Sunday, January 18, 2009

Disneyland Natural (exploring a wet cave with SEUS

Today we had a wonderful experience with the members of SEUS (the southern cave group) going into the underground! This was the first time we explored a "wet" cave in Puerto Rico. We have traveled to Akumal Mexico and gone diving in caverns and caves and bicycled to cenotes and done some similar wet underground traveling, but doing it so close to home is at treat we want to repeat. Jose invited us on this trip and we met a bunch of nice and knowledgeable people - Pucho (Carlos), Joel and I'm sorry I can't remember the other 8 people's names. We met at a bridge (meeting up with people here is always at a "bridge" or at "church" (which is Church's Chicken) in Penuelas. We did a little driving, consolidated things into a couple cars and then drove up the road some more on rocks and dirt and parked here.

There was a pleasant walk/hike for maybe 30 minutes to get to El Convento and along the way we learned many interesting things about wasps, native trees and plants, things not to touch, birds etc. There were a lot of Ceiba trees like this one along the way both young and very old trees. When these trees are young they are evil looking with big thorns covering every inch of trunk. When the tree ages the thorns look dwarfed and are up high and the above ground roots catch and hold water. It is hard to show the true scale of things. So we listened to birds, smelled the wild jasmine that covered the ground and hung in the trees and walked to the entrance of where we would begin our adventure.

This is the point where we were going to enter the water/cave system. The south is a little different than the north. The cave system in the south runs from Ponce to Penuelas and there are caves in Rosario and Guanica. There are caves like this one that has a river flowing through it. In the North I don't think they are wet caves. In the north there are more formations I think, but we haven't been many places so we don't really know. We put our life preservers, packs and helmets down so we could walk around a bit and see a few other cave entrances in the area. Then we went back, put on the preservers and hopped into the chilly water! Since I am usually chilly I wore a wetsuit with a shirt underneath and my work boots. Very good things to wear - the wet suit was flexible, warm, buoyant, and protected my legs from the sharp rocks. The boots let me walk on slippery things with traction and protected my ankles.

Here's Carlos entering the cave and being followed by a couple other people. This "wet" cave was wet the whole way through which made it seem like an amusement park kind of. Without fins you kind of kick and paddle with your hands - some spots were definitely over our heads.

Further in there were waterfalls. We would be swimming and hear a waterfall. Remember that we are IN A CAVE. There IS NO LIGHT other than what we have on our heads. Hmmm....I think I hear rapids? We were going against a very light flow of water and when we got to the waterfalls we had to climb up them - some were taller than we are. It is pitch black, kind of steamy, we are floating in water and now need to climb up slippery rocks. The tops of the waterfalls were interesting formations because the minerals built up and formed little mini-dams and pools. Underground. With bats and spiders and crickets and congrejo (crabs) and shrimps and little fish.

Here we are just swimming along looking at bats and small formations and things.

So after several waterfalls, and more than an hour in the caves we get to the "bat room" where there are a lot of bats fluttering around because our lights and noise has disturbed them. Very cool. After the bat room we came to what looked like a dead end. This little slit with light on the other end. At the beginning of the dive I noticed one of the guys had a rope and I wondered what it was for. We were told this wasn't a rappelling cave and we didn't need ascending and descending gear. What could the rope be for?

Well - the final part of our adventure was to take off the life vest and pack, take a big breath and submerge to maybe 2 feet and swim underwater about 7 feet and pop up on the other side. I wear contacts, and even if I didn't you still can't see because you are in a cave and now we are going underwater with a rope as a guide. Pretty neat! The second time will be no big deal, but for the first time, not knowing the area, it was kind of "you want me to do what?" So we all got through, did a little more swimming, climbed up a very steep waterfall and emerged out another opening and up onto regular land again. We walked to a big cavern (called Cabra) that had a little window up above you could see trees through. It was huge! This cavern looked a lot like the one you can't go into at Camuy. We climbed around in there for a while and then hiked back.

A big thanks to the SEUS members for guiding us on a wonderful adventure. There is no way to find these places on your own and definately no way you could know to submerge and swim underwater where we did. You really have to go with people who know what they are doing and who know the areas. This is a nice group of people to spend the day with. We look forward to more day trips like this or heh - since it is dark anyway, why not a night time cave adventure?


Fran and Steve said...

I hope you guys are writing a book on all the adventurous things you can do in Puerto Rico. You have done more interesting things than most Puerto Ricans. Katrina, I love the picture of you in the ceiba tree. Those trees are so cool, and they are protected--you are not allowed to cut them down, even the young ones. Fran

Anonymous said...

Wow that was an awesome adventure! Lucky you :)