|Stephen Weir, "the moment I knew" - photo by Jim Kozmik|
This is not a diss on the Yucatan’s water system. This was something self-inflicted and it could have happened in any "fresh" water cave in the world. Blame it on the sanitary habits of flying animals or cenote diving being just too amazing for my own good.
Watch a You Tube Video of Cenote dive guide Mario explaining to Stephen Weir, how the Mexican Cenotes came to be. 2-minutes http://youtu.be/lV12iGAzURQ
|Dive Shop at Cenote - Stephen Weir|
|Looking up through a hole in the cenote - Weir|
|Family dives into Mexican Cenote - Photograph by Jim Kozmik|
|Cenote Diving - Photograph by Jim Kozmik|
|Modified Cannonball into the Cenote - Weir|
Getting into the water is a trade-off between style and ease. One can walk backwards down slippery stairs, holding onto an equally slippery rope. Or you can stride jump in off the concrete deck. Most popular method? Modified Cannonball, to the pleasure of the many overheated divers waiting their turn to get into the deep water overtop of the entrance to the cenote.
While our group waits our turn to enter the cave, Pacheco gives a rudimentary explanation of how these caves have come to be.
|Entrance to Little Brother - Stephen Weir|
The overall size of some of the rooms within the Little Brother is staggering, so much so that our underwater camera strobe lights cannot properly light the high cathedral ceilings. Five minutes into our dive, we stop at a tall wall of rippled limestone. It is the remnants of a coral reef, 150 million years ago when it was under the sea. Our dive guide leaves us to escort one member of the party back to the surface – Claustrophobic? Nervous? Cavern diving isn’t for everyone.
It doesn’t help shaky divers when one swims by a passageway (and there are number of them) that is not meant to be explored. There are numerous signs with skull and cross bones warning people that divers have been lost and died inside.
The stalactites and stalagmites inside this well traveled cenote have taken a beating, but here and there in our long swim there are perfect stands of dangling limestone stalactites.
|Difficult to read warning sign because it sits in a halocline zone inside Cenote - Stephen Weir|
Close to the bottom of the cave it gets wonky. The water is suddenly layered into two distinct types of water. Top layer is fresh, cool and clear while the bottom layer is salty, warm and fuzzy. We have entered a halocline.
It is a zone of fresh water hitting seawater. This Cenote is very near the Caribbean Sea and saltwater seeps into the lower levels of the cave. Seawater is denser than freshwater and absorbs and transmits light differently. It changes light, colour and temperature – divers say that it feels like being stoned on alcohol or drugs.
“The first person into the zone will see a mirror. It is a weird mirror that moves up and down like this (our dive guide makes a waving motion with his hands and arms). “As you swim into the Halocline your flippers mix the water together. Everything will get blurry. The temperature of the salt water is warm and you will become more buoyant because of the salt.”
|Stephen Weir in Yucatan Cenote - Kozmik|
Exiting the water quickly, we made our way to nearby cement picnic tables to change scuba tanks, load new batteries into cameras and get ready for the next cave, the Chac-Mool.
“We call it the Little Brother, because it is smaller than KuKulKan,“ said Mario Pacheco. “ It used to be hard to get in the cave. But, rocks were removed. Now we don’t have to twist our way in (he does a good imitation of a contortionist wearing twin scuba tanks!)”
We follow a natural underwater ramp to reach the bowels of the Little Brother 55 feet down. It feels as though we are absolutely alone in the dark. But once we swim away from the natural ramp and enter what appears to be a limestone walled cathedral, we look back at the path we have just swam down and we see the bobbing lights of a dozen divers that are following a few minutes behind.
We took pictures. Lotsa pictures. I got very hot. Thirsty. Parched. I couldn’t help myself. I did what any Canadian diver would do. I took a drink.
At first, I didn’t swallow; I just swished the cool water over my teeth and tongue. Thinking about where I was and what I was drinking, I tried to spit it out. Maybe there is an "APP" for expectorating underwater, but I haven’t downloaded it. I shrugged my shoulders and swallowed, and took a couple more drinks. That’s when TV cameraman Jim Kozmik took this photograph.
I could have been okay but like they say, “location, location, location”. I was in the wrong spot for a drink. We surfaced inside an air pocket at the dome of the cave. There were holes in the ceiling where thick tree roots dangled deep into the water.
It was almost noon. Pacheco told us that only in the spring and early summer, when the sun is directly overhead sunlight passes through a hole in the fauna shrouded ceiling and lights up a round patch of the water.
True enough. We watched the circular beam of light appear and play upon the water. We could now see the reflection of the cave ceiling on the surface and at the same time catch the glow of the lights of divers down below us.
Strange, there were flickers of black through the sun’s spotlight. Bats. Lots of them. They lived amongst the stalagmites in the ceiling. They have been living there since before the Spanish. Before the Mayans. Before cave divers had begun bringing in noisy scuba tourists in to disturb their sleep.
There is a healthy population living in the roof. I was fascinated until I realized I had just been drinking ‘bat eau de toilet’. I put my regulator back into my mouth and sank back under water. I knew I would pay for the drink, but today there was more cave to explore.
After a day of diving in the caves, it was back to Akumal. In the evenings there are night dives on a shallow reef just offshore. The waters offshore of Akumal teem with life – healthy coral heads, massive schools of small tropical fish and free-swimming, slow lumbering turtles. Loggerhead and Green Turtles are almost always seen.
Tourism has brought a conservation message to the Yucatan. As a result the turtles are protected, their egg nests on the beach are protected by hotel staff, and conservation groups watch over these endangered species.
|a drift swim in a cenote river in Sian Ka'an Biosphere|