Among these, Caverna de Quiocta at Lamud, near Chachapoyas was notable for several reasons. I had spent the day before climbing around Kuelap, pre-Inka ruins nestled in the Andes Mountains in the same area. That night I had woken up a few times with leg cramps. I wanted a break from climbing. The tour operator told me Quiocta was a natural cave with Inca remains and artifacts, “Hay muy facil. (It’s easy.) Es solo una hora, entonces nos vamos a Sarcofagos de Karajia. Tambien es facil,” he assured me. (It’s only an hour, then we go to Sarcofagos de Karajia. It’s also easy.)
Thinking Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico with its concrete paths, electric lights, and elevator, I agreed. At 8:30 the next morning I joined 17 other tourists in a van. We drove up the mountain on winding, narrow roads for two and a half-hours. Finally we stopped at a restaurant in a small town where we rented rubber boots, and signed up for lunch we would return to eat. When we got to Caverna de Quiocta, we donned our boots and trooped down the hill to the mouth of the caves. Some of us were given flashlights, but there weren’t enough for everyone. I wasn’t one of the lucky ones.
We paid our entrance fees and slipped through the narrow opening of limestone into pitch darkness. The floor was slick with mud. For the next hour or so, we slogged and slid through the gray substance that was so thick in places, it sucked the boots off our feet. Rivulets of water from one to three feet wide ran through the cave in no discernible pattern, requiring us to jump over them. We held each other’s hands so we wouldn’t fall, but several of us did anyway. One of the girl’s boots sank so far into the muck it created a vacuum that took several people to pull it off. By then, most of us were laughing.
In spite of being muddy, and tired from trying to stay upright, the cave was full of lovely stalagmites, stalactites, skulls, bones, and ancient Inka drawings.
Upon reflection I thought about how some countries can allow tourist sites to be viewed in their natural states, without the need for gates, security, and designated paths to keep tourists orderly, and safe.
The reason is money. Big money. In the United States predator lawyers look for reasons to sue. According to the US Financial Education Foundation, ‘frivolous lawsuits can be treated as a form of “legal extortion” and every year excessive tort costs add up to an estimated $589 billion. 589 billion!’ Americans will sue anybody for any thing. One of the most infamous frivolous lawsuits, is the woman who sued McDonalds because she put a hot cup of coffee into her lap and scalded her thighs leaving the drive-through window.
Buildings, parks, museums, and other tourist sites in America have to be extremely cautious. A broken step, a small hole in the ground, or a burned out light bulb can potentially be the impetus for a law-suit. It’s a shame. We all lose.