To be honest with the readers of ToDiveToday, I had never heard of the Cenotes before spring of 2012.  I mean I was familiar with “tales” of the fresh water springs in Florida, and thanks to a Geology course in college, had a perfunctory knowledge of how the cavity in the ground forms and evolves. But going to the Caribbean myself, and actually exploring Cenotes of Yucatan, was not in my plans. I had read Beyond the Deep, and some other books about cave divers, and assumed that such activities wasn’t for me.  I was interested in diving, but not in a place that had little to see (or so I thought), no dinner to be caught or with dramatically increased and unwarranted risk

San Miguel
Cancun
Cenotes of the Yucatan, Mexico
Playa Del Carmen

Entrance into cenotes

Then came the Boston Sea Rovers and Beneath the Sea dive shows, where I attended two seminars, featuring sinkholes.  And I fell in love with the pictures and stories behind those mysterious caves.  What especially stood out to me, was those views when you are looking out from the depth of the caverns into large, open spaces, seeing as the sun beams are sifting, pushing their way through the calm surface of the water as if good, bright messages from God are trying to penetrate stubborn darkness of the earth.

It was Berkley Whites’s (owner of Backscatter) seminar on how to shoot video with SLR’s and his incredible footage that sold me on the idea of contemplating a trip to the cenotes. And when Timur invited me for a second time to Playa del Carmen over my April break, then no one could’ve stopped me from accepting this lucrative offer. And so we went.

Originally we planned diving the Cenotes on wednesday, but continuing strong winds, rising seas, scattering rain, along with my weak stomach pushed our agenda up, inadvertently bringing us to the threshold of the “Acuatic Tulum”. The shop itself was not very big, however the employees were very friendly, informative and flexible to meet our need for times and locations.  Alexadre Alwares, the shop owner, gave us a great deal for the proposed excursions, in large part due to using our own equipment. Later, thanks to Cristina, the shop coordinator, were able to connect with Cozumel Scuba Planet for unforgettable submersions around neighboring island.

Grand Cenotes

The next day Jorge introduced us to the Grand Cenotes and my first cavern dive at Playa. Initial look of the entrance into the cavern failed to match my grandiose expectations, formed by all the wide-angle images I’ve seen before.  I even admit a guilty thought; would the upcoming dive would be able to stir my interest for more than 20 minutes?  Yet, I listened very intently Jorge’s narration of history and safety rules of cavern dives. Then he thoroughly looked over our equipment, to make sure we were properly set up and carefully explained what to expect during our initial introduction to the secret world of underwater caves.

Perfect balance

Timur and I jumped into the water and prepared our “Canons” for rapid assault. I was wearing only a Henderson skin and the 78-degree water felt cold for a few minutes until I acclimated.  After diving only in the North East for the last few years, the visibility in the Cenotes was similar to the vodka that Timur brings sometimes on our winter dives – shockingly clear and spiritually refreshing.  In other words, one could see as far as light would allow.

We passed a team of 5 – 6 divers on their way out. Tetras and Mollies swam in and around us shimmering in the sunlight.

I apologize to a reader, but I can’t refrain myself not to repeat it again, what I felt by looking back to the entrance into Cenotes. Euphoric and giddy … just seeing as beams of sun were effortlessly piercing thick body of the fresh water. No matter how much I try, it is hard to describe. I think everyone must experience it at least once to fully appreciate such a majestic presentation.  Then  I had to turn my attention back to the forthcoming route.

As we wandered into the darkness I realized, seeing shined reflections of the twin Ikelite substrobes on intricate structures of the cavern, that we had made the right decision, purchasing one model above  DS160.  We could take pictures and illuminate our way with DS161’s embedded video lights.  As we meandered through the passageways up down and around natural obstacles, I thought this dive alone was worth the trip to Mexico.  The scenery here far surpassed what I had previously experienced in Bonne Terre Mine (also a great dive) the only other overhead environment I have seen in my scuba life.

An ancient sculptor

I didn’t want to get out of the water even after 54 minutes.  I shot shadows, fish and sunbeams until my card filled up.

Floating inside of the cavern

Dos Ojos

Entrance into Ecopark

After our first dive we drove down a dirt track a few miles from main road to Dos Ojos. The diving here was amazing. Any prejudices about the value of diving caverns became distant and lost in a fog of ignorant past.

The Bat Cave

Inside of the Bat Cave chamber

Our second dive of the day was the bat cave and was my favorite one. The clarity, or as we like to say “the vis”,  was still just as amazing.  During this journey, I experienced my first halo-cline.  This is where warm salt water and cooler freshwater mix, causing an unfocused mirage effect on your vision.

Weaving through columns of stalactites and stalagmites

The stalagmites and stalactites were very cool.  The line arrows, like a silent escort, accompanied us along the pathways through the cavern.  We came to a terminus in the Bat cave and  I had no idea where we were, therefore I was very glad to have Jorge as a guide.  On the way out we stopped and took pictures of some fossils encased in limestone.

Fossils

On this dive I stayed in the entrance of the cave playing with the Tetras and shooting photos until I had over an hour of bottom time.

Exit from the cave

Barbie for Dinner Route

This was another very good loop. The final dive felt just as exciting as the first one. However looking back, especially taking in consideration that all sinkholes are parts of the same system, you notice a lot of similarities.  I see how some divers, by the third dive, might get bored as a mount of tapering columns begin to look the same. Yet cenotes never seize to surprise you with new and completely unexpected, and I may add, voracious turn of event.

Entrance into Ecopark

! WARNING !
If you faint of heart, read no further

Who could’ve thought that in such a calmed and peaceful environment can lurk the danger of unimaginable proportions. You may think dive-master would give you fair warning, but no, Jorge kept silent. Maybe he thought, if we were told, we’d immediately turned back and he could’ve lose a commission. Or maybe, the man did not want to scare us unnecessarily, hoping that we may get lucky and fortune will have a mercy upon our vulnerable souls. Well, now it’s too late to keep guessing what were Jorge’s true motives. Tell you only what opened in front of our eyes left the indelible impression that will be very difficult to forget. Some may have heard of calamities that diver may experience during cave explorations. Running out of air, claustrophobia, loss of orientation and so on. But have you ever seen or heard of “Cenotes Alligator”? And not just an alligator, but with a blond beauty, sandwiched in a deadly jaws of a voracious animal. If no, then take a look. The picture will be at the end of this article.

It’s hard for me to continue, but yet, I must conclude my report. During last dive I was more conscious of doing frog kicks, for which Timur was grateful, as I had been silting his pictures the previous two dives. I also realized that autofocus on D7 wasn’t working as I wished for two submersions in a row, so at Dos Ojos my pictures were subpar.  And this is what happens when you take a new camera and housing on a trip after only three trials in the murky waters of the Gulf of Maine.  (Note: if you change batteries or cards in between dives, don’t let the autofocus button on the lens get pushed to manual when placing the camera back in the case!)  Also, the DS161, due to heavy usage of strobes on three consecutive dives along with constant video light, deplete batteries fast. Hence an additional flashlight is a must.

Our special appreciation to Jorge personally and Acuatic Tulum in general for those great dives.  They were the perfect match for Timur and myself for the day.

p.s. They’ll take you on a fantastic tour of the cenotes at your skill levels.

“Cenotes Alligator”

All underwater shots were taking with Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 7D, Canon EF 100mm lens, Canon 60mm lens, Tokina 10-17mm and corresponding Ikelite housings, ports along with two Ikelite DS 161 substrobes.
Above; Canon Power-Shot G9 and Panasonic Lumix LX3