Tight Places – Fear

Posted on / by Alex Berger

Caving in Budapest

Fear gripped me. My teeth ground against each other. This wasn’t an old friend, it was something new. My feet kicked at thin air desperately. I moved half an inch. Sweat beaded on my forehead, collecting dust and then running into my eyes. My arms burned as my fingers dug at the hard packed clay soil, trying to pull myself through the hole I was trapped in. The urge to vomit wracked my dehydrated core forcing me to pause while I battled for control. I fought for gulps of dirty cave air. My primal brain screamed at me and demanded action: Panic. I refused to cave to its call.

I had signed up for this, heck I paid to do it. It was ok. I was with people – experts. People did this all the time. They survived and seldom got stuck. It would be ok…it had to be. Then a reassuring touch. Hands pushed, supporting the bottom of my boots. I heaved. Kicked. Crawled my way forward up the tiny tunnel. It widened slightly. My left arm pulled free, previously stuck to my side as I “superman’d” through the narrowest part of the tunnel. Both hands were free. Fingers clawing at bulges along the cave wall as I dragged my 193 pound, 6’3″ frame up and into the pitch black open space before me.

I stood shaking. Rattled. Wondering if I could go on. Then, I realized I had just felt claustrophobia for the first time. I was terrified. I was thrilled. As I stood there quivering I stared at the tunnel that had just birthed me, let out a sigh and then kneeled down and began crawling into the next tunnel. My resolve set. I refused to let the sprawling caves of Pál-völgyi-Mátyás-hegyi beneath Budapest’s rolling hills do anything but strengthen me.

Alex Berger

I am a travel blogger and photographer. I also am involved in academic research into the study abroad and backpacker communities.


  • Jennifer
    August 9, 2012

    As you were describing the superman move, I was wondering if you were caving beneath Budapest! We caved there too and I had a similar freak out moment. These caves sure aren’t your typical tourist caves! But in the end, I loved the experience.

  • Gina
    August 27, 2012

    Oh, that would freak me out so much! It’s a big reason I haven’t gone caving yet. I know I’ll try it some day, but I’m going to have to take lots of deep, calming breaths to get myself through the tight tunnels. Great account of it!

    • Alex Berger
      August 27, 2012

      Yeah, if you’re not quite sure on how it will go…start with mid-sized caves first. I thought I’d be fine on this one but it really got me good. Still, amazing experience and I definitely recommend you do something like it when you’re up to it!


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