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First caving trip in Mexico 3/25/2016 by Nathan Roser
Have you ever seen Fern Gully before? If yes, good. You’ll understand this cave better. If not, dig out the VHS & retroactively pretend you grew up in the 90’s.
Fern Gully Cave scene (the cave was totally like this)
Anywho, after an uneventful flight to Cancún & drive to Akumal I was in Mexico and ready to go caving. Got up around 8 AM, drove over to the breakfast taco stand near Puerto Aventuras to meet the caving crew. Met many cavers from all over whose names I can’t remember, but I joined a just-for-fun trip with the Paamul Grotto to Chango Mistico Cave.
A bit of a drive up the highway & we stopped by a guard hut going on to private land. In this area the companies that build resorts often have no respect for other people’s land & just start building on it. Landowners will hire guards to live on their land to prevent illegal construction. In this case, we had a caver in the group familiar with the owner & guards, able to speak fluent Spanish & get us permission to go caving on their land. We suited up for caving, not much in Quintana Roo given the easy caves & sparse crawling, just bathing suits & a t-shirt. Dressed up for the occasion, our group began the trek to the cave entrance. First along a very rough road with holes in the ground everywhere, then a narrow path through the jungle. Stopping meant getting eaten by mosquitoes, and moving along you had to be careful to avoid the Chechen tree. It’s like poison ivy, but 10x worse.
Once we reached the cave we stopped for a brief snack & we were off.Cave was mostly walking, but it was unlike anywhere I had been before. The cave had a general trend to the northwest, but there was no distinct single passage. It was like a series of interconnected bubbles, the texture of the rock like swiss cheese, and nearly every inch of the floor & ceiling covered in flowstone, stalagmites, and stalactites.
Parts of the cave were so complex a guide line normally used by cave divers was strung through it. A few times the passage was collapsed & we had to walk through sinkholes in the jungle, taking care to avoid the ant & wasp nests near the entrances. After maybe an hour of walking we reached where the cave hit the water table. From here on the passage was all wading & swimming. I’d brought some extra layers but soon found the cave water here was so warm they weren’t needed.
The floor underwater was a coarse calcite sand, formed by thousands of years of crystals forming on the water’s surface & then sinking to the bottom. In some places you’d sink up to your knees in the sand, it filling your boots & socks, really annoying.
But the passage here was amazing, formations hung down from the ceiling everywhere, the water was a perfect clear blue, tree roots hung down from the ceiling in places, blind white fish swimming around, a few bats fluttering above, and in places islands came up out of the passage covered in a forest of stalagmites ten to twenty feet tall. The passage was so wide & winding it was not always clear which way continued on, but the trusty guideline showed us the way.
After what must have been a kilometer or more of swimming, the passage opened into a massive chamber. Looking at the map & survey data later, it was literally the size of a football field. A huge lake filled the entire room, with a massive funnel in the center. I borrowed a mask & dive light to take a deeper look, through all the fish & silt in the water I could see a ledge underwater the whole way around the edge of the funnel. Below the ledge the wall disappeared into blackness, to date no way forward has been found above the water, so it is likely the water comes from this lake & the cave continues onwards as a vast deep underwater system, where no human has ever gone before.
Back on the surface I took a nice swim around, a few skylights let birds & bats in along with the sunlight. It was a beautiful thing to lay back & swim along watching them fly around above. Huge calcite columns came down from the ceiling & stopped at the water surface, revealing the tree roots inside the calcite crystallized around. After swimming around to every corner of this amazing place, I took the time to explore some side passages.Some of them got rather small but I was not deterred, even if wearing only swim trunks meant getting scratched up a bit. None of these went anywhere far & we soon headed back towards the entrance, amazed that I had gotten to see such a beautiful place known only to a few people, still a secret to the outside world.
Once we got out of the water I spent a bit of time rinsing the sand out of my boots & clothes, then we were off to the surface.
Back at the cars, someone had the foresight to keep a few Coronas in a cooler, a welcome refresher after such a trek.