One short week ago I was in the midst of a glorious scuba diving trip to Cozumel, Mexico. Can’t say that I care much about the details apart from the diving, so suffice to say we stayed at a resort on the island of Cozumel, with some jaunts across to the mainland.
One such mainland jaunt was to go diving in the cenotes – karst cavern/cave systems. Cenotes were the only source of water in the jungle for the Mayan civilization (no above ground rivers!) and are considered sacred by the Mayan people.
This wasn’t the first diving we did, but we’re not going with chronological order here. Frankly, I had the fewest pics and shortest videos to sort through from this day, so it got tackled first!
Today, cenotes are popular with both snorkelers and divers (that’s us). We booked a day with ProDive International (the same outfit operating out of our resort). We took the ferry across to the mainland, and were picked up by ProDive. A short drive brought us to the turn off to our cenote of the day, the Tajma Ha, where we jumped into a different truck with our guide, Luis.
We were especially lucky that day, as it was just Audra and I with Luis. On the drive in he gave us a thorough briefing as to what to expect. A key point here is the difference between caves and caverns. Cave diving is a serious type of technical diving, because you can’t easily surface. Conversely, in recreational diving you can always boogie straight up if need be. Cavern diving is in between the two – you are in an overhead environment, but you are also always within easy reach of an exit (not that I could have found it).
So, this means that non-cave certified divers can dive in cenotes, but only under the watchful eye of a cave-certified guide wearing all the equipment necessary for full fledged cave diving, i.e. Luis. This is why he is wearing double tanks in the pics and videos.
We were all equipped with lights, as parts of the cavern were quite dark. In other areas the sunlight streaming in created the beautiful blue ‘laser beams’ you see in some of these pics!
The dark sections took a bit of getting used to. Very cool, but also a game of mind control in not letting your brain wander too far down any number of hypothetical paths. Fortunately for us Audra becomes more anxious if she feels crowded, and if I’m anxious I like being super (annoyingly, probably) close to the guide, so I followed directly behind Luis, Audra held the caboose position, and we were all content.
I made the mistake of thinking I would be fine in my own 3mm wetsuit, and wearing that on dive 1 instead of the 5mm that was offered. I thought I was calmly hiding just how c-c-cold I was near the end of the dive when Luis looked back and asked if I was cold. Oh ya know, just a little, I signed back casually. Later he said he could see my hands visibly shaking. Cover blown!
For dive 2 I was not messing around. That 5mm was a bit too big but fit well over my 3mm, leaving me nice and cozy in 8mm (for perspective, my Lake Superior wetsuit is 7mm).
Here I am extremely happy to be fully warm, albeit somewhat immobile.
Audra, unfortunately, was not feeling well and opted out of dive 2. Luis and I headed off while she snoozed in the truck.
Features to see inside the cenote included stalactites (hanging down), stalagmites (pointing up), and fossilized seashells.
On the second dive we also popped up twice – first to check out the wide open Sugar Bowl, and second to check out the 95% enclosed Bat Cave. No pics of the Bat Cave turned out. Guess you’ll just have to go yourself.
There is a ladder in the Sugar Bowl in case someone needs an emergency exit. But then your guide has to get all your gear through the cavern system (that ladder is higher than it looks), so it’s not a recommended option!
Finally, earlier I mentioned the difference between caverns and caves. This system actually has both, with lines that are placed showing the routes. Yellow means cavern, white means cave. So, um, don’t head off following a white one!
You can see what the lines look like in this quick clip:
Near the end of the first dive Luis veered off the line! I, being in the mild state of hypothermia that I was, figured he was veering off to show us another shell or something, but decided I was too cold to go look. Took me a minute of hovering to realize he was continuing in that direction and to start following! Anyhow, it was not one bit sketchy – we were right at the end, and he was avoiding a descending group that was following the line. Nonetheless, neither he nor Audra let me live down my strict adherence to the yellow line rule for the rest of the day!
Two dives done, we got a ride back to the ferry and headed back to the island. I would highly recommend this scuba venture if you’re traveling in the area – and just cross your fingers that you get a private tour with an awesome guide!