El Sótano de las Golondrinas

We left La Playita on a cloudy afternoon and began the long drive up to the sinkhole, after a detour to refuel the van and pick up some supplies. Ruby was definitely down on power and around half way the battery warning light came on. I was not ready for more issues. We pulled over to the side, and thankfully, it was an HT lead that had come loose. Our new air intake pipe had pushed the lead off the coil pack, an easy fix. The alternator on the other hand was now overcharging. Not wanting to finish the rest of this steep mountain road in the dark and rapidly deteriorating weather, we turned on everything that uses power to stop the batteries boiling, and continued. The last section was in the mist, it was impossible to see more than a few metres ahead.

We saw Clem and Emilie coming the other way, apparently Lu wasn’t allowed in due to the current Covid restrictions, so they were heading back to camp somewhere else. A little way up the road we met the others. It was wet, cold and miserable. Ruby wasn’t quite right, it was hard for us to restart on the hill in order to turn around. We knew there was no camp spot here, just parking on the side of the road. We headed off down a quiet dirt road in search of a place. Pulling over in the rain it was now dusk. We were not particularly optimistic about the chances of seeing anything in the morning as we all sat in our respective soggy vans. We had come this far though, so we set our alarms for 6am and called it a night. Throughout the night the rain lashed the windows and the wind picked up. I had some visions of the camper being blown off the edge of what I presumed was a large cliff as we rocked about in the dark. It was impossible to see what we had parked next too. Lightning lit up the pop top. If that wasn’t enough to stop us sleeping I lay there and pondered the alternator issue.

The morning was definitely better, it was hard to get a true measure of visibility in the dark, but we could see lights across the valley. Our road parking spot had been surprisingly ok, only one car passed us at night. We packed up and drove down to the entrance, not wanting to miss it. Sunrise was approaching fast.

Having paid, the now over double in price ‘covid pricing’, we hurriedly made our way down the seemingly endless steps towards the sinkhole. From the first viewing platform you could see that it was a big hole, but not really how big. If you wanted to do that you had to get tied to a rope before you could go and look out over the edge. We noticed that most people seemed to be sitting at another point a little further down. We anxiously checked if we had missed it, the sun now risen, but no we hadn’t.

At the next point, we sat to wait on some rather uncomfy rocks. We were supposed to stay quiet too, no talking. We waited an hour. Nothing. We heard the man who was in charge of holding the rope tell someone that the birds hadn’t appeared until 11am a few days ago. Having arrived at 7.15am that seemed a long way away. We waited another hour. Someone dropped their camera down a hole in the rocks and a small rescue mission ensued. We waited another hour. Vultures circled overhead.

A lot of people gave up and went away. I took a photo of a butterfly and Hanno pointed out that a large leaf had fallen into the sinkhole. Interesting developments.

And it was at that moment that we first heard it, the sound of the wind created by millions of wings rising out of the ground below.

The first few birds appeared by themselves, and behind them came the rest. They swirled out of the sinkhole, a tornado of black and white beating wings. They didn’t make much noise apart from the wind they created as they shot out of the ground and over our heads.

Now seemed like the perfect time to go and look in the hole, so we got tied to the rope and crawling flat on our stomachs went and looked into the abyss. Over 300m down, birds endless spiralled up towards us. The total length of the sinkhole itself is over 500m into the ground.

The steady stream of birds continued for around half an hour before slowly coming to a stop. It was now around 11am, and we began the long climb back up to the cars, the day now significantly warmer.

With much of the day still remaining, due to our rather early start, we decided to head to onwards to a better camping spot. A quick check of the alternator in the daylight, revealed that the electrical connector had managed to come loose. Now feeling much better that our new battery wouldn’t be boiled and that the engine also wouldn’t be misfiring, we drove the steep and twisting road back down to Aquismon.

Taking advantage of a major town, we stopped for some tacos. So far in my experience of Mexican cuisine, the restaurants fall into three categories when it comes to their menus. There is the organised one, the menu is accurate and you can have whatever you like, any deviations from the menu are reported to you when you sit down. Lovely. The second is a little more basic, the menu consists of one or two things, or is non-existent entirely but it’s something straightforward and the usual choices are available. The last one is irritating, there’s a copious menu, but nothing on it actually exists. You don’t know this until you order, only to be told that your first three choices are unavailable. Then when you ask it suddenly becomes clear that this is option number two and you feel a bit cheated because you can’t have any of the nice things you wanted. The restaurant we picked fell into this category, I ate a lot of cheese tacos and Lee ate the weird meat thing I ordered by accident.

As we ate, we planned. There seemed to be a nice spot next to a spring that we could check out on the way to Xilitla, meeting point agreed, we headed into town for shopping. Getting a little overexcited by a giant lettuce that was the entire size of our cool box and by a gigantic candle that we couldn’t resist buying for Jaro. By the time we were ready to leave, the others had gone so we hadn’t quite made it to the spring before we received a messaged saying we couldn’t camp. As we were not that far from Xilitla now, we bit the bullet and headed there anyway. We wanted to see Edward James’ famous sculpture garden there.

This time, we were the first ones to arrive, Jaro in tow. We went to a spot marked on iOverlander. While it was mainly for renting cabanas, they did permit camping on the drive as I confirmed when we arrived. We were told it was 70 pesos per person. Not too bad a price, the main issue was how sloping the drive was. When Bruno pulled up a few minutes later we showed them the option. Fairly happy with it, as there is not much choice in the area and it was within walking distance to the garden, we asked if he could do that night for 60 each, a nice round 300. At this point it was a little confusing. He said no. Fair enough, well you don’t ask you don’t get, we would pay 70 then. He still said no. Now we couldn’t camp there. Rather confused, but now quite clearly being told no, we left.

There was one free spot up the road marked, a simply lay-by again. We arrived and two police officers appeared to be guarding a part of it which had subsided. There was still plenty of space for the three of us, and it seemed a fairly quiet dirt track. Me and Kikki went and asked if we could stay. The police were happy enough which is a good start, as police cars regularly patrolled the road. Knowing we had a good spot, which may not have been pretty but was functional enough, we parked up. From this point onwards, the weather rapidly deteriorated again. We ended up back in our vans in the rain, the boys chess game rained off.

From the warmth of inside, we tried to arrange tickets. Apparently we had to pre-book, however, the online system was not into accepting payments and so we decided there was nothing for it but to turn up in the morning. The rain pattering on throughout the night as we fell asleep in another surprisingly tranquil roadside spot.

2 Comments

  1. You haven’t broken down again, have you? There’s a whole heap of fresh blog suddenly developed!! Either that or it’s a helluva hangover and you can’t stand the noise of starting Ruby for a few days.
    Hope you guys are OK.

    1. We kind of broke down a little bit! We have had some major work done on the suspension so had some time to catch up with the blog. Tequila is sometimes involved.

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