Saturday, January 29, 2011

Winter On The Island - No Time To Be Lazy!

Yes...winter. A time for hot chocolate (maybe) and lazing around (not quite). The cats like the cooler nights and hot days and find time for lazing around but for people it is time to harvest and clean up the yard and paint and seal the roof and everything else you can't do when it rains. There really are seasons here and it is winter. Finally the Hobo tree has finished dropping fruit down the driveway and finally the leaves have dropped. Let the clean up begin!
There are now 11 more chicks on the property. I have slowly been relocating gallos y gallinas from the yard. None of them are ours - they have all come here from somewhere else. I don't feed them but they jump for our bananas and are comical to have around until they crow. Right now there are still 4 roosters and we'd like that to be one...Big Red. So part of my day is trying to entice the males into a cage for relocation.
Blanco has been hanging around a lot in his own bedroom, on the platform in the tree and on my lap. Now, after 2 weeks, he is off on an adventure and we haven't seen him for a couple days. They do that.

The Carambola tree had 100 fruit on it so we shared with friends, dehydrated some, made carambola pudding and bread and just ate some. Now I can clean up the rotten ones. Tuca has been snoozing during the daytime. The parcha is finished for a while.

Mini has started to hang out all day and night in her basket or cat bed. She is getting friendlier.

When you have bananas you have hundreds and then nothing for a while. Why do all the bananas fruit around the same time? Dehydrating and freezing are ways to use them so they don't go to waste. Don't want to waste these tasty manzanas... Rip hangs out in his little tent, under bushes or on the cool floor.

I picked the slim harvest of oranges. We are so spoiled to have all this fresh, free fruit. Sometimes we take it for granted. The Heliconias are blooming and will be colorful for a couple months at least.

Now is the time to put plants out. Here I've got the vining spinach (we don't like it that much unfortunately) and eggplant starts. These are the peppers I planted but I don't remember what kind - surprise surprise.

Our first pineapple! Hopefully the other two will produce something soon. We have a few pomegranites...

Here's a photo of the whole pomegranate shrub/tree. There are some corazones getting plump. Lately the birds have gotten to them before we spot them.

It looks like my lime tree will be producing fruit this year. I have a bigger tree that isn't doing anything (no fruit or blossoms yet) but this one smells so good and fruit will be a bonus!

All year I look at the ratty trinitaria (bougainvillea) and think about ripping it out...and then it blooms! Beautiful, unnatural colors cover the hill coming up the drive.

So that's winter in the Caribbean. The light switch switched one day and it became dry, things start to lose leaves or bloom and it is time for major yard clean-up! For the cats it is a time to snooze during the day, run around wild in the wind and snuggle close at night!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Bad Gas, Stinky Snake...That's Right, It's Back to Hell (Cueva Infiernillo)

Okay, you're asking why we would return again and again to Hell? It doesn't end, that's why. Going underground with a map in hand is adventure enough but going into one that hasn't been surveyed is another adventure entirely. This was a mission - a mission to complete what the previous 12 hours hadn't finished - a mission to push to the end (at least the big passage anyway). For this journey Brett, Frank, Diana, Tom, Jeff and I all gathered at 8am. We got to the cave, got packed up (vertical gear just in case) and entered the cave at 9. First we encountered all the garbage and then the familiar smell of the inflated Boa. In two weeks the smell has decreased and the Boa has gone from gas-bloated to this skin revealing the vertebra.
The mind tends to block out uncomfortable things. This cave is a really wet cave. There is lots of swimming in not-so-pleasant-water. Lots of pulling-yourself-along in the water and a fair amount of climbing. We made pretty good progress to the place Tom and Jeff had placed the last survey station. We had enough people to make surveying bump along relatively quickly with the scout in front (me), Diana at the furthest station, Jeff and Frank taking measurements and Tom recording them. This passage was nice after going through the low crawl of the dry passage - it was wide and tall and a lot like a giant lava tube (with a river in it). The water was ankle deep to small pools but as we kept surveying there was more and more and more water. I got to one spot and started scouting and found myself in mud over my boots under water that was waist high. I start smelling this horribly foul and unhealthy gas smell every time I stepped (the dead pig floats into my mind). At first I am not concerned and think it is just decomposing stuff but it gets so strong that I wonder if I will pass out and drown. I go back and report this and then trudge through it further to take a peak at what lies ahead. Well, the deepening sediment, methane gas boiling up in it, and rising water were pretty good clues that the passage was sumping out but I felt I needed to go further just to make sure. This involved swimming a pretty large lake that was over my head. I swam to the left hand wall and looked across using my most excellent light and saw floating trash (another clue) and water all the way up to the ceiling on the right and the left passage had a few inches of airspace if you tilted your head. Since it was over my head, really gassy and gross I did not investigate further. With my great light I couldn't quite tell if I could see an air pocket beyond the tight ceiling or not but I was pretty confident it sumped out and did not go further. Jeff and Brett double checked and we called for Tom but he declined to look and we went back. On the way back I moved pretty quickly so I could check out another side passage that had a little river in it. I did a 5 minute tour and didn't get to the end. When everyone joined up we had lunch and I reported the new info. It was tight, low, in the water and curvy and not something anyone wanted to survey (not likely to go anywhere). Tom decides he wants to go back to check out our last station - we'll call it the methane gas pot-o-stinky mud sump spot. I was very confident it didn't go, and did not want to swim the multiple lakes and things to get back to it and then repeat to return. Diana and Jeff didn't want to do it either so Frank, Brett and Tom went back to push it. We took a detour from the return dry passage to look at the big waterfall and 75' lake. Then we returned from that and went up into the dry passage to go back. There were still a couple passages off the dry passage that needed exploring. I tried one of these passages and after a fairly straight, slightly downward tunnel it provided a nice view and 80 foot drop to the waterfall/lake area. I suspected this would be the case. I went ahead and entered the next side tunnel and it was similar...I could hear the river and feel it but then the tunnel took an unexpected 90 degree turn to the left and I was going away from the river. I kept going and encountered some bats. It was warm and small in there and it kept going. I got to a fork that went around a column and joined back up. It kept going. Then it branched 3 different ways. It was probably 10 minutes at least at warp speed. Diana knew where I went in but I had left my pack outside the hole so Jeff would know (if he saw it). I didn't have flagging or a backup light. When things start branching you don't really want to be alone. Without flagging I couldn't mark things. The entire time I peeked back to make sure there weren't hidden passages that would confuse me on the way out. I really wanted to continue but who knows how far it goes? I'd have to leave it for another day. I did scout the left branch (it kept going) and then the right (it branched again and angled back). I travelled back and finally encountered Jeff who had come in after me. He caught up with Diana, went to the big waterfall and tied a rope for the other guys, came back for me and the whole time I was exploring. Now we had the long journey out. On the way out it was water, water, and more water. I didn't remember all the lakes and pools and floating and swimming we did in the previous 4 hours.

Here's Jeff entering a water-filled slot.

We had waterfalls to climb up and slots to swim through....lakes and pools galore. Here Jeff is standing on top of the waterfall and Diana is below getting ready for the climb after getting out of the water.

Finding the right hand holds...

Even though this cave has a LOT of garbage in it and a lot of ugly dark formations there are some incredible ones as well. Here is a nice one.

We went back to the shower faucet/Shuttle nozzle room for a while. The way into the cave was business and not photography time but now we could relax.

Oh, this photo was on the way in. Note the large tire embedded in the ceiling. The amount of water here during the wet season must be phenomenal!

 Here Frank fits in to the Hell scenario (note the red eyes). A surprising thing about this cave (given its size and length) is the amount of life in it. We saw bats, crab, tadpoles, shrimp, fish, frogs, and cockroaches.

Here's Jeff in the water and Diana contemplating the next climb-of-many. Lots of water. Water was dripping, squirting, dropping and racing out of everywhere.

So are we done with Hell? Almost. It ended up that the main passage did sump out. The guys investigated some other passages on their way out (so did we). There are a couple with some promise so a return trip is required (but hopefully not next - lots of physical work doing this one). We do want to survey the rest. Time in the cave was 8 hours for Jeff, Diana and I and another hour for the guys. This is a huge cave!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Re-back to Hell

I thought I would make a blog post this time since Katrina wasn’t able to go on this trip because she hurt her shoulder. Tom and I went back to Hell to “possibly” finish up the survey we started the week before. We changed methods to speed things up but this also decreased the accuracy of the survey. We continued with the survey where we left off last week. In an hour we got to the farthest point we explored to last week. 30 minutes later we had a choice of going up into dry passage or continuing down following the river. We went up. The 8 foot wide x 20 foot tall passage zig-zagged slightly so the survey was a little slow. A few solitary bats kept flying by. It was quiet. Then the ceiling started to get lower and lower. Then it turned to the river but also got lower. Then we could faintly hear the river. Finally we could stand up again and more importantly we could climb down to the river. It was now 1pm and I was ready to turn back. The question was do we go back the way we came or do we go up river and take a chance there will be a climb up that we can’t do. We decided on taking the chance and going up river but before we did we took a look around. We were in big passage and we walked downstream 100 meters and just saw more and more big passage. Very exciting. Tom wanted to continue downstream but we still didn’t know if we could get out going upstream. We surveyed as we went upstream. It was fast going, lots of long shots. The river was getting louder and the room was getting bigger. I walk up into the room and then as I climb to the top of a rock in the middle of the room I see it. A big lake lay in front of me about 75 feet across and feeding it was a 20’ waterfall! I immediately think oh shoot we have to go back. It’s an impressive sight but there is no way we are climbing shear vertical walls to get up there.  Tom comes over and is impressed. I say, "I don’t think we are getting up that. He says of course, “well, lets go check it out and see.”  We swim across the lake, take our packs off, and stand on some rocks at the base of the falls. It looks like if you could just get up the first 8 feet the rest would be doable. So, Tom gives it a try and can’t get up that first few feet. He tries again and I hold his foot. He made it to the first lip and then crossed through the pounding water to the lip on the other side. He was up! I threw him a rope and he tied it off. I tied a foot loop and was able to get up also. I was very relieved.
While Tom was surveying at the falls I took a quick look around. We were just 30 feet away from the upper dry passage!!! Tom tied in the survey points and then we headed to a dry spot for a long overdue lunch break. After lunch we did a little more surveying of some upper dry passages and then headed out. Almost 8 hours in the cave.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Back to Hell - Really?

We got the long awaited cave call - only the news this time was that it would be another trip to Hell! You may remember our first ever cave trip with Tom. Cerdo Infierno...a trip that started with a disgusting smell which led to a pool of water with a gigantic bloated dead maggot infested hog floating in it...the news that we would be diving into the pig water to go under a sump etc etc. That little adventure ended with Jeff on one side of the sump with Tom and 3 of us on the other side instructed not to follow. We all rounded up an hour later and took a side passage that ended with Jeff and another guy getting get the drift. The second trip to Hell was a different section that went a little better (you may remember the frayed hand line). So our excitement was boiling over with the thought of surveying yet another section of Hell. Why not Heaven for a change? When we arrived it was already living up to its expectations. The entrance looks okay until you look at the river that feeds into it.

Oh, refrigerators...great. Tires...trash everywhere of every kind. Metal, plastic, stuffed animals, clothing, styrofoam. Hell has it all! We enter the cave and are surprised at how large the passage is. It is like a large lava tube kind of. Already we smell a smell and start having flashbacks of the giant pig. We find the place where Tom left off surveying. He believed the cave would go only a little ways (maybe 200 meters) beyond his surveying (this was based on previous maps, accounts from people etc). He told us there would be water and there was. The smell was making me gag and my imagination was whirling about what it could be. It didn't smell as huge as a hog, but didn't smell as small as a gecko either. Oh such anticipation. It wasn't long before we found the source of the smell...a Boa, or section of one at least, that was a few feet long and very bloated. Soon after that we encountered the water and I was pretty hesitant to go in. With all the garbage I just didn't want to do it unless there was some payoff. Diana decided to pass on the water part. Jeff went first and said it kept going, so it looked like the original plan of doing 2 caves wasn't going to happen - this cave seemed to offer more than expected. Since it was the only cave of the day I decided to go for a swim and we continued with the surveying for a while.

This cave was truly hell - there was so much garbage it was hard to even be there. It is a mix of disgust, horror, amazement and anger to be a few hours underground and see all this crap. The karst is a water filter and much of the water supply travels through it. Do people know that their water is mingling with all their garbage? How could they NOT know? How the hell do you even get a washing machine through the jungle and into the river in the first place? Here it is - one of many.

There were lots of tires and car parts and hub caps and bottles and clothing. Deep in the cave obscene commercialism of a "Happy Meal" shows up as a little plastic princess.

Amidst all the crap there were some beautiful formations like this dam. Why do people have to ruin everything they touch? After making it past the stinky snake and washers and refrigerators we walked in chin high water to some collapse where the cave supposedly ended. Well it didn't end. There was a little crack for me to explore and when I did I came out at an overhang overlooking an immense tunnel with a river in it. We didn't have rope or vertical gear with us and it was not possible to climb up or down it so we looked for alternate routes. We found a little drop that went into a river and we headed in and after wandering in it for a while got to a place where we could look up and see where we had looked down. Very exciting!

It continued on and branched with water coming in from 2 different directions. There were a couple levels in this cave and that was totally unexpected. The snake stink was gone and the large appliances were broken down at least so excitement took over where anger had been. Diana had left the cave and we didn't want to have her wait forever but it ended up being a Lechuga situation - let's just see around this corner, and the next, and the next and before you know it is has been a couple hours since the surveying stopped. A couple hours of fun exploration.

One of the neatest things we found was this faucet. It was like a giant shower head in the ceiling of the cave with water just gushing out of it! Looking up into the shower head it was a nice formation that looked kind of fancy. The water coming out of it was not a delicate dribble.

There was also a line up of around 8 or so smaller nozzles that were spraying water into this pool as well.
There is much more to explore including a passage we didn't even go in. Tom thinks we can take a long day to survey it but Jeff and I think we went 1/2 mile in and believe with the side shoots it will be more than a day to complete. However long it takes it is very interesting once you get past the evil beginning. So back we went. Here is a full-size blue garage can stuck in a crevice.

Oh, here's another garbage can deep in the cave. Too bad the garbage can wasn't on the outside filled with all the $&%$ garbage now inside the cave. Back past the snake, the washers, the garbage cans, the metal sheets, the stuffed animals (3) and other things people have tossed into the river we left trying to think about the wonderful water spout and the exciting adventures ahead. This includes another trip to hell and back, or maybe two.