Mexico's Matacanes: Underwater Rivers, Cliff Jumping and Rappelling
Yet the old man’s stories were intriguing, and struck the chord of adventure in our hearts. Sounds like a great place to visit if it’s in the cards, but if not, no worries. Today the cards have spoken and it’s off to Matacanes.
For those who don’t know what a matacan is, simply put it’s reminiscent of a single, elongated downward-facing octopus sucker spouting massive quantities of water from its hollowed center. Stalactite in shape, deluge in function, it is a truly unique sight to see – or so we were told weeks earlier by our favorite local.
Roll out of bed, bottles of water in the backpack, a quick breakfast of granola and frijoles and we’re off. The ride to the base of the mountain is nearly two hours. At this time of the morning our Mexican city is an eclectic blend of stray dogs, dimly lit roadways in front of silhouetted mountain ranges, and post-party foreigners filing out of dark doorways towards the carteros (the locals who satiate the swaying masses).
As the base of the mountain comes into focus through the morning haze we realize our environs have changed. The landscape is greener. The air feels more humid. The aforementioned haze isn’t haze at all, but rather legitimate fog. Air with moisture is a novel concept in these parts.
According to our guide, Alberto, this region is created by a jet stream of warm tropical air from the Caribbean which blows over the Gulf of Mexico through mountain passes settling in this locale and, over millennia, has created a pseudo oasis of lushness in a sea of aridity. Or something to that affect.
How our driver can see five feet in front of his face is a mystery to me. This is not a journey for the faint of heart, or the weak of stomach. The jostling and bruising makes it clear why this trip isn’t in the tour books.
“Base camp” is little more than a shed, some free-range chickens, and fresh air.
We struggle over a house-sized residual boulder and down the other side to find ourselves at the precipice of the universe. A beautiful hundred-foot-high waterfall of shimmering blue. Standing atop this natural wonder we peer over the valley. It is explained to us that this is where the journey begins.
Nothing spells adventure like starting the day by rappelling down a shear cliff, especially if you’ve never rappelled before – ever. One by one we strap in and lower ourselves over the edge.
About fifteen feet from the bottom is a ledge where Alberto’s assistant is standing. The ledge, hovering above a deep blue pool, is only large enough for two.
We follow the river on its graceful descent through the rugged green valley. I leap from big rock to smaller rock, from small pool to large pool, all the while remembering how nimble I was at sixteen.
Boulders part the river intermittently. Our guide gives us the okay to roam and leaves to our discretion how adventurous we choose to be.
My mates and I run from ledge to ledge, gliding through the air in a symphony of hoots, hollers and splashes. All the while we were more excited about the next jump than we were about the previous one. We glide down slick, natural water slides that rival amusement park attractions. Stone arches pass over our heads and our lifejackets allow for mellow floating between fits of adventure.
The water at matacanes comes directly from high mountain rain, is fed by natural springs along the way and doesn’t pass any civilization for another ten miles. Dare I take a sip? I dip my lips into the stream trusting my friends had not recently relieved themselves and allow the water to spill into my mouth. So delicious! I’ve never tasted water that actually has a sweet taste; today was a day of many firsts.
We stand scratching our heads gazing into the abyss waiting for Alberto to explain how to climb around it. No dice. He elects me as the first to enter and ties the rope to my harness.
I lower myself down and watch my friends’ eyes as they strain to see me, which they can’t. Talk about resembling bait dangling on a hook for the ferocious sea monster whose sleep I’m about to disturb.
“Pare patear!” Stop kicking! Oh thank God. Alberto’s assistant. Sneaky guy; somehow he had climbed down another way to meet us on yet another ledge. As my heart slows I’m left with the question why wasn’t I offered this convenient option? He unhooks me and I fly off the ledge into the pitch, not knowing how far it would be until I hit water. For the record, it was pretty far.
My eyes adjust to the darkness and I’m in a bowl-shaped cave with a small opening of light above me – way above me. I feel like I’m standing in a massive geode, minus the semi-precious gems of course.
The walls are pocked with small in-curves and the familiar omni-cultural presence of “Julio + Catarina siempre.” I am a small goldfish in a big basin with plenty of room to roam. And roam I did; exploring the area in front of me and jumping off small ledges and rocks.
Matacanes give the illusion that they are alive. They should sway about like sea bottom life forms. They should feel soft and gummy to the touch. They should let out low rumbling sounds as they strain small animal life from the fluid plasma around them.
We are like children at a science museum (ok, I was a sciencey kid for quite some time in my youth) investigating the matacanes with fascination. When we had had enough, we filed into a narrow passage, laid ourselves in an underground river and let the lazy current lead us beneath the mountain.
This side of the hill is even more stunning than the other with a seemingly infinite variety of flora and fauna. Massive vines stretch down from the trees tickling the water’s surface. Alberto demonstrates how to swing from a vine and launch into the river – naturally, we follow suit.
For hours we walk, hike, float, rappel and jump. We end up at the bottom of the mountain, where we had started the day nearly eight hours earlier, tired, scraped, bruised and immensely gleeful and full of life.
Contact Information for MatacanesMatacanes is outside the city of Monterrey, Mexico. The city is a short direct flight from most southern US states. The trip lasts a full day and is only available from April to September. The price is around US$100 and includes transportation, equipment, trained and licensed guides, lunch, and the post-trek BBQ.
Reservations can be made through several tour companies – try matacanes.net or geoaventura.com.mx. You can also contact aventurs.com directly by email at email@example.com or call them on phone (81) 8338-5211 or mobile (81) 1281-5948.
Hotel information can be found on coladecaballo.com. A map of the route is available on dankat.com.
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