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Harrison’s Cave: Caving in Barbados

“Really?” I asked, trying to keep my voice from trembling as I peered at a manhole-size opening in the rock. I was in Barbados, about a mile underground inside Harrison’s Cave. Named for Thomas Harrison, a local landowner on the island in the early 1700s, this extensive system of subterranean domes, passageways, streams, and pools is a limestone labyrinth. Though the cave system was discovered over 300 years ago, it wasn’t until the 1970s that it was more fully explored. It opened to the public in 1981.

Unlike most islands in the Caribbean that are volcanic in origin, Barbados is atop a mass of limestone rock formed by ancient coral reefs. Our headlamps caught fossilized coral heads here and there inside this geologic wonder, which served as a hideout for escapees during the slave-trade era. It would have been a dank place to take shelter.

“If you don’t get wet and muddy, you’re not having fun!” exclaimed Jason, one of our guides, as a dozen of us donned knee and elbow pads and hard hats.

Harrison’s Cave is part of the island’s natural water-purification system. When it rains, which is almost every afternoon in this island paradise, the water that’s absorbed into the earth works its way deeper and deeper. After about 300 days, it reaches the cave. In other words, the water saturating us from the moment we waded through the first waist-deep pool hit the ground almost a year ago.

Story and photos by Lisa Ballard

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