Discover China: A French caver’s decades-long adventure in China

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GUIYANG, July 20 (Xinhua) — Jean Bottazzi, from France, has been visiting China for cave exploration almost every year for the past 34 years.

“What impressed me most about China is that every time I am here, I always find something new,” he said.

In 1986, invited by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Bottazzi and five other French came to Zhijin County in southwest China’s Guizhou Province for caving. It was the beginning of his “China complex.”

“It took us three days to get to Guiyang from Beijing by train, and the travel time from Guiyang to Zhijin was hard to estimate because the road was really a mess — just like a construction site,” he recalled.

Over the years, he has witnessed the improvement of traffic conditions and the development of cave expeditions in Guizhou. Now the distance between Guiyang and Zhijin has been shortened to about an hour’s drive.

“The biggest change I think is the change of the road network,” he said. “What hasn’t changed is the growing mystery of the caves.”

China has a large number of karst mountains with a huge number of caves and underground rivers. Mountainous Guizhou Province is filled with cave resources.

In 2001, out of his passion for caving, he came to Shuanghe Cave in Suiyang County under the city of Zunyi in northern Guizhou. The cave was later proved the longest in Asia.

For the purpose of scientific research, he joined the Chinese and foreign researchers to explore the cave nearly 20 times. As was expected, new findings were always available.

According to Bottazzi, Shuanghe Cave, with 72 entrances now, has seen its length updated to 280 kilometers and the depth to 665 meters. Surveys have discovered fossils of vertebrates. Most of them belonged to giant pandas, while others included tigers and possible elephant skeletons.

“The joint research enables us all to explore the caves more efficiently. The new findings can also provide rich and valuable resources for further research on geology and species of the cave,” said Li Po, chairman of the Guizhou Cavers’ Association.

In regards to the protection and development of caves after expedition, Bottazzi said he is pleased to see that cave tourism has brought more income to the local people.

He himself is also involved in developing tourism resources for cave adventures to help improve the livelihood of the locals and provide an opportunity for people to learn more about the geology of caves.

Besides his desire for exploring the unknown, the hospitality of the locals is another reason for his continuous visits.

“No matter where we go for caving, locals always invite us to rest or have a meal in their homes,” he said. The locals even gave him a nickname “Lao Rang,” meaning “Old Jean” to show their cordiality.

Following him into Shuanghe Cave, the French caver was wearing a pair of rubber canvas shoes most popular among China’s rural residents for the cheapness and durability, and walked quite comfortably and confidently, just like a local.

Bottazzi said a lot of changes have been going on in China over the past decades, especially in poverty-stricken areas such as Guizhou. Thanks to rich cave resources, Guizhou has attracted an increasing number of cavers from across the world.

“I hope that I can continue to do my part to contribute to cave exploration in Guizhou,” he said. Enditem

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