Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Caving in Quintana Roo March 2017

Earlier in March I had the opportunity to go to Quintana Roo on a caving expedition. Quintana Roo is a Mexican state in the Yucatan peninsula. I found a cheap flight on Southwest to Cancun with Carol, a caver from California. We arrived to the warm, balmy weather, and our host and expedition organizer Peter picked us up and took us to his palapa in Paamul. Paamul is an RV park that has gotten fancy, with many RV owners putting thatched roofs over their RVs and sometimes enclosing the entire living space. Some are rather simple, others are deluxe, all are close to the beach.

The Paamul beach has a mixture of tidepools and white sand.

After a night to adjust, we headed into the jungle the next day to go survey caves.

For part of the two-hour hike, we hiked through caves, as it was easier than hiking through the jungle!


Here's a photo of me taken by Frank Bogle, one of the participants. The Melgarita cave pants did well on this trip (I took out the kneepads to make them cooler for the jungle hikes).


After surveying all day, it was time to eat and enter cave data. We returned several times to Mr. Trompo, an outdoor cafe on the pueblo side of Puerto Aventuras. Trompo is apparently a way to cook pork on a skewer. They put strong seasonings on it and it looks sort of like a carrot, including the color. You can imagine the fun we had with their logo. (Photo by Frank Bogle)


Each day was different. The second day of caving involved a lot of passage like this:
It felt like the room that never ended! Fortunately the water was warm. I was sketching each day, and seven days in a row really helped my sketching ability! The sketches, along with the measurements we take (distance, azimuth, inclination) help make the cave map.

A couple mornings I had energy to go for a run. North from Paamul was a lovely trail along the beach.


South of Paamul was a very rocky shoreline littered with ocean garbage, but the reward was a Mayan pyramid between two freshwater flows into the ocean. Here's the view from the top of the pyramid:

Each day we had different people helping with the cave survey, although for the week we had a core group of seven. We would get the lineplots, if they existed, the night before on our phone. Then we would tie into those the next day and continue surveying. Here's part of the group getting briefed on their mission.

For two days, Frank and I got to survey a wet cave, which involved inner tubes. They run snorkel tours through the cave. It was amazingly beautiful.

Another day we were again far out in the jungle, sketching in a line plot that some cave divers had surveyed. Then we found a little crawl that kept going and going, and eventually got to a huge magnificent room full of formations. And it kept going!

Sac Actun is a mostly underwater cave in the area that cave divers have been exploring for decades. It is the second longest cave in the world, after Mammoth Cave. We surveyed some cenote (sinkhole) entrances and added about 800 meters to the length one day. Here's a view of one of the sinkhole entrances. There's a diveline that goes back in the dark spot.

I'm not a cave diver, but I did go snorkeling! I went several times, amazed at the ocean life all around me. It was fun being in the waves.


I also snorkeled one of the cenotes, and saw these catfish. They were hanging out under some bats.

Pausing for a quick photo through some tree roots.

Here's an example of the data and sketch.

All too soon, the week came to an end. It was organized so well and I was able to totally put myself into the caving mentality so that's nearly all I thought about each day. It was a relaxing vacation because my mind wasn't whirring in a thousand directions like it usually does, instead I was very focused.

On my last day, I had a late afternoon flight, so in the morning I took the colectivo (bus) down to Tulum to see the ruins. Tulum is on the coast and very scenic.

I went early in the morning, as it's also very crowded.

High waves meant that you weren't allowed to go in the water past your knees, but that was okay, I was there for the view.

This iguana and I hung out in the shade for awhile.

Then it was time to fly home. There are lots of commercial caves and cenotes in Quintana Roo, so even if you're not on a survey trip, it's easy to experience the underground marvels of the Yucatan. I hope to go back, it's an amazing place! Thanks so much to Peter for organizing the trip and being such a great host, to Carol for being a wonderful traveling companion and roommate, Frank for letting me borrow some photos, my husband for agreeing that it was a good idea for me to go, and all those who took care of the kids while I went on a nourishing retreat!
Gretchen sketching in Cueva Olchun, Photo by Frank Bogle.

2 comments:

jhami said...

What a terrific opportunity! Glad you got to experience that :)

Carolyn James said...

Gretchen sketchin'

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