I am so happy to tell you about my adventure in an incredible cave system in Cabachuelas Nature Reserve in Puerto Rico. Even though this reserve is located between the Municipalities of Morovis and Ciales, I explored caverns in Morovis where I was led by environmental interpretive guides of Cooperativa de Trabajo Cabachuelas (CABACOOP)’s, a community-based worker cooperative. I visited a total of four caves out of two Proyecto Cabachuelas caving tours. Below I share what I most treasure from my two experiences in this natural site.
Prior to entering the caverns, I carefully checked out the natural surroundings. I looked for anything that suggested interaction between diverse natural resources or organisms. I stared at a creek formed from water falling on the hills nearby. Felix, one of the tour guides, said that usually water filters through limestone, and that it would not be odd to find water accumulated underneath such creek. Also, I noticed fungi decomposing a tree’s trunk, which I know triggers the creation of nutrients that eventually fertilize the ground. So it was no surprise to find tree seedlings on their course to develop into a tree. While I kept looking at this ecosystem’s organisms, I watched out for the presence of a stinging plant, the ortiga brava (Urera baccifera), so I would not touch it. This plant may be poisonous or may cause an itchy skin rash. When I saw a snail on an ortiga brava leaf, I first felt pity for it and asked myself how it tolerated the itchiness. Then I thought that maybe snails are not affected by this plant as human beings may be. Even if such were true, I was amazed at what I had just seen.
Once at the caves, I was impressed at limestone formations such as stalactites, stalagmites, columns (result of stalactite and stalagmite connection), and calcareous walls. Even though it is typical finding these in caverns located in Puerto Rico, limestone creations in each cave are unique. While I find remarkable many of the limestone formations in Cabachuelas Nature Reserve’s caves visited, I like to pinpoint some that are very interesting due to their design: (1) stalactites with a denture-like form, (2) fried egg-like design of stalagmites on their initial development stage, (3) popcorn-shaped formations on stalactites, stalagmites, columns and walls, (4) curtain-look of various calcareous creations, as a whole, and (5) thinner columns and wider columns than the ones I have usually seen in my cave explorations.
I am always astonished at cave limestone formations not only because of their distinctive looks, but also the fact that most are product of teamwork between water and its ingredients during million years. As Felix explained, calcareous creations may be formed as a result of mineral and/or sediment buildup as water filters little by little through limestone. Maybe these were formed due to water constantly dripping from cavern’s ceilings or water current flowing on the same location over and over, as Felix added. Knowing the relation between water and calcareous formations, it makes sense to have seen a coral reef fossil as an element of a cave wall.
Also, I liked looking at evidence of Indigenous inhabitants’ presence in some of these caverns many centuries ago: petroglyphs. Among the drawings found on petroglyphs were: coqui, lizard, faces, and two body shapes which the tour guides referred to as “gemelos” (“twins” in English). According to Felix, some archaeologists interpret that the drawing on “gemelos petroglyph” represents two babies hugging each other, or conjoined twins.
Living organisms that inhabit Puerto Rico caves were also a highlight. I noticed “guabás”, the tailless-whip scorpions usually referred to as cave spiders, after carefully searching for them on cave formations’ fissures. Also, I stared at cave swallow birds, lizards, and insects. It was interesting to see pale seedlings on caves’ floors and right underneath bats. Felix explained that these seedlings are the result of seeds brought in and scattered by bats.
Water, as a natural resource, flora, fauna and history’s footprints complemented the four caves in such a way that I hold dear my memories from Proyecto Cabachuelas’ tours. These caves, gifts from Puerto Rico's northern karstic region, as well as their surroundings are simply charming.
Proyecto Cabachuelas tour guides are highly recommendable. CABACOOP offers different types of caving tours. For more information, you may contact CABACOOP at 939-450-1295 or browse their website, https://www.cuevasmorovis.com .
NOTE: Since caving is a risky outdoor recreation, it is important to be accompanied by a tour guide who knows well the caves and applicable safety measures. In addition, proper tour guides oversee that tour groups follow environmental protection practices while at caves. So it is not recommendable to visit caves on your own.
Translated by N. Michelle Rodríguez Amadeo