Archive for June, 2008

Crystals in Cuevas de Bellamar – Cuba

P1010109, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

This picture was taken in the Cuevas de Bellamar on a recent trip that I took to Cuba.

Calcium carbonate most generally comes in two varieties in a cave. Most commonly it is seen as calcite, but it can also be found as aragonite. A simple way to distinguish between the two is by their form. Calcite grows in tooth-like crystals, aragonite grows in spines.

I believe that crystals such as these grow in super saturated solutions and in the case of where I was in the cave these types of formations could be found mainly in pockets. These pyramidal shapes are commonly known as “dog tooth Spar”.

One of the properties that gemmologists recognize in calcite is its doubly refracting nature. Thin slivers of transparent calcite known as “icelandic spar” are used in certain gemmological applications. The calcite splits a light ray into two (as do most of the crystal families) and if one such sliver is placed over an object it will be seen as a doubled image.

If anyone can corrrect me or add to my knowledge – especially in terms of what the presence of these crystals say about the cave environment, I would be most appreciative.

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Youngsters enjoy their school outing

P1000872, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

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.

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Cubans are wonderful people

P1000301, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

What can I say – Cubans are wonderful people. I was wandering along the beach somewhere near Jibacoa and these two young fellows approached me. “Ola Senor”. They just wanted to have their picture taken and to look at my camera. Cubans will drive you anywhere, take you anywhere and help you in any way they can. We stopped a car and asked the guy if he could drive us to Havana for 20 pesos, this he agreed to do but when I tried to give him 30 pesos he refused and insisted that it was only 20 pesos that we had agreed to. Fantastic people!

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Its a long Process

IMG_7425, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

In reading old caving manuscripts and following along geological hunches my caving partner and I had eventually found our way to an area of karst that we had inexplicably overlooked. I suppose it is a question of following known leads and likely areas and tunnels that we are yet to explore etc. and it is only when those leave us quite discouraged that we venture out and look for something new.

This particular area that has come to our attention was mentioned in an old manuscript and in having read about it and the well-known study that was done involving one of its springs left me wondering what took place there. Apparently there was some significant vertical relief in this particular system where a spring trickled over the karst and sunk beneath a moraine that runs along the upper edge of a valley. Deeper down in the valley the spring resurges.

As usual I had conmfused my directions and in scouting the lip of the valley on the oposite side I came across a dry river bed. I guess the river runs in the spring, eventually crossing over the edge of a steep scarp. I followed down this dry river bed – into the valley and it was down there that I first heard this faint roar. I traced the sound to a crevice that I was able to enter and in digging I located the source. It was a stream that re-emerges underground and flows down what appears to be a cliffface in a crevice that has been packed with debris. A lot of digging would be required to know exactly what there is beneath.

In following up the dry river bed we got to this little pool (As seen above) into which a small stream was flowing but no water was leaving. The size of the river bed down-stream is significant, with huge 8 foot deep sinkholes. There is certainly a lot going on in this area and we will pay a few visits up here this summer – stay tuned.

While I am on the topic of Ontario cave digging there is one point to be made. Because of the sensitive nature of a cave environment, to just hand over locations to everyone is not necessarily the best idea. Caves are not like hockey cards, they are rare and easily destroyed by those who do not value or understand them. If you are interested in caves as a sporter who would equally trade caving for mountain biking or canoeing then Ontario caves are not for you.

If a person takes the time to learn about geology and karst and is willing to check into old manuscripts and search ariel photos the information I give will all come together, but you must earn your stripes if you want to be an Ontario caver – it must be a passion that spanns years not seasons. I have never found a cave easily, it is generally by blood, sweat and tears – and lots of fruitless digging.

Whatever I cough out is for those who are willing to take the time to investigate the matter further.

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Cuban caves

P1010140, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

This is the tour guide at Cuevas de Bellamar, his name is Jesus (pronounced “hay-zeus). We are examining a fall of calcite off to the side of the main path.

Jesus tells of an experience where he got lost and was left completely confused and wandering at the bottom of a shaft somewhere near here. Apparently he prayed to god and when he looked up he saw the hole in the roof down which he had come.

Jesus confesses to being an explorer both by profession and interest. He has visited a number of local caves, but only a small proportion. I was told that there are over 3000 known cave enterences in Matanzas province alone. Many of the local caves appear to be sea caves up near the top of cliffs.

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Cuevas de Bellemar

Somewhere along the main passage there is a grotto like this through which one of the early explorers crawled. It is said that he went a considerable distance inward before having his light doused by a trickle of water from the roof. Rescuers came looking for him and the fellow miraculously made his way back to the sound of their voices.

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Fantastic Formations in this Cuban Cave

P1010091, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

I just got back from Cuba and am busily crafting several travel articles. My intent had been to visit Cuba and do some kind of special on the Cuban caves in the Valle de Vinales but from where we were staying it was just a great big hassle to get there (Around 200 K’s on roads that were anything but straight – also I dont speak Spanish all that well).

Anyway, I still managed to visit the Cuevas de Bellamar and I was given permission by the guide to go beyond the tourist section for a short distance. I believe the Toronto Star might be interested in that article.

The Cuevas de Bellamar were absolutely spectacular – the most incredible glassy helictites that cover the roofs of the caverns and at times go all the way down the walls as well. There were also well formed prismatic calcite crystals an pockets on the walls.

This particular picture is about where I left the tourist section and headed off for a short jaunt on my own. I wish that I could have gone a little further but I did not want to abuse the generosity of my hosts – in particular “Jesus” – my guide. As for the beauty of the formations – alabaster pillars, lacy rimstone dams and fantastic contrast between the red cave walls and the white deposits this place is unsurpassed – more on this to follow.

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