Visiting the catacombs of Paris was definitely on my to-do list. I was expecting to go on a nice tour with nice people and maybe we’d all be a little freaked out together about the dead bodies. And maybe I would even learn some nice things, even though I tend to forget 95% of everything I hear on a tour. I was really excited then, when I arrived at my first ever CS host’s house and he mentioned he was planning to go in a few days and that I was welcome to join. Perfect!
The day before we (me, my host and his girlfriend) were planning to go underground he gave me the scoop. He took out this huge map of Paris that showed the catacombs with one tiny little section darkened in the south that is where the tours are. Then he gestured to the rest and said, ‘This is were we go’. ummm what? I just met you 3 days ago how trust worthy is your map…
Well apparently there is a whole community of people who are trusted with these maps. In these endless miles of tunnels they have found a few places to join to together to hang out, cook food, drink, watch movies on a big screen and even have music concerts. Sometimes they steal electricity from the city to have rock concerts. My host had tons of videos to show me. I was shocked to say the least.
So it was finally time. The three of us put on our adventure outfits, wrapped bandanas around our heads, strapped on headlamps and filled our backpacks with snacks and beer. Around 11 pm we drove to some area of Paris no tourists go, climbed over a brick wall onto abandoned train tracks, through a tunnel and down a tiny hole into the never-ending, multi-level, pitch black tunnels under Paris.
The super crazy part about the whole thing was that, as my host warned us, we had to follow his steps exactly. Why you ask? Well, aside from the fear of getting lost, occasionally there are holes along the paths that drop you to oblivion and when the water is coming up to your waist, well, you don’t want to slip. Let me try to paint the picture for you- think of visiting the 5 most confusing cities you’ve ever been in at once-that’s what the tunnels are like, it’s pitch black except for the 3 head lamps, the paths are on slopes so you have no idea how far below ground you are, and you have knowledge that people have gotten lost and never returned from going down there. It’s also impressive to mention that if you go around a corner you lose the sounds of those ahead of you…you become completely alone in a matter of seconds. It. Was. Wild.
After a few hours of walking, the girlfriend and I are helped up through a hole in the wall to a room so small we had to crouch down. I found a stone to sit on…look down…and I realize I am sitting on a pile of human bones. Yuuuuup. Creepy hardly even begins to describe it. I was stunned at first, gave a moment to respect what happened to these people… and then the small science nerd inside of me came out and I was naming the bones I found. I was lucky enough to find a femur someone had made into a candle torch (see photo).
Anyways, the night was only just beginning. We settled in a room for a drink with a castle like structure carved in the middle where other adventurers have left little figurines or candles. In another (where the films are usually watched) there were murals on the wall of famous movie characters and super heros. There we saw another couple cooking some beans on a small camp stove. No big deal. In another room full of bones we met a group of Dutch people and continued through the tunnels with them. Throughout this whole time I like to point out that with the uneven ground and low ceilings I managed to bash my head.. too many times to count. There was literally a cartoon-like bump on the top of my head the next day. Sadly, I was not able to just push it down and make it go away, it was really quite painful to do that, I tried.
I had completely lost track of time, but we finally started to make our way out. Did we have to back track? No, of course not. We squeezed through a hole so small we had to climb through one at a time with our backpacks handed to us afterwards and climbed up a ladder at least 4 stories high out through a manhole cover. It was 7:30 am.
After we found our way to civilization, said goodbye to the Dutch group we were able to head back home. Quick showers for everyone followed by a day of sleep. I know this was a super long story, but it is one of my greatest travel stories and it came from couch surfing. The next night was followed by another epic all night adventure that maybe I will share another time.
Moral of the story, try couch surfing.