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I See A Darkness: A Descent Into Germany’s Felicitas Mine

We join Italian explorer and tech instructor Andrea Murdock Alpini on an poetic exploration of the Felicitas Mine in Germany, as he and his teammates ponder the life of the German miners who once occupied its passageways. Be sure to check out his video documentary below!



Text and video by Andrea Murdock Alpini. Photos courtesy of PHY Diving Equipment.

The more time passes, the less is the distance that separates you from the object of your desire—in this case it’s a place. Watching, observing, studying, writing, and pinning drafts of questions that are waiting for an answer. 

Deciding to follow a line, understanding its feasibility, its esthetical beauty, and the historical meaning. Few hours separate us from the place where German miners had been working for centuries, we are going to dive into Felicitas Mine where hundreds of workers lived and dreamt for decades covered by a soft, sooty layer of slate. Advancing across tunnels and caressing the black dream of ancient slate rocks, coexists with personal loneliness of cold water, rock, writing and breath. Descending below the edge of earth, to move closer to the surface of life. Our story will be only a layer of dry walls who built Felicitas in the past. “The anonymous history is stratified”.  

Black Blade Feelings

In the morning we moved out from our base camp in Hutten. In the last few days, we had measured more than a thousand meters of cave line. We clarified our main targets and the areas of the mine I wished to film. We fixed our checkpoints by dropping off cylinders and spots where we placed our directional markers. My Cave-Van was filled with nineteen deco cylinders and twinsets ready to be used in Felicitas Mine. 

Fifty kilometers separated us from the arrival. Now the houses’ façades were black, as well as the roofs. The houses were built with the pure German Style “Fachwerkhäuser”. Looking out the car window, it seemed to be on top of Golgota mountain during Easter Sunday. The sky was obscured by deep black clouds, the color the same as the surroundings. The black is more than a shadow, was authoritarian. It was fascinating and absorbed all the rays of opaline light.  

Approaching the mine and reading the old billboard “Abela Heilstollen” was exciting. I wished to be there, inside the mine, in front of the water. As soon as I arrived at the spot, I started walking around the ancient barracks. We were surrounded by corn fields. Far away, at the end of the field on the left, I saw a cement turret rising over the corn plants. This was the end of the left branch of the mine: one of our main targets. Watching it and estimating the distance that we would have to fill later, swimming in open circuit, was impressive. The right branch, also known as “The Old Mine” was closer—530 m/1740 ft from the starting point of the dive. On this day we wished to reach the end of it. 

When we got inside the dry part of the mine, everything was the same as it was left a few decades ago, when the mine expired its vocation and was sold to a new society for another business. Slate machinery has been abandoned inside the hangar. Our team started to unload the heavy diving equipment from the van. We split it into three groups: mine, Gianni’s area, and finally Flavio’s one. He was the surface assistant and gas mixing supervisor, checking regulators, tank MODs and, last but not least, our interpreter, Mr. Wolf. 

Our daily plan consisted of three different dives, each one with a different final goal. 

The very first dive was focused on setting down our strong main-line, a 120 m/394 f length of solid 8mm rope. During the second dive, we were to carry six cylinders of safety gas (in the end) and EAN 50 plus Oxygen at 21 m/70 ft and 6 m/20 ft depth to complete our decompression procedures. At the end of the main-line there is a “T”, and turning left brings you directly into the NEW Mine, on the opposite side we had the OLD part of Felicitas Mine.

During our second dive we explored 270 m/886 ft of old tunnels, leaving directional markers with distance and we clipped safety gas cylinders along the way. We also visited the Santa Barbara, a real bunker where explosives were safeguarded. A layer of concrete separated the TNT from the slate tunnel. Inside, the room looked like a bank caveau, and what I found in front of my eyes was not so different from watching Mecca’s Kaaba. We had planned the basis for our third dive of the day, and it was time to start decompression. 

7:10pm—The Endless Path

We put our heads underwater, again. We left Flavio’s “OK” signal and swam the first 120 m/394 ft of the mine; we had to be quick and save time for the following part of the dive. We wanted to reach the end of the Old Mine’s tunnel. When we arrived at a fork, we got inside an old brick tunnel that was stunning. Below us, the ancient rail track slid away. More or less, we were 350 m/1148 ft  from the entrance, 170m/558 ft separated us from the “touchdown.” Along the way, we observed that many parts had collapsed, sometimes there were walls, and some others were debris that had fallen from the rooftop. 

Large ruins marked out the area, and at around 430 m/1411 ft, we had to swim for 100 m /328 ft more before reaching the farther part of the old branch. The ambience sometimes appeared scary and gloomy. This part was very tricky and precarious. Visiting the right branch was a great adventure, definitely a “must see” place of Felicitas.  

We were back then to the main “T”, where the path split. I was in front of an iron sacred shrine—a holy place where miners used to pray every day before starting their jobs, as well as before leaving the mine. On my left I could see our floating deco cylinders, clipped on the line. I was struggling between a “holy and profane love.” 

Barrel of Black Powder

At fifteen minutes to six pm, the third dive of the day was waiting for us there in Felicitas.  On this morning we placed the emergency line along the left branch. Large, empty spaces and huge machinery left inside the modern part of the mine characterized this area: a main tunnel with added side rooms. Felicitas Mine had closed the extractive industry in 1997.

  • Halcyon Sidemount
  • Area 9
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My mind goes back to this morning’s dive, when we dove at around noon. The planned bottom time was fifty mins, just enough time to  drop our cylinders for further progression. On this day, we would not explore the mine to the end, so we decided instead to simulate different diving scenarios. We wanted to be ready for the main dive on the next day. so. We spent a lot of time below the Steel Barrel Tunnel, always upwards, the steel seemed to be very fragile. On top of the barrel, some massive and huge stones covered its roof. 

Out of the Steel Barrel Tunnel on the right side, 10 m/33 ft ahead more or less, there was the first of the large-scale empty rooms where slate had been mined. On the left of the main path there was a small storage space, and we used its rooftop as cylinders pick-up/drop-off stations. All around was muddy and sometimes foggy. Probably the silt had been stirred up by unstable rocks that fell down.

We moved forward and later we went back. Passing the same spots again and again helped me to memorize this place wrapped in darkness. At the end of the day, we calculated the full length of penetration (return): 1500 m/4900 ft, each of us always carrying from 4 to 6 cylinders, moving ahead by fins only, without the aid of a DPV. Afternoon ran to its end; the last dive of the day was calling us, the most demanding one.

We needed to drop the heavy 20 liter tanks filled with Helitrox 30/10 (30% oxygen, 10% helium, balance nitrogen), on the farthest checkpoint on the map. This was our “home plate.” For the first time, we passed over the final fork. There the tunnelwais narrow and we went ahead, as slow thoughts passed through my mind and brought me back to the main “T”. Another tough scuba diving day in the mine was over. 

Check out The author’s documentary of their mine exploration

I see a Darkness

The Big Wednesday came. We were submerged up to our hips. I switched on my powerful video lights. No video shooting on our way in, we had spread our stage tanks with extra gases on the main line during the last two dives, now it was time to swim quickly. On this day we wished to reach the final target: the end of the left branch. Felicitas Mine was awaiting. We had to go west!

Thirty-five minutes passed, when we reached the planned checkpoint: the “anvil” 20 liter tank of trimix. After we reached it, I thought we were not too far from the End. 

Staying focused on breathing, being calm and relaxed, was what we had to do. This was a blind tunnel with no way out and no chance to find a different way back. We had to pay attention while we swam and moved forward, because a wrong frog-kick and visibility would drop to zero in no time. 

At the end of all the  black shadows we left behind, the slate was simply amazing.

A stunning atmosphere surrounded Gianni and me. I filmed the moment, and I wanted to live it again and again, in time. The rocks of Felicitas gave us crispy feelings. We are enthusiasts. Colors of rocks turned from black to yellow, gray, fire red, and finally light, bright blue. Awesome! I was breathless and without words. 

In front of me there were two stairways to heaven. The first one was a wooden stairway, the second one made of fragile steel. Climbing them were the only fast exits that this mine had. The entrance was 650 m/2133 ft far away, and reaching it during an emergency would be impossible on foot, let alone swimming. 

It was time to go back.

Shattered Ground

The beginning of a mine corresponds with its end. Miners or divers must walk the same steps before reaching the surface, again. When you turn in one direction and leave the black shadows behind you, the darkness swallows everything in the path. Only human memory can preserve the spirit of the life of someone who lived in that manner. The mine doesn’t care how powerful the lights are that you bring inside its rocky belly; it will always give you dark and obscurity in return. 

In July 1969 the Man left a footstep on the Moon. One of the most beautiful memories I collected from Felicitas Mine was looking at the worker’s footsteps on the ancient ground. Along the tunnels, the paths and traces of anonymous miners, pickers, and serial drinkers will remain forever, frozen in time. 

Coming back to Felicitas to learn more  about its stories and secrets, to discover more forks and find an even more beautiful place to film, this was my mood when I left Germany during the  summer of 2020. Diving inside the German’s lode was a human journey between history, economics, and anthropology. 

A Last Shot for the Miners

The last night we spent at Felicitas Mine I decided to honor its working class with a tribute. Each dive we did in the mine had been made possible only because the hands of mine workers had dug the slate for centuries. We had visited incredible places who were stolen by the rock with TNT, pickaxe, sweat, and blasphemies. No dive we did could have been made without the tortuous  job the miners did. Most people know how the working-class men love drinking strong alcohol at the end of a hard day of work.

I had forbidden my team to drink during dive days, even though, by the way, we had been used to having a tiny taste of a traditional Italian bitters every night before bedtime for digestion. When I was finished writing my daily report from the darkness, I proposed to the team: “Why don’t we offer a last shot from our bottle to the miners?”

The following day, before leaving the mine, we dedicated our last dive inside the black slate tunnels of Felicitas to the miners. I put a message in the bottle and we left it inside the Mine, and we offered a last shot to the workers amongst the black slate’s powder. 

Well, you’re my friend
Many times we’ve been out drinking
But did you ever, ever notice
Well, you know I have a love
And you know I have a drive
But can you see this opposition
That it’s dreadful imposition
And then I see a darkness

Diving Team: 

Andrea Murdock Alpini, Gianni Cecchi, Flavio “FlaK” Cavalli, Luigi “Mangiafuoco” Parolo, Michael “Flower” Forenzi, Marco Setti

Team’s Sponsor:

PHY Diving Equipment

Team’s Partners:

Scubatec, Tecnodive Booster, Big Blue Lights, TEMC Gas Analyzers. 

Dive Deeper:

InDepth: Out of the Depths: The Story of British Mine Diving by Jon Glanfield

Divernet: A TALE OF TWO MINES by Stefan Panis

Other stories by Andrea Murdock Alpini:

InDepth: A Baltic Elegy: Åland Islands and the Wreck of Nederland

InDepth: My Love Affair with the MV Viminale, the Italian Titanic

InDepth: Stefano Carletti: The Man Who Immortalized The Wreck of the Andrea Doria

InDepth: No Direction Home: A Slovenia Cave Diving Adventure

InDepth: Isverna Cave, Diving An Underground Dacia

Andrea Murdock Alpini is a TDI and CMAS technical trimix and advanced wreck-overhead instructor based in Italy. He is fascinated by deep wrecks, historical research, decompression studies, caves, filming, and writing. He holds a Master’s degree in Architecture and an MBA in Economics for The Arts. Andrea is also the founder of Phy Diving Equipment. His life revolves around teaching open circuit scuba diving, conducting expeditions, developing gear, and writing essays about his philosophy of wreck and cave diving. Recently he published his first book entitled, Deep Blue: storie di relitti e luoghi insoliti.


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.

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. 

  • Area 9

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. 

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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.

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