Rio la Venta, Mexico 2000
(Some of the text and all of the images on this page are from La Venta Association and reproduced here with permission)
Rio La Venta canyon was first explored by an Italian expedition in 1990. It runs through the limestone highlands of Chiapas for 90 km and in places is almost 1000 metres deep. Most of its route passes through the EL Ocote Biosphere Reserve, an area of thick rainforest which is home to endangered species such as the Quetzal, Jaguar, Ocelot Spider and Howler monkeys. There are proposals to make the reserve a World Karst / Limestone Protected Park within UNESCO. Karst pillars, protude out from the inpenetrable jungle like castle towers creating a remarkable landscape.
The area is full of caves, the longest explored so far being the La Venta System, a river cave which resurges in the canyon floor. Many caves within the rainforest are only accesible by helicopter such as the 'Ombiligo del Mundo' (The Belly Button of the World), a gaping entrance amongst a carpet of thick jungle.
The canyon changes considerably along its 90km route. In places it's only about 5 metres wide! One of the most spectacular stretches is the tunnel where the river has created an incised meander and instead of going around the mountain bluff, has cut right through it creating an enormous 700 metre tunnel . The roof stretches upwards about 200 metres and golden rays of flickering light stream through small gaps above like heavenly fingers reaching out, illuminating the walls of this natural cathedral .The river must have taken millions of years to gouge out this chasm.
In places the canyon river forms serene blue 'canals' which can easily be canoed or rafted, then it suddenly turns into foaming rapids.
The canyon is well known in the archaeological world for its cave paintings. These have been dated to around 4000BC and found in small caves in the canyon walls at heights of up to 500 metres. These artists pre-date the Mayans and the Olmec civilisations. They are the only paintings which have been found on vertical rock faces at such a height. These people must have been incredible climbers or descenders! Maybe they used petzl stops? Mummified children and strands of rope have also been found in the caves. Some people have suggested that the canyon was much lower but at a rate of only 2 mm erosion a year the canyon has been deepened only a few metres since then.
Julian Flavell , Chiapas, Mexico,
Mendip Caving Group. UK Charity Number 270088. The object of the Group is, for the benefit of the public, the furtherance of all aspects of the exploration, scientific study and conservation of caves and related features. Membership shall be open to anyone over the age of 18 years with an interest in the objects of the Group.