Hello everyone! I hope all is going well with you and your loved ones.
Today I would like to tell you about an adventure I had several years ago. It turns out a tennis buddy of mine called Jaime, had the brilliant idea to visit the San Jeronimo subterranean river. To be honest, I had never heard of it prior to that day. I knew about the world famous Cacahuamilpa Grotto, in the state of Guerrero, Mexico. But I never suspected it was one of the two rivers that converge in its interior. The Chontalcoatlan and the San Jerónimo, flowing below the earth through eerie and dark caves join within the much larger Cacahuamilpa Grotto.
Here are some pictures of the Cacahuamilpa Grotto to give you an idea of its looks and size:
A bunch of questions arose in my mind. So I asked Jaime to explain further. He said he had been there 3 times before, that it was a piece of cake, and that all I needed for the trip was a quick drying bathing suit and shirt, mountain climbing boots, a waterproof backpack with toilet paper, just in case, some power bars, an led head light, some duck tape, and a broom stick.
Wait a minute, a broom stick? He explained that the cave could be treacherous at times and that there is no 911 number you can dial to call the paramedics to save you in case of trouble. The stick and duck tape could come in handy if someone broke an arm or leg in the slippery water laden rocks inside the cave 😦
“This is Mexico,” he said.
He also mentioned we wouldn’t be needing a guide primarily because of his expertise and the ‘piece of cake’ part.
“No rope?” I said.
“No, it’s too bulky to carry around inside. With luck, we won’t need any,” Jaime said.
In my constant search for adventure, I decided to join his group of misfits, hoping my decision wouldn’t backfire. And so, seven of us “crazy guys’ decided to depart for the river on a beautiful Saturday morning in February. But not before I went to the sporting goods store to get properly equipped for the trip. This is what I ended up with:
Jaime specifically requested that I show him my boots prior to the trip. So I drove to his home the Friday before carrying my trusty boots. He took one look at them, grabbed my right boot, laid it on one side, and began stabbing it near the sole with an ice pick. He did the same with my left boot.
“Hey, hey, hey those are expensive boots, what do you think you’re doing?” I said.
“They won’t be any good if you can’t drain the water inside,” Jaime said continuing to stab my poor boots.
The next day we loaded the gear and boarded my van, an old Ford Aerostar with enough room for all of us. Then headed north from Mexico City. To get to the grotto, you have to cross the State of Morelos. A state with historic significance because, during the mexican revolution (1910-1917), this area and most of Cacahuamilpa was controlled by followers of Emiliano Zapata, known as the zapatistas. They were rumored to hide in the caves and reappear far away when threatened by government troops.
We arrived in Cacahuamilpa at around 7:00 am, after about a two hour drive, and parked my car in the lot. I felt a sudden surge of fear.
“What if the car is robbed or stolen, I’m leaving my cell phone in here,” I thought.
My years of meditation training kicked in and I was able to disregard the disturbing thought. I locked the car, we all climbed into two cabs and drove to the entrance of the cave for another 30 minutes. This is what it looks like:
Of course, to get there, you first have to descend a 50 degree rocky cliff on your behind, then climb into the freezing water and cross the river. Awesome sights, though!
About twenty or so feet after entering the cave, you are confronted with total darkness. Literally, you cannot see your hand in front of your face! Here is an image that will help you appreciate this:
Everyone turned on their lights and we began to explore the cave. The trek is simple, all you have to do is follow the path of the river that flows through it. You end up walking for a while and then submerging neck deep across certain sections. Most of them are about knee deep. Your boots sink into the mud making walking difficult. To visit the cave safely, you have to avoid the rainy season which begins as early as March and does not end until June and sometimes October, or you will surely drown inside.
Here are some pictures of the San Jeronimo river:
Jaime mentioned that the entire trip shouldn’t take more than about 6 or 7 hours. About three hours into the cave one of our members had a panic attack in a neck deep section of the river. Enrique was clinging to the rock wall with his nails, and refused to swim across. Arturo and I noticed him as we were swimming by. Arturo said he was changing direction to go help him. I followed close behind. As I suspected, as soon as Arturo approached, Enrique turned around and hugged him so hard they both sank to the bottom. I grabbed Arturo by the arm and raised them both from the murky water. I forcefully unwrapped Enrique’s arms and we all swam across.
It turned out Enrique had borrowed his fiance’s scuba suit for the trip. The thing was so tight on him, it was cutting off his circulation. No wonder he felt so bad! Arturo had a knife and, much to Enrique’s chagrin, he proceeded to separate the top from the bottom at the waist. He made a few more cuts to make the suit more comfortable.
Enrique sat on the ground and leaned back on the rock wall cold, exhausted, and scared. He refused to budge. Jaime came by and explained there was no possibility of rescue and we had to continue until we reached the other side. From then on we took turns keeping an eye on Enrique. Whoever was assigned to accompany him lagged way behind the group.
Jaime said that midway through the cave was a rock slide. He explained that all we had to do was jump in the river, go with the flow, ride down the slide, and exit on the other side. The way he described it, I felt it would be great fun. When we finally reached the slide we found a frightening sight! River water flowing continuously through an opening between two huge rocks. It was impossible to judge the size of the opening with water gushing all around it.
“This is it, are you guys ready,” Jaime said.
“Jaime, I couldn’t help noticing a lot of car and truck tires on the way here,” I said, avoiding to mention the other debris we had seen on the trip, “When did you say you were here last?”
“Oh, I guess it was about four years ago,” Jaime said.
“There could be debris lodged in that hole. If somebody gets stuck he won’t be able to breathe, he will drown!” I said. “Let’s look for an alternate route.”
The only other path was up a steep rock and there was no way of knowing what was on the other side. Two of our young members with six-pack abs, decided to take the lead. They reached the top and pointed the way for the rest of us. I was trying to help Enrique up the slick rocks, when I slid and bumped my knee hard against them. No blood, but my knee was bruised and hurt the rest of the trip.
Enrique and I finally made it to the top and discovered a large smooth downward sloping rock standing between us and our destination. The idea was to slowly creep down on our behinds. Marc, Jaime’s son – one of the young guys with the six-pack abs – was waiting on a thin ledge at the end of the smooth sloping rock. One of the guys ahead of us, flipped on his stomach sliding as slowly as possible until his feet were set firmly on the ledge below. Marc was holding him by the waist through the entire procedure. It was Arturo’s turn, but he had a slippery wet bathing suit on. As soon as he got to the steepest part of the slope, he began sliding rapidly and out of control. He tried turning onto his stomach but continued to slide. Just as his legs crossed the end of the rock, Marc managed to get his arms around his waist, staggered a bit, and prevented him from falling. When Enrique and I got there we saw a 30 ft drop below. Arturo’s face was white, and stayed that way for the remainder of our journey.
The ledge wasn’t very long. Only about 12 feet. But you stood with only the toe section of your boots on the ledge and your hands and arms frantically searching for something to hang on to, while sliding sideways to reach the end. Behind you a 30 foot drop to the ground below. Once off the ledge the rest of the way down was pretty easy. We reached the other side of the rock slide and continued our trip. Suddenly, Sammy turned pale and started trembling uncontrollably. We laid him on the ground and noticed how cold he was.
“Hypothermia,” I told the rest of the gang.
Sammy was wearing a plastic jump suit, a Nike dri-fit shirt, and a jacket. The plastic jacket was not allowing his shirt to dry quickly enough, so he began to get colder and colder. We removed the jacket. Several of us cuddled next to him for warmth. It took him about thirty minutes to recover. He kept the jacked tied to his waist after that.
At about eleven and a half hours into the trip we finally spotted the exit. What a wonderful sight it was! During the last phase, however, our boots kept sinking deep into the mud making our progress slow and tiresome.
It took us slightly over 12 hours to complete the journey. Hungry and exhausted, we finally reached my van. Nothing had been stolen and my cell phone was still there. I immediately called my wife and daughter to let them know everyone was alright. She was angry but understanding.
Jaime and I stopped speaking for a while after that. I felt we had been ill equipped for the trip and he was responsible. Currently we are playing tennis and are friends again. We sometimes mention how easily things could have turned sour. Yes, it was irresponsible and risky, but what a rush of an experience that was!
Please feel free to comment.