Friday, August 27, 2010

Atlantic Tunnel Tour

Waiting to go down the manhole!
My love of adventure has often landed me in scary and/or uncomfortable situations. I've been lucky enough to have climbed Kilimanjaro, hiked to the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge, zip lined in Costa Rica, skydived in the Mojave desert, taken a balloon flight in the Yangshuo mountains of China and a helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon, stroked cheetahs in Kenya and held a tarantula in the palms of my hands at the London Zoo ... Hell, I've even tried dating in New York City! So it's fair to say that I am a bit of an adrenaline junkie.

When I heard about the Atlantic tunnel tour in Brooklyn I in no way expected an adventure of the scale of the ones above, but I must admit that it did get my heart racing a little more than anticipated.

The half-mile long abandoned tunnel was discovered by a guy called Bob Diamond in the early eighties and is the oldest subway tunnel in the World - it was built in 1844 using very rudimentary tools. Bob has since been leading hour-long tours taking curious New Yorkers to the depths of the tunnel while explaining its construction, as well as some of the political context and business practices of the time.

I have been shopping the idea of doing this to a lot of my friends for the past few months but to no avail - they all exclaimed that I was insane and that they had no intention of accompanying me into a dark, dank and probably rat infested space. Thankfully my sister is staying with me for a couple of weeks at the moment and, as crazy seems to run in the family, she was up for it.

Tunnel entrance
When we are arrived at the meeting point, on the corner of Court Street and Atlantic Avenue, we were surprised by the sight of sixty or so people patiently lining up to go down a ladder through a manhole in the middle of the avenue one by one. We had expected perhaps only another handful of people to be there with us but we gamely joined the back of the queue and proceeded to wait for almost an hour before being able to get down ourselves. Most of that wait had to be done in the pouring rain, which made me reconsider more than once whether I really wanted to do this!

But we persisted and when it came to our turn, we awkwardly stepped down the ladder and into the wet and dark hole. My heart started to race immediately as we landed in a narrow and low corridor that lead to some steps and the start of the tunnel. It took a while for our eyes to adjust to the obscurity and we took cautious steps towards the guide and the rest of the visitors, illuminating our path as best as we could with the pocket flashlight we had brought.

We didn’t stay for the whole tour - not that we were scared as such but being there was very eerie and somehow we just couldn’t get into the talk that Bob was delivering. Not that it wasn’t engaging but I guess that not being able to “see” him made it harder for us to concentrate. A few other people were making their way out about 30 minutes in and we followed them shortly after.

In the tunnel
The funniest part of the whole adventure was perhaps when I came out of the manhole and almost caused a car crash. As I emerged from the tarmac, a passing car saw me and the woman driving screamed in shock and braked abruptly. The cars behind her beeped loudly and narrowly avoided piling into her! I guess my advice to Bob and his crew would be for one of them to stay at the entrance/exit and escort people out so as to not freak out passersby and motorists!

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