Less than 24 hours after landing in PR we met up with some local cavers and were invited on a trip to re-locate a highly secret and immensely decorated cave. The next morning, we drove an hour and a half west of San Juan and parked at the property owner’s house. He was very friendly and gave us permission to visit the cave, warning us that the trail might be somewhat overgrown.
We left his house on foot, with one of his chocolate labs eagerly leading us into the woods. Bro and Tom had visited the cave multiple times, but not for several years. The other four of us were relying on their memory.
Four hours later... we still hadn’t found the entrance. The six of us had hacked a zig-zag trail with our machetes, up and other cliffs and through lengths of horizontal vines, taking spiderwebs to the face. It was only my second day in Puerto Rico, and I was wearing a t-shirt to machete through the jungle. My arms were already burning with carrasco venom, and would continue to do so for the next ten days.
At this point, we stopped for lunch and Tom pulled out his GPS for the first time. We looked at it, and in barely 20 minutes were able to find the cave exit. The entrance, however, was about 100 feet from the exit. With strenuous effort, the five of us combed the hillside. After an hour, we still hadn’t found the entrance and were about to turn back. It was already 3 pm. I army-crawled through one last carrasco grove, and there it was!
The labrador disappeared inside. I shouted and everyone came over. A minute later the labrador came out, and we decided to go in, setting a turnaround time to avoid having to bushwhack back through the jungle in the dark. Tom decided to start heading back to cut and flag a better trail. Bro, Dave, Ashlee, myself and Suhei followed the dog into the cave.
The entrance was a crawl for a few minutes, and then it opened up into a large and highly decorated river chamber. With Bro as cave leader, we followed the river up to the White Room. Here, we cleaned river mud off of ourselves and carefully climbed up into one of the most marvelous rooms in the underground world.
Thousands of skinny, white formations decorated a house-sized room. We were extremely careful in the White Room to not touch anything. The dog whined in the river below, impatient for our return.
After some photos, we waded back down the river and emerged into the dusky jungle. Hoping to find the trail that Tom was going to cut and flag back to the cars, we were confused to see no flagging and were soon unable to discern a trail of broken plants due to the darkness.
It was 6 PM. We split up with machetes looking for a way to get out of the forest, but the brush was literally too thick to pass! Exhausted, we were joking about spending a night sleeping on the jungle floor when we noticed the dog whining in the bushes ahead of us. We pushed through the bushes, the dog looked at us, and continued.
We followed the dog, and, sure enough, it was a passable trail. The dog must have been following Tom’s scent! It was now past sunset, and the five of us agreed we would absolutely not have escaped the jungle that night without Hechi, who we deemed the ‘cave dog’. We rewarded him with a hamburger and leftover chicken.