Tabasco: The Other Hot Sauce - February 2009
Written by Tone Garot.
Edits by C. Brian Smith.
Maps and minor edits by Vickie Siegel.
A trip report generally tells the tale of a
particular, well, trip. This trip report will indeed do so;
being that the adventure was a multi-week trip in Mexico makes it
rather special (at least to me); for this reason, I have
events based upon my perceptions. A trip to Mexico is more than
caving trip. It is an embarkation to a different world.
Mexico can mean many different things to
different people: food, a place to practice Spanish, natural
ingenuous natives, and plentiful solutional caves. A typical
day might consist of the following: meet a guide, go to a site, scout,
survey, and then return to camp. There might also be lead
pushing/digging and ridge walking. Data may entail collections of
insects for biological research, photos, and data collection of
A significant reason for me going on these
multi-week Mexican adventures is the people. Cavers are, in
good people, and these longer trips really give you a chance to get to
know people. You might brush elbows with biologists,
archaeologists, geologists, ecologists, paleontologists, and
enthusiasts; and even if they hail from another country and might not
speak your language, there is still a common thread between you.
The people you meet on a trip like this aren't limited to people
interested in caves, though. At one point we were stopped by
who asked us to get out of the vehicle to search it. Standard
procedure . . . I've gone through checkpoints like this one dozens of
times. The Federales were polite but rather stoic. As one
rummaged through Mike's bag, he came across a small bottle of
aguadiente (caña). He held it up, laughed, showed his friends who
laughed; and said a few things in Spanish. Then shortly after the
inspection, he let us go. These are human beings with thoughts,
feelings, and even a sense of humor. One difference: they carry
machine guns. You gotta love Mexico.
This particular Tabasco trip had us doing a
significant amount of survey, while other Mexico trips I have attended
also had us ridge walking, digging, and clearing entrance brush.
doesn't matter what the task at hand is—I go to enjoy myself. The
mechanics of survey is serious business. You want precision and
accuracy. However, there is also time for fun—jokes, singing, and
laughter. There is no reason why you can't do good science and
have a good time. I find that my best experiences are when a
teams works well together. The survey points go quickly, and the hours
melt away. Of these Tabasco peeps I can say that I would readily
travel with them again, and it is comforting to know that this trip is
not the end of the project.
Above I mentioned food. Mexican food is utterly tasty. There's
there's heat, and there's "can't be beat." The food, alone, is
enough to go to Mexico. When traveling as far south in Mexico as
did, it is highly probable that you will see the ocean, and that means
As a last introductory note, 3.5 days of
driving (I had an extra day because I came out of Tucson) is a lot of
driving. You get road weary. I find that audio
books really help pass the time. Vickie and I listened to
history, comedy, and a light kid's story. It helps.
Laura Rosales Lagarde
Joel Jiménez Pérez
Trip Protagonists - ©
2009 Tone Garot
Mexico's National Congress of Speleology was to be
held in Villahermosa, Tabasco, Mexico in early 2009. Vickie was
planning to attend, and as long as she was at it, she thought a dose of
caving was in order. Vickie has taken over the lead of the Caves
Tabasco project. She cited that Peter Lord—who lives in
Villahermosa—had at least seven new cave entrances, and there were
several leads left over from the previous year.
My schedule allowed me two weeks if we caught the Congress first;
Vickie and others interested were okay with that; the trip was
planned. There were three of us heading down from Austin, and we
meet Laura in Villahermosa a few days later.
We were prepared for either camping or hotels. We were also
for vertical caves, even bringing a hammer drill. The trip was
2009 Jan 27 Tuesday
I headed from Tucson to
Austin. I have done this drive quite a few times in the last two
years. This particular leg of the trip was fairly quick, only
hours. I tried to
get as much of I-10 done during daylight as I could. I left around 6 a.m. or
and arrived around 8:45p.m. I stayed at Crash Kennedy's
arrival, Jim gave me a dram of tequila to take the
edge off. I chatted with Alex, his girlfriend Christina, and Del
Jim's parents were in town for a visit and were watching a movie.
and Christina took off, so I crashed in his room. I was to meet
Valle early the next morning, so I crashed early.
The weather was bitterly cold. It was cold all the way to Austin,
forecast did not improve.
2009 Jan 28 Wednesday
The morning started
cold. I couldn't believe how cold.
I drove over to Vickie's place where Mike was already waiting. We
assembled and loaded gear into Vickie's Toyota pickup truck. Our
was to go through the border crossing at Matamoros, but at the aduana
(customs) Vickie learned that we had to go to Reynosa to cancel her
expired vehicle permit. Apparently, Reynosa had computer
that Matamoros did not.
At the Reynosa aduana, the paperwork was handled and were on our
Unfortunately, we had to then drive through the city of Reynosa to
continue, and we were flagged down by a squirrelly traffic guy who told
us that we missed stopping at a school crossing. There was no
other vehicles stopped. In short, he was looking for a
scenario isn't a speculation on my part. He said it would be more
expensive if he had to write out a ticket. After some
with Vickie, he said, “Is it too much?” She replied back with an
emphatic affirmative. So he lowered it from 300 pesos to 200
He received this money low and quickly pocketed it. This move was
textbook extortion. We felt quite certain that we were targeted
because of the Texas license plate. Both Vickie and I are
sure that we did nothing wrong. Considering that we didn't even
to go through Reynosa in the first place (issues with the vehicle
permit), we were a little miffed about this violation.
Later in the trip (on a different day), we drove by two uniformed
One half-heartedly tried to flag us down with the same pointing gesture
as the squirrelly guy in Reynosa. There was no one around, no
traffic . . . just us. We kept driving. In a third town, an
actually chased us on his motorcycle. He said that we went
crosswalk. I remember the crosswalk distinctly, and I had just
earlier mentioned that we should go really slowly here because of the
confusing nature of the road. I didn't understand all of the
between him and Vickie, but his claim was that there was a man with a
flag there— entirely untrue! We think he only gave us a warning
because he knew we would contest it.
Lesson: be very careful driving in Mexican towns. If anyone flags
down—and you did nothing wrong—you might consider not stopping and
letting them come to you. It's probably better to accept a ticket
rather than pay them off. Insist upon their name and badge
if you feel comfortable, take their photo. Of course, if you
want the hassle, just pay them. You can always offer them
all of my travels to Mexico, this adventure was the first (second and
third) time I have run across this kind of corruption. Mexico is
Don't miss a trip to Mexico just because of a little extortion.
Continuing with our story . . . Vickie stopped at a Pemex to get air in
the tires, as one of them looked rather low. Two vehicles—driven
ambitious Mexican women—came from opposing directions and nearly ran
Vickie down in their attempt to get to the open gasoline pump.
woman was backing down.
As frequently happens in traffic-filled border towns, some guy on the
street selling wares came up to our vehicle at a stoplight and started
up a conversation through the window. His enthusiasm suggested
again, we were targeted because of our Texas plates. He tried to
extremely friendly, put forward his fist such that I might knock
knuckles, but I had an allergic reaction on my hand from the previous
week (it looked bad, but it was no big deal). I said, “Hey, look at
this [contagious disease on my hand].” My words got him to move
and Vickie laughed and laughed at my ploy.
Note to self and readers, too: avoid Reynosa.
The rest of the day was fairly uneventful and devoted to driving.
at dinner at Taqueria El Paisa in San Fernando. Then, we crashed at the
San Fernando Inn.
2009 Jan 29 Thursday
We started off the day
with a fine breakfast in Aldama. As we were driving along, we
upon a building that looked interesting. Not in any extreme hurry
get to Villahermosa, we decided to stop and check it out. It was
old water treatment plant that was being refurbished into a fish
hatchery and ecological tourist area. People came out to talk to
and give us a brief tour.
Continuing our long drive, we eventually made it to the Gulf
stopped for lunch at Restaurant Marysol for seafood. Vickie
out that any restaurant that has drawings of the food on the building
is probably going to be good. Apparently this venue was a
spot because a young man asked us for money, then walked around the
vehicles in the lot. We kept an eye on him.
Dinner was camaron (shrimp) soup for me. Vickie ordered chicken
but didn't eat any. In La Tinaja, we stayed at a No-Tell Motel.
2009 Jan 30 Friday
After quite a bit of
driving, we finally arrived in Villahermosa around 1:00p.m. Our
was booked in advance by Laura at the Howard Johnson Hotel. This
was fairly swank, with valet service (for the parking was not on site),
and it was located in the historic heart of downtown
Since Laura was still working upon her presentation, Mike, Vickie, and
I explored a bit. We stopped at a coffee shop, and soon after we
ordered, it started to pour. It wasn't really the rainy season,
try telling the clouds as much. After waiting awhile, we decided
take our chances walking back to the hotel under canopies and building
Later, Vickie and Laura went to the opening presentation of Mexico's
National Congress of Speleology. I believe the opening
was given by Peter Lord, whom I later met. Mike and I opted to
the Congress since it would be in Spanish. Instead, we walked around
Villahermosa taking photos of the cathedral, statues, architecture, and
other such things. Dinner was at a place where a mass of meat
on a vertical spindle. Delicious!
Villahermosa Restaurant - © 2009 Tone Garot
2009 Jan 31 Saturday
We left Villahermosa in
the morning. Vickie was okay to move on without seeing other
presentations of the Congress. Laura stayed behind to give two
presentations. Her plan was to meet up with us later, and she
some of her gear to take with us.
Along the way, we stopped at Cueva de Coconá—a show cave. Mike
went in while Vickie decided to remain at the vehicle. The cave
interesting enough for 25 pesos (about $1.75) per person.
We made it to the town of Tapijulapa, which was a bit touristy, having
buildings of similar design and color and nicely cobbled streets.
town square was well kept: clean with pruned bushes. There was a
Tyrolean line across the river, which we vowed to try; however, we
never did get around to it. We decided to stay at a nicer hotel
Vickie knew from a previous trip. The price per day was 468
which split three ways equated to about $11 per person, per
Although the room was small, the hotel hosted many attractive
amenities. 486 pesos entitled us to a hot shower, air
and Sky TV. Sky TV is digital satellite television. You see
dishes everywhere in Mexico these days, even in small towns off the
beaten path. Satellite TV meant that we found movies in English,
at a minimum, movies with English subtitles. On our first night
happened upon "The Scorpion King" starring Dwayne "The Rock"
Another night, we happened upon the "Mummy 2," also with Dwayne
Johnson. Later in the trip while surveying, I was heard to say
really hoping for another Rock movie tonight." "The Rock" became
common theme, and we even named a room or passage in his honor.
on the included maps to see if you can find it.
There was an upper area
to the hotel in which we did some work on laptops. Also, there
porch with an amazing view where we sometimes cooked our dinners.
Since the weather was clement most of the days we were in Tabasco, the
porch got much use. The last amenity of the hotel worth mention
locked parking. Although we didn't leave much gear in the truck
kept the hammer drill in the bathroom!), this luxury added peace of
One of the oddities of
the hotel—perhaps a negative feature even—was this: most days when we
returned from cave survey, the door was locked, and no one was
We would sit outside the entrance waiting, and generally the woman
would come down from the upper part of town to let us in. Our
speculation was that someone would pass us along this common route then
tell the woman that we were waiting. One day a boy intent on
few pesos sat near us while we waited. He had that sort of
that was more mumble than information, and I couldn't understand a word
he said. Being resourceful, he made gestures indicating sleep. I
nodded, and he went to the upper part of the town. He soon
with the hotel woman, and I gave him 2 pesos—he earned it.
Mike's nickname was soon established, which I won't mention here.
you want to know, ask him. Laura also got a nickname, but the
Mike and I split a whole chicken that evening. It was 60 pesos
$4.25), including side dishes. Being a tourist town, there was
disparity in pricing. Some tiendas (convenience stores) charged
tourist prices while others gave you good value. One example in
particular comes to mind where I bought two bananas and a good sized
mango—price 13 pesos. Two doors down, I bought an entire bunch of
bananas, two mandarins, and several small mangoes for the same price.
of fruit, the bananas and mangoes down south taste amazing!
southern Mexico are nothing like the mealy, large, pasty bananas I get
in Tucson. Mexico also has some interesting fruits—like mandarins
are sort of like oranges, but easier to peel and more tasty.
also guanábanas, which make a sweet, tasty drink. I don't buy
in Mexico because, well, I don't particularly like apples; but also
because they often import them from the USA. My philosophy is
I can buy it at home, then there's no reason to add it to my experience.
2009 Feb 01 Sunday
Around 4:30a.m., I heard
a strange squeaking sound. We later found that right below us was
machine that made tortillas. It was more interesting than
that is, it never woke me up. Later that morning, a local market
formed in the street below us.
We headed to the small town of Oxolotán to meet with Eladio and Joel,
two archaeologists with whom we were to spend some time in caves.
didn't speak much English, and I didn't speak much Spanish, but our
goals mostly overlapped; in short, we had fun. Waiting for our
Mike, Vickie, and I walked around the town a bit. The name
comes from the native tribes prior to the Spanish language. You
all kinds of interestingly named towns in southern Mexico. I was
that the pronunciation of the 'x' in this word is like 'sh', so it's
Small coins are really useful for small towns like
Oxolotán. The smaller shops simply don't have change for large
When our guide arrived, we headed to Cuitlahuac (another great
Once there, a map was spread on a vehicle hood, and Eladio and Vickie
discussed cave locations as well as our goals with the guide.
after, we started an ascending hike supposedly toward caves.
way, we met up with another guy who somehow switched roles with our
guide. Many sweaty hours later, we found that we weren't going
any caves today. I didn't understand the conversation between
and the guide, but apparently Eladio was fairly irritated because the
guide brought us nowhere. Vickie got a nasty blister that would
her for several more days. Then the guide brought us down through
jungle to the river where we found possible cave leads across the
river. We got GPS points for those, then headed out.
It wasn't all bad. I saw some fantastic jungle plants that I had
2009 Feb 02 Monday
Today was our first real
day of caving!
Our plan was to meet Peter Lord who would show us some cave leads he
knew around Cueva de Villa Luz (Cave of the house of light).
dropped by our hotel in the morning, then we met the Villa Luz
expedition (a trip set up for persons attending the Congress) who were
eating breakfast. There were perhaps 12 to 15 of them.
and I decided not to join them for breakfast; rather, we started
hike to the cave where we would meet them.
Once in the park, we met a park official who had us wait until Laura
showed up with the permit. This didn't take too long, and soon
group arrived, got ready, and went into Cueva de Villa Luz. Once
were underway, Peter showed Vickie, Mike, and me some cave leads.
went into one such lead and was stung multiple times by fire
went into another lead that actually dropped down nicely, and because
of the sulfur smell, we postulated that this lead might connect somehow
to the main cave.
Laura's Villa Luz Cross Section - © 2009
Laura Rosales Lagarde
After looking at cave leads, Mike and I went into
the main cave to check out the interesting formations known as
snottites. Vickie decided to stay behind. We met some of
returning cavers, including Laura who said she would exit the cave then
return shortly to show us around. Laura had a gas meter that kept
beeping, but indicated that we were okay as far as breathing was
concerned. Although Laura had some difficulties due to having
her glasses, she gave us a first-rate tour of the cave showing us
snottites, fishing spiders, selenite crystals, and half a dozen dead
in Cueva de
Villa Luz - © 2009 Tone Garot
Cueva de Villa Luz requires walking through water,
which meant that our socks and boots were soaked. Mike,
enough, had his cell phone charger in his leg pocket. Why?
that's something you should make a point to ask him. After about
week, his charger dried out and seemed to work again.
Nothing dries quickly in southern Mexico because of the high humidity.
I learned this truth on a previous trip to Oaxaca, a nearby
Therefore, the best bet for clothing was synthetic over cotton. I
spent some time sifting through clothes at a Tucson Goodwill to find
apparel suitable to this peculiar and particular requirement.
that although synthetics dry more quickly, they still take some time to
dry, and you can find yourself wearing clothes with a musty
Since we were staying in a rather comfortable hotel, I tried to use the
air conditioner to effect a quicker drying time. One night the
conditioner actually started leaking water down on my head! My
clothes smelled quite musty after the trip. When I returned home to
Tucson, I needed to double wash my caving clothes.
After Cueva de Villa Luz, Laura, Vickie, Mike, and I surveyed Cueva de
Las Albercas (Cave of the ponds). This was of interest in Laura's
research project. There were many bottles at the entrance
broken glass. There was one tight squeeze inside the cave that we
a bit to get through to a largish room below.
Fun happens where you find it. At a bridge over a white
sulfur-enriched water, we had a lovely game of Pooh Sticks. Don't
what Pooh Sticks is? You had better re-read A.A. Milne.
Mike looking at white water - © 2009 Tone Garot
2009 Feb 03 Tuesday
We hiked up to a
conglomerate rock area to a cave called Cueva Cerro San Antonio that
needed survey. The hike to the cave was through lush jungle
The weather was a bit ominous, but the sporadic rain didn't soak us too
much. The group consisted of Joel, Carlos (the guide), me,
Mike, and Laura. The survey required only some 11 points.
entrance spilled into a largish room, then continued northeast.
was a second parallel passage back. There were some nice
these tighter passages. When we reached as far as we could go, we
tried to dig our way further. Laura was almost able to get
what appeared to be another room, but we left that lead for another day.
Map of Cueva Cerro San Antonio (Profile
On the way back to the truck, we stopped at
an amazing cliff side that was all conglomerate rock: breakdown waiting
to happen. We poked around in some holes nearby. I found
twisted and turned some 5 or 6 meters, but it was only breakdown . . .
That night we cooked out on the balcony at the hotel. Laura and I
cooked up macaroni then mixed tomato sauce and salsa into it. It
pretty good, although Laura got a bunch of noodles without sauce.
Although there was plenty, she refused to toss it and take a fresh
batch! Vickie made beans and onions on tostadas. Quite
Tostadas are one of my staples while in Mexico
After dinner, Joel dropped by to exchange digital images. Mike
arranged the picture transfer to laptops using my SanDisk Sansa Fuze
(w/ Mike's 8G micro SD chip). The transfer worked really well.
2009 Feb 04 Wednesday
Laura awoke early to pack
her gear and get a start on her trek back home. Such is the life
the Ph.D. student. We dropped her off at a Pemex laden with all
Joel joined our entourage, and we met the comisario of the area,
Fidensio. We found him on his bicycle in the fields. The
we were shown, Cueva de Don Tilo, took only a few survey shots.
found interest in some pottery shards. The cave also had a few
bats and an abundance of mosquitoes; I was actually bitten three times,
although I don't recall getting the bites. Vickie mentioned that
was bitten quite a bit.
Heading back, Fidensio showed us another cave entrance from which he
said fish exited. That entrance was too wet to check out that
Fidensio was extremely gracious. He pointed out many interesting
fruits and trees. He also pointed up to black forms in a tree,
turned out to be howler monkeys! We later heard their eerie
Sometimes you forget that you are in another world until you hear
something so strange, singularly unique, so different to what you are
Map of Cueva de José Hernández
The comisario then brought us to another
cave, Cueva de José Hernández, named after the land owner I
This cave was amazing! First, we saw some cool formations and a
with vampire bats. Then Mike and I scouted one section that
be a dry, sandy riverbed for maybe 150m. This particular day (for
returned other days), the water level was high enough to see a little
catfish and snails. There were also many fish heads three to four
inches in size. In my mind, I was calling this cave Cueva de Los
Pescados Muertos; and I think Mike was calling it Jose Cueva, a variant
on the real name and the famous tequila brand.
Survey was really sloppy muddy
We headed to Tacotalpa, which is a larger city, because Vickie and Mike
were running out of cash. After an infusion of pesos from an ATM,
Vickie led us to a restaurant she knew that was off the town
The food was delicious, and we realized that horchata (a sweet
based drink with cinnamon and vanilla) can be bought in a
2009 Feb 05 Thursday
Peter Lord met us in the
morning at an agreed upon place, the same Pemex where we dropped
Laura. After Vickie and Peter got permission, we headed on a hike
along a creek.
As a side note, it is supremely important to obtain permission to be on
someone's property. This practice is not only good form, but also
may keep you out of jail.
We checked out some sinks where we felt the water from the creek was
going downward, but there was too much water to delve deeper. We
continued onward, checked a few other leads, then came upon Cueva de
Don Cosmè that Peter had known about before . . . a big cave.
were interesting formations, fossils, insects, bats, crawly areas,
There was an upper section with some interesting formations that Peter
and I scouted. Then Vickie, Mike, and I did some survey while
scouted another lead in a crawly area that very much reminded Mike and
me of Airmans Cave in Austin, TX. We eventually caught up with
to survey to that crawly section. Being able to get into crawls
Peter and I could not, Mike scouted further and found an alternate way
out of the cave. Through
On the way back to the truck, we saw a rather largish obvious cave
entrance that we hadn’t seen on the way to Cueva de Don Cosmè.
Apparently, we were all looking at the vines to the left instead of the
hill face on the right. Therefore, Peter and I—soon followed by
Mike—popped inside to take a look. It definitely needed survey
much survey, so little time), and it had the unique feature of a "bat
catcher" snake. Fantastic!
Bat Catcher - ©
Returning to the hotel, I meandered to the local store to find
something for dinner, and I came across mole (a spicy sauce flavored
with chocolate) in a jar. Both Mike and I had terrific mole at
the restaurant just off the town square a few evenings back, but when
we returned the next night, they were out. Here it was in a
jar. It seemed like an interesting possibility for dinner.
Meanwhile, Mike was procuring large amounts of hot peppers at the store
next to the hotel for his own purposes. When we later met to make
dinner, he asked if he could add some hot peppers to the mix.
Sure. Since there wasn't a knife handy, he just tore the peppers
up with his hands. No problem there. Then he rubbed his eye.
Mike was in a lot of pain. He did his best to wash out the
capsaicin with running water from the sink (bacteria be damned!), but
this wasn't doing much good. He was in agony for a good hour, I
think. The mole, unfortunately, didn't turn out too well
either. It was a bad night all around.
2009 Feb 06 Friday
Joel, our Mexican archaeologist friend, had asked
me a few days ago if I could drive. At the time I didn't
understand what he was getting at, but later I learned that he doesn't
have a driver's license. Eladio was elsewhere on other business,
but he left his truck with Joel. Joel wanted us to take Eladio's
truck to a cave site, possibly because it was more comfortable than
sitting in the back of the Toyota pickup; or perhaps he wanted to
contribute to the project. It might well have been a combination
of the two.
So I ended up driving. We picked up our guide at a predetermined
place. He then directed us up and South into the mountains.
The weather was fine, but the road was not. There were frequent
stretches of potholes and sometimes stretches of mud. After two
hours of bad road, we arrived in a small town in the state of Chiapas.
I parked the truck while Joel and our guide
sought a local guide from the town. It is always
interesting—perhaps a little uncomfortable—to enter a town that hosts
few outside visitors. Soon a small swarm of men gathered around
to see what was going on. We passed a few words between us, and
they mostly left us alone. Mike had an opportunity to buy some
breakfast at a local shop. Shortly thereafter, Joel and our two
guides returned. We moved the truck to a better location, then
started our hike.
Passing through the town toward the mountains, we saw
townsfolk lay out coffee berries on tarps to dry in the sun.
Nearby were the remains of the berry shells . . . the remnants after
the two coffee "beans" (or stones) were removed from the berry.
This hike was one of the more scenic hikes with regard to interesting
plants. Hiking up and into the jungle, we saw wild coffee plants,
banana trees, a host of interesting flowers, huge elephant ear plants,
fungi, mosses, and other cool sights. The hill was very steep,
and although the temperature wasn't prohibitively hot, it was hot
enough. Coupled with the exertion and humidity, I began to sweat
Soon enough, we reached a shelter cave, which was apparently our
goal. The guide's estimate on the time to reach the cave was a
bit high, but I guess it is hard to estimate such distances and hike
times. The view of the city below and the mountains beyond from
this vantage were spectacular! The shelter cave itself was fairly
small. It took only three shots to survey. Joel's interest was
less toward the cave's size and more toward the three piles of human
Remains of human bones - © 2009
I don't know why the human bones were in
piles like this one pictured. I suspect that this was a
ceremonial burial ground for the native tribes of Mexico before the
Spanish invasion. I have seen piles of bones with a pot on top in
Oaxaca, a Mexican state further south; but those bones were from a
single human under the pot. Perhaps the larger piles suggest the
bones were collected and deposited after-the-fact.
Vickie, Mike, and I finished up survey rather quickly, but Joel needed
much more time to photograph and categorize the piles of bones.
There were also a few pottery shards. Since the three of us
cavers were done, we left Joel and the guides to finish up their detail
work. That was our mistake.
Heading down the mountain and back toward the town, we picked up a
shadow. At first I thought that he simply wished to pass us, but
when we moved out of his way and beckoned him to pass, he said no, but
he continued to follow us. I guess his curiosity was
strong. Eventually we reached the town again
where we left our shadow behind.
As mentioned before, I find it strange, and not necessarily
comfortable, to be in a town that sees few outsiders. The people
were too curious about us and stared at us as we walked through the
town -- due, in part, to Vickie's blond hair. We stopped at a
little store to get a cold drink then sat outside while children came
near to look at us. After a while, we went to sit near the truck
to wait for Joel and the guides to finish their work. As luck
would have it, we didn't have the keys to the vehicle; so we sat
outside the truck while more children gathered around.
As time progressed, a group of adults also gathered around us, and a
few of the town's leaders began to ask questions. There seemed to
be two leaders who were doing the talking, sometimes at the same
time. Vickie, who knew the most Spanish, handled the
conversation. Between phrases, she said "I think we're in
trouble." I wasn't too worried because the conversation seemed to
be more discussion than argument. A young man brought us a
pitcher of something made from ground corn called pozol with three
glasses. After further discussion, Vickie told us that we were
going to give a little presentation. She started to empty her
cave pack while explaining what each of the items were: kneepads,
helmet, compass, clinometer, etc. When she was done, Mike and I
followed suit. The townspeople were, I feel, more interested than
As I understand it, the leaders wanted to know why
we didn't ask for permission to go to the cave. Joel, being the
lead for this the cave, should have done so, but—at that moment—he
wasn't there to explain. The leaders told Vickie that other
people had come to this area and had taken dolls, rather largish, from
Local boy wearing my helmet - © 2009
Eventually, Joel and the guides came down from the mountains, whereupon
a meeting between the town leaders, Joel, Vickie, and the guides
ensued. While this meeting of the minds was transpiring, I played
"touch your nose" with some of the kids outside, and Mike dealt with a
town drunk. The kids laughed as the drunk pantomimed concepts
such as house and sleep to Mike. I got the sense that this was
not the first time this man was inebriated in front of those kids.
Eventually the meeting finished, and as I understand it, we were to
drive an hour to get a permit . . . then drive back to this town
with this permit. One of the townsfolk—I think the young man who gave
us the corn drink—was to accompany us. Before I was able to start
the truck, the inebriated man jumped into the back seat!
Apparently, he wanted to go along for the ride. A few minutes
later he was extricated, and we commenced our drive.
On the outskirts of town, the young man accompanying us had us stop the
truck, and he got out. Vickie later explained that he said that
if we wanted to go into the cave again, we would need the permit.
Thus ended our possible infringement of the law. We headed back
to our hotel without worrying about the permit.
2009 Feb 07 Saturday
Fish Cave survey, day 2. I don't remember a lot about
2009 Feb 08 Sunday
On this Sunday, we were
supposed to join Joel and Eladio to investigate another cave
lead. We had been getting up early several days in a row to meet
guides to take us to caves. The mood of our group (Mike, Vickie,
and me) was such that we just . . . well . . . didn't want to. I
lobbied for waking up late, having breakfast at a restaurant, then a
leisurely day of survey at Cueva de José Hernández (AKA Jose
Cueva). Vickie and Mike were okay with this idea.
We had breakfast at a restaurant near the town square. We all got
the same thing, a sort of breakfast pizza made from a huge tostada
covered with beans, vegetables, tomatoes, etc. It was pretty
good, albeit pricey.
We had a good day of survey finishing up the cave. There was a
lot of sand and a lot of fish heads. The water level was much
lower. Mike took some professional photos in the fish passage.
Returning to the hotel, and after dinner, we relaxed by watching the
tail end of Gladiator followed by the Chronicles of Riddick.
Sometimes the best way to relax is not to think, and any Vin Diesel
movie will grant you this boon.
2009 Feb 09 Monday
We awoke early because of pounding on the
building. We speculated that the owners of the hotel wished to
expand their business.
We went back to Cueva de Don Cosmè to continue the survey. The
upper passage, Nosferatu, was first on the docket. I did the
rigging, then Mike and Vickie came up. This passage was nasty,
hot, humid and sloppy. There was sticky clay and some
guano. Add to that the two spooked bats who were pinned at the
very end, and you can see why I didn't want to be there. We
finished up this passage quickly. Back to the climb, and before
derigging, Mike took a few more professional photos.
Mike had a novel, interesting technique for diffusing the light from
his slave flashes. His idea was to put the slaves into his smelly
sweat socks. These same socks had been stinking up the closet in
the hotel for days, and I dare say that the cleaning woman will never
get the smell out.
Vickie wasn't feeling too well, and while she relaxed a bit in the
cave, Mike and I did some more photography near the entrance.
Once Vickie was a little better, we went back to where we had left off
when Peter Lord was with us. We did a few shots, got close to the
back door, but then Vickie wasn't feeling well again, so we left early;
and I drove us back to the hotel.
After some discussion, we decided it was time to head home. We
also decided that we would take an alternate route so that we might see
Sótano de las Golondrinas. Some months back I had been invited to
drop Sótano de las Golondrinas, but due to those pesky matters that
arise in life (work, funds, etc.) I didn't go. When it was
suggested that we go look at the cave, I thought sure, why not?
2009 Feb 10 Tuesday
Thus, we started our drive home. One never
really looks forward to 2.5 days of driving, but it wasn't really too
bad in my opinion. There are always things to see, speed bumps
(topes) to swear at, gas stops, and hassles with zealous traffic cops.
That night we crashed on the beach in Veracruz. Having lived just
off the Pacific Ocean for a number of years, I always find it a treat
to come back to the ocean. Mike and I set up tents while Vickie
crashed in the truck. I didn't sleep well, awaking several times
in the night. I was in that light dream state . . . close to
sleep, close to awake. As I looked out of my tent, I realized
that the tide had been rising, and I somehow fancied that the waves
might actually reach my tent. This state of affairs made little
sense considering how close I was to the vegetation. The roar of
the waves lulled me back to sleep.
2009 Feb 11 Wednesday
Since we had a higher
goal than just "driving home," we took an alternate route from the one
we took down. The route meant some deviation from paved
roads. This yielded a bumpy ride, but we went through some
visually stimulating country. Along the way to Aquismon, we
happened upon a vehicle ferry to cross the river. A ferry is just
the sort of random thing you find in Mexico that makes it fun to be
there. This particular one was powered by an old tractor
engine. I hadn't been on a ferry in years, I think 1998 on a trip
to Brazil; but that is another story. For a cost of 10 pesos and
10 minutes of our time, we floated the truck and ourselves to the other
side of the river.
Ferry across the river - © 2009
Eventually we arrived at
the largest cave shaft in the world. It is the second deepest pit
in Mexico and the 11th deepest in the world. We parked the
vehicle and agreed to have two young boys watch it for 10 pesos
each. The price of admission was 10 pesos, and we "hired" a guide
who walked with us the 15 minutes to the entrance. Once there, we
met another man who donned a harness, attached it to a nearby rock with
webbing, and bid us to look over the edge after tying a rope around our
respective waists. Thus adorning myself with a rope, I looked
down the shaft and snapped some pictures. So this was the famous
pit. It would be more fun to rappel than to simply look over the
edge, but now I can say that I have been there.
Sometimes you see the most remarkable sights in
Mexico. As we were driving along, Vickie and I spotted a
broken-down armored truck pushed by a uniformed guard.
Mike getting ready to photograph Sótano de las
Golondrinas - ©
Finally we ended our day at a horse-themed hotel. At this point I
was struggling with Montezuma's Revenge, which can make travel
uncomfortable. Everyone has heard of Montezuma's Revenge, but I
have been fortunate in that I have only contracted it once in my many
and varied trips to Mexico. It just so happened to be on this
trip. I felt like I was smuggling parasites across the
border. There are plenty of resources that discuss preventative
measures; I won't mimic them here. I will say that it is probably
a good idea to wash fruit before you eat it, even the kinds that you
2009 Feb 12 Thursday
We finished up the drive to southernmost Texas,
crossed the border with little difficulty, and continued our trek
through the state back to Austin. After being in Mexico for two
weeks, one acquires a taste for non-Mexican cuisine. Vickie was
jonesing for a Subway sandwich, and Subway is where we stopped.
As for me, I was on a strictly bland diet of Marias cookies. If
you have ever been to Mexico, you have probably had them. They
lie somewhere between a cookie and a cracker. They are almost
like animal crackers, except without the animal shape. They are
readily edible when one has an upset stomach.
Arriving in Del Valle, Texas, the trip was complete. We unloaded
the truck, ensured that gear went to the respective owner, and chatted
briefly with Bill. I was later to meet with Alex and Christina for pad
thai at Java Noodle, but that is another story.
Two weeks seems about the right amount of time for
a caving trip to Mexico. Any longer and the trappings of work, money,
and relationships can no longer be ignored. It becomes time to go
home to handle all of the post trip details, like labeling images,
handling GPS points, writing trip reports, drafting maps, and other
data related activities. I'd say that it takes me a good three to
five days to feel "caught up" from a trip, and maybe a month before I
have finished all post-trip tasks. The days after a trip bring a
time of contemplation—travel does indeed broaden the mind, but it takes
some time for this broadening to sink in.
All in all, it was a good time. I saw some great caves, hung out
with great people, had a lot of laughs, and got Vickie to laugh
hysterically. What more could you want from a trip?