END OF THE WORLD
“Yes, we were in La Cueva Cuata for six hours and never got to the end of it; finally crawled out at two in the morning!”
Inspired by this report from a friendly stranger, Susy and I headed down the road to Tequila one sunny Saturday morning, the back of our Jeep filled with boxes and bags of caving gear.
MANGOS IN THE MUD
Although it was January and the dead of Winter, we were pleasantly surprised to find all sorts of tropical fruits already ripening in the deep canyons of the Santiago River. We made our way through sleepy pueblitos with strange names like Achio and Chome, past tamarind trees, golden fields of corn, flowering apricot trees and enormous mangos drooping with fruit. Throughout the dry season, the many springs in the area keep the vegetation eternally green... and the roads eternally muddy.
A local resident named Arnulfo was willing to take us to the cave, though he had never actually entered the place and was none too anxious about doing so now. Leaving our Jeep under a shady mango tree, we hiked northwest along a narrow trail that passed banana plants and papayas until suddenly we caught sight of the majestic barranca in the distance. “The cave is right at the edge of the precipice,” explained Arnulfo. “I just hope I can find it...”
THE WORLD’S LAST CAVE
That problem resolved itself a few moments later when we came upon a rancher who introduced himself as Don Guadalupe, “the one in charge of visitors to the cave.”
Well, we couldn’t quite believe we’d found a tourist cave in this lonesome spot, so we pried Don Guadalupe for more information.
“Pues, you see, people come to this spot to pray, because bueno, there’s something special about it. When the world ends, only seven places will be spared, and this is one of them! It’s name is Tequilizinta, but we call it La Cima de la Montaña, The Summit.”
Pulling out my pocket agenda, I enquired as to the precise date when the world would be ending. “Why, in 1998!” exclaimed our guide with a knowing look.
CAT-WALKING THE CLIFF
A little while later, the trail ended at a sort of corner precipice. Facing us was a line of dark holes in the cliffside and around the bend to the right was a drop of a good 100 meters straight down to the Santiago River.
We stepped into the cave entrance and I removed my pack. Two separate tunnels disappeared into blackness at the back of the cavern. “Which one do you recommend, Don Guadalupe?”
“Neither. This isn’t the cave. The one we want is there,” and he pointed straight up.
Since we were standing in a cave located in a sheer cliff wall, Susy queried how we were supposed to get to another spot above us. Don Guadalupe gestured toward the edge of the precipice outside: “thataway!”
Hugging the wall, this hardy little man began to edge his way right over the long drop. The rest of us looked at one another, gulped hard and, with Susy in the lead, began catwalking behind our guide. After a few meters, the “trail” mercifully switched back and we moved upward to La Cueva Cuata.
TRAPDOOR TO DEATH
The mouth of the cave had been converted into a kind of chapel, complete with altar smothered in candles. Something told me the first prayers said there were probably of thanksgiving for having made it alive. As in the cave below, two tunnels disappeared into darkness, one of them marked by a well-trampled trail. Half crawling and “Groucho-walking,” we followed the footprints in the muddy floor. The passage was about four meters wide and anywhere from a foot to just over a meter high.
We arrived at a fork. “Go to the left, not the right!” warned Don Guadalupe, explaining that the right-hand passage led to a trampa a trap devised by the Indians who had used this cavern in ancient times. Naturally, we pressed him for details.
“The last person who went that way stepped onto a rock that operates on a swivel. As soon as he put his weight on one end of it, the rock flipped over and that man slid down a chute that shot him out of the cliff wall. They found his body down by the riverside.”
We heeded this warning and contented ourselves with a touristic visit to the “Holey Room,” a chamber with two small water holes and another altar, where one can almost stand up straight. Here we were pleasantly surprised to discover countless tiny stalactites and stalagmites apparently in process of formation by the seepage of dissolved minerals through cracks in the roof of this otherwise volcanic cave.
INTO THE TRAP
Several weeks later we were back at La Cuata Cave with Claudio, Jesús, new member Juan Blake and several guests. This time we had brought survey equipment and a length of webbing to which we planned to tie Jesús, who had volunteered to go first into the “Deathtrap” passage. However, after a short mud crawl we found ourselves at the edge of a wide pool of shallow water in which were floating numerous globules of gooey, black, vampire bat droppings. As I happened to be wearing tennis shoes, I was elected the honor of splashing around in this foul-smelling drink to see if the passage continued. It didn’t, but then the question came up: how are we going to survey this 20-meter long lake?
“Well, John, seeing that you are already in it...”
Have you ever tried to survey an underground lake by yourself? Especially a lake with a ceiling so low you can’t stand up straight? I won’t vouch for the measurements, but who’s ever going to check them out?
GUMMY, BUT NOT YUMMY
Having found nary a sign of the infamous trap, we headed back to the main passage and surveyed ourselves right into the Icky Sticky Gumhole where the cave ended in a low, “water”-filled passage that just might be negotiable after another month without rain. As we dragged our bodies and bags of gear through the thick mixture of mud and clay a veritable Paradise for Pigs our flashlights, compass and tape slowly turned into indistinguishable globs of mud... and so did we. This may sound somewhat unpleasant but actually, there are people who pay to watch wrestlers go at it in just such an ambiance (and how many people can you name who have seen Susy Pint covered with chocolate goo!). Besides, a historic event took place there in that mucky mess: Jesús Moreno invented the INCREDIBLE SELF-STICKING FLASHLIGHT” by clopping his light on his knee and doing a jig to prove that it wouldn’t fall off.
Thus it is that we can assure you that the future of mankind is not as bleak as some have made it seem. When the Judgement Day comes if you happen to be anywhere in the vicinity of Tequilizinta you can still look forward to fun and games deep inside Cuata Cave, just below The Summit at the End of the World.
John J. Pint
|SUBTERRANEO WEBMASTER: Luis Rojas ZOTZ WEBMASTER: Chris Lloyd COORDINATOR: John J. Pint ASISTENTE: Susy Ibarra de Pint ARTE: Jesús Moreno TRANSLATORS: Susy Pint, José Luis Zavala, Nani Ibarra, Claudio Chilomer, Luis Rojas U.S. MAILING ADDRESS: ZOTZ, PMB 5-100, 1605-B Pacific Rim Ct, San Diego, CA 92154-7517 DIRECCIÓN EN MÉXICO: Zotz, Apdo 5-100, López Cotilla 1880, CP 44149, Guadalajara, Jalisco, México. TELS: (C. Lloyd) (52-3) 151-0119 COPYRIGHT: 2000 by Grupo Espeleológico ZOTZ. (Zotz = murciélago en maya / bat in Mayan)|