Monday, February 1, 2010

Cave Exploration

In 1992, when I was researching the cave sequence of Dinotopia: The World Beneath, I traveled to the central mountains of Puerto Rico, where you can find some extensive limestone caverns that are safe to explore as long as it hasn’t been raining recently.

Near the Camuy caves, I hired a local guide to take me alone into a private cave system just outside the publicly open sections. We rappelled down into the sinkhole and headed about a mile underground, swimming across underground lakes and moving carefully along the rims of weird limestone bowls.

Giant albino spiders clung to the walls, and there were forests of pale sprouted trees that grew from seeds carried in by bats. The guide pointed to a scorpion. “Touch him, you will die,” he said.

After a few hours of passing through a long series of chambers, we arrived to a point where waterfalls blocked the route and we could go no farther. At that point there were carvings of Taino deities, apparently used in some pre-Columbian initiation ceremonies.

I was really nervous, especially when I extinguished my light by ducking my helmet underwater while I was swimming—but I tried to keep my knees from shaking. As we returned, my guide calmly told me about how, at the very spot where I was wading through muddy water, he happened to step on the dead body of a man who was the object of a search and rescue.

All these experiences were grist for the imagination. One of my inspirations for this sort of research is science fiction writer Alan Dean Foster, who is far more intrepid and well-traveled than me, and who bases all his science fiction novels on his treks.

Check out this BBC video about the ultimate crystal cave in Mexico
Via Best of YouTube


Steve said...

Amazing story! Were you able to take any pictures in the caves? Last week, NPR ran a story about a teenager who has invented a device that will assist in cave search and rescues:

in case you're considering a return trip...

goat89 said...

WOW! Didn't know you did that! Mush have been an amazing experience!

Cheryl said...

Awesome! And really scary sounding. The things an illustrator does for research.

Moai said...

I would love to see photographs of those underground trees, if you have any. I'd never heard of anything like that.

Tyler J said...

Incredible to think that cave in Mexico won't be accessible for long. How nice that we got a glimpse at least for a while.

It's great that you were able to go to such lengths to do research. Is Dinotpia: Hawaiian Club Med in the works? =)

@ Steve, thanks for the link.

kits said...

Amazing!were able to get inside the cave? How I wish to be part of that adventure.

Check this out: This might be of great use for your future journey

Erik Bongers said...

One of my best friends is an amateur speleologist and yes, he too had had his encounters with death. Especially the divers that explore underwater passages seem to take the greatest risk.
He lost a few people he (vaguely) knew. Luckily no close friends.

Greg Tatum said...

That is amazing. I've only been in caves in the Ozarks which are always beautiful and intriguing. It would be fun to do some plein air paintings... err... plein underground paintings actually in a cave. I feel like caves just spark my imagination, but there is still that claustrophobic sense of fear and danger which makes me slightly terrified of them.

Caves seem like good places for mysterious magical things to take place in our modern scientific world :)