Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Cueva Cucaracha (a Two-Part Blog Entry)

Ron, Bro, Jeff and I headed out to Cueva Cucaracha on Sunday. Ron wanted to take some temperature readings for comparison purposes - another caver had taken readings almost a year ago. Everyone we have spoken with has told horrifying tales of adventures in this one and most people only go here once and never again. In my mind I envisioned wall to wall cockroaches and cockroaches crawling under my shirt and in my ears etc etc. I imagined mounds and mounds of guano (like in Mucara). Visions of the dead pig from Cerdo Infierno even popped into mind. Things never are a bad as you can imagine them which is probably a good thing. This cave is near Isabela so it was a short drive for us. We walked under power lines and through a meadow and down into the creek bed before finding the hole. It was a 15 minute walk maybe and not treacherous. When we got to the hole we rigged the ropes and put on the harnesses.

Ron was the first down. Then we sent the packs. Once we were in the hole we took off the climbing gear so we wouldn't have to carry it.

Looking into the entrance is one thing, but going into it is another. You immediately feel the heat. This cave has 700,000 bats in it that all leave this small entrance every night. This entrance/exit is like going under a table only a little lower. Ron goes first with the tape measure. He has a temperature/humidity gauge on a stick (at the meter mark) and plans to measure every 10 meters until he gets to the bat room and hopes to go in to the bat room (didn't happen). Since taking readings and mapping are kind of slow procedures the rest of us wait outside until he is far enough along in the tunnel so the rest of us can scoot and not have to just be sitting there. We could feel heat rushing out of the cave like hot air coming out of an oven.

When we do enter, it is incredibly HOT! I am rarely if ever hot, and I have to say I had lots of ribbons of sweat dropping off my face. It was a little difficult to breathe and I found I was breathing a lot shallower. I didn't feel overheated, but I think maybe there are different gasses in that area - ammonia, carbon dioxide, and who knows what else from the decomposing bats, bat guano and cockroaches. It would be interesting to measure different gasses and try to figure that out. When I sat down (actually crouched so cockroaches wouldn't get in my pants) I would get dizzy standing up even when I stood slowly. Time seemed to be like it is in the Star Trek transport beams...a little glitchy.

We all were having a little trouble. Mainly from heat for the guys. Here the gauge reads only 93.9% humidity and only 90.8 degrees. That's why I think the oxygen levels are low in there. Those temperatures are not that extreme...at least on the outside. After taking these readings we had to move the tape measure so Bro went back for it and so did Jeff. Bro returned but Jeff decided he was done. He opted to sit outside the cave.

The walls of this cave were blanketed with tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands bats. Our presence disturbed them so you can't really get and idea of the quantity of them from the pictures. I only took these 3 photos of bats because the flash really disturbed them and I didn't feel right about it no matter how much I wanted to document it. There were many dead bats on the floor, and I don't know if it was the time of year for babies...but most of the bats on this entry tunnel appeared to be young bats. Very pink and very small.

The sound and feel of bats flying by and into us was amazing. When Bro went back for the tape Ron and I sat with lights out so the bats would settle down. It didn't seem like they settled, but when our lights had to go on again there was an immediate rush of activity. People definitely disturb bats.

Look at the little beard and pretty pink body! It is like an old man face on a sci-fi body.

Bats were everywhere and unfortunately that means dead on the guano piles. This cave has the most life of any I have seen. Usually you find life at the entrance not far from light. This cave had a healthy ecosystem 3 hours deep into it. Here, unfortunately is a dead bat smorgasbord for a hungry cockroach.

The walls and floor were moving with cockroaches of all sizes. There were a lot of white ones which I don't believe are albino, simply molting. Ron confirmed this thought. Still, there were a lot of white ones and they were of good size.

We didn't enter the main bat room to take readings. It was seriously hot and hard to breathe so Ron, Bro and I opted to continue to the lower, cooler area. We got to a spot and dropped down, and then I scouted an area to drop further so we could go into the river. The tunnel to the right I think (but didn't explore) would go into the back part of the hot bat room. We went left. We got to a spot with a pool of water that Bro and Ron remembered going into to get to the river. I was looking and found a couple ways down. I got down and figured the other way would be easier for the guys (they are a little larger than I am) and it had a place to put a strap to hold onto. Here's Ron using that strap to climb down. The black area is what I will call the "bat stew" area.

The bat stew area was a pool of water with all kinds of dead bats and cockroaches floating in it. We needed to drop into this, bend down into the yuck up to the waist or shoulders and climb up into a larger, cleaner tunnel.

Bro is standing in the brew and I am still perched on a little ledge. I want to enter the stew at the last possible minute and get out of it fast. He is watching as Ron takes measurements. Then he bends down into the brew and goes through the hole. When I see him disappear I follow.

We come up in a clean, dry tunnel and I spot a piece of flagging tape - G1. Someone has mapped this section (Tom?). Ron takes some measurements until we run out of tape (328 feet I believe). He then abandons the tape and we get to a fork - left upstream or right downstream?
It is a good time to have lunch. I've got a headache from looking at head lamps and need to eat and drink. We then go right down little waterfalls. Even this far into the cave there is life. We saw a dozen or so crabs all scurrying from our lights and hiding under rocks. The water was very clear and there weren't any dead bats here so I am not sure what the food source is. I imagine that rain will sweep water through this area and bring some delightful things with it. (this continues with the next post)


Rosa said...

I can only say "thank you" this is the only way I could ever see what is going on in caves. Trust me, NO ONE could pay me enough cash to do the things you do for entertainment...but I love the pictures! God Bless You Guys!

Cassie said...

Cool and gross at the same time! I like caving every now and then but all those cockroaches!? Wow, I had no idea they lived in caves.

Unknown said...

Monophyllus redmani youngsters (pollinators) <^..^>

Anonymous said...

No offense but I am a professional bat biologist - and entry into a cave during bat maternity season is quite unethical. Many species of bats will abandon their young when disturbed by humans at this time. Young often fall to death due to disturbance or starve from abandonment. This is why in US most known maternity roosts are closed during maternity season. Understandable if ecology of bats is not known or understood by well-intentioned visitation - but visiting this cave during this time should be regulated or at least education put out there that it can severly affect the success of the bats - even cause their abandonment of the cave system. Bats are long-lived animals and are very slow breeders and we are seeing more and more impacts to them due to rise in recreational caving disturbance and lack of consideration in uneducated groups (I am also a caver). The National Speleological Society and local Grotto chapters make much effort to promote these considerations and educate the caving community. Well-intentioned visits and cave appreciation is to be commended - but please consider the cave ecosystem and its use during sensitive periods of the year when bats are with young...

Anonymous said...

Anonymous no offense taken. We had not been in this cave before and the people who took us were surprised since it was not "usual" for babies to be in this particular cave at this time. We took a quick temperature reading (point of the trip) and continued past this side "bat room" and on to the cooler river section no where near the bats. I keep good notes about things like this so as to avoid repeating disturbances like this and to record special and unusual findings that I can tie to a particular cave and date. Thank you for the information - we and our readers appreciate it! katrina