’t stick strictly to plan but we were having a nice time, so who cares! A stop was made at a small restaurant which we would be returning to for lunch,  this stop was to order lunch so the food would be ready for our arrival later in the day.

Practicalities attended to, on with the trip! We drove through an arid valley until we could see the Rio Grande in the distance although we headed up a hillside towards the caves.  Hardhat and head torches to the ready, we climbed our way up the path to the opening of the caves and had a rest while Santiago explained that this was a resting stop for people travelling to Chile.  It was only when someone realised there was air coming through sand from the back of the cave that the internal caves were discovered, and, according to Santiago, it was his grandfather who first documented the stalagmites and stalagtites found inside! Unfortunately not that many stalagmites and stalactites remain, due to vandalism and tourist keepsakes, the caves only becoming protected in 1992,… too late!

Swirling shapes

Swirling shapes

We entered the first chamber and switched off our head torches, while Santiago went through the three explanations of why it is called the Witches Cavern – one scientific, one historic and one folklore. As we stood in the dark, our eyes adjusted and soon we realised there was considerable light coming into the chamber.  This is the only chamber which benefits from natural light.

We carried on down into the mountain, clambering down a rocky tunnel into the depths of darkness with the assitance of a rope and giant steps backward, then a metal bridge across an inky cravass – fortunately I missed seeing how deep it was with a shine of a torch as I was still abseiling down the rocks! – and I started to wonder what on earth I’d let myself in for! I’d been to caves before, you wander into a chamber, then another and a few steps here and there and metal bridges here, lights one, Ooh and Aah and away you go… but not in Argentina!

Getting to my knees for a crawl!

Getting to my knees for a crawl!

The “chambers” became smaller, the route more cramped and before I knew it I was on all fours crawling through a tunnel no more than 3ft high.  No one told me about this! (I have since checked, in Spanish there is more detail on the website, but not in English!) I did make a crack about being claustophobic – I am not, but I do not like unexpected enclosed spaces and suffer from vertigo, so I was close to panic – and Santiago responded immediately checking I was ok, this was the most serious I saw him in the two days we spent in his company and was somewhat reassuring.

The mountain is interesting but differently from anticipated.  There are incredible shapes, luminescent rocks, but I have seen far more impressive stalagmites and stalactites in the world.  The stillness and complete quiet is amazing.  We switched off our lamps and Santiago asked us to close our eyes, when we opened then we were amazed – there was absolutely no difference! Complete darkness.  The experience of climbing inside the mountain was unique although I am confident in the UK Health and Safety would mean such a tour would not exist! A few of us did question the safety, particularly when a few were sent ahead, not sure of where they were headed in the darkness (head torches really are not sufficient if you don’t know where you are going and trying to watch your step at the same time!).  There are ladders securely placed but it is not reassuring when there is a black cravass below you and little space to then climb up or down to in between!

We left the mountain feeling exhilirated that we had done it!

Then we headed back for lunch – an amazing lunch of goat, and lots of it! Feeling rather full we then headed behind the restaurant to walk up a river valley to a waterfall, with a guide explaining how the valley walls are moving further apart due to pan-pacific plate movement.  All the while we were walking past fossils, which are in the layered rocks. We then climbed up to a small cave which sits behind the waterfall, sitting contentedly to the tune of water falling.  Bliss.

Fossil in the mountain

Fossil in the mountain

If you do this excursion, be prepared for some physical exertion, getting dirty, wear practical shoes with grip, don’t be claustrophobic or suffer from vertigo and bring a fleece or jumper as it’s 10c in there!

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