Saturday, July 2, 2011

Jeff's Mona Report

Last week we joined a scientific research group of cavers going to Mona Island for 8 days.  Mona Island measures about 7 x 4 miles and is about 45 miles off the West side of Puerto Rico.  It rises about 200’ out of the water and is sheer cliff all around except for a few places.  The top is basically flat. 

Most of the caves ring the edge of the top of the island.  They are only a few dozen feet from the surface of the island with spectacular “windows” overlooking the ocean with sheer cliff below.  The caves are flank margin caves and were formed differently than the caves on PR.  Most of the caves we went into were mined heavily until about 1927.  Damage to the caves was very apparent.  It is widely accepted that bat or bird guano is what was mined.  The caves were wide open but only 4 to 8 feet tall.  Some went in 1000 feet but most were close to the edge of the cliff.

As an engineer with a scientific background but not a scientist it was interesting to listen to some of the conversations between members of the group.  In my mind I couldn’t get consistent answers to obvious questions I had.  It leads me to believe not much is known about what went on the last few hundred years.  Is it bat or bird guano or something else?  How did it get there and what happened to all the bats and birds.  We saw very few bats and birds.  Some of the mined material was so close to the ceiling how could so many bats or birds get in there?  Since these are flank margin caves how did all the rocks get in there?

The camping area was nicer than I expected and had showers (with no shower heads).  The water was not potable and we had to bring all our drinking water.  Our food situation was dismal except for a good selection of breakfast cereal and oatmeal (purchased at 4AM on the way to the boat because it was forgotten).   Most of our food was canned or boxed with a large percentage consisting of candy, cookies, and granola bars (looks like the food shopping was done by guys).

The new visitor's/science center must have cost several millions of dollars to build.  It was very nice and had a lot of solar panels to power it.  Too bad the only visitors to see it will be the illegal Dominicans, Cubans, or drug dealers before they are arrested by DNR/Customs.  Thirteen Cubans made it to shore (US soil) the day we left.   Getting a permit to visit Mona is not easy and Diana spent a lot of time and effort getting a permit for our group.  This is public land and people are supposed to be able to visit and enjoy it.  It’s either “not their job” or easier to say no for the DNR employees.  Maybe they want it to be their own private island.  The 4 DNR “guards” stationed on the island were nice, helpful, and friendly but they are not the ones issuing a permit. 

I haven’t mentioned yet that it was Hot Hot Hot.  It rained so much the prior month the mosquitoes ate us alive.  DEET didn’t work well.  At least the mosquitoes disappeared after 7pm and we could escape by going into the water.  They were so bad they were even in the caves.  In several caves Katrina and I wore mosquito netting over our heads.  Fortunately Katrina bought a couple of nets at Wal-Mart while she was buying our 5 gallon water jugs.

The heat and humidity gave us blisters and rashes very quickly.  It was so hard to do anything.  The longest hike I went on was 7 miles RT and that was difficult.  I drank over a gallon of water on that hike.We went to a bunch of caves:  Day 2 Negra and Aleman. Day 3 we were looking for Capitan but found Gatos.  Day 4 Esqueleto (this was second best).  Day 5 was a long snorkel.  We saw a small stingray, turtle, squid, octopus, and a big barracuda.   The water was warm and clear.  We kept running into cold water and tried to find if it was from a spring.  We came close to finding many springs but we couldn’t pinpoint the source. Are we lost already? Here Tom is consulting one of the maps we were given.

Look in the front of this picture- the whole cave floor has been blown up & mined.

Day 6 was the Disney ride to the east side of the island.  We went in the north side of Cueva Lireo and rounded the corner of the island and came out the south side.  This was our favorite trip of the week.   On the way back we got attacked by a big Mona Iguana.  It really was ferocious jumping and biting everything it could.  We couldn’t drive around it because there was no room on the road/path.  The sides of the cart were open and the iguana was trying to jump in.  Shortly after passing the iguana the road turned into a lake for a long long way.  That was crazy but fun.  A perfect way to end the day.

My first Scorpion

I love this picture.  Katrina enjoying the view.

The end of Lireo

Day 7 Tom, Frank, and I headed out to Espenal.  We stopped at Cueva Capitan first and explored that for an hour.  Then we stopped in Cueva Gato for lunch.  Then it was off to Espenal.  We carefully followed flagging tape and did not want to get lost or off the trail that far away from camp or water.  We made it back just in time for dinner.  Katrina helped survey Cueva Cucaracha  near camp and explored Cueva Diamonte by herself also near camp.

A big pig skull

So many goat skulls

Day 8 Katrina showed us Cucaracha and Diamonte.  We also walked down the beach and did some more snorkeling.
Day 9 we got up at 5am and waited and waited for the boat to arrive.  Finally around 7:30 the boat showed up and we were happy to get out of Dodge. 


Rosa said...

Oh...I like that picture of Katrina. It takes all kinds to make the world go around...I could never do what you are doing...or want to...but nice pics!

Britton said...

Pretty amazing trip you guys went on! Thanks for sharing your experience. I'd say it was pretty hardcore!

Anonymous said...

i heard after WWII the island was bombed and there may possibly be live munitions lying about. Did the rangers mention this? Thanks for the pix.... Wil

Jeff and Katrina Kruse said...

You may be thinking of Vieques. I haven't heard that about Mona but who knows! The rangers don't really interact with visiting groups, they monitor and intercept people coming to the island (wet-foot-dry-foot policy) from Domican Republic and Cuba. This really is not a park. They rotate "rangers" to the island for a week at a time.