Getting right to the point, I will start off by saying that I plan to return to Mexico as soon as possible! Perhaps the only downside occurred due to our failure to observe P.J. O'Rourke's two laws of third-world travel:
1. Never run out of whiskey
2. Never run out of whiskey
Unlike the United States, which frequently violates its citizens Fourth Amendment rights on the highways, Mexico lacks not only a Fourth Amendment, but the remaining nine as well. Thus, soldiers are free to stop vehicles driven by suspicious individuals and conduct thorough searches at will. Five white people driving vehicles not missing any major structural components look damn suspicious in Mexico. My car blended in much better once my muffler fell prey to a mountain "road." Driving along these roads often made me pine for the days when I drove down the potholed causeways known as Pennsylvania's road system after a hard winter.
Our first Mexican cave, Sotano Cepillo, consisted of a 450 foot deep open air pit with an entrance measuring about twenty feet in diameter. The sides belled out on the way down, leading to a final diameter of approximately 350 feet. Several local children led us to the pit and performed an admirable job at understanding our attempts at speaking Spanish. Even the four year old kids sounded like they spoke better Spanish than us. After arriving at the pit, we searched to no avail for a rock to throw into the entrance. We managed to avoid succumbing to the temptation of letting one of the many small children who followed us to the pit stand in as a rock.
Our 625 foot rope provided a fine ride to the pit's bottom. Although the pit did not contain any side passages to explore, we did find a live two foot long snake of unknown lethality. To help control the local varmint population, we brought the snake back to the surface in one of our packs. The local children, lacking battery operated toys, enjoyed playing with this new toy that moved on its own accord.
The village had its weekly town market set up on Sunday. We spent an hour wandering looking around and bought a number of provisions. One could purchase a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, breads, small animals, tools and other goodies at dirt cheap prices. I quickly noticed that folks from the hills surrounding the village bore an uncanny resemblance to Mayans and Aztec carvings. These people looked like they stepped right out of a museum and are easily discerned from the people living closer to town, all of whom bear a more typical Mexican look.
While drinkable water has not made it into the wilds of Mexico, no village is without Coke and Pepsi. We saw one vendor peddling Sprite out of a straw hut. The Mexican government ran electricity to these villages about ten years ago, furnishing stores with a place to plug in their Coke refrigerator. One cannot purchase bottled milk, but cold Coke abounds! These people definately have their priorities straight. If the American government would have marketed capitalism with the effectiveness of Coke and Pepsi, the Berlin Wall would have crumbled faster than the teeth of Mexicans quaffing sugary soft drinks.
We reached Golandrinas, the objective of our trip, on our second full day inMexico. This pit could swallow the Empire State Building and still have room for King Kong to climb around on it. The bottom of Golandrinas has more square footage than a half-dozen football fields, although the hilly terrain would give the uphill team a distinct advantage. One cannot express the sheer size of this pit in words, but Andy came fairly close with his eloquent statement: "That's one big fucking hole in the ground."
The golandrinas themselves impressed us even more than the pit itself. These birds are distant relatives of the finch commonly seen in North America. While not particularly beautiful, their method of reaching their nests near the bottom of the pit drew stares of amazement from us. After spending the day gathering food, a flock will begin circling near the rim of the cave. Every so often, a group of approximately fifty birds will break off and head for the pit's edge at high speed. As soon as they clear the edge, they pull in their wings and pull into a literal nose dise, quickly accelerating to a blur. One looses track of the birds until they drop to sub-light speed by their nests. Tearing through the air, they sound like gale force winds blowing in the pit. These birds must have been enjoying themselves! Speaking for myself, I would certainly enjoy returning home much more if I could park my car in such a magnificent fashion. I once parked my bicycle like this, but the sudden stop resulted in a trip to the emergency room, overnight hospital stay, and three months in a wheelchair.
As this pit lies a half-hour walk from the nearest roadway, we had to carry in our fifteen hundred foot rope. We performed this task by stuffing each half of into backpacks large enough to hold several small children. Needless to say, maneuvering through tropical vegetation with a backpack of this size is no simple matter. Arnold Schwarzenegger still moved with some alacrity when carrying even more gear in the movie Commando but neither Carl nor I are built anything like him.
The easiest spot to rig a rope offers an eleven hundred foot free-fall rappel. Although other points would give a longer rappel, we felt this one was good enough for our purposes. None of us had ever attempted a pit deeper than six hundred feet, so we did not want to push our luck rigging up a precarious thirteen hundred foot drop.
Andy, our first man down, took his time reaching the bottom; approximately fifteen minutes. I followed, after which the other three made their ways down. We wandered around and eventually found the crevice which leads down another six hundred feet. As we had not brought down another rope, we skipped this opportunity. Next time.
I found the initial part of the climb out rather disconcerting, as the entrance seemed to grow no closer. I did not feel as though I was making progress, even though I could clearly see the ground below me dropping away. While on my way up, I watched a number of colorful parakeets fly lazy circles on the opposite side of the cave.
Hauling the rope out of the pit posed a challenge to Terry, Carl and me. Carl and I were well warmed up and ready to carry the rope bags back to the car after Andy and Desiree finished stuffing in all of its fifteen hundred feet.
The next day, we descended somewhat in altitude to the town of Xilitla. We interrupted our drive for a few hours to drop into a 450 foot pit nearly as impressive as Golandrinas. Herein I stood face to face with a bat possessing wingspan well over a foot.
At our camping spot in Xilitla, we met our first English speakers, a group of three cavers from Austin, Texas. One showed us a fine restaurant in town, where the six of us feasted for the equivalent of nine American dollars. This town provided our re-introduction to indoor plumbing, as the restaurant we ate in actually had toilets. They did not actually flush, but the concept of running water existed. A spigot dribbling water of dubious quality certainly beats drawing water from streams of dubious quality, as it has a civilized feel to it.
Although we visited several spectacular caves around Xilitla, the object which garnered most of our attention was Las Pozas. Built by the late Edward James, an affluent British surrealist who hung out with weirdos such as Dali and Huxley, we found walking around this immense private garden to resemble stepping into a cubist painting. I half expected to find the entrance in the center of the gardens or run into myself going the other way. The jungle tried to reclaim the concrete structure, only held back by the groundskeepers who valiantly fought the advancing plants to a stalemate. This epic struggle cast a wild aura over the entire structure.
Wayne, who lives with his wife in Edward's cottage by Las Pozas, invited us to dinner one evening. After a hard day of caving, only Terry and I felt up to the difficult task of accepting his offer. We dined on fish who had been cruising Mexican streams earlier that day and drank coffee prepared from beans growing a stones throw away. This beat our previous dinner of canned ravioli and reconstituted milk by a wide margin. We briefly debated returning to our camp site and dragging the others out of bed, but soon realized that more mouths would result in less food for us. Yes, we truly looked after each others best interests on this trip. Terry and I did so that evening by staying put and eating.
Our last night of camping near Las Pozas made me wish I had not left my sidearm at home. We did not run across Santa Ana or Pancho Villa, but the Mexican equivalent of rednecks set up camp near ours. The Luciano Pavarotti of the group proceeded to belt out Mexican folk songs while taking swigs of Tequila. Only my advanced state of exhaustion allowed me to fall blissfully asleep through the din.
After some more playing around Xilitla, we began the trek back to Atlanta. Our cars were subjected to a body cavity search by members of the United States Customs Department. They refrained from searching through our dirty laundry, a stealthy location I highly recommend to individuals wishing to smuggle objects into this country. We pulled into Atlanta ten days and 3300 miles after we started.
As I stated in the first paragraph, I'm going back as soon as I can.