Mom has never been in a cave before. I did not know this. It is weird how sometimes we assume that other people have done the same things as us and become surprised when we learn differently. She was so excited to go into a cave finally. Mom had no idea what to expect. Nor did I.  

Caverne Laflèche par Arbraska was one of the destinations we visited with Mom on our Family Day Weekend in the Ottawa area. For Charlene and me, this was nothing particularly new. We have been in several caves over the years. However, during the planning phase, I had no real idea of the complexity of spelunking that we would be required to discover Laflèche Cave.  

As a joke, I told my mother that we would have to be lowered into the cave by rope. We would have a rope tied around our neck and descend through a very narrow passageway. Mom, of course, knows I like to joke around, but this joke really did reflect that I had no idea what to expect.  

We arrived early. I wanted to visit a church in Ottawa, but it was closed for tourism because of Lent. This closure altered our schedule. We decided to go to the cave and wait. It was a good idea. I sometimes forget that we do not need to be running from one location to the next and that sometimes sitting around waiting is good in its own right.  

Upon arrival, someone was ziplining. Mom saw this and immediately wanted to try it. Only after some thought did she remember that it would be terrifying. I did note for a future trip that we must get her to zipline somewhere. We would all wait in the lobby. I perused my phone, confirming whether places were open and possible routes to see them all.  

Caverne Laflèche par Arbraska is located only 30 minutes from Ottawa in the province of Quebec. They do offer bilingual tours, of which our monolingual dialect appreciated. We learned that the cave we were about to explore was made of marble carved by acidic rainfall and groundwater. It has been slowly growing since before the ice age. The marble would dissolve, leaving behind the more solid rocks of granite and quartz behind.  

Sadly, previous explorers removed all the stalactites and stalagmites decades ago. The guide stressed the importance of not touching the new limestone deposits that would make stalactites and stalagmites in the distant future. What happily replaced the missing stalactites and stalagmites of limestone were stalactites and stalagmites of ice.

Several examples of ice pillars on the floor were at the cave entrance. The slow, dripping water created interesting shapes, which made me wonder how they were not falling over. This entryway would be the greatest concentration of floor and ceiling icicles during our time there. It has been a weird winter with much warmer temperatures than usual. The cave lost much of the ice formations, and the current cold spell only started to remake the formations when we arrived.

These ice pillars made everyone in the group marvel, but the bats surprised everyone. We were in a part of the cave that was mined out to create a more accessible passageway to the actual cave. The bats use this tunnel to winter. These little brown bats hanging from the ceiling, incidentally called little brown bats, were undisturbed by our presence. They looked frozen solid, but when we watched them, it was evident that they were moving around. Some of them would be covered in water beads, giving them a disco ball effect. Others would be by themselves and more clustered in groups. No one had ever been so close to bats before where no one was screaming. The guide kept talking about the bats, but I doubt many heard what he was saying because we were all amazed at these winged creatures. It was tempting to pick and warm them up, but we all knew that would harm these creatures, and everyone in the group respected their rest well.

We passed through a door that separated the man-made tunnel from the natural cavern. Here, we faced physical challenges. Everyone in the group could descend the single flight of stairs to an area with water and more bats. At this point, Charlene and I were more interested in getting my mother down the stairs safely. Naturally, there was some trepidation about being in an enclosed area and a narrow staircase, but Mom found it in her to get down and enjoy the views.

Our guide discussed what caused the cave to be made and where the water flows when exiting the cavern. After everyone explored the area, we faced our biggest challenge. The first was the same stairs that we went down. Then, it was the biggest climb in this cave. The stairs become more of a ladder at this point, requiring Mom more time than the rest of the group to climb them. The guide and group were very patient with our slow but steady progress. Mom appreciated the patience and encouragement our guide gave her.  

As with many cave experiences, there is the total darkness part. Unlike the many other caves we have been in before, there were no artificial lights installed throughout this cave. Our only light source was the lamps on our helmets. I would get my money’s worth from this helmet since it saved me from getting many bumps on my head. The group turned off the lamps, and we felt the darkness envelop us. This period was more extended than in other cave experiences we had because the guide talked about the airflow, how long it would take our eyes to adjust, how people used to sleep in the cave and other topics, all in the pitch blackness of being underground.  

Mom was captivated. It was very evident that she was having a great experience. My one key phrase when travelling is to enjoy the experience, and Mom was at the height of that.  

We would enter the Big Room. It is aptly named because it has enough room for a small house. Because of the warmer-than-usual weather, the ice formations were minimal but still impressive. Usually, the floor would be covered in many ice displays, so it would be difficult to find a path around them all.

At the exit was the largest of the ice pillars. We were told that this comes every year and is always the largest. We would exit the cave and walk back to the chalet in the open air. Mom talked constantly about this experience. She would personally thank our guide and even hug him.

Travelling is all about gathering experiences and memories. Mom’s first cave experience was mesmerizing for her. Mom has been on several trips with us and knows that travel can become addictive. There is so much to see, and the desire to see more and more becomes stronger. Plus, having travelling companions who are having as much fun makes travelling all the better.

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