Mexico's Huge Cacahuamilpa Caves Reveal Poignant Death of Man and his faithful Dog
A "Fairy Grotto? Scene from Cacahuamilpa caverns
Dog's loyalty to his British Master
Pair Met Their Death in the Grutas de Cacahuamilpa
Perhaps the most poignant and long-lasting memory I have from a visit to these extraordinary caverns, was that of a humble grave. It is found about 5 hundred yards from the entrance and is nothing more than a cairn of dirt and small rocks with a simple cross on top; all the earthly remains of an Englishmen and his dog who ventured into the yawing depths in the late eighteenth century. He is said to have been one of the modern discoverers of the caves and he had wandered in looking for treasure and fell, seriously injuring himself. His dog, exhibiting the curious loyalty we find in so many canines, had obviously refused to leave his side and save itself, but had stayed and starved to death.
But memories of this tragic little marker didn’t stay with me long on the day of my first visit to the caverns. The immensity and grandeur of this underground wonder just can’t be brought to life on the bland, printed page. All the passages through Cacahuamilpa are created on a grand scale by the river that forged them (and now runs underneath the caves, no doubt digging more caverns that will one day join the original). But the cathedral-like amphitheatres that open out along the way take the breath away. They are so enormous that church-sized stalagmites are included. ..indeed, one is actually higher than the tower on Mexico City’s cathedral, and it doesn’t even touch the roof! In another chamber, a concert from a full symphony orchestra and seating for an audience of 1000 is regularly scheduled, (Each May).
Mexico has long realized the importance and economic value of these caverns and has installed discrete lighting at some points while leaving most of area dark so guides can illuminate significant features with powerful lamps. They have also put in a concrete ramp for the first mile or so. Beyond this, the caverns are said to extend for hundreds of miles under the States of Morelos and Guerrero; they are still being explored as you read; no one really knows their extent.
The caverns are accessed by a yawning mouth in the earth and situated 50 miles or so southwest of Cuernavaca, just over the border of Guerrero, on a turnoff from the road to Taxco. You may not enter alone, as many people have fallen, broken something, and had to be rescued, especially before the lights and paths were built. It must have been some achievement hauling some victim with a smashed spine or fractured skull over a pitch black, boulder strewn, damp corridor for a mile of more. There is a first aid post inside the caves now as people still manage to injure themselves. Guides are cheap; the price is set by the government, and people tip a few dollars. Parties of up to 100 people make their way along the causeway like ants. There may be 5 large groups in a once, or more, but they are lost in the immensity below ground: literally swallowed-up.
In all, in the part now open, there are 21 chambers available to the public, each seeming larger than the one before. Special permission, rarely granted, has to be obtained before exploring further. Mexico’s natural wonders have been exploited in the past :In fact, a group of Canadians tried to lease the caverns to open a dinosaur theme park in them! Didn’t go down well at all, especially among the local Indians, who see the caverns as sacred and would like them left alone all together; certainly not decorated by plastic tyrannosauruses.
You may use cameras underground and smile ruefully as your digital camera’s flash is swallowed by the Stygian blackness long before it illuminates the feature you are interested in. Better to buy those professionally done at the shops near the entrance and confine your efforts to snapping little Johnnie’s face as the guide’s torch lights up a huge stalagmite that looks just like a witch…Mum!!
I recommend your small group or couple hires their own guide and try to find one with a smatter of English. It’s only a few quid and if you go along with the large group of Mexicans, you won’t be able to hear anything the guide has to say and will proceed at a snail’s pace, (normal speed in Mexico).
Among many luminaries who have visited the caverns is the Empress Carlotta, the wife of the tragic Emperor Maximiliano, executed in Queretaro; she left a personal message underground, inscribed on a rock, but they are farther along than visitors are allowed.
These caverns were “discovered“ in 1835, but Indian nations have known them for perhaps thousands of years. They are larger than Carlsbad Caverns in Arizona; those in New Mexico and the famous Kentucky caves. It is suggested they will be by far the most extensive in the world when fully mapped. Perhaps a “Must see before you die” destination.