Returning to the area of La Duez in the hills of Cumaca was a trip our Outfit would remember for a long time. We started out along the original Platanal road that had been abandoned years ago in favour of the lower route where vehicles could reach a reasonable distance inside the valley.
Our choice of route represented a shortcut where we could enjoy the heights of the valley and ultimately drop on the level way inside on what is now the main trail. Leks cavorted on their courtship grounds even during these early-morning hours.
Despite some rains earlier during the week, streams had failed to reflect additional volume. Dry ravines remained dry. Mosses that had proven to be a challenge on previous bouldery paths uphill had long since dried out. Some smaller rocks were still perched in precarious positions and we had to exercise the usual caution as we climbed among them.
After skirting the hills for some time, we reached our cave at La Duez. This was one of three caves in the area that held much interest for our Outfit in the formations that composed their interior. This area of the Northern Range is one of outcrops, sink holes, caves and walled passages. We always look forward to exploring this cavernous terrain.
We donned our lighting equipment and entered the cave. It was the walk-in type of cave that started with easy gradient at the entrance. However, our entrance was apparently not as discreet as we had intended. A flurry of wing beats accompanied by high-pitched squeaks greeted us.
A colony of bats flew within the high confines of the cave, a few descending to our floor level to perhaps investigate us. There were some that hung in attractive mammalian bunches in niches along the walls of the cave as we passed.
Some left their swinging stances and flew to the safety of higher reaches in the roof of the cave.
We had to be mindful of our passage along the increasing steep descent of the floor of the cave. As we picked our way among large and small fallouts, those that were unstable threatened to become dislodged with the passage of our feet.
We could not help disturbing one or two and watched as they rolled and settled elsewhere. Meanwhile, the bats had more or less resettled and all was quiet once more.
Our exploration of the cave did not turn out as routinely as we expected. We had descended steadily amid our established route among the fallouts when suddenly our lights picked up the absence of continuity in the floor of the cave.
There was a large void before us. This was rimmed by a narrow ledge along the side wall that represented what was left of the collapsed floor. Where there was once the floor of the cave there was now nothing.
Our lights picked up a vast, empty chamber where our floor had fallen in. Directing our beams further back along this new area, we discerned a large basement level that had gone undetected during our previous visits. Our lights confirmed we had been actually walking on the roof of a large chamber. This lower level of the cave had its own fringe and stalactite formations along its walls.
We balanced our way along the narrow ledge that represented what was left of the floor of the original cave and reached a familiar large stalagmite and column that stood together seemingly precariously on a narrow platform left after the break-off. At least these formations had remained intact though their support seemed less likely to weather further age. We hoped the stalactite that hung over the stalagmite would get the chance to one day merge with it to form a strong column or pillar to become a twin to its nearby companion.
Accessing further passage into the true depth of the cave along what was left of this upper deck now posed a challenge to us. We would have to use our ropes at this point. We could see the circular back portion of the cave system that we had always descended to. We now realised this was actually on par with the newly discovered lower level.
This was a development that we had not really planned for in the allotted time frame established for our visit to the interior of this cave.
Our fringes, yams, stalactites with active drip tips and other familiar features had remained much the same. We, however, regretted our time here was almost up and we did not have the chance to explore further.
The bat colony remained silent as we slowly retraced our passage back to the outside of the cave.
I personally promised myself to return to explore the newly discovered base-level chamber of this La Duez cave.