A few weeks ago, we went on another expedition to the Offerings Cave in the Elijio Panti National Park with Gonzo, his friend Becky, who is an archeologist, and with Antonio as our guide. I had visited the cave about a year ago with Gonzo and Antonio, as well as Selwyn and two of our guests. Tom heard so much about it from Gonzo and me that he went with Antonio and Selwyn shortly after that, but none of us had been there in almost a year. Gonzo wanted Becky to see it, and the rest of us wanted to take some more time to explore and to take a second look at some things.
When Gonzo and I went last year, we hiked in, explored the cave, and hiked out. When Tom went, he walked, but went with Antonio and another guy who packed their stuff in on horses, and they camped overnight.
This time, after much discussion as to how to get there, Gonzo decided that he would attempt to drive in with his 4WD, bush-equipped, Mitsubishi Montero. An old fire/logging road runs from San Antonio past the Visitors’ Center and almost to the base camp below the mouth of the cave. But, we’d been having quite a bit of rain and nobody had attempted the drive in quite a while. No worries, however. We picked Antonio up at his house and started down the track. Our first obstacle was a bridge that had burned when some of the farmers were burning off their fields, but it had been partially rebuilt with large rocks, which the Montero with Gonzo at the wheel handled easily.
We then ran into some deep muddy ruts, but thanks to Gonzo’s driving and Antonio’s advice from the back seat on the best places to attempt to hit on the road, we made it through. We ran into some more deep, slick, and muddy spots which the Montero crawled through quite nicely, and then ran into some downed trees.
Tom and Antonio got out, machetes in hand, and whacked the logs out of the road so we could pass. We ran through another muddy spot on the trail which made Becky and me a little nervous, because while it was at the bottom of a muddy hill heading to the cave, we knew we were going to have to cross the very sloppy spot and climb the muddy hill on our way out. The men reassured us that we’d be fine, and we made it the rest of the way to the cave with Tom and Antonio only having to get out to chop things out of our way a few more times.
Once there, we outfitted ourselves with helmets and headlamps, and headed up the hill to the cave entrance. We had noticed some carvings in a large rock outside of the cave the last time we were there, but didn’t have any equipment to try to see them better.
This time, Gonzo had picked up some paintbrushes in San Antonio on our way there to clear off some of the dust, and he had his large spotlight to better cast shadows to see indentations in the rock.
We spent quite a while looking at the rock, and noticed many carvings that we hadn’t seen last time. Gonzo also got a few good shots of the carvings on the top of the rock.
At some point, he and Becky also realized that as they sat on top of the rock, they were in a crocodile’s mouth formed by the stalactites. Once they pointed it out, it was obvious, but we hadn’t noticed before.
We then headed into the cave. It was very much as I remembered it, although the rock formations were much more impressive when viewed with the high-powered spotlight rather than just with headlamps.
We also went through a curtain of crystal stalactites and stalagmites into two more rooms of the cave where Gonzo and I hadn’t been before.
One was a burial chamber, with many bone and tooth fragments, and the other was a chamber with 26 pots, with 13 turned up and 13 turned down.
Becky and Gonzo also noticed that the pots were lined up on an east-west axis, a theme which, once we noticed it, we saw repeated in other parts of the cave.
We took a much closer look at the area of the cave where some very large pots had been placed under a natural rock shelf, with some pots on top of the shelf.
Becky noticed that many of the pots had charcoal in them, and what looked like burned bone and tooth fragments.
We spent a lot of time looking closely at all the things we’d just walked by before, and noticed more rocks that had been carved in a shape that we saw repeated over and over throughout the different cave chambers. We ended up spending about three hours in the cave before we decided that we’d seen as much as our minds could absorb at once.
We headed out of the cave and down the hill for lunch before heading back to San Antonio in the Montero.
We made it through the spot that had worried Becky and me, although not without a little bit of spinning tires and back sliding, and Tom running ahead to push big rocks and sticks that could have slowed us down out of the way. We clocked the distance both on a GPS and on the truck’s odometer, and it is almost exactly seven miles between Antonio’s house and the cave, and it took us about an hour and a quarter to drive it. So, when conditions allow driving, this is a good day’s exploration. If we have to walk or ride horses to get it, it would probably require an overnight in order to get a good feel for what’s in the cave. And, we decided, based on some of Antonio’s experience in trying to drive in with other types of vehicles, that the small SUVs such as the Montero are perfect – the bigger SUV’s are too wide and not maneuverable enough, and small pickups like our Isuzu are too light in the hind end. And, of course, you need a good driver, which Antonio says aren’t all that easy to find; he had a number of tales of people who had attempted to drive in with him, and was happy to point out how far they got before they got stuck!