Jamaican Caving Notes
Apr 6, 2004
Position: WGS84 - 18 22' 24.0" N, 77 36' 21.9" W, +/- 5 m
Field notes: R. S. Stewart
Cavers: G. van Rentergem, R. Stewart, M. Taylor, B. Murray, D. Roeber.
I am including Benta Well in the expedition notes so that no one else in the future who hears of this "deep shaft", near Coxheath, wastes their time finding it. It is a very old well, blasted 21 metres down into the limestone bedrock for reasons known only to those who were responsible for its construction. Whoever they were, they had no understanding of the morphology of the land beneath their feet, for one must go much deeper than 21 m in the karst of the Cockpit Country to find water, unless one is incredibly lucky and hits an underground river (which are few and far between).
I'd heard of this pit some time ago, and today, a rest day before we tackled the Troy Trail, seemed a good time to pay a visit. It also would supply a training ground for Brian and Dana, two of our Peace Corps volunteers, in vertical rope techniques. It did in fact serve this purpose, and the two of them did their first proper descents and ascents on a single rope.
The hole is found in an area that I had never visited before, in the hills 3 km to the east of Coxheath. The drive in, with the Corolla, was difficult due to the roughness of the road, so it was necessary for the others to walk to give enough clearance for the car. This road would be a factor for us on the way back out.
En route, in a high saddle about 1 km before the well, the road passed through a section of old pasture land that supplied a fine view in all directions. There is suitable land for a catchment on either side of the saddle, the constant breeze would keep the mosquitoes away, the surrounding farm land has been well cleared of rocks and looks productive, and the road would be fine for a jeep, landrover, or 4x4 pick-up truck. I could easily imagine myself sitting on a porch, late in the day, watching the sun lowering over the western horizon. Accordingly, I have put this project on my to-do list.
We found the pit, we all went down and came back up, and that was that. The only notable fact was the presence of an Eleuth (cave frog) at the bottom.
On the drive back out, I managed to clip a sharp rock and was rewarded with an instantly flat-tire. The spare, when dug out from its compartment under our pile of gear, was of course even flatter. What followed was typical of my time spent in Jamaica over the years.
We were two km's from the nearest real road, which was reached at Miss Lilly's. In Canada, land of my birth, this sort of problem, occurring this late in the afternoon (about 4:30 PM) would have meant that there would be no solution, i.e. no repaired/new tire, until the next day. It would have required logistics that would have eaten up many dollars. In Jamaica, land of the other end of my life, everything was criss and taken care of within two and a half hours.
To deal with this seemingly sticky situation, all that we had to do was take the damaged tire out to the road, it hanging first from a piece of cane, and then a yam stick, carried on the shoulders of myself and the others taking turns, until Lilly's was reached. Within 5 minutes I was in a taxi, with tire, on my way to Falmouth. The taxi driver, a very cool guy who we've know for a while, carried me down to a mechanics where the tire was soon repaired (while we both drank a Red Stripe). We then returned to Miss Lilly's, and all of this driving, and time, cost me about 10 CDN$. The tire repair was 5 CDN$.
We were soon again in Coxheath, and after eating a quick, wonderful stew made by Miss Lilly, we carried the tire back into the hills. Thirty minutes later, the tire was on the car, and we were working our way slowly (and carefully) out of the hills. Before it was dark, we were back at Lilly's having another round of cold Red Stripe, with everything taken care of.
I find it ironic that Jamaica, with its various difficulties and dodgy infrastructure, is a much better place to have problems happen than in Canada. In Canada, with its giant social/commercial apparatus attempting to control every aspect of everyone's lives, every problem is an opportunity for others to suck money out of your pockets. In Jamaica, many people have known many problems and there is more compassion when they see you having ones of your own. There is also usually an ad hoc solution possible for most problems, rather than a rigid, prescribed method as in the True North (because of the absence of the giant commercial apparatus that controls America-lite). Perhaps my experiences are different than those encountered by others and we are benefitting from our relative fame and familiarity. Maybe it is because Jah watches over us and keeps our problems manageable. Maybe I just have better luck in Jamaica. For whatever reason, when things go bad, I'd much rather be in blessed Jamaica than cold, heartless Canada.
I am listing the position even though this isn't a cave or sinkhole, just an ancient well. As noted above, this is being done to make sure future cavers are aware of it, and don't waste their time checking it out.
I couldn't help thinking the whole time we were at Benta about an old SCTV skit where a senile Jacques Cousteau goes down into an old well to find nothing but a rusty bucket. While he waxes on about the unknown mysteries of the how and why of the rusty bucket, one of his crew is saying, with a very French accent, "You old fool! It is nothing but a rusty bucket!!". We didn't even find a bucket.
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