So, our first stop is Mexico City and connecting flight to Cancun. Another car ride of an hour and 45 minutes and we are in Tulum. This is the place with the largest known and mapped underwater cave systems in the world. To be exact, 345km of mapped cave diving for those who want to swim a marathon in the tunnels.
Here is the weird part...... I could spin you a story of a long track with all our gear through the jungle to finally arrive at this 'hole in the ground' oasis where we enter the depths of our planet in the clearest of water....... But nope..... The are a lot of Cenotes and the best known are reachable by car (bumpy road included) and the long track through the jungle is less then a 5 minute walk to a 'hole in the ground' from which the adventure starts...... And the clear water? It is the clearest water I have ever seen in over 1000 dives....... Pristine and comfortable at 25 degrees water with a 5mm suit. And for those like me who are allergic to fighting ocean currents, the beauty about cavern and cave diving here is that they are fresh water and non tidal which means no current.
And something about cave and caverns...... I am sure there is a better definition but most of the dives you can see the 'light' of an exit if you switch your lights off. In other words, you are always out in a matter of minutes (cavern). That is not to say that there is no 'roof over your head. There are passages, swim throughs and 'rooms' where you are totally cut off from natural light (cave). It is therefore paramount to follow the lines which are set out in most of the Cenotes. Occasionally you need to set out your own line which is exciting. A cut line could spell disaster so as innocent and fun a Cenote looks, do understand that you are in a cave system and taking the wrong turn without rope quickly turns into possible disaster.
Another thing about Cenotes is paying entrance fee. The strange thing is that the 'land' is all privately owned and the owners collect anywhere from 200 to sometimes 500 peso (exceptional) per person for you visiting 'his/her' Cenote. Cameras get charged as an additional person. If you are rich enough to have a camera, you are rich enough to pay twice! I love the logic!
And then the dives.... I was naive to think that 'see one, see them all'. How much different can 'one hole in the ground' be from another? I hope that the pictures will do some justice to the beauty of these places...... All uniquely different, colours, blue, green, white, brown, large areas, tight swim throughs, small chambers and wicked water conditions......
So here we were, all set and ready to go. We (read Sharon) has booked dives with a company called Xibalba. And why not? It sounds cool..... Well, Google it and you may think twice. It roughly translates as 'Place of Fear' and when asking our dive guide for the choice of names, he more or less referred to the Cenotes as the 'underworld'. This is when you realise you are into things you may not have prepared for!!
All jokes aside, Xibalba is highly recommended by Lonely Planet and we recommend it too. Superb dive briefings, correctly conservative, well equipped and sufficiently relaxed to make your dive super enjoyable. I am not easily 'happy' with dive guides but our guide was great!
Very popular with snorkelers and divers so not a quiet place. But stunning in the morning sun! This was our first dive of the trip and not for the faint hearted as it is a deep dive. First up at 15m is where fresh water mixes with salt water. A thick one meter layer of 'syrup' conditions which is amazing to see and play with by either hanging just above or just below it. And if in the middle, I think this is how Sharon sees the world without her glasses. Going deeper to about 30m is a foggy layer of Halicon (Hydrogen Sulphide from decomposing trees). In other words, do not clear you mask here unless you like the taste of rotten eggs. swim through this layer and you are at 35 meters. Better stop here as swimming deeper will end you over 100m deep! No wonder it is called the Pitt! Anyway., at 35 meters it was deep enough and we turned around. Alway look back up as the views are stunning seeing the sunlight penetrate the water and creating these dancing rays of light in the water. I hope our pics give some impression.
Clearly, this has to be two dives as there are two Ojos. Two circles which make for a good 40 min swim each. A lot of light as there are many openings in the system. Here you have air pockets and we came up in the 'bat cave'. Not the cleanest of water on the surface I must say. With a (very) thin layer of 'God knows what' on the surface, I made sure that my regulator remained firmly in my mouth! As we lit up the cave with our lights, bats flew in and out of sight. Back under water, I had a feeling we went from one site to the next and the next. Coming up for a look, we were clearly in different cenotes. Dos Ojos is one of the largest systems in the Yucatan Peninsula and it connects 25 cenotes and is over 60km explored.
Cenote Calavera, Temple of Doom
This is really a hole in the ground and tanks and cameras are lowered by rope to the water level for those who do not want to make the 2m leap from the edge. I liked this dive because it was a lot narrower and the salt water made a lot of the limestone bright white. Also the smaller chambers where pretty and I hope the pictures will give you and idea. Also on this dive there was the mixing of fresh and salt water and it was a very amazing sensation as this layer was quiet thick. Combined with the tight channels and swim throughs, this is not for people with fear for confined spaces. And accending through the layer really changed my buoyancy so once you hit the salt water you deflate and make yourself heavier in order to 'fall' through it. A weird experience. This dive has visible fossils on the wall. Some Maya pottery, some bones and a skeleton head of some animal are visible in the lime stone walls. And as we jumped ini from 2 meters, we end the dive with a climb up the ladder.......
Not the sexiest name for a Cenote but surely one of the prettiest. This is not a hole in the ground but a proper pond with grass, lilies, fish and turtles . More a cavern feeling than a cave, the light is amazing and the swim throughs wide and easy. This is a dive where you set your own lines out so that is fun. Make sure they are tied up properly! More limestone walls but because of the many overhead openings, this was more a dive about light and dancing sun rays as opposed to a hard core cave dive. Very relaxing and fun.