Rancho Pint - The Mexico Page

Text and Photos ©2012 by J. Pint unless otherwise indicated.

Photo Gallery

Figure found on a stalagmite

Figurine found on a stalagmite deep inside the cave. Photo by Mario Guerrero Jr.

Loading up

Loading up for the trip.


At the trailhead, with the mountains of Manantlan in the distance.


In no time at all, we were covered with millions of prickly burrs (huizapoles).

Mario Guerrero

Dripping with sweat, flesh torn by cat's claw and covered with burrs, we arrive at the cave This is our undaunted and fearless leader, Mario Guerrero.

Isidoro Ortiz

Isidoro Ortiz captured by a Coolpix point-n-shoot camera using Fireworks mode and three electronic flashes.

wiggle due to no tripod

 Several takes with the Coolpix looked fine in the cave but not so good on the monitor. Using a tripod ought to solve this problem.

Smiles: the beloved cornfield at last!

 There were nothing but smiles when we finally reached our cornfield,-- just an hour before sunset-- even though the burrs were again waiting for us.

Look at this

Is that me? Isidoro shares his photos with one of the kids at Rancho El Zapote.


Caves beneath the dunes? Check out our Saudicaves page:







The Long Hard Trail to the Most Beautiful Cave in Jalisco, Mexico

By John Pint

Cavers admiring the many stalactites and columns of Cueva de los Monos, Jalisco, Mexico.It’s 7:00 AM at Rancho El Zapote. The air is full of early morning sounds. Loudest of all are the roosters who live only meters from my tent and have been trying to wake me up since 4:00 AM. Then come the chickens, a very large pig and dozens of loudly mooing cows, one of which wears a clanking bell, indicating that she is the leader of the herd.

Suddenly I hear the distant and repeated gurgle of a car engine which doesn’t want to start, accompanied by incomprehensible shouts of men who, I’m sure, are crowded around an uncooperative truck. Finally, va-room, va-room, va-ROOOOOM! The deafening attempts to start the car go on forever and I decide it’s time to get out of my sleeping bag and into my caving pants. I am here with members of two caving clubs, Grupo Zotz and CEO and today we are going to visit La Cueva de los Monos (Cave of the Figurines), which can only be reached after a long, hard climb up a steep mountainside above the little town of Toxin, which is located 37 kilometers northwest of Colima City, not far from Mexico’s west coast. The cave is so named because local people claim they found artifacts inside, or so we are told by Mexican speleologist Carlos Lazcano, who explored the cave in 1984. Since then I don’t believe any cavers have visited it until geologist Chris Lloyd recently relocated it and pinned its location down by GPS.

Our group obviously considered a good breakfast the key to good caving, so it wasn’t until 10:20 that we finally headed up a north-trending trail which at first struck me as very friendly, after all the stories I had been told about the previous visit to this cave. “That climb was a killer,” said Mario Guerrero, leader of this trip and the preceding one, “because it was the hottest week of May, which is the hottest month of the year, and we hadn’t brought along nearly enough water.”

Now we were enjoying the relatively cool weather of November and we gained several hundred meters of altitude in a matter of minutes. The higher we rose, the more big, white, rocky outcrops we found along the way. “This is beautiful karst,” said our Spanish geologist, Isidoro Ortiz, pointing out the prickly surface, weathered by the rain, indicating that we were inside a calcite zone where nicely decorated caves were likely to be found.

“Where did that spider go?” says biologist Ivan Ahumada inside the cave.

“At this rate we’ll reach the cave in nothing flat,” I thought, but at that very moment, our friendly trail came to an end at the edge of a cornfield. “Chin,” said Mario, “No sign of the trail anymore, but all we have to do is keep going north and follow the GPS.”

Well, the cornfield into which we plunged also happened to be home to billions of well-developed, ripe-for-traveling huizapoles (very prickly burrs) with which we were soon covered head to foot.

At last we got through the cursed cornfield and stopped under a huge ficus tree to pick the burrs off one another. Right next to the tree was a pit about three meters wide and perhaps twenty deep, which we registered for future examination. After removing a million or so huizapoles from our clothing, we pushed our way into thick maleza (bush) higher than our heads. “Yeow, uña de gato!” I heard someone yell up ahead. This is cat’s claw, just about the nastiest form of thorn you can find anywhere, as it is designed to grab you as you pass by and then tear your skin to shreds. We now had to proceed with great caution.

It was around about this point that our guide, Noé, son of our host at Rancho el Zapote, was forced to start swinging a machete in order to advance, further reducing our forward speed to that of a procession of turtles.

At last, dripping with sweat, well scratched by cat’s claw and covered with a new set of burrs, we arrived at the cave entrance.

Here, after several minutes of rest, we donned our helmets, lights and grungiest jackets and followed Mario to a small, A-shaped cave entrance. He then slid down a steep slope. All I could see was his back end, but I could hear him swearing. “¡Caray! Not even a rat could get into this miserable little hole ¡Diablitos!” This, it turned out, was not the cave at all, but a bit further along the same vertical wall, we found the real entrance, right next to a huge fig tree. A crawl of four meters took us into a room so thickly decorated with formations that it was hard to decide where to start taking pictures. “Get a shot from this spot, looking upward,” said Mario, “so we can compare it with a picture in Carlos Lazcano’s book and prove that it’s really La Cueva de los Monos.”

Well, this little cave is so chock-full of stalactites, stalagmites and draperies that several hours of photography went by in what seemed like minutes. Suddenly there was no one left in the cave but Isidoro, Diego Leñero and I. We were trying to use a Nikon Coolpix point-n-shoot camera in “Fireworks” mode with several handheld electronic flashes, in the hopes of getting the kind of high-quality results normally produced only by expensive single-lens reflex cameras.

Noe Gutierrez en Cueva Monos: Noe Gutierrez of Toxin, Jalisco. “I lived here all my life and never went inside this cave until now.”

By the time we crawled out into the sunlight, everyone else in the party was either sleeping or eating. We, of course, joined right in until it was decided to get going because we planned to explore several pits in the area before heading back to camp.

Well, the route that we had followed to get to the cave had been so unpleasant that we all breathed a sigh of relief when our guide Noé suggested we take a more direct and hopefully easier route back down the mountain.

And easier it was, at the beginning, with very little vegetation between well-separated outcrops of limestone. However, as the hillside grew steeper and the bush grew thicker, our old friends the burrs and cat’s claw reappeared and once again the machete was absolutely necessary for making the slightest progress. Following this route, however, we had a whole new problem to deal with: the limestone had turned into heaps of sharply pointed rocky rubble, which, like chunks of lava, were delicately piled one atop the other, offering the most treacherous footing imaginable.

That’s when we came to the pit. “¡Esperad, chicos! ¿No veis que aquí hay una cueva?” shouted Isidoro in what Mexicans might call Biblical Spanish: Desist one and all! Doth thee not see we haveth here a cave? Of course, within minutes, there was a rope dangling into the apparently bottomless hole.

Well, much consideration went into the possibly marvelous cave this hole might lead to, but meanwhile, the clock was ticking. In the end, we had only two hours left to get back to our truck before nightfall and at least a kilometer of nearly impenetrable bush to hack our way through. To make things worse, one member of our group, biologist Ivan Ahumada, was under attack from some sort of bug and suffering from all those unspeakable intestinal terrors usually reserved only for foreigners in Mexico


At last we tore ourselves away from that enticing hole and once again resumed our grim assault on the unforgiving mountainside. Dripping with sweat, disentangling ourselves from thorn bushes and dreaded cat’s claw, scratching mysterious red welts which had suddenly appeared on our skin, teetering on unstable chunks of rock, we inched our way downward.

Several times, we were on the brink of mutiny: “It will take us a year to get down this way; we have to go back up to the cave and return the way we came,” cried some voices. Noé, however, kept chopping away calmly and, lo and behold, one hour before sunset, we spotted the infamous huizapol cornfield! But now, oh, how friendly and inviting it looked!

To make a long story short, we were soon back on our beloved trail and reached our truck with several minutes of daylight to spare. Was it worth it? Yes, indeed! In all my 27 years of exploring Jalisco’s caves, I haven’t seen another with so many beautiful decorations…and I never even made it to the second room of Monos. So, wearing proper burr-and-thorn-proof clothes, I’d be ready to go back anytime!

Toxin panorama


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