Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tayos Cave: One Giant EEEP! for Mankind

When venturing into a cave, there are a few things that you must bring along. A headlamp, good batteries, an adult diaper and a good knowledge of what resides in said cave. Our second excursion in Ecuador brought us to Tayos Cave 3 hours north of Zamora. To reach the cave, we traveled an hour with 3 Belgians (not required, but amusing) and a local guide (Jorge) up the Nagaritza River to a Shuar Community. They're one one of the few remaining indigenous tribes in Ecuador and the people of this particular community have acclimated to "modern" culture, living in centros or centers since abandoning their traditional nomadic existence in the rain forest. The Shuar are most noted for their former custom of head shrinking - a practice that was intended to capture and retain the souls of their victims. There are over 40,000 Shuar living in the eastern slopes and amazon rain forest of Ecuador.This center is an impoverished area, reachable only by boat, but within the next 5 years, a road will cut through the jagged hills and cascade-lined cliffs along the Nagaritza and connect the community to the network of dirt and roughly paved roads leading to Zamora. It'd be nice to think this is for the welfare of these people, but gold was discovered here and slowly and systematically, the powers that be are constructing the infrastructure to mine these Andean slopes. Further to the east, disputed Ecuadorian lands now annexed by Peru after the war in 1995 harbor vast oil fields. (If you are Peruvian and have a different perspective - please fill out a comment form at Regardless of their ownership, the people, wildlife and ecosystem are threatened by future exploration and exploitation.

Although it's the dry season in this region of Ecuador, we experienced heavy rains and strong currents on the Nagaritza as well as spectacular waterfalls along our route.

After embarking on the 3 hour hike to the cave, the peril became more perilous. Conga Ants, or "48 hour" ants are over an inch long and bite hard enough to leave you in pain for several days. I took the picture - the guide chopped it in half.

My previous trip to Ecuador brought us in contact with venomous centipedes, so when I came across this cartoonish looking beast I declined to hold it, despite our guides willingness to do so. He did - he survived - I still didn't trust him. In case you're wondering - Centipedes have 2 sets of legs per segment. Millipedes 4 sets.

After 3 hours of hiking through the rain forest, we arrived at Tayos Cave, named for the nocturnal birds that roost within. With headlamps on - our party of six descended from the glowing green canopy of the jungle into the muddy, damp darkness.

The cave was made famous in the 60's by Argentinian entrepreneur Janos Moricz whose expedition in 1969 supposedly discovered a vast series of tunnels and a "Metal Library". The wild claims drew much attention and in 1975 a scientific exploration set out to settle the claims, bringing along an honorary member of the team, Neil Armstrong. The metal library was never found although there are some interesting limestone formations. What we did find were the Tayos birds or Oilbirds that locals harvest. Just before fledgling, the birds gain a considerable amount of weight. Locals climb bamboo ladders to the cave ceiling where they extract the chicks from the nests and render their fat for oil. The birds don't respond well to these disturbances in their cave as you can imagine and screech out a noise in the darkness that sounds not unlike the Predator from Arnold Schwarzenegger's movie of the same name. Later tonight, turn out all the lights and play this clip of Oilbirds to simulate the effect.

I could have sworn I had good batteries. They had been working fine, but my light - which was also Ma-Le's illumination died at quite the inopportune time. Half way into the cave as we carefully stepped back and forth across the cave stream and just as we were ducking under a large boulder and squeezing through a narrow passage with just one more step to reach the plateau - darkness.

I can imagine how the Neil Armstrong expedition in 1975 would have gone.

"That's one more small step..."

"Holy crap what was that!"

It's no wonder Ma-Le reacted the way she did. As the hideous screams echoed through pitch black - I snapped this chestnut.

If that wasn't terrifying enough - a Belgian exclaimed "What is that" and shone his flashlight against the rock wall 3 feet in front of us and there, perched on the wall and about the size of a dinner plate was a Scorpion Whiptail.

Look at the face on that thing! It's just as terrified as Ma-Le! But it does look familiar....

As we left the cave, the Belgians left us behind again to grope the rock walls and slosh through the stream in darkness - eventually emerging back into the rain forest. Why couldn't they wait!

I guess I shouldn't have made that Belgian Waffle joke the night before. But it was a good one.


  1. fantastic and frightening! i give it 2 thumbs up! glad you made it out of there intact - love the shot of MaLe!

  2. you are gonna get it for posting that picture! haha

  3. OOOOhhhh THAT'S where Ecuador is!
    Isn't that the video from the jungle cruise at Disney World?

    l'il sister

  4. I sent u a map of PERU .... PERUVIAN TERRITORY.... before all those little countries tried to step up and take our land... we have been way over generous... trying to avoid conflict and giving up OUR LAND.... I hope you get the map on your email and place it on yor Blog for all to see...

    I will send u some history too....

    -Peruvian advocate

  5. If you look at the maps of Ecuador before the war in 1941 you can easily see that Ecuador was almost twice as big as it is right now. Please note that we are not talking about 1800's, we are talking about 1941 when every country in this hemisphere had well defined limits. Peru took advantage of the international chaos (WWII) and then invaded the country and forced us to sign a treaty giving half of our country away. Ecuador has never had any border issues with any of its neighboors, while Peru has had and currently does have disputes with Ecuador, Chile and Bolivia.

  6. Eventually I'll provide an update for this blog entry - since we were not in the actually Tayos Cave but another of the same name. Still spooky - not as dangerous. And I have always found it bewildering how Ecuador loss so much land in such a short period to Peru. I'd like to investigate more. Thanks for the post fmc81