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There were two main goals to the Tayos expedition 2019 – exploring cave entrances and discovering more about the rock formations. Source: All images are copyright Ancient Origins.

Cueva de los Tayos Expedition 2019: Finding Answers in Amazonia

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The Cueva de Los Tayos Expedition 2019 was an adventure no one will forget! Our expedition had two main goals – to find more cave entrances and to solve the mystery of the rock formations we called the “walls” and “toes” upon their discovery in the last team’s expedition. Both missions were accomplished, but not everything was a walk in the woods…

Returning to Tayos and Setting Goals

A few years have passed since our last expedition to the Tayos Caves in Ecuador and we immediately noticed there had been a few changes in the Shuar community we like to stay with during the expeditions to the caves. One of the biggest changes in the village was the school that was built in part with the funds donated by members of the last Tayos expedition open to Ancient Origins Premium Members .

There was also new signage far above the village, at the roadside, to inform anyone who had strayed far from the beaten track that a small village was located below where they could find Shuar hospitality, some simple meals, and rustic accommodations.

A nice place to relax after a long day out trekking.

A nice place to relax after a long day out trekking.

This time we started the expedition in two general teams, which were further divided into pairs when we were out exploring.

Team One was focused primarily on exploring the area for cave entrances. Team Two began with exploring the stone walls and the area we called the “toes” to try to discover if they were manmade or natural features. And both groups were keeping a look out for anything else of archaeological interest.

The Tayos 2019 Expedition Team.

The Tayos 2019 Expedition Team.

Looking for New Cave Entrances

The team that set out with the main aim of finding new cave entrances macheted their way through the dense jungle growth to find ways to get into the Tayos cave system . They encountered lots of little creepy crawlies as they descended, crawled, and carefully made their way into and around the underworld.

While the explorations were thorough, we did not manage to find any caves that led to artifacts. However, they were successful in finding and exploring both the entrances found on the last trip and several new subterranean openings .

Into the depths…

Into the depths…

Solving the Mystery of the Rock Formations

Team Two set out to search around and in-between the rocks that we dubbed the walls, some standing stones, and the toes, big rocks splayed out in front of the standing stones . A trek up the hill behind them led to a few small caves, bats, and biting ants. But other than a great location to refill water bottles to use our lifestraws and drink cleaner water, we didn’t find much around the structures at first.

But an answer to the rock formations puzzle emerged thanks to a thorough exploration of the region. Tucked in behind our swimming beach we could see what appeared to be the early stages of how the water trickled down to form similar patterns and divisions in the rocks to what was seen in a larger scale at the “walls” and “toes.” Was it possible that these toes were so cleverly crafted by centuries of water flow?

Answers were found tucked away behind the beach.

Answers were found tucked away behind the beach.

It seems a likely explanation. However that realization doesn’t mean that the rocks lost all significance, because even if they are natural formations, they still stand out from the green backdrop and would have almost certainly drawn attention from others who passed them before us. So, we kept looking a little longer. The effort provided us with a couple of possible hammer stones and a large stone which shows signs that it may have been used as a hand axe or pick.

Possible stone tools.

Possible stone tools.

Trekking in the Jungle is No Walk in the Woods

While there are many beautiful views and a strange sense of peace in some of the lush greenery, the jungle is still a place where great care is needed. Gaining stable footing and a good hand grip in the mud or on slick rocks is even trickier when you have to watch out for snakes, spiders, flying insects, biting ants, and bats that unexpectedly cross your path. Injuries could happen and everyone had to be prepared to lend a hand when times were tough.

We were also shown that Mother Nature can be fickle…they don’t call this the rainforest for nothing! The date we we went to Tayos was planned to be in the drier season for the region. Ecuador has a very diverse climate depending whether you are by the coastal lowlands, where it is mainly dry and warm, the Andean central highlands where it is cooler and Spring-like year-round. But the eastern region, where we were exploring, is tropical rainforest, on the very edges of the Amazon delta, and tropical downpours there can be expected any time of year.

So a few days before we were set to trudge back up the rocky hill out of the village, while the team had set out in three trekking groups on different pathways, a storm began brewing. Dark clouds were spotted in the distance and a little over 15 minutes later, after we had radioed to each other to warn that they were on the way, we all had to pull on our rain ponchos and raincoats.

Heavy rains changed the environment.

Heavy rains changed the environment.

And it poured! All of a sudden the treks we had taken were now streams and for the last few days of our expedition the areas we had passed so frequently were transformed by the heavy rainfall . Pathways that were once clear and easy to pass through were now little ponds. The river rose and the caves were now filled with more water. Everything became much more difficult.

But There is Sun After the Rains

But it wasn’t all hard times. We shared stories around the fire, laughed over games by candlelight, visited the school and played with the Shuar kids. We took some walks with our hosts and learned more about their lives so far from the city, and heard some local stories, such as the one about this fossil on a rock high up the hill that they call ‘Atahualpa’s crown.’

‘Atahualpa’s crown.’

‘Atahualpa’s crown.’

We swam in an Amazonian river, ate lots of new foods…and we bonded over the strange and fun experiences you can only have when you bring together a group of unique and interesting people from different backgrounds and drop them in the Amazon jungle for 10 days.

Ours was no regular group – everyone proved to be extremely resilient, hardworking, and persistent. We made the best of all tricky situations and faced down difficulties as we explored and investigated, had fun and encouraged each other. Lasting memories were created and it was a trip no one will forget.

An expedition to remember.

An expedition to remember.

Thankfully, this isn’t the last Ancient Origins Expedition. 2020 has more exciting plans to explore the world in ways few get the opportunity to these days. So, get your gear bags packed and your hiking shoes ready as you keep your eye out for the next Ancient Origins expedition!

Top Image: There were two main goals to the Tayos expedition 2019 – exploring cave entrances and discovering more about the rock formations. Source: All images are copyright Ancient Origins.

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