Protect Tayos

£8,005 of £13,500 goal

Raised by 111 people in 8 months
Created June 7, 2018
Help us to tell the story of Cueva de los Tayos through art, music and science and galvanize the call for its protection!

This is a GoFundMe for TAYOS, an expedition taking place this summer bringing together conservation, art, music, neuroscience, photography and architecture in one voice, to help protect the extraordinary Cueva de los Tayos in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest.

Join us in helping to realise an explorer’s vision and build a global network of guardians for Cueva de los Tayos.


What is Tayos?

This story started in 1976 with a real-life Indiana Jones named Stan Hall: a Scottish explorer, engineer and historian. The previous year Stan had stumbled upon a book on the myths of Tayos that changed his and his family’s life forever; inspiring him to leave the “normal world” behind and set out to discover treasure and mystery, in what miraculously turned into the largest cave expedition of its kind.

Answering Stan’s call to join him on this quest were over 100 people who ventured deep into the Amazon jungle in Ecuador, to a cave called Cueva de Los Tayos (Tayos caves), including Ecuadorian and British government officials, joint special forces, leading scientists, cave researchers, and more.

Their mission was so unusual and captivating that astronaut Neil Armstrong agreed to join Stan on the expedition too as Honorary President. Reflecting on the otherworldly landscape he experienced there Neil exclaimed that Tayos is “up there with our landing on the moon.”

This vast network of chambers, underground waterfalls and passages stretches over 5 kilometres / 3 miles under ground, part of a huge system of caves winding their way through the lower reaches of the Andes. Just one of the caverns is large enough to hold a 20 story building lying on its side and its initial entrance from the rainforest requires over a 200 ft drop in by winched rope into the abyss!


Protecting Tayos

Stan Hall was drawn so deeply into the magic and pull of Tayos in Ecuador, along with the indigenous Shuar tribe, that his life instantly became dedicated to preserving one of the top 6 most prolific biodiverse areas in the world. As if this wasn’t enough the caves also carry a myth of housing ancient artefacts: knowledge from the earliest civilizations, that if discovered, would alter mankind’s perspective on history and human origins.

Stan never managed to complete his life’s mission, passing away in 2008 with the work to secure UNESCO World Heritage status for this precious place left unfinished. In his place his Scottish-Ecuadorian daughter, Eileen Hall promised to spread the story of Tayos as far and as wide as she could, honouring the research that her father knew was vital to humankind, to history, and to natural ecosystems on earth.

And it’s more crucial than ever for this mission of protection to happen, because Tayos, and the jungle above it, lies in a region surrounded by mining exploits and deforestation; unprotected and vulnerable.

Any negative impact on Tayos threatens the entire ecosystem around it, including a Jaguar Corridor, critical to their need to roam, and the indigenous Shuar tribe who inhabit the area and may face being displaced.

All over Ecuador conservationists, ecologists and indigenous people are fighting against the loss of precious rainforest. The map below shows the current mining concessions, oil blocks, and other threats surrounding the region and getting increasingly closer to Cueva de los Tayos.


Completing a mission

This mission of turning Tayos into a UNESCO World Heritage site is within reach of being successful, and will be a first of its kind for South America, setting a crucial precedent for the Amazonian region. But this mission is much greater than any one person.

Together with renowned geologist and volcanologist Dr Theo Toulkeridis and her artistic co-director Tamsin Cunningham, Eileen has been helping organize an expedition of professional artists, musicians, architects and scientists, alongside the indigenous Shuar tribe, to tell the story of the caves, and provide education through both creative and scientific means on their relevance to modern humanity.

This unusual expedition through the Amazon, and into the Tayos caves, will take place in August of 2018.

Among the 12 person multidisciplinary creative team that are participating from all over the world, is expert producer and electronic musician Jon Hopkins, and neuroscientist Mendel Kaelen, both widely known in their respective fields. The expedition is being organised by the Open Close Collective , founded by Eileen and Tamsin, who work on innovative and experimental creative projects in Scotland.


“I have come to believe that the most effective way forward, to safeguard the survival of our species, is an integrative approach: One that unites science, art, technology, entrepreneurship and politics, with as its primary goal to bring about a radical transformation in the ways we relate to ourselves, to others, and to the home we all share and depend upon; our planet.”
Mendel Kaelen

"I have always been fascinated by the relationship between environment and musical output. The chance to make music inspired by, or even partly created within, such an unusual space really feels like an incredible privilege. I also can think of few more worthwhile causes than doing something that, in any way at all, could help protect a unique ecosystem such as this one.”
Jon Hopkins

Making the Expedition Possible

As a supporter of the GoFundMe, you’ll help make this expedition possible, and become an honorary Tayos Cave Guardian, mentioned in upcoming publications and exhibitions of the creative work generated from the expedition.

We need your financial support to help cover expedition expenses. It is also very helpful if you share this for awareness, both to help with funding, but most importantly to show that the Cueva de los Tayos are valued and deserve protection.

The money we raise will go towards:

+£13.5k for on the ground expedition costs including equipment, our guides in the caves and transport.

These core expedition expenses part of the overall expedition budget of £34k, the remainder of which is being funded by participants in the expedition and generous in-kind support for specialist equipment.

More history about Tayos and info about the expedition

When Stan, Neil, and the team set out on the massive 1976 expedition, they had two goals. One was to follow the legend in search of a metal library that could change human history, and the other was to establish a new new scientific framework to research Tayos's incredibly rich, biodiverse ecosystem.

Just some of their findings included 400 plants collected (20% previously undiscovered by science), 36 species of termite, 7 new species of bat and 400 new species of butterfly.

The discoveries were not only limited to the wonders of the natural world, but proved that Tayos has drawn human curiosity throughout the ages. Within the depths of Tayos, traces of prehistoric human habitation were found including a fragile, decomposed cadaver found seated, surrounded by array of pottery shards and ornaments, dated to around 1500 BC.

The area has been home to the families of the Shuar tribe for hundreds of years. They have been working with Stan Hall, and now Dr. Theo Toulkeridis to try to protect their home habitat.

If the caves and their rainforest were to fall prey to commercial interests, this is just part of what failure looks like:

30451274_15284127080_r.jpegDeforestation of the Amazon, displacing the Shuar population, and disrupting the Jaguar Corridor

30451274_15284127450_r.jpegCave Mining, Resource Exploitation, and Ecocide


Taking up the mantle from Stan Hall, Dr Toulkeridis: geologist, volcanologist & Coordinator of Geosciences at the ESPE University in Quito, is now working to secure the designation of Cueva de los Tayos as a UNESCO World Heritage site: assisting the Shuar in their guardianship of the caves, and supporting the recording and management of the cave’s cultural, ecological, geological and biological content.

Securing this UNESCO status will also add a vital protected link in the Jaguar Corridor, allowing them the space to roam which is critical to their survival. Securing UNESCO status would help the cause of the Shuar people, whose future, like the A’I Cofan and so many of Ecuador's indigenous tribes, hangs in the balance under the threat of mining and deforestation.


In August of 2018, the next great expedition takes place, in collaboration with the Shuar people, guardians of the caves.

It combines science with art to create a whole picture of Tayos and to provide education on and inspiration by this precious natural habitat.

[More info on the team below]

Together, we will capture sound recordings, photographs, film, neuroscience data, and other recordings, which will form the basis of a series of collaborative works to illustrate the unique qualities of the caves. The resulting exhibition will include a musical performance with high quality visuals and lighting, an art installation, and will be accompanied by a high quality art and science Tayos book, collecting photos, essays, drawings, journals and interviews from the expedition.

We will be bringing each of you into the depths of the caves, with all the creatures and treasures we may discover, through our GoFundMe updates.



If you donate £100-£500, you will receive a hand illustrated thank you card by artist Tamsin Cunningham or Eileen Hall

£1,000-£5,000 will receive a one of a kind piece of the artist's art

£5,000+ TBD will receive a large, one of a kind canvas of the artist's art


Dr. Theo Toulkaridis, World renown geologist and volcanologist
When David Attenborough and National Geographic needs the best of the best to guide their expeditions, they are quick to pick up the phone and have Dr. Theo lead the way. He will be our leading guide during the expedition.

Eileen Hall , Expedition leader, artist, and healer
Since the death of her father Stan Hall in 2008, Eileen has carried on his research and exploration of Cueva de los Tayos, alongside her art & architecture practice. Eileen founded Open Close , with Tayos Creative Director, Tamsin Cunningham in 2015.

Eileen's approach to architecture, art and design is informed by her research into embodied design, place awareness, installation art, sensory experience, neuroscience, the psychology and philosophy of wellbeing, meditation and storytelling, with a special interest in how texture, colour and light affect our perceptions of space and our reactions to various environments.

Eileen is organizing the expedition, as well as using the caves as inspiration for the upcoming exhibition in collaboration with the creative team.


Tamsin Cunningham, Creative Director, artist, and architect
Tamsin Ghislaine Cunningham is an architect, artist and co-founder of the Open Close arts collective with Eileen Hall. Tamsin's artistic practice is centred around meditations on landscapes, relationships and sensory experience of place. In her architecture work Tamsin is a Senior Associate at WT Architecture; an award-winning architecture studio working across Scotland's remote and beautiful landscapes on buildings addressing themes of community, sensory experience and connection to our natural and cultural surroundings.

Alongside Eileen Hall, Tamsin developed Open Close as a way of examining how a multi-disciplinary collaboration involving artists, architects, musicians, designers, social geographers, sociologists and neuroscientists might inform the re-imagining of both natural and human landscapes and the role that creative re-imaging can have in protecting our environments.

Tamsin will be working with Eileen on giving artistic vision to the neuroscience research to be carried out by Mendel Kaelen on the trip and the soundscape to be produced by Jon Hopkins. Tamsin will also be collaborating on the Tayos book with Eileen Hall and Eoin Carey.


Jon Hopkins , World renown composer and musician
Jon Hopkins has just released his fifth solo album, Singularity, establishing him, in the words of the New Yorker, as ‘one of the most celebrated electronic musicians of his generation’. Immunity (his 2013 hypnotic breakthrough album) and Diamond Mine (his collaboration with King Creosote) both attracted Mercury nominations, and his Monsters film score attracted an Ivor Novello nomination. Already known as an expert producer and collaborator, as well as a remixer of artists as diverse as David Lynch, Moderat, Disclosure, Four Tet, Wild Beasts and Purity Ring, other recent projects have included scoring the prestigious Barbican production of Hamlet with Benedict Cumberbatch, collaborations with Natasha Khan of Bat For Lashes and Bonobo, and productions for London Grammar and Coldplay. 

During the expedition, Jon will be recording soundscapes that may be used in the composition of a future album, and for an auditory experience in the upcoming exhibition.


Mendel Kaelen , Neuroscientist and musician
Mendel Kaelen is a musician and post-doctoral neuroscientist at Imperial College London, specialising in the function of music in psychedelic therapy. Mendel’s work focuses on unifying contemporary arts, psychotherapies and intelligent technologies into new models of care-giving. Mendel is founder of Wavepaths, a social venture that revisions mental health care by building meaningful communities and creating accessible psychotherapeutic tools. Wavepaths centres around the concept of art works not as objects but as triggers for experiences, with new experiences posited as the most effective way to bring about positive change in identity.

Mendel will be mapping the full team's brain activity during the expedition to study the neurophysiological and psychological effect of different sensory environments. This data informs the visual and audible art created in the exhibition, and further scientific studies on the impact of urban and natural environments on people’s mental health and wellbeing.


Eoin Carey, Photographer
Based in Glasgow, Eoin's work crosses between portraiture, performance and reportage photography on projects across the performing and visual arts in the UK. He is often drawn in his work to representing people.

Eoin will be documenting the expedition and using his photography in the upcoming expedition, and print materials as well as collaborating with Eileen and Tamsin on the production of the Tayos art and science book.


Kyle Kesterson , Artist and storyteller
As a multi-disciplinarian creative, nomadic explorer, and fear-slayer, Kyle will be documenting the experience through photography, illustration, written word, and more.


David & Carlos Villagomez and Danny Millan Collazos, Musicians (Dharma Aqua)
Based in Ecuador, brothers David and Carlos along with band member Danny create music that centres around South American instrumental traditions through their band Dharma Aqua. David has most recently been working on the soundtrack to the film ‘The Legend of Tayos’, exploring the story of the caves and the history of past expeditions, released in 2017.

David, Carlos and Danny will be playing and recording their music inside the caves during the expedition, using the sounds taken as a sonic record of Tayos.

Yessenia Urquizo Ramos

Yess Ramos is a documentary film-maker from Ecuador whose work focuses on social issues and indigenous culture and plant medicine traditions. As well as her documentary work Yess has worked on music videos for several national and international artists and various advertising videos for digital platforms.

In recent years Yess has worked in production on documentaries such as "NATEM, The Sacred Drink of the Shuar", winner of the Festival CINE AL CUBO, and is currently in charge of general and field production ofdocumentary La Leyenda de Tayos.

Yess is organising all expedition logistics on the ground in the rainforest and is liaising with our Shuar hosts and guides on the journey through the jungle and into the caves.

+ Read More
Dear Tayos Supporters,

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 your generous contribution have covered our expedition costs! We would like to once again give our heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you without which 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 Fransisco

p.s. We are keeping our go fund me campaign open for the present for anyone who would like to continue supporting the work to come. And we are looking forward to sending out the first in our series of newsletters soon covering in more depth the many aspects of our journey and the work carried out in the cave. Be sure to sign up for news at tayos.org
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Dear Tayos supporters,

Thanks to you we have made it safely to Ecuador! We are full of gratitude for all the generosity shown to the project, whether through donations, loans of equipment or sponsorship. In the ten months since the vision for this project was defined we have planned logistics, formed new working relationships, outlined our creative brief, launched our fundraising campaign and become familiar with some very niche equipment! Now finally we are embarking on this journey we have been thinking about for so long and could not be more excited about the team we have here with us and the work they will produce.

We have been working carefully through some logistical balancing acts in order to allow the project to go ahead within (almost) the money we have raised so far! This is in no small part thanks to the generous sponsorship of EHHEC and Hotel Cultura Manor where we stayed for our first three nights in Ecuador whilst we acclimatised to the high altitude, met with our Ecuadorian team members and ran final checks on our neuroscience equipment.

Our accommodation in Quito, gifted to the project by EHHEC, is located in a building which has its own UNESCO status; beautifully restored by owner Lazlo who has offered all sorts of useful information to us and been an exceptionally kind host. From the hotel we were able to carry out the first live checks of the EEG neuroscience equipment with the expert guidance via skype of MBrainTrain, who have gone above and beyond to assist in making this first-of-its-kind study run as smoothly as possible. Our morning session with first test participant photographer Eoin Carey ran smoothly with excellent data readings so we are all looking forward to running the rainforest and cave sections of the study, with more urban readings to be taken on our return to Quito.

We are also all set to go into the rainforest in style having been kindly provided with all the quick-dry clothes and backpacks etc we need by sponsors Lululemon. We will be exploring along routes in the cave which require wading through the underground rivers and waterfalls which run through and carve out the limestone of the cave system so will be thoroughly drenched at points. It is nice to know that thanks to Lululemon’s generosity we won’t be soggy for long!

At present we are in Banos, in the cloud forest, where we have beeen running through the packed programme for our time in the caves and making sure that all our equipment is well packed in as many dry bags as possible (thanks to all those who have loaned us theirs!) ready for the humidity of the rainforest. This afternoon we meet with David and Francisco who are travelling from Quito to join us and journey further south to Mendez where we will have one last night before travelling with our guides into the rainforest.

You can follow our journey on Instagram and Twitter by following @tayos_art and you can also find us on Facebook.

Again, heartfelt thanks for all your support and for helping to make this project to raise awareness of Tayos a reality.

Eileen, Tamsin and the Tayos Team x
+ Read More
Dear Tayos supporters,

Thank you all so much for your generous support for the Tayos expedition fund. With just four weeks before the team starts their journey to Cueva de los Tayos we wanted to update you on our preparations, our progress with fundraising and to give you a bit more information on some of the things your money is supporting. Read on for news on:

- Tayos sponsorship by mBrainTrain: suppliers of the equipment we need for Mendel Kaelen’s sensory neuroscience study!

- Fundraising for on-the-ground expedition costs reaches the halfway mark and flight costs are covered by our expedition team.

- Introducing some of our Ecuadorian expedition members: David, Carlos and Galo


We are so delighted to announce our sponsorship by mBrainTrain, suppliers of the highly specialised brain activity monitoring equipment which will be used in Mendel Kaelen’s neuroscience study of the caves. mBrainTrain are kindly loaning us the devices we need to carry out the study in which Mendel will be looking at the acoustic qualities of the different places we encounter; from the noise of urban life, through to the rich and vibrant sounds of the rainforest and the sensory deprivation of the caves and measuring the neurophysiological and psychological impact of urban and natural environments on people’s mental health and wellbeing.

MBrainTrain’s in-kind support for the project is invaluable and makes a huge contribution to our original fundraising target. Given that we will be taking their equipment deep into the rainforest and down 70m into the subterranean world of Tayos it is no small gesture that they are willing to help and we are hugely grateful for their support!


Together with the donations of those that have kindly contributed through our website we have reached the halfway mark in our fundraising target! Thanks to each and every one of you for getting us this far. We are also excited to say that the team at GoFundMe have been watching the campaign closely, offering their support and advice and have now also donated £1000 to the campaign! Many, many thanks to them for their help. Our expedition team members coming from outside Ecuador have now booked and paid for their flights which covers approximately 50% of the total expedition costs. We will be continuing the fundraising campaign for the on-the-ground expenses over the next month so please do continue to spread the word amongst family, friends and anyone else you think would be interested in the project.


Your donations will be used for the transport, safety gear and expertise, guides, accommodation with the Shuar tribe, recording devices and many other pieces of equipment needed to carry out the work that will take place in Cueva de los Tayos.

In the weeks and months to come we will be updating you with more details on each of the activities to be carried out in the caves and those involved. For this first update we wanted to concentrate on those already closest to the caves: our Ecuadorian musicians David and Carlos Villagomez and film-maker Galo Semblantes.

Like Eileen Hall, David and Carlos grew up listening to tales of Cueva de los Tayos from their father, a musician, psychologist an amateur historian. Visiting the site has been a lifelong ambition for the brothers, even more so since they were commissioned to write and record the musical score for the documentary film The Legends of Tayos, due for release in Ecuador next year. David and Carlos come from a traditional musical background, playing a host of different Ecuadorian instruments in their band Dharma Aqua. The pair will be recording a musical performance to be filmed in the cave and will provide an important Ecuadorian perspective for the international members of the team on the role Tayos plays in Ecuadorian culture.

Galo Semblantes holds a similarly close relationship to the caves, having dedicated his time to researching and filming the subject of Tayos for the last 5 years. His documentary on the search for the Tayos Gold Library, those who made the search their life’s work and the next chapter of the story, is due for release in 2019 and will be the most comprehensive film on the subject yet. Galo will be helping us capture high quality film footage of the caves and will be following the work of the creative team as part of the most recent story of Tayos.

We are honoured to be joined in the expedition by Galo, David and Carlos and look forward to the ways in which we can work together to raise awareness of the need for protection for Cueva de los Tayos both internationally and within Ecuador. Any donations we raise will help to fund their involvement and participation in the expedition so do please carry on spreading the word!

With many thanks for all your support so far,

Eileen and Tamsin
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£8,005 of £13,500 goal

Raised by 111 people in 8 months
Created June 7, 2018
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