Well, Rockwatching has been up and running for a number of years now (5 to be exact) and I believe it has contributed significantly to the interest of people like myself who like caving, rocks, the outdoors, gems and minerals in Ontario.
We are just a few short days from 2011 and I believe it’s high time we made some resolutions -all of us (you my loyal fellow bloggers as well).
So in the interests of all involved a few ground rules to follow on Rockwatching from now on
1) Lets not carry a personal vendetta onto this site which is meant to be a forum where like minded enthusiasts can interact in a positive way.
2) Lets respect each other and try not to get personal when we are frustrated.
3) Lets respect the basics of conservation and eco-minded thought.
4) Lets not assume stuff we don’t know for sure (hence the survey at the bottom of the post).
5) Lets keep in mind that this is all about enjoyment.
6) Lets keep in mind that just because the topic is on the table, every single aspect that pertains to it is not an open book.
7) Lets respect people who are not on the site, private property, reputations etc. Just because there is discussion of a site or feature does not mean permission has been granted to go there.
8) Lets not get petty, self righteous or important. Stop correcting my grammar, spelling or use of terms. I am a writer at heart and so I believe I can use the language as I please (providing it’s in good taste, or if I choose, not in good taste).
9) Lets not waste my time by having to re-direct you to one of the above rules.
Before dinner we went on a tour of Mario’s farm – he had an alligator on a chain that he goaded for our entertainment. It lived in a scum covered cement pool behind the shed where he kept his Lada. I wondered if I could keep a pet like that, but come to think of it, we have some kind of exotic pet law back in Guelph.
Here is a little bit of how the article had initially appeared (though in “Beyond the Playa”, the editor had coaxed it into something more about the dinner than the crocodile) …
““My he looks like a nasty fellow” I commented to my host. The creature eyed me coldly. “How long have you had him?” “9 years” “ And I suppose you are going to take his belly skin? Use it for handbags? Gangster shoes?” “Si, my pet, I feed”. Still no reaction from the beast, it seemed indifferent to its fate. I doubt that it understood me, but then again, neither did my host.
Life never fails to amaze, I wondered at the bond that must have developed over those 9 years. Master gazing fondly over his ill-tempered charge; a rusty chain fastened around its armoured neck. Reaching over in provocation the farmer yanked it’s tether and the beast went absolutely beserk, snapping and thrashing it let loose a fetid hiss from its gaping mouth. Whereas a dog bites at 300 pounds per inch this killer pulverizes bone at a crushing 5000 pounds pressure.
I wondered what it was that had bought me here. My resort offered a perfectly suitable meal – rice and beans – typical Cuban fare, and chicken or some kind of fish. “What kind of fish?” I would ask. “Cuban fish” they would invariably reply.
Well here I was in the banana grove of a farm near Varedero; overlooked by the various creatures who lived there, my host’s Cocker Spaniel, Hootie, the hootia and of course the angry beast. “Nombre?” I asked my beaming host. “Crocodillo” he told me. The “Tinyosa” – great flapping black vultures watched from a tree nearby. I am sure they hoped that I might get to close.”
As for the piggies in the picture, sweet and snuffling as they were, I believe we derived a significant amount of guilt. I hadn’t realized that one of their brethren would serve as dinner until a part of him/her appeared with our meal. I believe we would have paid for his freedom if we’d realized the consequence of our visit, but then again, a wild pig soon grows ferule and even uglier, so freedom for these creatures might be good in theory, but in practicality Mario’s family would go hungry and so would we – “Circle of Life”.
Here it is – over the hump. I pressed through this low slot and on to the passage beyond – an elliptical tunnel that wound off into gloom. Its hard to imagine but somewhere further on the helictites become so dense and interwoven that it is impossible to go onwards without damaging them. I did not get much further than this, but I was shown a map that indicated the most fantastic formations were isolated beneath a military zone. After my little private jaunt I saw a 3D movie that the curators were making of what was deep within – unbelievable!
One General Frederico F. Gavada wrote in 1870 in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine of his experience in the Cuevas de Bellamar saying that he eventually reached an underground lake, 18 feet deep and 180 feet long. He called it the “Lake of Dahlias” for the crystals that looked like petaled flowers.
As the general wrote …
“These dahlias are formed by triangular, concave crystals, starting from a common centre, in layers one above the other, precisely as the petals of dahlias are arranged. They vary from three to five inches in diameter. Their greatest beauty consists in the exquisite manner in which they are tinted with veins of violet and blue and delicate yellow and pale crimson. These colors are probably due to the presence of mineral salts which filter down with the water from the overlying strata.
Here, then, we have an enchanted lake in which the most fastidious of naiads would not refuse to dwell. A lake with its surrounding landscape of fantastic, sparry forms and its beds of wondrous flowers, and with its own sky bending above it full of sparkling constellations – a lake on which the sun has never shone, and whose smooth and silver surface the light wings of the breeze have never rippled, nor the rage of the tempest ever maddened into foam”.
Sloshing through tepid water in the Cuevas de Bellamar I proceeded onwards past the usual path of travel. I am told that these gently sloping tunnels eventually reach the aquifer. Cuba is part of the same limestone plateau upon which is perched Florida and the Yucatan. Oddly this rock in which the Cuevas de Bellamar has formed is reddish – like what you would expect to see on mars and the calcite that has precipitated from within is snowy white – like icing.
I think it might be that one evil green eye that led me on beyond the tourist designated tunnels of the Cuevas de Bellamar. I had been given permission to go further by our guide who was an avid caver himself. I still intend to produce an article for a magazine or something about the experience – in fact I have it produced already. Toronto Star had initially suggested that they would be interested in seeing something on Cuba’s caves but that fell through.
As you can see by my wrist band I was at that time resident at one of the Island’s many tourist resorts (Jibacoa). We had picked a quiet place half way between Havana and Varadero – it was beautiful, but the food – Wow, you cant begin to imagine the spagehetti paste filth they served and called it food -stay away from the fish as well, but conversely, some stuff was still edible. The people, now they were great!
Anyway, here I am sweating off the beer from the night before and wading along in tunnels that were just incredible. More pictures to follow soon – please excusee the lack of caving gear, my exploration was kind of winging it, the guide had lent me his little pocket light.
I should be getting back to my essay, I’m supposed to be writing something on health and safety legislation – I’m doing a course in Conestoga taught by a MOL inspector. Pulled off a pretty decent mark on my test – you might remember that I mentioned avoiding it by blogging about my last trip to Dodge. I’m heading back to Kansas for a health and safety conference in Janurary.
Sea caves usualy form along weaknesses in the rock that are scoured out by ocean waves – they seldom go to far in, but surprisingly, they often have secret little passages at the back of rather cavernous entrances; I can think of several such instances along the Bruce peninsula and one quite close to home (Guelph).
Here we are way up in the hills in Cuba – having spent an unusual day with our host – M…, who speaks no English and we no Spanish beyond “Mucho Gusto” and “Por Favor”. The Cuban people are exceedingly generous with what little they have and several times that morning M… stopped and bought us beer. We even smoked a cigar between us that left me retching and dizzy. No complaints except the single handle that we passed around to roll down the various windows in the car. Occasionally we pulled them back up at checkpoints so as to remain hidden from authorities; they frown on connections between the locals and visiting tourists – in case we spread our degenerate Western ways.
I think we were somewhere in the middle of Matanzas Province, quite high up, and off in the distance there were sugar cane fields that disappeared beneath a vista of yellowish-haze. Underground, within these chambers roots broke through the roof and crept across boulders like tentacles. “Maggie was excited and wandered off into places that you could not see. Being a caver I was curious, but also cautious, as I had seen a pit on the walk up and wondered if there was any such feature hiding in the darkness.
There was a sign at the front of this cave – written in Spanish and interpreted by M… who with his hand actions indicated that some kind of battle had taken place here. If you can read Spanish I have a picture of the sign in my Flickr account.
As mentioned in a previous post, I had visited the Cuevas de Bellamar a few weeks ago. If you are taking a holiday in or near Varadero (Cuba) it is well worth visiting. I had been given permission to go a little beyond the tourist section and in crawling down a tube shaped tunnel I found that the way ahead was almost blocked by this high grey mound. The mound must have been formed by the calcite that was oozing from this hole in the side of the passage. For some strange reason it reminded me of a ruptured blood vessel and its contents – milk dribbling out onto the cave floor. A pothole in the top of the mound revealed that all beneath was as white as this petrified deposit but there was this discolored scab over top. It could be that the tunnel may have been flooded at some time after the calcite deposit and the grey scab had settled out from the water in that passage.
This is the mouth of a large Cuban sea cave at a place called “Escaleras de Jaruco”. The environment and what constitutes preservation is not always what we call “preservation”. From my diary I offer the following extract…
“It was still high in the mountains and from the viewing platform I could see the hills disappearing into the haze. Behind us there was a field and then limestone cliffs.
From a huge sea cave entrance the disco music was blasting (The speakers looked like they had been salvaged from a Metallica concert). Behind a concrete counter there stood a red-vested waiter (very animated in his conversation with M…) We drank several beers in quick succession and then crawled up behind the bar to see if the tunnels went – they did not. There was no air flow but plenty of corroded stalactites.
M… drove further into the park – thrashing the smoking Lada through the grass. We walked along a path in extreme “holokarst” – soon several other more promising cave openings”. (more on this area to follow)
Old Havana had more than its share of school children. Everywhere you looked there were mobs of youngsters, partnered up, boy and girl, following the teacher in a string of hand-holding buddies. I thought this picture expressed their characters so well. Notice the extrovert, the shy one, mrs friendly etc. Each child shows their character when observed through the discrete telephoto lens of my camera somewhere near the Plaza de Armas.
Following the release some time ago of my book "Rockwatching; Adventures above and below Ontario", I am pleased to announce the release of my new book "Tamarindo; Crooked Times in Costa Rica". It is a story of opportunity. Edgehill Press is the publisher. (www.edgehillpress.com)