He said: "I don't remember this part."
Contributor: Holle.Boykin Created: 11 months ago Updated: 11 months ago
When I was 14 Uncle Murl was the Bishop of our English Speaking Ward in Mexico City. He told us Young Men about an underground river, near the "Grutas de Cacahuamilpa" which, come to find out, is one of the largest cave systems in the world. He had been down the river "some time" before and offered to guide us down the river. We were thrilled!
Knowing that we would be in the water a lot, to protect our stuff from getting soaked, we took rectangular 5 gallon cans (tin cans) and tied straps around them so we could carry our lunch and dry clothes, first aid kit, spare batteries, etc. We used a candle to melt wax around the edge of the lid to keep it sealed.
On a Friday after school we loaded up in the orange Combi (Volkswagen Van) and drove south of Mexico City, through Cuernavaca towards the silver mining town of Taxco. The mountains in this part of Mexico are not very tall but they are very steep. The roads twist and turn a lot, so we didn't get there until after dark. We camped in a friendly farmers field just off that twisting, winding road. The next morning, in the light we could see how the terrain is really rough. After a quick breakfast we loaded up with our tin containers and started hiking through the small fields and then along the mountain side in the jungle.
Eventually, we came to a ravine with a river at the bottom. To get down the edge of the ravine, we had to use a rope. Once we were all at the bottom of the ravine, we followed the river down stream. Normally, when you walk along a river, you can tell where it's going by the shape of the terrain ahead. Well, in this case, it was the strangest site to see the river running right into the mountain. But, oh what an entrance. It was HUGE! It seemed like you could fit a 7 story building in the entrance of the cavern where the river went underground.
There was a ledge about 40 yards up inside the cavern near the entrance. Extending over the edge of the ledge was a long tree trunk. How did it get there? We concluded that at some point in the not-too-distant past, the river had been blocked and the cavern filled up to the point that the log floated onto the ledge and was jammed there when the water receded.
We pondered on that as we walked along the river, following it's twists and turns in the cavern. After two or three bends in the river it was so dark we could not distinguish a hand in front of our face when all the flashlights were turned off. When it came time for lunch, we found a section where the cavern opened up and we were able to sit in a relatively flat area to eat. After lunch, we sealed our cans with wax again, loaded up and set off again.
For most of the hike we had been walking along the edge of the river, but now the walls were coming closer together and we found ourselves walking in the water. As we moved along, almost imperceptibly, the water started getting deeper. The sides of the cavern became steeper - no longer sloping to the intersection with the ceiling - but eventually becoming vertical walls. There had always been rocks protruding from the water... but as we moved down the river, these were submerged and we were walking in water up to our waist that extended from wall to wall. The water got deeper and deeper, coming to the chest and then we were floating - appreciating our sealed tin cans. This could and should have been really nice, you know, floating quietly down a tropical river, not a care in the world. But there WAS a nagging care. Something didn't seem right. Why wasn't it silent? There was a sound where there should not be sound. It was low in volume and low in pitch, but when everyone was silenced we could hear a low rumble. What?
As we floated down the river, the mossy walls getting closer, the water flowing faster and the rumble getting louder we recognized the sound of a water fall. All flashlights are turned to Uncle Murl. How long ago did you come down this river? After some mumbling, it finally came out clear. He said: "I don't remember this part."
You can imagine that someday, when that river is dry, archaeologists will explore that cave and wonder about the long grooves, in sets of five that match the size of a human hand high on the wall of the cave just before the big drop-off. They may even find portions of our fingernails embedded in that rock. But our fingernails were to no avail as we attempted to stop the river from carrying us to our doom over the water fall. Caverns are formed by water, and it doesn't take much imagination to see how the river had eroded a passage into a larger cavern below it. Maybe the river got clogged and backed up far enough to leave the log on a ledge 40 yards up the side of the cavern, and the pressure forced a passage into the cavern below and now we'll be going over the edge.
These are the kind of thoughts bouncing around in our heads when the tallest guy in our group said: "Hey, I felt something!" Naturally, we knew it was a snake or eel or some other dark-loving creature that would take care of us before the water fall. (Fortunately, I did not yet know about Gollum.)
"No" he said. "I felt a rock. I think I can touch the floor."
Bob is a verb. And bob is what short boys do when they are about to float over a water fall and a tall boy says he can touch bottom. We reached the conclusion that the river was getting shallower and the cavern walls were further apart. The water level continued to drop. What a relief it was to be able to walk again. The water dropped until it was at our knees, and then our ankles and we were walking through shallow rapids. And the rapids made a lot of noise, particularly when the sound seems amplified, bouncing off the box canyon walls. Nope. There was no waterfall. We all lived another day.
But on that day we confirmed that the concern about cave-ins was a valid one. Because eventually we go to a point where it seemed like we could see some light ahead, and as we came around another bend, it definitely got lighter and then we saw sunlight reflecting of the rocks of a massive cave in. So much had caved in that we were able to follow a trail up through the jumble of rocks and out onto a field, not too far from where the orange combi was waiting to take us home.
Somewhere Uncle Murl has a twinkle in his eye as he remembers taking the Young Men down the underground river... except for the part that HE DOESN'T REMEMBER!!