One night I couldn’t fall asleep. Instead of tossing and turning, staring at the ceiling like an average person, I decided to get up and start looking for potential new caves. As I was sitting in the darkness, scrolling through the map, something caught my eye. The excitement grew (that didn’t help me fall asleep), and I zoomed in on an area to have a closer look. It looked very promising. I wrote down the coordinates and went to bed.
The next day Cristina and I went to check it out. We drove as close as we could get and hiked the last 300 yards to the location. Thunderstorm and rain the previous days made it a swampy and muddy hike. We walked and searched through a wide area, as there were a few locations we wanted to verify. Once all the other leads proved unsuccessful, I looked at the GPS and saw we were 60 yards from the last possible place. The excitement was mixing with my awareness of another potential disappointment. As I arrived closer, I spotted a ledge, and a few steps further, the pool of water. The hike through the harsh terrain, the mosquitoes, the heat, they all became worth it. We stood at the ledge, staring down into the void. The water was black, filled with tannic acid, and hydrogen sulfide. Would we find a deep cave, or would the hole pinch like so many others we had discovered?
There was only one way to find out. I put my mask on and jumped in.
I looked down, and all I could see was black nothingness. The layer of hydrogen sulfide blocked any sunray, trying to penetrate and shine a light beneath. I swam a few feet down, but I still couldn’t see anything. I could feel the ceiling of the cavern going in, but the only way to know was to bring our gear.
A few days later, we returned with full cave gear to confirm if we had a new cave. After carrying it all to the entrance, I once again jumped into the black hole. I put the tanks on and tested my rebreather.
I tied the exploration reel at the edge of the water and slowly sunk beneath the surface.
While descending through the red water, I could see the cavern’s ceiling disappearing out of my light’s reach.
I descended further, and to my surprise, the hole bottomed out at 10ft.
I tied the reel to a rock and entered the massive cavern. At about one hundred feet in, I found a wall with big stalactites. I looked to my left and noticed a small opening. The water was completely red, and visibility was low. I hopelessly squinted, trying to catch a glimpse of what I would meet going through the opening. I took a moment to analyze it, and I decided to investigate. I secured the line and slid down the crack. I dropped between the two layers of rocks to 57 feet, and the water cleared completely. I could not believe the big room I found. In front of me, there was a cave, and it appeared to be a massive one. I swam down the tunnel, and it opened up even more.
A thick gray growth covered the walls and ceiling; leaves, and trees that had fallen into the hole through the years carpeted the tunnel’s first hundred feet. Thankfully, I was using my rebreather, so I didn’t produce bubbles and maintained good visibility.
The cave promised to expand, I couldn’t wait to surface and tell Cristina what we found. I arrived back at the small opening and shined my light up. It was completely black. If it hadn’t been for my line, it would have been impossible to tell that there was an opening. I started ascending, and once again found myself in the red water. When I broke the surface, I yelled out in excitement: We have a cave!
I passed the exploration reel to Cristina, and together we went back down. I pulled out the Mnemo and started surveying the line. We arrived at the end of my first exploration, where Cristina tied into and swam further into the cave. I followed behind surveying. After 30 minutes dive, we had an empty reel, 1075 ft of cave, and it was still going. We arrived back at the entrance an hour later, completed our safety stop, and surfaced with wide grins and the smell of hydrogen sulfide deep in our nostrils.
We have been searching for caves since I first met Cristina. We have found many places, caverns, caves, and new passageways, but we have also found a lot of pinched walls, dead ends, dark swamps, and no access. We have scouted the island armed with machetes and carved our way through the forest on foot, contended with mosquitoes, horse flies and even wasps, sunk knee-deep in mud, burned under the sun. It is 2020, and we have found a new, undiscovered, and uncharted world right on this island. The best view indeed comes after the hardest climb.