I am a cave diver at heart and don’t wish to present myself as an authority on dry caves. I have no formal training in Dry Caving and my methods are certainly rudimentary and are tainted by my interest and experience in underwater cave exploration.
Wet or Dry?
If you look at many dry cave maps, passages often end with a symbol for water, and a question mark (?). Explorers had gone to the limits of the dry cave and were surely disappointed by the passage ending in a pool of water. Underwater cave explorers are similarly disappointed when they find a passage filled with air rather than water. In Europe, cave diving stemmed from dry cavers who donned tanks to continue exploration. Here in Quintana Roo, the trend may be opposite. Cave divers will often shed the tanks and explore dry caves.
The fundamental driving forces in why people explore dry caves or wet caves are the same: to discover and document a place previously unknown. It’s not surprising that a dry caver takes an interest in diving or a cave diver finds himself presenting the findings of a dry cave.
In the years I have lived in Puerto Aventuras, I have entered many nearby cenotes and mapped out the underwater systems leading from them. Local neighbors had also shown me many entrances with only a few inches of water covering the floor of a dry cave. Some of these entrances continued into spectacular passages and what coaxed me in was the hope that this would lead me to a deeper, water filled section requiring diving equipment. On these early excursions in dry caves, I carried a mask and scanned every puddle.
This hope for dive-able passage was soon over-shadowed by the beauty of the rooms and tunnels we traveled through. How could anyone be disappointed by not finding water!
Exploration and mapping of these caves has purposely included local neighbors and several have taken a keen interest in learning more about and preserving the beauty of the environment. Not enough can be said about the following people:
These people are all residents of Puerto Aventuras.
Dry cave exploration here is not reserved for an elite few who are technically trained. These caves do not require technical equipment or skills. There are few elevation changes and we have found that a helmet with headlight, hiking boots and knee and elbow pads are sufficient equipment to safely enter the environment. Exploration in this area can include people who may not have the means to be an experienced cave diver, and this opens the door to building environmental awareness within the local community.
This is not to say it isn’t physically depanding. It is much harder climbing through 1000 meters of rocks and mud than floating effortlessly during a cave dive. The saying holds true for dry caveing: Gravity Sucks!
Grutas de los Aluxes consists of 4 Cave Systems with 18 entrances and 3,814 meters of known mapped passage. Most likely some or all of these may connect.
To map out the passages, we first entered laying out a thin cotton thread tying it taught at every change in direction. The distance and compass heading between stations were measured using a fiberglass tape and handheld Suunto compass. Depth or elevation changes were not recorded as their minor differences were not seen to greatly affect the big picture. Sidewall, and floor to ceiling measurements were estimated.
Much of the passage has water on the floor. Depth ranges from a few centimeters but in some areas is more than 1 meter in depth. Much of the cave is very active with water dripping from the ceiling and running down the walls. Stalactites, Stalagmites, and Flow Stones continue to grow. Roots from the jungle above poke through the ceiling. A spectacular Pliestecine Pool is referred to as the Wishing Well (photo at Left). A huge column resembles the leaning tower of Pisa (photo at Right), and many passages were named after the features found: Wind tunnel, Cauliflower, Broccoli, Graveyard, Haunted House. Entrances were named after features nearby such as Football, Bomba, Stable and Doberman.
The name “Grutas de los Aluxes” came from the first day of mapping, when Miguel Vasquez, Tomas Mendóza, José Mis and myself wiggled our way through 619 meters (2,036 feet) of spectacular tunnels and flooded rooms. We were a bit surprised to find the lone footprint of what appeared to be a bare-footed young child. The Mayan legend of magical dwarfs, or Aluxes entered our minds as we tried hard to find a more logical explanation. Later we learned of another explorers previous visit with a young child, and the legend was soon dismissed but the name remained.
A unique environment
These caves butt up against civilization and make for some unique sites and sounds. Many of the entrances are on disputed land with more than one party claiming ownership. A barbed-wire fence or a guard with a machete dictates delicate landowner relations. The South Cave runs under the federal highway and trucks and cars rumble above. The ground wires of an electrical installation poke through the ceiling. If you are quiet, you can here the noises of a family in their house above. Two of the wet entrances have pumps, which supply water to many households -mine included. Fifty meters away, raw sewage can be seen dripping from the ceiling and exemplifies the need for proper sewage containment and treatment.
A 27 year development plan will situate more than 50,000 people overtop of or near these caves and it is my hope that presenting these findings will help in the protection of this unique environment.
These findings were presented during the Quintana Roo Speleological Survey Convention held in Playa del Carmen on September 6th and 7th, 2002. - Ed.
DIR México/ Pto. Aventuras
Quintana Roo, México 77733
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