The return from Tayos

We did it! Our expedition is complete, we have said goodbye to our team and for now say goodbye to Ecuador. We return home with more beautiful photography, sound recordings, film footage, musical recordings, writings and fascinating neuroscience data than we could ever have hoped to gather within our time in Cueva de los Tayos. Thanks to the extreme dedication of our expedition members who went above and beyond in their focus on making the most of the precious time we had in the cave we return with incredible material with which to begin weaving the story of this unique place.

The journey was not without its challenges but we worked hard to make virtues of all the curveballs thrown us along the way: an unexpected 24 hour delay in getting into the cave gave us opportunity to explore in greater depth the rainforest outside, last minute changes and cancellations among our originally intended team gave us instead the wonderful company of our talented replacement filmmaker Francisco who not only captured the beauty of the cave on film but was a constant source of calm inspiration, companionship and support. Extreme rainfall on our last night in the cave forced us to exit quickly the next morning as underground rivers swelled in the cave and our path to the exit filled to waist height water in places. But even this presented an opportunity as the unusual river flow meant that we enjoyed an additional night in the Shuar village until the Coangos river was once again safe to navigate by boat: a magical night of song and ceremony. And perhaps most fortuitously of all our later entry into Cueva de los Tayos made possible the addition of Jaime to our number, in whose family’s territory the cave lies and who offered us so much precious insight into the Shuar relationship with Tayos as well as traditional blessings and protection for our project.

For each and every one of us the time in the cave was incredibly special. From the paradox of feeling secure in a world of darkness, tarantulas, snakes, scorpions and vertiginous passageways to the sheer inspirational beauty of the vast and endlessly descending chambers, the Cueva de los Tayos proved for all of us a deeply moving place to experience. We navigated the tricky hurdles of conducting a ground-breaking neuroscience pilot study in unprecedentedly remote, dark, dirty and humid conditions for the sensitive equipment used, and gained an intimate knowledge of the soundscape of the cave as study participants. Our amazing photographer Eoin Carey and filmmaker Francisco maneuvered heavy cameras, lighting and tripods through passages sometimes only just large enough for a human body, to capture the huge spaces punctuating the cave’s downward motion into the depths. And we were all witness to the unique transformation of our epic camp chamber into a sonic art installation as musicians Jon Hopkins and David Villagomez explored the resonant properties of the cave through sound and music. 

The huge amount of material we return home with as well as the richness of our memories of Tayos would not have been possible without the exceptional, patient and generous guidance of our guides Oscar, Patricio, Sapito, Alex and Cristian. From the hours of silent waiting whilst filming to the transport into the cave of all of our equipment (including djembe, flutes, recording equipment and even a set of bagpipes!) and the unusual request for assistance in filling a 250m long chamber with candlelight, they maintained throughout a supportive presence for which we are so grateful. Most of all they managed with quiet conviction the task of making each of us feel secure and protected in what is in so many ways a formidable environment. 

We are now itching to embark on the next journey: that of weaving the amazing material, memories and knowledge we have gathered into a story that does justice to the special nature of Tayos. The coming months and years involve a sea of funding applications, logistics and coordination but also the chance for us to carry on inhabiting the cave in our minds as we work towards the music release, book publication, exhibition, scientific paper, performances and talks which will emerge from this amazing adventure. 

With much careful cost saving through reduction in the numbers of our team (through amalgamation of roles and responsibilities - thanks to those who shouldered the additional logistical tasks needed!), offers of free accommodation and equipment, economic use of hired lighting, gifted clothing through our sponsors Lululemon and extra financial contributions from our team we are in the wonderful position where the generous contributions we received have covered our expedition costs! We would like to once again give our heartfelt thanks to each and every person and company who supported us: without your help this project would not exist. We will be giving everything we’ve got to make sure your contributions lead to work which is compelling, moving, educational and inspirational enough to make an unequivocal case for protection of Cueva de los Tayos and it’s rainforest ecosystem for generations to come. 

With thanks,

Eileen, Tamsin, Jon, Eoin, Mendel, David and Francisco