January 20, 2015

Cueva Golondrina Camuy Puerto Rico
I have been wanting to get out to Hawaii, China, Borneo, and South America for quite some time now but Puerto Rico keeps dragging me back every year and now here I am, back again, on my 5th year visiting Puerto Rico.  I absolutely love the rain Forests that Puerto Rico has to offer along with the islands that surround the main island, the ocean, the Dry Forest, and of course, the caves.  There are 1000's of cave and fragments of older systems in the mogote mountain Karst belt of Puerto Rico with more just waiting to be discovered for the intrepid visitor to the island.  Some of these caves have been developing and collapsing for millions of years in a active solutional dance that the karst topography has been doing with the meandering watercourses.  The Camuy system has one of the largest underground rivers in the world with leads that are still being discovered.  The Rio Encantado system stretches for almost 17km under the rain forest with active caves and sumps that have been hydrologically connected through previous expeditions. 

Millions of years ago, the Rio Camuy use to take a different course down to the ocean along with other river systems like the Tanama river as they would eat away the limestone into valleys and caves until it encountered basalt layers that would stop this erosion from continuing.  This action would work in conjunction with the usual carbonic dissolution process creating some massive trunk passages inside these caves with ceilings over 150ft and stretch almost this equal distance in width.  The geology of Puerto Rico is interesting as it rose out of the South American seas near Patagonia 100's of millions of years ago and shifted through tectonic action to where Puerto Rico is located in the Caribbean today.  

 Puerto Rico has some of the most impressive canyon and cave systems in the Caribbean, so it's no question as to why this beautiful island keeps bringing me back to visit.   The caves house a plethora of life including crickets, boa’s, different species of bats, scorpions, crabs, and the famous whip scorpion called the Guapa. On this trip we got the opportunity to visit 13 caves which ranged from missing pieces of the camuy system to fragments of systems that have otherwise collapsed upon themselves creating their own individual identity from one another.
Cueva Golondrina Puerto Rico
 I arrive at Pipo’s waiting to hear about how the weather was going to be like for Juan Neives the following day.  Cueva Juan Neives is a very wet cave with raging waterfalls and fast flood potential so after the locals looked up the weather conditions, they did not want us to venture into the cave the following day.  Instead we slept at Pipos and drove over to Loudres which is a bakery and a place where local cavers meet up to visit two other caves in the area, Cueva Golondrina and Cueva Cathedral. 
Cueva Golondrina Puerto Rico
We got to the bakery a bit early to find out that everyone was going to show up an hour late so we took a nap in the car and woke up when they arrived.  We met up With Julie Dutil, Tom Miller, and Carlos Artiguez. Carlos was running later than the others,  so we ended up going to the first cave to rig and get set up without burning off too much day light. Golondrina was literally down the street and right off the road.  We could see the entrance from the road and I remember driving past this place on previous trips clueless as to what was right off the road, Amazing what is literally right off the road.  Julie had a 300ft rope so we rigged a tensionless anchor to a viney palm tree and set up a re direct on a stalagmite to reduce rope abrasion.

This cave ended up using just about all of Julie’s rope but the pit itself is more of a staged steep walk down with a couple small shear ledges, rather than a straight vertical drop.  I set up the de direct and descended down while laying out the rope as I dropped into the pit.  After passing the mid drop I notice some bags on some kind of cord that looked like they had dead chickens inside of them!! Carlos was previously describing that there were chickens found with their heads cut off and candles at the entrance drop of this pit before, so It was a bit creepy to find this and I pondered voodoo as I bumped into these decaying remains of sacrificial gore, was I was going to be possessed?
Cueva Golondrina with the mysterious bags hanging in the middle.
 Anyway, I made it down to the bottom and called off rope while I noticed the sun’s rays blasting through into this cave  as the sun was lighting up the whole entrance and reflecting an orange hue . It was beautiful!!!!! 
Cueva Golondrina Camuy Puerto Rico
This cave was also known to have trash at the bottom, so we wanted to survey and document this cave and recommend a cleanup effort be executed to keep this beautiful cave in good shape.   There was broken glass and tires at the bottom but overall it was not as bad as I thought I would be after hearing the stories before entering this cave. 
Trash Bottom of Cueva Golondrina Puerto Rico

 We all helped with the survey effort and eventually ascended out of the cave to go across the street to visit Cueva Cathedral.  These two caves must have connected at one time as they are really close to each other and trend in a similar direction.  
We ran across the street in our muddy caving gear and ran into the forest to start out trek down the saddle of a mogote that leads to a valley and the top of the beautifully decorated pit entrance to Cueva Cathedral.
Vertical Entrance to Cueva Cathedral Puerto Rico

 This cave use to be a commercial cave and people would pay a group to take them into this cave system but for some reason it was shut down and is now vacant.  Down the valley is where Cueva Del Falso Tributario is located and is another cave that we will be visiting in a couple of days, but for now we got to go down into the horizontal entrance of Cueva Cathedral.

Entrance of Cueva Cathedral
The entrance was a pretty impressive one for Puerto Rico Standards as the crickets were chirping and the colors of greens and blues reflected their mossy color that the ancient formations had on the once active solutional limestone.

Entrance of Cueva Cathedral
We continued down the passage and climbed over some boulders to get to another length of passage where we had to walk up a steep breakdown pile of lose rock and mud to the main room in the cave.

Tom Miller, Carlos Artiguez, and Julie Dutil in Cueva Cathedral Puerto Rico

This was a beautiful open air room that had hanging gardens of moss and plants drapped over the old formations. Birds mingling with the bats as they flew in and out into the rain forest from the karst window at the top of the cave.  I wish we rappelled into this room to get the full effect but just being here looking up into the rain forest from the bottom was impressive in itself!!!  On the walls of the cave there were pictographs from the Taino Indians but all I could imagine were the angry birds from the mobile app game.

Taino Indian Pictographs in Cueva Cathedral Puerto Rico.
 Julie came out of a decorated room and insisted that I go through knee high mud to view this place, so Carlos and I went back there and we found some very interesting formations. A lot of them looked like they were cut off from the top and the ceiling was filled with soda straws and the floor was decorated with over 100 stalagmites.

Carlos Artiguez in Cueva Cathedral Puerto Rico
Afterwards we started to head out as it was getting darker outside and we wanted to make sure we had some time to beat the crowds from the San Sebastian festival going on down the street from where we were currently at.

Cueva Cathedral Puerto Rico

I got some pics as we came out of the cave passage which was not that long, actually as a matter of fact, a lot of the caves in Puerto Rico seem to be fragments of longer ancient systems so the length of these caves is not as long as the majority of the caves in the states with regard to length but the rooms are quite large and picturesque!  Once we got back to the car, Tom invited us to stay at his place for a few days which was nice of him so we ended up going to his place to set up the tent under his carport which had a nice overlook in the mountains of San Sebastian Puerto Rico.

 Julie Dutil in Cueva Cathedral Puerto Rico



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