In the state of Guerrero, Mexico, which is probably best known to readers as the state where the resort of Acapulco is found, there is a system of limestone caverns known locally as Las Grutas de Juxtlahuaca (pronounced Hoost-lah-wah-kah).

It was 1966 and I was 11 years old. Traveling with my grandparents for a couple of years was adventure after adventure. They were the sort of travelers who opted always for the sort of places most tourists never see. Our mode of travel was a VW microbus camper. The town nearest the caverns was tiny, named Colotlipa. We had been told that anyone in Colotlipa could direct us if we simply asked for El Chivo (The Goat). Sure enough, it seemed that everyone in Colotlipa knew who El Chivo was and where to find him.

We hooked up with our guide and after a brief negotiation and a stop at El Chivo's for supplies, we were on our way. En route, El Chivo explained in Spanish (he knew only a handful of words in English) that he had been chosen by the Mexican government as the Guardian of the Caverns. This was because of vandalism inflicted upon the delicate formations in the caverns. There was no mistaking that he took considerable pride in this title, he fairly puffed up when he spoke it.

In a word, breathtaking is the best I can come up with to describe the trip, which lasted about two hours. Gaslights illuminated the way and El Chivo provided the entertainment. "Watcha la head!", he would warn if a low hanging stalactite threatened to goose egg one of our number. A stalagmite on a ledge bore an eerie resemblance to a large brown, well...breast. "Chocolate milk", intones El Chivo, making sucking sounds and facial contortions. At one point we had to literally get down on our bellies and wriggle under the stalactites in a narrow passageway, only to be treated to what El Chivo called the "Room of Blossoms", formations covered the walls by the thousands, glittering like diamonds. They did indeed resemble blossoms of crystal, breaking the light from our gas lanterns into a million sparklers. Our next stop was an underground river and... a swimming hole! My reluctance was overcome when El Chivo stripped off his shirt and dove in and soon I was splashing around with him in a pool that never saw the light of day.

More recently, archaeologists have been intrigued by cave paintings found in the Juxtlahuaca caverns that appear to be in the Olmec style. I'm sure that the caverns are much better "developed" today for tourists who wish to tour them.

I'm glad I got to see them before that happened.

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