I arrived through customs at 01:30 after a marathon of airline movies. Met my ride and raced another cab through the streets of Lima (speeds exceeding 150km/hr!), to the hostel we would be using as a base. Andy McKenzie and Adam Haar, arrived the day before, were waiting with beer! We downed a few while catching up until 04:15. So began my Peruvian adventures!
The rest of the first half team trickled in over the next few days, they included Caving legend Al Warild (Australia), David Taberner (Australia), and my separatist friend Guillaume Pelletier (Quebec). As this occurred we saw to the duties of acquiring Maps, Food, and other supplies for the first three weeks.
The team was bonding well and banter was at high levels, even props were being used (male stripper lighters). Which included very good angles not leaving much to the imagination. An example of such incident had me interrupting Adam engrossed in a conversation with a local woman by placing the lighter between them and thanking him for its use. It had the desired effects laughter all around. On a separate funny note Guillaume and I had some funny looks from the locals when we were trying to buy a pressure cooker, white gas, and a machete. Apparently we looked the part?
September 24th saw us, to what outsider would look at like a drug deal, pay for the Hilux's in cash up front. We loaded up then had a life lesson about driving in Peru. If you are bigger, you win. Moving North up the desert coast then into the mountains was breath taking-ly beautiful!
Cajamarca (+2700m) opened our eyes to the political tensions within Peru, Cajamarca seems to be the epi-centre for a lot of the mining opposition within Peru. There was even a State of Emergency in place until a week before our arrival. In a bid to keep an eye out for our gear (in the back of the trucks) and because I'm cheep, I slept in one of the Hilux’s, I was woken to a crowd moving through the streets yelling and shouting slogans, there was “Conga no va” graffiti everywhere, even on the hill overlooking the town, the protests continued throughout the day, and days we returned. This added a new element of cave recci for me. Every local was charged with passion and conviction about the Conga mine, Conga No Va! The funny thing is the vehicles we are using are the types used by mining companies, we also had helmets with lights! We left town to explore the sinking Rio Jadibamba, an amazing location with stunning scenery and we developed karst. With some smooth talking we arrived and were granted permission to camp, under the watchful eyes of the locals. Altitude of camp was 3644m, 10 km from the proposed super Conga mine. We spent 3 days mapping the caves which routinely ended in sumps, I wish I had brought my dive kit! Amazing stream passage with swims and giggles, climbs, and locals following our lights into the caves to fish for trout in the deeper pools. A team went down the road to check on another prospect but got run out of the area by very passionate people who thought we were the devil, or miners (the same to them). We packed up and moved to a new area in a long distance sort of way during which I did hear a separatist say that he loves Canada! That made my expedition!. In the process Al had his wallet stolen, Dave and I were sent on horseback into the mountains for a report of caves, 20km and multiple hours later we returned well after dark with a 16m or so cave. Finally a few days saw us at the "Bat cave", Cueva Chorro, Andy lead the rock climb into the entrance with me on belay. With the rope rigged the survey team followed and we spent the next few days exploring this unique cave and area. It was complete with oodles of bats flying around you, hitting you in the face while you tried calling your instrument numbers, fantastic! Yet again another sump. Guillaume and I also got our climb on, ascending a series of avens. Once finished it was time to make the trek south to the Puyo Valley and drop pits at 4600m.
The drive south was uneventful except a drunk night which involved an award winning rant about how Margret Thatcher ruined the UK, brilliant to watch the passion.
Puyo, Puyo, Puyo the area beckon cavers back from around the world, we had new members join us for the second half of the expedition; Hanna Moulton (UK), Rob Middleton (UK), Andrew Perry (Australia), and Jesse Martin (Canada, on the occasion). Here we were going to finish off some leftover leads from previous expeditions, and thoroughly recci the area and look into others. We camped at 4600m then began prospecting from there. A local named Abel put us onto some impressive shafts (one bottomed out at -115m, at 4700m sweet!). Weeks were spent shaft bashing, we killed the two caves left with leads in them, Tragadero Puyo and Cueva Puyo (where I suffered from a broken finger and Scurion from rock fall at the bottom of the cave). After 40+ shafts dropped (love those concrete screws!), multiple 20km recci hikes over the mountains, a search for missing team member Jesse (who had to descend to lower altitudes due to sorejche then went missing), and a discovery of a cave full of human remains. We also explored some horizontal caves, one note worthy cave consisted of pheratic passages displaced along the bedding as if the upper section of the tube passage stayed put as the lower section shifted sideways (or vise-versa) to create an ”S” shaped cross section. All members of the team has repeatedly pointed out the tortured geological history of the Andies adding another challenge to the high altitude caving. We did get to experience this first hand on more than one occasion when we had some minor earthquakes.
October 24th, camp was broke and moved to new areas where we continued exploring caves and shafts. Pushing and suffering in the weather. On October 27th we began exploration of El Chupadero, the last cave the whole team would get to explore together, extending it to 770m long. At the end of October Al and David packed to leave, so we had a good by dinner in Huancaya and said our fond farewells. Peru had one more surprise for us, a cave discovered by accident. This caught us off guard and had Rob, Guillaume, and I caving in the nude in stream passage. What a treat El Nudador was a Tufa cave over granite boulders, the wettest cave I have been to without diving. It was surveyed on another trip to over 100m long, and you may have guessed it, another sump.
Returning to Lima the remaining team shaved off our expedition beards and dressed in clean clothes (most of us) then began to slowly trickle through the Lima airport to go home to our other lives. We will all carry with us a warm place for Peru caving. Some of us will return to share this place with others. An amazing experience with an amazing group of people, I am hoping I get to meet them on an expedition, or in a cave again.
I plan to return to this place for caving, and climbing. After all we left a very large river sinking, unexplored. Hopefully this will entice you to brave your own 6+hr marathon horse trip in the steep mountains of Peru to find that cave that will leave you as breathless as the altitude.