Friday, January 4, 2013

Quintana Roo Cave Mapping Project

Over the holidays, Andrea and I went to Quintana Roo (in México, it's the state sharing a peninsula with the Yucatán) for ten days. Our aim was to help with the survey of dry caves in the region, conducted by the Quintana Roo Cave Mapping Project. (Dry caves in this context mean they aren't underwater caves that require cave diving -- there may still be streams and lakes.) The particular objective of this trip was to create a high-quality re-survey of a cave system that is also being used by a natural reserve tour operator, just south of Playa del Carmen. The resulting data will then be used to create a new map for the cave.

It was both plush and productive caving. All in all, our group surveyed over 27 km of cave on this trip. I personally contributed about 2 km of sketching over 9 caving days -- some in chest-high water, but most of it looping through a huge breakdown room with multiple chambers created by the breakdown. Frequently running out of pages made my brain hurt sometimes, though. (See photos of pages of my survey book. They will be replaced with better copies soon.)

A page from my survey book, showing the south-east corner of a large breakdown room we surveyed.
Survey notes. Distance between survey stations, as well as azimuth and inclination readings.
Since the caves are all located in the jungle and close to the surface, they have a rich fauna. Amongst other creatures, we frequently saw amblypygids, tarantulas, small catfish, cave-adapted fish, cave crickets, etc.

Amblypygid sensing around for prey. No scale, sadly, but there were some pretty big ones in the caves.
Our group of 20+ cavers mostly camped on the same property in the jungle that our main cave entrances were located on. We had flush toilets, showers, a pool, and daily breakfast and dinner were cooked for us -- couldn't be better! In between, we took a day off to visit the Maya ruins in Cobá and go snorkeling in the Gran Cenote outside of Tulum. Traveling from Texas to our camp was fairly straightforward, too -- direct flights between Austin and Cancún. Fun times all around.

Cutting (not quite ripe) coconuts to mix their juice with rum on Christmas Eve. :-)
I didn't take many pictures, and the few I took are of pretty low quality, but for completeness, the public photos of this trip can be found here on SmugMug.

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