By Dr. Todd R. Kincaid
Over 20 years ago, two cave divers made history when they discovered Asia’s largest cave in Turkey. Global Underwater Explorers’ (GUE) “founding fathers,” Jarrod Jablonski and Todd Kincaid, Ph.D., set out on the Project Karstdive cave exploration in the Taurus Mountains in the summer of 1995. The goal was to explore, map, and document several underwater cave systems along the southern flank of the Taurus Mountains. The following is Kincaid’s account of the exploration.
Squashed in the back seat of the 4WD, I looked out the window toward the rugged mountains in the distance with amazement. I had suddenly realized that Jarrod and I, a couple of cave-diving college boys from Florida, were in Turkey, 10,000 km from home, about to suit up and dive under a mountain. The people here considered us the experts, the expert explorers who would fathom the depths of their fabled and mysterious submerged system of caves, produce accurate maps, and capture it all on videotape. A lump as big as the mountain lodged in my throat. Would these caves even go past the light zone? How deep? How far? How much water, and how clear?
We soon would find answers to these questions and more.
We arrived at Suluin for the first dive on August 19 around 9:30 a.m. Since the cave was reported to run deep near the entrance, we had mixed 15/50 trimix (15% oxygen, 50% helium, balance nitrogen) in the back tanks with an air stage bottle and 50% nitrox and O2 for decompression. As the water rose over my head, I turned away from the sunlit entrance to see the floor slope away beneath me. The cave appeared cobalt blue, a manifestation of our lights reflecting off the white walls through the limpid water. Gökhan and Zafer, our teammates, were snapping photos like mad. Jarrod was tying off his reel to the end of another thick line that only penetrated the cave some few tens of meters. The cave walls were blanketed with flowstone, and a stalagmite forest hung overhead.
Jarrod and I pushed down and into Suluin while Gökhan and Zafer stayed in the shallows to measure and photograph the cavern. We followed it back to a passage that led in about 200 m and down to over 60 m deep before it apparently came to an end. We faced a small restriction in the floor, which prevented us from advancing any further; our equipment made us too bulky to be able to pass through. Returning to the main cavern we followed another passage for around 50 m when it too came to an abrupt conclusion, leading up to a surface above. We would later find this air chamber from decompression, but surfacing there revealed only more flowstone and no way out. It looked as if no further tunnel was going to be found, and we headed back to the entrance.
Reaching the surface didn’t brighten the mood either, as our friends had more bad news. The Jandarma (Turkish National Guard) had come while we were submerged. Apparently, the Kirkgöz region is a protected archeological site and special government permission is required to be there. Once again, we were faced with more delays. Two days passed before the necessary permits were obtained and diving could resume.
We returned to Suluin on August 23rd. Though morale was extremely low, we needed to complete the cave survey and shoot some more video. Once more, the gear was donned and the four of us descended. Gökhan and Zafer shot video of the cavern and took more photos while Jarrod and I swam in to finish collecting the survey data. Little did we know, the tide was about to change. We headed for the deep tunnel first. At line’s end, Jarrod was investigating a small fissure while I dropped down to investigate the restriction.
Squeezing down to 65 m revealed a small tunnel that ran back and further in. Before I could come up, Jarrod entered it with the reel, letting out the nylon as he went. We followed the small passage as it snaked circuitously down to a depth of over 80 m. The passage then began to rise, and before I knew it we were traversing what seemed like a large hallway at only 45 m. Turning a corner, our limestone hallway widened, exploding into an enormous room. Unfortunately, in our pessimism, we had left the scooters back at Kepez not expecting to find any leads (it always seems to work like that, probably thanks to a guy named Murphy). I checked my gas pressure to find that it was time to return. Begrudgingly, I signaled Jarrod and we headed out. At decompression, we made plans for the next dive. As I remember, it was captured in a single word: scooters! That dive set the stage for the rest of the trip.
Though most of the equipment was left in the cave for the duration of our exploratory efforts in Suluin, trimix and nitrox bottles needed to be remixed, O2 refilled, and scooters and light batteries required charging for each dive. This became our routine for every diving day. Each morning, the task of hauling tanks, scooters, and light batteries uphill to the cave was shared between five of us: Jarrod, Gökhan, Zafer, Hakan (our team doctor), and me. After the dive, Gökhan, Zafer, and Hakan were left to haul it out themselves, as the risk of decompression sickness left Jarrod and I unavailable. Upon arriving back at Kepez, the tanks were remixed and filled, the batteries put on charge, and decompression tables run. The day usually ended around 9:00 p.m., just in time for a quick dinner before diving into slumber.
We spent two more days exploring Kirkgöz-Suluin. We discovered the Stadium on the next dive, the largest water-filled room I have ever encountered. Flowstone, travertine draperies, and stalagmites covered the walls—that is, the walls we could see. One whole dive—over 40 minutes in the Stadium—was spent following three walls of the same room. We couldn’t explore the top of the rooms without violating the decompression ceiling. The bottom was more than 20 m below. I felt like a fly on a window looking for a way out. So many leads fanned out before us that one year of diving could be spent trying to count them all.
On August 25th we descended into Kirkgöz-Suluin for the last time. We explored and surveyed several side tunnels leading away from the Stadium and brought a video camera and video lights to document our finds. All total, Suluin revealed over 800 m of passages, a room the size of a football stadium, and a wealth of archeological artifacts. Satisfied with a job well done, we carried the equipment down the mountain one final time and headed back to Kepez. We had only two more days to hit the last two targets before our equipment would have to be packed for the return trip to the USA.
The next stop was Düdenbasi, a large spring discharging from the travertine plateau just outside of Antalya. It was familiar territory. The setting was reminiscent of our Florida encounters: a large magnitude spring discharging from a lat carbonate plateau. The spring and the surrounding area have been converted into a state park where tourists come from all over the world to see the lush oasis in the otherwise arid Turkish landscape. From a diverted stream channel, water falls over travertine cliffs to mix with the water from Düdenbasi below. The height of the waterfall, the blue water at the bottom, and lush green trees and grasses combine to create a spectacular setting for a dive.
Sadly, attention was quickly diverted from the wondrous natural beauty to the piles of litter on the shores and the knowledge that though the water quality was still good, the current practice of sewage disposal directly to the travertine plateau without treatment would inevitably have its effects. It’s unfortunate that such a beautiful place should be subjected to the litter of tourists and the environmental catastrophes created by man. Expeditions such as this one will hopefully raise the public awareness and help foster a concern for conservation and environmental protection in the Antalya region.
Holding true to the apparent “Turkish Tradition,” Düdenbasi came up with a surprise. After penetrating 400 m, the tunnel had dropped to a depth of over 65 m, and lacking the necessary decompression gas for a dive this deep, we were forced to turn back. Though another dive was certainly in order, our timetable couldn’t permit it, and we had to say goodbye to this mysterious tunnel at Düdenbasi, at least for 1995.
We spent another late night mixing gas, filling tanks, charging lights and scooters, this time loading it all into a minibus. The following morning’s four-hour drive would take us to our last target, Gök Cave, a reportedly deep cave somewhere near the town of Finike on the Mediterranean coast. Luckily, the bus came with a driver—most of its passengers were dead on their feet. Gokhan’s wife, Elvan, had come down from Ankara to join us, but she probably found better conversation with the driver on that trip.
We arrived in Finike around 11:00 a.m. on August 27th. A French report on the cave that had been prepared some years before provided us with the only directions. It felt like our luck had changed when we quickly found the cave just beside the highway, only 1.5 km south of Finike. That feeling quickly disappeared, however, when we found that getting to the water required a 30-m hike up the mountainside, followed by the same distance down a treacherous scree slope into the entrance of the cave. The slope was also covered in goat dung, which was not only distasteful but also quite slippery.
A beautiful blue pool sat at the base of an immense cavern in the side of the karstified limestone mountain. Long strands of green algae floated calmly on the surface. The water was colder than Kirkgöz and Düdenbasi, and was quite salty. Since Gök Cave was thought to be deep, we came prepared with 15/50 trimix in both the back tanks and in a single stage bottle each. Air, 50% nitrox, and O2 were brought in for decompression. After all the equipment had been brought in and set up, decompression tables were run to cover any imaginable contingency. We had been diving for the last four days straight and wanted to play it safe. In 5-minute intervals from 3 to 55 minutes, tables were cut on a laptop computer and transferred onto an underwater slate for 7-m depth intervals from 60 to 100 m. It took over an hour and everyone’s patience wore thin. But we were prepared (at least I thought we were) for anything Gök Cave had to offer.
After gearing up, Jarrod and I descended into the cavern to decide whether video would be in order. I was immediately overwhelmed by the size of the entrance. Later it was measured to be over 80 m in diameter. The water was “air” clear, and the cave immediately dropped deep out of sight, heading deep into the mountain without diminishing. After dropping scooters and decompression bottles, we returned to the surface for Gökhan and Zafer, the video camera, and every light we had. Trying to stay above 30 m, the four of us slowly swam around the cavern entrance videotaping massive speleothems on the walls and ceiling, and the spectacular view of the sun filtering into the gargantuan mouth of the cave.
After 15 minutes it was time to split up. The camera and lights were handed off to Gökhan, and Zafer, Jarrod, and I headed down. Even though the water was crystal clear, we couldn’t simultaneously see both sides of the tunnel due mainly to its sheer size. Being in the middle brought a disturbing feeling of insignificance. Jarrod picked the left wall and we continued to follow the ceiling, which ran at a slight but noticeable angle that took us continually deeper. While Jarrod spooled out the line, I made the wraps around stalactites so huge that it was like giving them a bear-hug to get the line around. Finally, we came to a ledge on top of a huge snow-white wall. At 90 m below the surface, the ledge provided a necessary depot for our scooters, as they aren’t designed for that kind of depth. Making another wrap, I followed Jarrod in his descent along the face of the wall where the conduit kept going in and down.
Looking at my depth gauge, I realized that Gök Cave had also held true to the “Turkish Tradition,” as we were passing 110 m and still dropping. We finally tied off the reel on top of a huge fallen boulder at 117 m. The cave appeared to bottom out. A small restriction looked enticing but, being 20 m deeper than our deepest decompression schedule, we had no time to think about anything but getting out. Returning to the scooters at 90 m, a loud popping sound was a sure sign of trouble. Jarrod’s scooter had imploded from the excessive pressure! Using the motor to keep it up, Jarrod swam it out while I finished collecting the survey data. Unfortunately, I was too busy with the survey to see for myself, but Jarrod said that he could see the sunlit entrance all the way out from the 80 m depth.
Three and a half hours later, we broke the surface of the water a little apprehensive about decompression sickness but still overwhelmingly excited at having explored such a tremendous cave. We had penetrated over 230 m of Gök Cave to a depth of 117 m, with a total bottom time of 25 minutes, excluding the 15-minute video dive. As it turns out, Gök Cave is now the deepest known underwater cave in Asia. The expedition couldn’t have ended in a better way.
Karstdive 95 was a joint research and exploration project conducted by the WKPP and SAD in cooperation with the International Research and Application Center for Karst Water Resources (UKAM) of Hacettepe University, Ankara, Turkey, the University of Wyoming Department of Geology and Geophysics (UWG&G) of Wyoming, USA, the State Hydraulic Works (DSI) of Antalya, Turkey, and Kepez Electric Company, also of Antalya.
Dr. Kincaid has been diving since 1979 and cave diving since 1987. He has explored and mapped underwater caves in Florida, Turkey, Mexico, and China and studied the role of caves in controlling groundwater flow patterns for M.S. and Ph.D. university degrees. He is currently working with a team of researchers and explorers with the Florida Geological Survey and GUE’s Woodville Karst Plain Project to understand karstic groundwater flow to Wakulla Spring in North Florida. That work has included detailed underwater cave mapping, quantitative groundwater tracing, hydraulic metering of discrete cave passages, and the numerical simulation of conduit/matrix groundwater flow. He is one of the original founders of GUE, and also leads a small consulting company, GeoHydros, which specializes in geological and groundwater modeling. He also serves on the Advisory Board for the Hydrogeology Consortium and the Florida Springs Institute, both nonprofit organizations dedicated to the protection of Florida’s springs.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.