Connect with us


Discovering The Longest Fresh Water Cave In Thailand

In February, explorer and instructor Mikko Paasi and his crew from Bottomline Projects Foundation were charged with investigating the source of water in Toh Wang cave in southern Thailand near the Malaysian border. Little did they suspect they would uncover a behemoth. In fact, it became clear after a series of exploration dives that Toh Wang was not only the longest underwater cave in Thailand, but it was part of an underground cave system that might connect five new sinkholes in the surrounding area. Paasi reports on their find.



Text and images by Mikko Paasi. Header image: The only reminder to the outside world is the roots of the trees above that reach out for water and give shelter to the small cave creatures living in the constant darkness.

🎶 Pre-dive clicklist: Respectness by Seeed🎶

Toh Wang cave in southern Thailand, right at the border of Malaysia, near the city of Satun, is a well known underwater cave for the locals. The villagers use it as a water source, the kids play in the pond outside the entrance, and the elders go inside to catch catfish and giant cave shrimps. The cave entrance is just a small crack in the face of the limestone mountain but, once inside, the cave widens out and takes a steady north heading, following the ridge of the Khao Phrayabangsa mountain.

The cavern part of the cave is shallow, and the ceiling is very low, so low that you can barely fit your helmet through some of the restrictions. It is also very long; the distance to the end of the cave was measured somewhere between 500 to 600 meters (1640-1967 ft) before it came to a dead end. This was what the villagers believed before our cave diver team from Bottomline Projects Foundation was tasked with investigating where the water was coming from.

Our connection and local guide was Folk Kamponsak Sassadee, an extraordinary explorer, and a climber, whom I knew from the Thai Cave Rescue. Then, in 2018, he was leading the search for an alternative exit for the trapped football team by climbing the sheer walls of the Khun Nam Nang Norn mountain. Folk was the heart and the impetus for this current expedition to find the water’s source. He recruited me to join the project. He also took care of all our needs and official permits to conduct exploration in National Park premises. 

For many generations, Folk and his family have lived in the area, and they told us about a legend of a lost tribe who once lived in the mountains and rarely came down the mountain to the village. One of these tribe members had been Folk’s grandfather, who occasionally met with the light-skinned tribe members. This Phab Paew tribe vanished a few decades back during a pandemic and was never seen again. Only traces of their existence lie hidden in the sinkholes that can be found in the valley between the two mountain ridges the cave appears to follow. 

Twenty-four years earlier,on his excursions Folk had observed some possible burial sites near those sinkholes but had failed to return to them. Consequently, the ultimate quest for our team was to find where the water originated and to determine if it was connected to those sinkholes. We hoped to also find evidence of the extinct Phab Paew tribe.

  • Fourth Element
  • Halcyon Sidemount

Taking the Plunge

Our first visit to the area was in mid-February this year, 2023. I, and our team of cave divers, live in Koh Tao, a small island in the middle of the Gulf of Thailand, where I have run my dive center Koh Tao Divers for over two decades now. We took a night ferry to the mainland and drove down to Satun near the Malaysian border. After 15 hours of travel, we were on the site, eager to go in and see if the cave really ends or if it continues. We met the local village leaders, Folk, and his team of explorers, who would be our safety on the surface while we explored underwater. 

Our team consisted of four cave divers, Patrick Tassin, Klaus Könönen, Mika Lindström and me. We are all seasoned divers with a daily routine and thousands of dives under our belts. Topside we had Folk and his team of four park rangers. Yet, we were on an expedition together for the first time as a team and in an unknown location that no one ever dove before. We were literally performing an exploration that could end at a dead end or could lead to a sinkhole with burial sites of a lost civilization. 

The ”No Name Cave”. On the last day of our last expedition and just before the monsoon rains started in the Satun region, our team discovered this fabulous dolomite and limestone chamber steaming with thousands of bats that got distracted of our powerfull diving lights. Behind the diver is the 2m x 2m water pond that doesn’t look much in a non cave divers eyes but turned out to be another entry to the massive underground aquifer.

We hauled our tanks and camera gear into four kayaks and started to work our way to the end of the cavern zone. The way seemed much longer than only 500 m/1640 ft, as we had to swim and push the kayaks in front and through multiple restrictions while wearing closed circuit rebreathers (CCR) on our backs. Luckily, mine was the slimmest in the market, the Kiss Sidewinder mCRR, that weighs only 8kg but still allowed me to stay submerged for multiple hours adding safety and practicality to the team.

Once we reached the end, it was our turn to do what we do the best. Our plan was to take a look at the first chamber and collect general information of the topography and the conditions so that we could form a safe strategy for the second day. 

Once all the checks were done, Patrick and I plunged in and started to lay the line. The atmosphere inside was eerie, and the walls reflected a warm yellow glow from our lights. The bottom was fine sand and clay, and the finest silt was oozing out from the walls. Depth was only around 5 m/16 ft, and we could see constant air chambers on the top, one after another. As we made our way forward and deeper toward the heart of the mountain, we came across fair-sized catfish and massive cave shrimps that were the size of a lobster. We noticed a few freshwater fish that don’t usually belong in caves but didn’t think of it too long, hoping that maybe there was a larger body of water this cave could be connected to. We emptied our reel and turned back, happy for the fact that the cave kept going and the conditions were better than we dared to dream for.

To get to the point where the ceiling meets the water and the cave ”ends”, you have to swim about half a kilometer with your dive gear on while pushing a kayak with 100 kilos of scuba tanks and camera gear through some very tight restrictions.

On the second day, the cavern part was a bit easier, since we had staged our cylinders in the far end the day before, and this time we had a better idea of what to expect. The visibility was reduced from the first day, but once we got to the end of our existing line and started to push new line again, the visibility got a bit better. Two teams of two divers in a cave like this, one that seemed to be going straight and remaining the same smallish size, was a bit uncomfortable if you popped into the other team. 

Still, it was important to have one team pushing and the other collecting data from next to the already-laid line. By the end of the second day, we had laid some 300 m/985 ft of new line and extended the total known length of this water-filled cave by half. The best part being that there was no sign of the cave ending any time soon. 

The local community was happy to hear what we had discovered and welcomed us back as soon as possible to continue to search for answers to their questions.

Gearing Up for a Second Push

Two weeks later we were back, and this time a bit better equipped. One of the leading technical CCR instructors and local cave explorer, Por Parasu Komaradat, joined us and brought a compressor, booster and his Optima CCR, so we could push further and with less gear to haul in and out. The conditions were the same as the time before, and so was our target, which was to see where this system went and what lay at the end of it.

I have to admit, while swimming for the fifth time, the distance from the cave mouth to where we started the dive was getting to be a bit of a task. It was fine for the first few times, but it lost its appeal after a two-hour dive and a total of five hours in the water. The first day we extended our current line by another 300 meters and there was still no end to be seen. I also took about 3000 photos of the cave itself on our way in to see if we could create a 3D photogrammetry map for further studies. The cave took a plunge to max depth of 18 m/60 ft and we saw a few junctions on the way. 

The other team, Mika Lindström and Kevin Powers, explored the existing way and detected an exit from one of the air chambers about 700 m/2300 ft in, but it was impossible to climb out without any climbing gear. With still no sign of the end of the cave, we returned and drove back to our base camp to fill gasses and change the sorb in our breathers. 

One fin stroke to close to the bottom or walls can reduce the visibility down to zero in a few seconds. The only way for the diver to find his way out of these underground labyrinths is to follow the ”life line” that leads to the exit. In Toh Wang cave we have laid over a kilometer of this line so far and there is no end nowhere to be seen yet.

Day by day, and after every push dive, the logistics were getting harder. We then had to first swim about half a kilometer (1640 ft) to the end of the cavern and then dive another 600 m/1970 ft to the end of our line just to start pushing new line. 

Water filled caves in Thailand are often deep but fairly short in distance, and during our fourth push dive in total we realized that we must be past the point of the longest cave system in the country. After emptying our last two reels we had now extended the previously known 600 meters to a total length of 1400 m/4600 ft, of which 800 m/2625 ft were fully submerged. Unfortunately we ran out of line and had to turn around. At that point, the cave seemed to have multiple passages to different directions, and it plunged to deeper depths with still no end in sight.

To our pleasant surprise and just when we were packing to drive back to our home island, Folk came up with a new plan that included a nearby cave that had a small pond of water inside but was so unknown that it didn’t have a name yet. What if this cave connected to Toh Wang? What if the monsoon rains started before we could come back again? What if someone else finished what we started? We just had to stay another day and see if the pond of water led somewhere. We were out of line, so overnight we knitted together all the loose bits we had and came up with a multicolored 100 m/328 ft reel.

  • Halcyon Sidemount
  • Fourth Element

Early in the next morning we were all excited about this new possible cave entrance and the fact that it was even closer to the sink holes than the Toh Wang cave entrance. We wondered if the two might connect at some point. We just needed to see if this one went as well. 

The No Name cave entrance is located 5.1 kilometers (about 3 miles) northeast from the Toh Wang cave and only 600 m/1969 ft from the nearest sinkhole. We were optimistic and carried in half of our equipment on the first climb into the system. Once in, we could already see water flowing out, a very good sign. After 50 meters of crawling, we came to a massive marble chamber with thousands of bats who were disturbed by our bright diving lights and flew around. What a beautiful sight even after Folk told us that this cave was also home to a countless number of different snakes. 

Part of Bottomline Projects NGO’s “Filthy Few” discovery team in front of Toh Wang cave entrance. From left: Klaus Könönen, Mikko Paasi, Folk Kamponsak Sassadee, Mika Lindström, Nirun Love and Patrick Tassin.

At the far end, we could see the little, 2 m/6.5 ft by 2 m/6.5 ft pond that might lead to an unknown destination. I understood that any non cave divers might not have been able to see the potential in this little pit, but we were even more excited than the cloud of bats whirling above us. 

One hour later, we were all neck-deep in our little pond, full-on exploration mood, and ready to work our way to wherever the cave wanted to go, and for our pleasure, it went. After a 100 m/328 ft and way too soon, we ran out of line, did a final tie-off and turned the dive. We realized we had two new water-filled caves—both that kept going toward the sinkholes in the heart of the Khao Phrayabangsa Mountain. 

Not only did we discover the longest fresh water cave in Thailand, but we also found a possible underground cave system that might connect all the five known sinkholes and perhaps give new light to the lives of and the mysterious disappearance of the Phab Paew people.


InDEPTH: A First Exploration of the Flooded Mines of Thailand by Mikko Paasi
InDEPTH: Diving Into History With Thailand’s Sira Ploymukda by Carlos Lander

Mikko Paasi is an enthusiastic explorer, CCR cave/mine Instructor trainer and an underwater camera operator. His soon 30 year long professional diving career started at Ojamo mine, Finland, in the 90’s. Today he runs his dive center, Koh Tao Divers, in Thailand and conducts constantly new diving related projects and expeditions through his foundation called Bottomline Projects. Mikko has been involved in multiple documentaries and movies both, behind and in front of the camera, latest being a film called Ghost Ships which is now premiering in the Berlin Film Festival. He played a key role in the Thai Cave Rescue 2018 from where the King of Thailand awarded him with a 1st class Knight Grand Cross.

Subscribe for free


Madagascar Madness

Earlier this summer Jake Bulman and the Protec Team launched their 2023 expedition to Madagascar’s formidable Malazamanga cave known for massive tunnels, formations the size of buildings, and its unbelievable cobalt blue water. They then journeyed to Anjanamba, which despite enormous passageways, consistently turned into tight, restrictive spaces before opening up again. Having appeased the cave spirits and returned safely, Bulman offered up this account.




by Jake Bulman. Photos by Phillip Lehman. Lead image: (L2R) Jake Bulman, Patrick Widmann and Ryan Dart motoring through the first mega-room after Ryan’s Chamber, Malazamanga.

Deals made. Plans Laid

As I sat in the Paris airport working on my computer, Patrick Widman gestured to me to remove my headphones. He and Phillip Lehmann sat across from me and asked if I wanted to make a deal. Assuming I was walking into some kind of joke, I replied with a hesitant “Sure.” “Next summer you come with us to Madagascar, if you…“ “Yes! Deal, ” I answered before he finished explaining my end of the deal. It didn’t matter, the answer was yes. Patrick finished laying out his already agreed deal, headphones went back in and everybody went back to what they were doing, except for my thoughts, which went to “Holy Shit! I’m going exploring in Madagascar!” 

Now nearly a year later in June 2023, we were back in Paris, this time packing all of the bags for the flight to Antananarivo (“Tana”), Madagascar’s capital city. When we got there we met up with Tsoa, who is the local contact, translator, organizer, and overall critical part of the team. Our bags headed to Toliara with the drivers while we spent the day doing some errands. 

The next day was important to me, not because i turned 30, but it marked the end of a bet Patrick and I made in 2020, for which I had now won $100. The victory was short lived, however, as I spent that day stuck in my hotel room violently sick. Welcome to Madagascar!

After a short flight, overnight in Toliara, then an hour long boat ride along the coast, we reached Anakao Ocean Lodge. This place is a bit of a shock to the senses after traveling through the poverty stricken cities. Luxury in the middle of nowhere; it would be our basecamp for the trip. As Patrick and I posted a photo of the place, Phillip sarcastically mourned the loss of any “hardcore expedition” image people would imagine.

The next day we planned to meet up with the National Parks’ representatives, organize porters, transport all the equipment to the site, then get in the water and place all of the deco tanks and scooters we would need, and finally be out by dark to avoid being stranded overnight. This may seem overly ambitious, and it was, but is a good example of the overall approach of the project. Always go all in, no shortcuts or laziness, and if it was not possible in the end, no worries at all. The goal is to have fun with the group and do awesome stuff, which we always did.

”This is the most epic cave ever”

Phillip Lehmann on Malazamanga
The view from Ryan’s Chamber, entering the first mega-room.

Musing on Malazamanga

Malazamanga, a cave of indescribably massive tunnels, formations the size of buildings, and amazing blue water dominated the first part of the trip. We set up a little basecamp in the mouth of the cave, each of us with our own spaces to change, hang up our suits to dry, and change sorb each day. The entrance swim is a tediously frustrating one for rebreather divers: 20 minutes of low ceilings, bouncing from 20 m to 5 m/66 ft to 16 ft and back several times, never allowing space to sit “in trim”, and no flow to remove any of the inevitable silt that came from passing with multiple scooters, stages and divers. 

However, once you reach Ryan’s Chamber, the first big room, you find a staging spot for leaving scooters and tanks for the following day, and a small tunnel leading to the real, intimidatingly massive, Malazamanga.

Patrick and I went to the deep section right away (45-50 m/138 to 164 ft) and spent three days trying to find the way on, while Phillip and Ryan Dart looked around the shallower parts of the cave (20-30 m/66-100 ft) for any leads that had not been checked. Patrick laid line while I surveyed behind him through a wide but low space that became swirling silt and clay by the third tie off. We reached a vertical shaft, Patrick asked me to hold and ran a line into a smaller tunnel below us that led to a restriction. In spaces like this where zero visibility is guaranteed, diver two will be pushing through restrictions blind, having no idea the shape or size of the space around them, which is a recipe for disaster, so I waited on the line for Patrick to return and started a timer.

  • Halcyon Sidemount
  • Fourth Element

As fifteen minutes showed on the timer, it started to feel like a long time. How long do I wait before doing something? Five more minutes rolled by, and my mind started to run… What if he has a problem? Does he need help? Memories of having to get somebody out of a similar space once before came to mind. But this time it was Patrick though, if he truly needed help it would be a serious situation. I decided to give him until 30 minutes from when he left, and then I would go in (slowly). With four minutes remaining, a glow appeared before Patrick explained that “it’s tight, but it goes.” It was a long wait that meant a bunch more deco, but this could be the way on.

The next day I was tasked with pushing the End Of Line (EOL) while he and Phillip looked elsewhere. After twisting, turning, removing tanks, and wondering if this was a good idea more than a few times, I pushed through a few ups and downs, but the cave unfortunately ended in a basement section at 52 m/170 ft. No going leads. Time to head home.

A smaller part of Malazamanga

Breakthrough and Packing Techniques

Our daily routine started at 06:30 with a breakfast of bread, fruit, eggs, tea and espresso. We’d leave the garage at 07:00, meet the porters at the bottom of the hill in the national park and send the equipment with them. Phil would then educate us on the risks of breakthrough, importance of proper packing techniques, and the impact of dwell time. All of which are critical to making espresso.

After making espresso, the handpresso is put away, we hike the 30 minutes up the hill, get dressed, dive four to six hours, then head home. Back at the garage by 08:00 pm, fill tanks for an hour, eat dinner at 09:00 pm, and then sleep. All the while making jokes, sharing stories, talking about life, trying to blind each other with lights, and being shown the same photo of Rosie, Phillip’s pit bull, with a “look at this awesome photo” preceding the photo display by a few seconds. 

All in all, going diving required some effort, not to mention the week of traveling with piles of luggage to get there, the week to get home, and all of the time spent organizing beforehand. In terms of “cost (time/money/effort) per hour underwater” it is some of the most expensive time I’ve ever spent underwater.

Patrick filling tanks in Anakao Lodge.

One day, after a significant amount of problem solving in the hot, muddy entrance tunnel of the cave, we finally got everything sorted and started doing checks. Halfway through, Phillip said, “I’m not into this. You guys go. Nobody is paying me to do this,” and started to remove his tanks. Considering the “cost per hour underwater,” I think many of us would go whether we wanted to or not, giving in to a sunk cost fallacy-like sense of commitment. 

We reformed a plan for the two of us, a few angry birds levels were completed on the surface, and everybody went home excited to see the survey data. There is a lesson to be had here for many of us, about what is actually important and ignoring those perceived, often self-induced pressures to carry on even if it doesn’t actually make sense.

We scoured every corner of the section we were in, until a hole underneath a formation showed a large room on the other side. I tied in at ~40 m/~130 ft, headed down the slope to where floor met wall, removed my tank, locked the reel,  threw it through the hole, and headed in. Once my torso passed the squeeze, still inverted in the water, I put my tank back on, grabbed the reel, and swam the direction that I remembered it went. I passed the cloud and made a tie off. Turn, tie off, into a bedding plane, tie off, big room, tie off, and stop. 

The entrance of Malazamanga, featuring our basecamp. Patrick seen in the distance.

The floor suddenly featured huge, wavy marks that everybody recognizes as signs of flow. A lot of it. Massive clay bricks fit together like tiles in the riverbed resembling floor. A promising development, I tied off and ducked my head under the lip of the ceiling. Instantly the ceiling met the clay bed and the cave ended. Water unfortunately doesn’t consider human size in its choice of direction. Back to the drawing board.

“Fuck it, let’s just see what happens”

Patrick Widmann

To Breathe or Not To Breathe

At the time, the furthest reaches of Malazamanga was an enormous collapse with no way beyond it except a few air domes. We were aware the air domes may not be breathable, but lacked a proper analyzer for that. After some thought, Patrick decided that we would just give it a go one at a time. We surfaced and knelt close together as Patrick closed his DSV and took a short breath of the gas. Wearing an expression resembling somebody tasting less-than-appetizing looking food he took a second breath. 

Watching intently, I saw the expression quickly change from hesitant but ok, to uncomfortable to concerned as he put his DSV back in and opened it. I was ready for him to pass out as we sat there breathing, but nothing happened. We knew it was likely not breathable, but I wanted to see what it felt like! I removed my DSV and took a breath. A humid, thick, shockingly hot breath filled my lungs and I was not going to take a second one. No way that was safe, I thought, as the burning in my lungs slowly faded. 

  • Halcyon Sidemount
  • Fourth Element

Patrick climbed out with just his rebreather (and flowing oxygen) and took a quick look around, but no luck. As he was getting dressed again, I popped my head into a few holes and found a passage that looked to slope downwards on the other side of a tight squeeze. I ran a line in with Patrick behind me, and tried to push through but couldn’t fit. After removing myself and the cloud of unavoidable silt surrounded us, I grabbed the rock that was in the way and flipped it over. If you have ever moved a big rock in a collapse, in a never-before-dived cave, you can imagine the visibility afterwards. We backed out, went to check a few other places, then returned hoping for slightly better visibility.

The crew in Malazamanga.

Patrick was the next one in, leaving a tank on the line with me this time, and he extended the line down the slope on the other side. I heard rocks falling, tanks banging on rock, grunting, laughing, bubbles moving along the ceiling, and then he returned with his hands shaking like crazy. Whatever was over there, was not for the faint of heart it seemed. After a bit of cooling down, he went back into the cloud, which was followed by loud yelling. Excited yelling. We exited, and planned our return for the next day. What lay beyond the 6 m/20 ft deep, vertical, awkward, tank-off restriction was an open space that continued downwards to what appeared to be 40 m+.

The next day, I was going through first. We rehearsed the shape of the restriction and the series of movements needed for passing it on the surface. It was weaving through the space where collapsed boulders met the sloping ceiling, and any extra force on the wiggling rocks meant possible collapse. The plan was for me to pass, tie into the EOL, and head off. Patrick would pass behind me with the MNemo and survey in. Adding tie off after tie off, I headed deeper, then flattened out, then up through an opening to my right. Now it was my turn to yell, the cave had returned to its previous enormous size!! This celebration lasted three tie offs, as we climbed yet another collapse that was quite clearly the end. Cut line, put reel away, look around knowing that nobody will ever be here again, and head home.

On to Anjanamba

Several options lay ahead of us, which Patrick and Phil weighed over dinner. Continue searching in Malazamanga, or get the filming done then head north to Anjanamba, or spend the next two weeks surfing. The last option was apparently way more valid than the joking suggestion I had taken it as. Fortunately, the second option was the choice. We spent a day scootering around with lights in hand and on the DPVs. Screen grabs of the video were used as photos for this article. 

We also had two surfing days, where I (having never surfed before) mostly tried to not get annihilated by the waves. My second goal was “not to kill anybody” as Patrick and Phillip repetitively warned me not to do it with my oversized board (only a stand up paddle board was available). Fortunately I’m a very strong swimmer, as I spent large chunks of time crashing and burning, then being tossed around by the ocean. 

”This is the most epic cave ever”

Phillip Lehmann on Anjanamba

Heading up to Anjanamba featured a boat ride, a seven hour drive that resembled one of those truck commercials trying to show how tough its product is, and a journey through the Mikea National Park which had no paved road either. During lunch break everybody commented how much better it is now than it was several years ago, describing it as “pretty smooth” and “less violent” in the same sentence.

We visited the local village, where residents are the spiritual keepers of Anjanamba, to talk to the chief and say hi to a friend of Tsoa who had just had a baby. While there we got a tour of their newly built school, joked with the children a bit, took a photo and headed home. For a lifestyle that is so drastically different to our own, with so much less of everything tangible, the village seems a happy, lively place with kids running and playing. However it is easy to see the need for food, schooling, health products, and basic medical care to name a few. 

Exiting towards “The Megatron” formation in Malazamanga.

Appeasing the Spirits of Anjanamba

Anjanamba is the location of  the filming of the “Spirits of the Cave ” series (see DIVE DEEPER below). Described as a much more dendritic, Mexican-like cave with a blue color that puts the famous Mexican salt water tunnels to shame. The name of the series doesn’t come from nowhere; this cave is home to several spirits. In order to appease them, a few things need to be accomplished. 

First, we must visit a big, double trunked baobab during the walk there. We remove our hats, gather near the meeting point of the trunks, place a pointer finger on one tree and pinky on the other (think bull horns hand shape), bow our heads and ask the spirits for two things. One, that they allow us to find an epic cave that goes. Two, that they grant us safe passage and everybody returns home safely. The ever-present, always watching lizard that lives there looked down in approval. The locals however, who had no idea what we were doing, waved us back to the path with a smile and laugh.

Once that is done, a ritual must happen with the Mikea people (in which the National Park is named after). Patrick and Phil have already been through it, so it’s just me. The chief started the ritual, as they each took a sip from a bottle of rum we had brought. Tsoa explained to me afterwards what they had been saying (asking the spirits to accept me, safe passage etc). Notably, it included nothing about finding mega cave, but we had already covered that during the lizard tree ceremony I guess. 

Jake eating sand in Anjanamba ritual. Phil filming.

The guys had warned me about the second part of the ritual, which had me eating a part of the cave – sand, dirt, rock, whatever. The chief continued speaking, and Tsoa told me it was time. I pinched some sand, put it in my mouth and swallowed. Phillip verified it was all gone. In the background I hear Patrick stifle a laugh, and my long-held suspicion was proven true, this was not actually part of it. The locals found it hilarious, and it wasn’t as if I was going to say no in any case. Diving time.

As usual, we were quite late and had made very ambitious plans which didn’t quite pan out. But we did as much as we could, then headed back to our new home at “Laguna Blu.” Like in Anakao, we had great food, friendly staff, beautiful views and comfortable sleeping. 

Laguna blu view.

Reel Bashing

Having laid less line than we had hoped in Malazamanga, we were keen to “bash some reels”. Anjanambas current EOL lay at more than 2287 meters/7500 feet with an average depth of 18m/60 ft or so. It featured enormous tunnels and decorated rooms, yet consistently turned into tight, never-quite-ending spaces before returning to vast rooms with pristine formations all over the place. 

Patrick and I each carried a stage, and I carried the back up scooter. Passing through the 30 minutes of sideways swimming, weaving up and down, belly scraping, up and down cave with a negatively buoyant scooter in between my legs meant it was not always smooth sailing. Fortunately it usually got stuck when I was in the back so nobody saw. We reached the end of the line, Phillip tied in and headed off with Patrick recording and me surveying behind them. 

  • Fourth Element
  • Halcyon Sidemount

From my POV, it looked likely to end every 10 tie offs only for the line to weave into a little corner of the room and continue, with nothing but a light dusting of silt at each tie off as signs of my team ahead of me. This repeated for another 457 meters/1500 ft of line until the reel was emptied, everybody cheered and fist bumped with excitement and then decided that we really needed to head home.

Our DPV charging plan didn’t pan out, so after each day Patrick and Phil drove over to a neighboring location and ate lunch while the scooters charged. I went back to Anjanamba and swam some of the closer lines checking for any going cave. After extending a few EOL’s, the sections had been checked without much luck. After a few days of exploring in Anjanamba, which mostly featured a repeating pattern of restrictions then big rooms, we finished our last diving day with nothing clearly going, but a few hopeful areas left. 

Jake at the surface of a local bathing site. Only tie offs to be found in there were Zebu (Malagassi Cow) horns. Hydrogon Sulfide from top to bottom.

End of the Line

As we reached the end of the trip, instead of feeling tired as we expected, we found ourselves ready for more. We had lots of sorb left, but had used every last liter of oxygen. Unfortunately, it was time to take a group photo with the locals, dry our equipment and start the journey home. Not only did we have flights to catch, but we had classes to teach less than 12 hours after landing in Mexico. 

After five weeks of expedition, we had managed to get the most out of every day, be on time almost never, and explore some amazing cave. More impressively, I don’t recall a single argument or bad mood at all, which is rare when you spend 18 hours per day with the same people. Until next time, the villagers return to their normal lives, we go back to the Caribbean, and the spirits of Anjanamba can rest again.

We did have one last day before heading home, in which we would make a discovery.  What will come of it is yet to be seen, but I’m sure it’s going to be a mega-epic either way. In fact, probably the most epic cave ever.


The Protec Team‘s past Madagascar Expeditions:

YouTube: Spirits of the Cave (2017)

YouTube: Spirits of the Cave 2 (2019)

YouTube: Spirits of the Cave 3 (2020)

Originally from Canada, Jake Bulman is a full-time cave diving and CCR instructor at Protec Dive Centers in Mexico. The last several years of teaching have been almost exclusively sidewinder focused, from try dives to CCR Cave classes, 4C to 24C, and in several countries around the world. Outside of work, he can be found on exploration projects in local caves of a wide range of depths, distances, and sizes.

Subscribe for free
Continue Reading