Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Cueva Mantilla...Not the Prettiest but Interesting

We joined up with Tom, his student Jose, and we headed off to Cueva Mantilla somewhere in the San Sebastian area. After rounding up with Tom (who was helping get a student situated digging a grave - actually just a 6 foot soil sample hole that looked like a grave) we headed a little ways to the cave site. We parked at some peoples' houses and started to gear up. Jose, who lives nearby, walked over to join us. Just as we get the knee pads on Jeff looks into the car and says, "I think Blanco is in the car!" I look, and sure enough there is a Blanco look-alike cat sitting in my gear bin on my stuff. Unbelievable! I am beginning to think I am a cat reincarnated as a human or something. This cat is rubbing all over us, rolling around, sitting on stuff...a lovely kitty! We head off to the hole in the ground that is Cueva Mantilla. Tom hadn't gone down this particular hole before since there are a couple walk-in entrances. We like to use the vertical gear since there is something exciting about dropping into a black hole. Jeff tied the 100 foot rope and threw it down. Tom went in first (this was his hole - he told us we could go first though). He brought another rope with him in case the rope didn't go all the way down and it is a good thing he had it.

He made it to the end of the rope and was on a ledge getting the second 40 foot rope tied off to the first one. We have not gone over a knot with the rappelling gear before so this was going to be interesting! We didn't have a cow's tail to do the belay but we did wear our vertical gear so we used a croll and ascender as the points of contact to switch to the second rope. We were lucky there was a ledge to stand on to do it for the first time. Once in this other little pit it dropped the full 40 feet of rope without any extra. The bottom of the rope just dangled barely above the bottom of the cave. Exciting!

This is taken with me hanging on the 1st rope looking down into the pit. The red webbing is part of my ascending gear (footstrap).

At the bottom the first thing we encountered were a couple horse jaws. Up top the hole was fenced so animals couldn't fall in. Sometimes these holes are not that large and I guess animals could fall in. We are hoping this was the case. We have heard of a cave, Cueva Caballo, were old horses were pushed in to their death on purpose - yes part of the many dark sides of Puerto Rico.

This cave is not very pretty. There aren't many nice formations, the river isn't deep or interesting, it is a cave with a couple very large rooms and a few side shoots. It is somewhere to spend 4 or 5 or 6 hours at most. We came to this interesting shoot of large slabs of rock. Tom told us this was a "special treat" we would go up last. Oh goody - what does that mean?

We came here to help Tom survey some last sections that needed to be completed for his map. Surveying takes at least 3 people. You need someone to take measurements (ceiling, degrees inclination, or declination, sidewall to sidewall, compass directions, length of passage from point or "station" to "station"). To take the measurements Jeff is the gizmo guy, Jose helped a tiny bit with the compass and then turned it over to Jeff, I am the one who picks a station and holds a card so the measurement can be taken. I have to have a line of sight with the previous station and have to make sure the future station will be in the line of sight also. The farther apart the stations are the less work there is. Here I picked one I had to climb to so the previous station could see it but I could see forward to the next station and not be blocked by this formation. I am kind of chimneying between the wall and the column to hold the card. The third person is Tom who records all the measurements and also any specifics about the location of the station and sketches etc. This formation was one of the nicer ones.

This was the end-of-the-line for humans. Just past this column it was about 2 feet tall and my shoulders wide. It ended with little, tiny slits smaller than an envelope opening that bats were flying in and out of. I looked up and saw a really deep (maybe 12 feet) bell hole with a bat hanging up top in it. That is a deep bell hole. This is looking up into the deep bell hole.

Jeff climbed up to explore a tiny room. I went up into a few tight spots to see if they "went" and none of them did but I had fun exploring and was glad we could now declare them dead-ends. This was a neat formation. I guess there were a few, it just wasn't white and clean.

My favorite parts of caving are when only I can fit somewhere. I also like being the one to scout it out to see if it is worth other people trying to fit. This passage was definitely a Katrina passage - everyone else went to the right and I took it to the left on my stomach with the helmet off in the water. The stalactites got lower and lower and I whacked my lower back on some when the butt rose up when I tried to go forward. At the end of it I could see Tom's light so I did continue on since I knew I'd be able to at least turn around up ahead otherwise I would have backed out probably. It got so low I couldn't go on my knees to go forward (hit my back) - I had to toe-push to go forward. I also got a stalactite in the back of the head when I lifted my face to get it out of the water. (yes that is why you wear a helmet - too bad mine was off since it wouldn't fit!). Anyway, I made it through (a mental challenge) and then had to hop up and wriggle through a tight spot to get back out to the others. Finally the surveying and fun exploring was done and we were off to the "surprise." Here it is...

Yup - another dark side of Puerto Rico...garbage garbage garbage. Deep and disgusting. Plastic, dolls, bottles, stoves, cans, glass and who knows what else all pushed into a hole somewhere on the surface and down into their drinking water. We are told garbage tossing is "cultural" and there is no culture that promotes it better than Puerto Rico. Total disconnect with reality here. Tom has looked for this hole on the surface and hasn't found it. I think he needs to wander around the neighborhood with a garbage bag asking where to toss it in order to find it. It is a coveted secret spot I guess reserved only for VIPs. Back at the cars our new cat (no we didn't take him home) was waiting. This is the dichotomy of Puerto Rico...part of the love/hate of the place...we park in someones yard...they are fine with us being here and sometimes folks even offer showers and coffee and offer to show us other caves...but there are the dead animals and total disregard for animals and the whole disgusting garbage thing. How do you reconcile it? You can't...it is Puerto Rico. The good and the ugly rolled into one all the time.

1 comment:

Fran and Steve said...

The formation you described as one of the nicer ones looks like the face of a wise old man, very disapproving of the garbage dump. Fran