Monday, November 9, 2009

Hog Hell (Cerdo Infierno) - Katrina's Version

Tom Miller is an extreme caver, and having been accused of being extreme ourselves (cave diving, chumming for sharks, visiting Papua New Guinea, tech diving, parachuting etc etc) we emailed him so we could try to go caving more often than we have been going. Besides mapping and discovering new caves here and around the world, he happens to live in the west which is where we live. There are caves in Rosario, Penueles and throughout the island although most cavers go up north. He replied back that he was going to visit the Infierno System to map an unmapped cave and invited us to come. How can you turn down a trip to hell?

After driving near Camuy and into the jungle we did the shortest hike ever and arrived at the entrance not sure how things would be. We have not been in many caves, but each has its own personality and uniqueness. There are a few reasons to go into caves 1) to see beautiful formations 2) to get a good work out (depends on the cave) 3) to have an adventure 4) to map uncharted territory and discover new things. The purpose of this trip was #4. Our other trips were #1.

We hiked into the cave maybe 20 minutes and it didn't smell like the other caves. The previous caves we had been into either didn't smell or smelled of guano which really isn't that unpleasant - bat crap smells kind of like a caramel burnt coffee or coffee grinds. When arrived at kind of an end... a pool of water and became apparent what the source of the smell was.

Bobbling in the waist high pool of putrid water was a fairly recent gigantic hog carcass that was bloated large enough to look like a Macy's Parade Balloon! Tom is seen here pointing to it (he would have grabbed the tail but it may have exploded). Our little party - Jeff, myself, Bret and his unnamed friend I'll call "Mr. Unlucky" are all kind of disgusted. We stood around just marveling at the sight trying to figure out what was next since there wasn't a way further into the cave (we didn't THINK so anyway). Tom finally breaks the news that we need to wade past the pig in the water and go under this little wall for12 feet or so...."there's a rope on the ceiling." Tom dives down and we don't see or hear him (the pig bobbing closer and closer in the water). Then he pops up on our side again and we debate whether or not we are doing this or not. I don't want to be the spoiler but don't think it is a great idea. Mr. Unlucky is pretty silent since this is his first cave ever. Bret doesn't say a thing. Jeff says he'll do it first. Tom goes, then after a while Jeff goes. I am next in line but I don't hear Jeff yell "ok," I don't see the glow of a light from the other side and when I tug on the rope no one tugs back. I wait and listen and then tell the guys I am not wanting to go. Mr. Unlucky decides he will go next when Tom pops up on our side and says Jeff doesn't want anyone to go and he is not going to come back through. Tom will lead him out from the other side and Bret, Mr. Unlucky and myself will go out how we came and we'll regroup at the cars in an hour or so.

Jeff and Tom (hard to see - sorry) are peering at the crap (garbage and sticks and stuff) floating where they descend under the rocks into hell - the pig is bobbing on the right.

So now Tom and Jeff are on their way out a different way and our trio is headed out the way we came. Since we had an hour we explored a side passage and I made arrows out of sticks and rocks when we came to junctions so there would be no mistakes coming back. Things got wet and narrow and when we came back the arrows helped since there was a junction we didn't see from the direction we entered. All was well and before we got to the entrance the guys were coming in! Tom routed us to another side passage he hadn't explored mentioning that the fork to the right is what he wanted to map but we'd have a look see at this other one first. We all started the crawl (and I mean crawl) down this dark tunnel that got narrower and narrower and lower and lower the further we went.

The beginning had places you could crouch, and then it became on-your-knees and then became on-your-belly and at that point Tom and I went forward and Jeff and Mr. Unlucky stayed behind. Bret caught up with us after probably 10 or 15 minutes - time is hard to gauge underground! It got tighter and tighter and finally Tom disappeared into what was basically a rat hole and unless there was something great on the other side I was not going into that little hole! He said there was some debris and a lot of collapsed rock - didn't sound like what I needed to see! Also as we went further into the tunnel the sediment turned into coarser sand and I figured that this was a major runoff thoroughfare! We turned back about when Bret showed up. He did go into the rat hole and reported back the same thing.

Things are starting to get constricted here but got very low and wet and muddy after another 20 minutes or so. The three of us turned around and it seemed longer getting back. We got to the place where we entered this passage and Mr. Unlucky and Jeff are nowhere to be seen! Where would Jeff go... I figured he and Paul went to the other side passage (other side of the cave) that Paul and Bret and I explored earlier. I was wrong! Since there weren't there Tom, Bret and I headed down the other passage that earlier he said he wanted to map. It was a shorter-than-we-just-did tunnel with more clearance and less mud. After a while we emerge into a huge room to find a very dim light and the silhouettes of two humans just sitting and not talking! Turns out they had been trying to get out of the cave and turned the wrong way, realized they were not where they should be, tried to get out and then gave up and were waiting for rescue while reserving their lights and food and water and energy sitting in the highest spot in the biggest room they could find!!!! I don't see how they could have done this but they really didn't know where they were. After the initial happiness wore off Jeff wandered around this large room and we looked at some neat formations and calcite pools. There were even some small "straws" that were forming.

After this little break it was off down another hole/tunnel that was pretty roomy at first for some mapping. After a little bit though the water got higher and the ceiling lower and the mud deeper and the lines of sight for mapping got harder.

The shiny stuff here is calcite that has dripped from stalactites on the ceiling.

After what seemed like a long time we continued through the narrow spots and had a few times we needed to duck under the water to continue but we emerged out of hell and into the sunlight! This was however a different surface hole from where we entered. Tom, fortunately knew this place very well and off we went though the jungle to the cars and it was a short walk. I am looking forward to seeing a paper drawing of the convoluted passages we went through. Most of the other caves we went into stayed mainly "open" and in one direction (we were in underground flowing rivers) but this one's personality was dark and brooding and stinky and lifeless. It was an adventure for sure!

After cleaning up we discovered the Mofongo van wasn't going to arrive for another hour so a different spot was selected for food.This spot advertised in big pink letters Cuajito, Soncocho con patillos etc etc. Our little party was all white guys and all I know is that I am not eating stomach, foot soup or pastilles with organs in them. I watched the guys order stuff I didn't think they knew what it was and watched as they picked out the feet and pushed parts away! How fitting for dinner to be another version of Hog Hell!

And why is "Mr. Unlucky" unlucky? This was his first cave ever... look at his helmet (all duct taped together)...hog juice dissolved the soles off his boots (not really - it wasn't the hog juice, but his boots disintegrated), he did a few hours with only socks on (good thing the cave floor was softer than most)...he got to experience a bloated stinky hog floating around and then eat pig parts for dinner! I'd say he was a real sport and I hope he goes into another cave...


Anonymous said...

Wow you guys are brave!

Jeff and Katrina Kruse said...

Katrina is almost fearless! The cave kept getting smaller and smaller. I had to turn around but she kept going. I want a ceiling of at least 24". But even she had a limit, She had to stop and Tom pushed on. I think he only needs 12" of space to squeze through.