ZOTZ TRIP REPORT - ©2008 by John and Susy Pint - Photos by John Pint



Archeologist Carlos Lopez

Some time ago archeologist Carlos Lopez invited us to look at some 2000-year-old petroglyphs in the Santa Rosa Valley, around a place called Agua Fria. These ancient engravings turned out to be so interesting that some of us got a bit carried away and Luis Rojas and Sonia Calvillo felt obliged to show us how a certain conveniently shaped rock could have been used for human sacrifices. (It is no surprise that Rojas is also known as Dracula).

"Dracula" Rojas in action. Victim: Sonia

On this occasion, we met a young man who told us that his father could show us an amazing cave which—people say—actually goes right underneath the Santiago River.

They described this cave as being mainly horizontal with a two-meter drop at the entrance. Local people had advanced through the cave for four or five hours and had therefore (?) concluded that the cave must go under the river.

So, a few weeks later, we arranged to meet the man who knows the cave best, Señor Victorino Rios. A mix of thirteen experienced and inexperienced cavers turned up for this event. Looking over the crowd, Victorino remarked, “Bueno, I hope all of you have brought along IDs, because we have to go through property belonging to the Comisión Federal de Electricidad (the CFE or electric company). Well, most of us did have identification and we figured the others could easily slip in as well, hidden among the masses.


A few minutes later, we descended upon the CFE guards who—upon seeing such a scruffy gang approaching—jumped up as if they had received an electric shock. A minute later, out came the big boss waving his arms in alarm. “Go away! Nobody’s allowed in here!”


The Motley Horde heading for the electric company.

Don Victorino and I both explained very carefully that we only wanted to pass through their sacred grounds on our way to a cave not on their property.

“No matter!” shouted the head man in a hoarse voice (apparently we had disturbed his beauty sleep); “You need a permit to go anywhere around here—anywhere! It doesn’t matter whether it’s inside or outside CFE property.”

Well, this was news indeed, and I almost asked this wild-eyed guard if Señor Victorino would require their permission to go back inside his house. Instead, I politely inquired, “OK, then, how do we get a permit?”

The head man replied that we’d have to make an appointment, go to Guadalajara, fill out forms, collect signatures, etc. etc. etc.

Well, we knew that previous to our arrival, local people had been cutting through their property with nothing more official than a simple ID card, but we could see the situation was hopeless, so we said “gracias” for all their help and turned around...

...The moment the gate was out of sight, Don Victorino dove into the bush off the side of the road and a few minutes later we were standing in front of the barb-wire fence encompassing the Electric Company’s property. This particular spot looked like it had been climbed over numerous times and in a jiffy we found ourselves on hallowed ground, which we crossed in a few minutes, emerging onto a paved (and public) road. As we abandoned our illegal status and became law-abiding cavers again, I could hear Victorino mumbling something about how we could have saved a lot of time if they had let us through that ¶¥Ƞ€Σ gate...


Unidentified (and headless) caver climbing over unidentified fence.


...Later Chris Lloyd told us how he and some other cavers had resolved a similar problem. “We brought along an ice-cold caguama (liter bottle of beer) and when they said we couldn’t go through the gate, we pulled it out and said, ‘Que lástima! What are we going to do with this?’  In nothing flat, we were inside.”

We walked down the road a while and then headed back into the maleza (brush), working up a nice sweat as we climbed a steep hill topped by a rocky outcrop. “Wait here while I look for the cave,” announced Victorino. All the cavers in our group glanced at one another. We had heard those words many times before from guides who somehow neglected to mention the fact that they hadn’t visited that particular cave for at least ten years.

Well, of course, Luis Rojas instantly disappeared and we had bets on whether he or Victorino would find the cave first. The result was a tie as both Luis and our guide shouted “¡Ya!” at the same time…only from two different directions.

A little while later we were standing on top of a great block of volcanic rock looking down the throat of a very deep hole. “Er…this is the horizontal cave, Victorino?” I asked, wondering whether the thirty meter rope I brought was going to be long enough. Victorino assured us we only needed a few meters of rope and we climbed down to another monster rock from which I could see a steep slide of about five meters leading to the “floor” of the cave.


This we rigged quickly while occasionally shouting to Rojas who had vanished into his own cave somewhere below us. We also rigged the cable ladder as it provided a more direct route. Once inside the first room of this cave, we discovered that the only way onward was downward, and careful climbing was required at all times.





Victorino helping with the cable ladder. Like many other Mexican spelunkers, he has the amazing ability to keep his white sombrero perfectly spotless, no matter how muddy the cave.



"Hey, this is easy!" Alex Gesheva on rope.

As we made our way past the twilight zone into complete darkness, it became clear that this was a talus cave: nothing more than empty spaces between rocks. Because these particular rocks were often enormous, you would find some rather big rooms but they were usually connected by tight squeezes...

Luis Carlos Medina disappearing into the darkness.


...This resulted in lots of tricky climb-downs and plenty of grunting and groaning. On top of that, it was hot and stuffy in there. My companions, Alex and Jerry, two of the inexperienced cavers, also thought it was a bit smelly but I told them to reserve judgment until we had come to the room full of guano further down, which Victorino had told us about.

Luis Rojas shows Lucina Medina how to negotiate a tricky climb-down: "Just close your eyes and jump!"


Soon I reached a drop whose bottom I couldn’t quite make out. I leaned over the edge, trying to figure out how to get down. Further below us I could hear the voices of Chava and his sons, mumbling. Suddenly we heard a deep, ominous rumble. It stopped and then we heard a second nerve-jangling sound. “Chava! Are you alright?” we shouted.


“Sí…sí…” came a rather laconic reply. A few minutes later, we saw a light moving below the drop. “What happened, Chava?” we asked.

“Ahem, well we were between two huge boulders and they both started to move...”


"What a lovely cave!" exclaim Hugo and Chava after the boulders stopped rumbling.



...This comment prompted those of us above the drop to take a good look around the room we were in. It didn’t take long to notice an awful lot of rocks (weighing tons) right above our heads and with no visible means of support. By mutual consent, all of us decided we had seen enough of La Cueva de Los Enanos and we would leave further exploration to the dwarfs, whoever they were.

"I'm no dwarf," says Jeremy Kass. "Vamonos!" Right behind him: Alex and Shigeo.


Luis Carlos & miraculously supported rocks.


Luis Rojas, of course, had penetrated further below than anyone else and said the cave just keeps going, but always vertically. He also found the Guano Room, which, he claims, “smells of histo.” Since the entrance is hundreds of meters above the river, I could see why Victorino and friends had spent so many hours in it, but how they managed to convert these hours into horizontal kilometers taking them under the river, was not so clear. However, I doubt anyone will ever volunteer to map this particular cave.

Andy Gonzalez (far right) leads the slow, sweaty climb back up and out of the cave.


On our way back to our cars, Victorino mentioned two caves on the north shore of the Santiago River. He referred to these as “Las Cuevas Cuatas” which surprised us as we had assumed the caves of Tequilizinta were the Cuevas Cuatas.  One could, in theory, explore these riverside caves any Sunday when the river is “turned off” (at the Santa Rosa dam)...

...The only problem is that the recent death of a local boy has brought to light the fact that this river is now so toxic that one dip in it will either kill you or leave you a vegetable for the rest of your life. It seems Mexico has laws against pollution, but the politicians of Jalisco apparently haven’t gotten around to enforcing them yet. We just hope not too many more children will die while they consider what to do. Meanwhile, we may have a long wait before we can safely explore the real Cuevas Cuatas.

Green, slimy and lethal: The Santiago River flowing out of the Santa Rosa Dam.


By the way, it seems Luis Rojas’ sniffer was off a bit on this trip and no one got histo from the Cave of the Dwarfs. Sorry, Luis, you’ll just have to wait until the next trip before you can enjoy your eighteenth case of histoplasmosis.

 John Pint