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Cenotes Mexico

Cancun airport control tower

written & images by Joey Pool – Perth Scuba Assistant Instructor

Part 1

Only in Mexico would the airport control tower have a giant Corona bottle painted up its length! And with that it was “WELCOME TO ME-HI-KO!” by our guide at the gate and we were off to our hotel on the beach. And what a hotel it is! Phwaaaaaawwwwh!!! Nice place to be staying when on a “dive” holiday. We were greeted with a cold tropical cocktail, a wristband slapped on and then led to our room by the bell boy – poor fella had no idea what he was in for when he offered to take our bags – we don’t travel light! We wound our way through the lush gardens, swimming pools, another swimming pool, a bar, another bar, past the sports lounge and then arrived at our Garden View Room. Aptly named as you could see the garden out the window BUT beyond that we could see the beautiful ocean beyond – oh baby – this was looking good already, not least of which because I saw the size of the cocktails on our walk past!

The hotel is located in the wonderful Puerto Aventuras development. This is a tourist development which boasts a marina for yachts, a golf course, restaurants and dolphin tanks, all within easy reach of the main Mayan Riviera attractions. Lee and I got up early in the morning (surprising I know!) and went in search of the dolphin tanks. When I say tanks, they were more like closed off parts of the marina with reef growing on the bottom. We found them after an easy 10 minute stroll from the hotel reception. WOW! There must’ve been a dozen dolphins cruising around the marina, leaping about their enclosures and chasing each other – even babies! Very cute and smiley. Right next door there were rays, sealions and three BIG manatee. I’ve never seen a manatee in the ocean and it was fascinating to see these big sea cows grazing around their enclosure and rolling onto their backs to eyeball you.

After our first night chilling by the bar – finding out just how many tequilas and cocktails they’d serve… To the people around us – not us – we were diving in the morning! We were up and bounded out of bed for our pickup for our first two dives of the day. We were collected promptly and taken to the dive shop… A whole 5 minutes drive from the resort! Hmmm well that was easy. We were then introduced to our experienced cavern and cave guide, Alex, and then loaded into the car to our FIRST Cenote Dive!!! In case you’re wondering a Cenote is a deep water-filled sinkhole in limestone that is created when the roof of an underground cavern collapses. This creates a natural pool which is then filled by rain and underground rivers. ome cenotes are vertical, water-filled shafts, while others are caves that contain pools and underwater passageways in their interior. Cenotes are prevalent in the Yucatan Peninsula – which is where we stayed. There are over 2000 Cenote in the area with more being found every year!

Our first dive of the day was to be at Chac Mool, which was a 10 minute drive from the dive shop, everything’s SO CLOSE! Scroll down for more about our Mexico dive tour…

The water was a beautiful 25°C so we only needed to wear a 5mm wetsuit. No drysuit to worry about like you’d need to in other cavern systems across the world! We had the choice of twins or single cylinders to dive the system as the entry was so easy for either. Just looking into the water from the edge it looked like bottom was only 30cm away… And then we found out it was 8 metres! How’s that for visibility yippee!!!

Alex explained to us that Chac Mool was one of his favourite cavern dives with lots of beautiful formations and plenty of variation throughout the system. And he was SPOT ON! It was beautiful!!! Crystal clear water with sun beams lancing through the water down through the jungle canopy. Then the stalagtites and stalagmites formed over thousands, if not millions of years, when the cave systems were not flooded with water. It was fascinating to swim through shimmering haloclines where the salt and fresh water met and created a swim through that made you think you’d been drinking too many tequila! No matter where we swam through the caverns there was always a spot of light where you knew you could escape to the forest above. Surprisingly the cavern system even had fresh water fish, including catfish and small tetra’s that came and nibbled on your fingers whilst you sat still – manicure anyone?

Our next dive was through the very same entry at Chac Mool, but this time we headed off through a restriction and out into what’s known as Kukulkan. At approximately 10mtrs, we entered the Halocline zone. We were shining our torches into the point were salt and fresh water meet and marvel the reflections projected on the walls of the Cavern. The dive passes through a huge Cavern that surrounds the Cenote. The light effects are amazing, as sunlight penetrates the darkness. If you ever do this dive take a moment to look towards the ceiling at the entrance to see the colors of the rainbow.

Both of our dives were close to an hour long and they were fascinating. Brilliant that even though Lee and I don’t have our cavern qualifications, the guides are able to take us through these dives that otherwise we’d never be able to enjoy. We jumped into the ute and headed back to the dive store and arrived in time for lunch!

We were dropped back at Hotel Catalonia for a relaxing afternoon by the pool. This is where we found out what our wristbands were good for… EVERYTHING! Oh yeah, it didn’t matter which restaurant, buffet, bar, snack shop or drinks cabana you went to, everything you ordered was included. That’s right – you could eat and drink to your hearts content (actually, your doctor would tell you your heart wouldn’t be content – it’d be horrified!) and there was nothing more to pay. The entire time we were staying in Mexico we spent a grand total of $20 – and that was a tip to the taxi driver because we didn’t have smaller notes! Oh yes, we could definitely get used to this treatment.

Part 2

Our second night in Cancun was party central! It was Saturday night and the place was going off!! There were drinking competitions going down in every pool around the many swim up bars, limbo competitions where everytime you got under the pole you were given a tequila shot and a sports bar where you could watch nearly any world game or play virtual golf – hilarious after a couple of tequila’s! And of course, being the sensible and responsible divers we are… We partook of none of the alcohol related action in preparation for our dives the following day…

Day 2 of our diving in Cancun and it was off to the Taj Ma Ha. No, I didn’t spell it wrong, it’s not meant to be Taj Ma hal. ‘Ha’ means water in Mayan, so it’s very fitting. Taj Ma Ha is located 5km south of the hotel down the main highway. From the turnoff a long dirt road leads out to the car parking area 10 minutes into the jungle. At the right time of year and the right time of day Taj Ma Ha has one of the most spectacular light shows of any of the caverns. The laser like beams of light entering the Points of Light room have to be seen to be believed – it was awesome!

No Raccoon mexico Cenotesmatter what time of year you are here this is still a must see cavern as it is so rich and diverse in character. The dive will lead you past three cenotes with impressive light effects along a “trippy” halocline tunnel and through some beautifully decorated areas with thousands of stalactite and stalagmite formations. If you look carefully you will also see many fossils in the walls and ceiling of the cavern. Michel showed us lots of fossils as we cruised the walls.

During the dive you can surface in the cenote Sugarbowl and if you’re very lucky you may see the sacred cenote bird of the Maya, the turquoise browed Motmot, with its unique racquet tail feathers. We didn’t see it on this occasion, but we did see a blue hammer head swimming through the cave system – AMAZING… Yes, okay it was Project Aware’s Finley and she had joined us in Mexico, just as she’d joined us in the Galapagos Islands the week before. Finley had a great time and she told us she’d never seen anything like it before – being she’d never been taken to a cavern before now! Finley was so excited after her dive, we had to hang her out to dry on a nearby tree…. But don’t worry, we came back for her after the second dive.

This cavern system is so large we had our second dive here too. I had to sit this one out as I was having trouble equalising with the depth changes – damn plane cold – so Lee was on his own with our guide Michel. The main entrance to the system is a circular cenote, with stairs leading to an island in the center. Cave passageways radiate outward in all directions; the main passageway is directly opposite the parking area. It is possible to make numerous trips to Taj Mahal and never start out on the same line twice. This time Lee and Michel headed off in the opposite direction to our first dive. Whilst the boys were gone I enjoyed a snorkel around the surface and had my fingers nibbled by the small fish and catfish that inhabit the fresh water. Then I was greeted by a furry animal that looked like a raccoon (see right), he was very cute and stripey! I found out when the boys returned that he’s a regular feature of the area and will hang about hoping you’ll feed him the local red berries found in the jungle.

After another awesome morning exploring caverns, it was back to the resort to chill out by the pool and sample the cocktail menu… Oh, and it was a very long cocktail menu…….. The afternoon was a blur of activity sampling the beverages, mexican food and relaxing in the sun.

Next morning, it was off to dive our last day (sniff sniff) and today Michel was taking us to the Eden Cenote. The Eden cenote is a very large and beautiful cenote located 3 kilometers south of the dive shop – everything is so close! The cenote is home to a wide variety of fish, including freshwater eels, turtles and aquatic plant life. We were very lucky to see a freshwater eel on the dive and Lee even got video of it twirling in front of his camera… I myself couldn’t get a photo as a diver with a GoPro was blocking my view – can’t imagine who!

The large opening of the cenote appears much more nutrient rich as the rocks are covered with plants and mosses but still maintain unlimited visibility in the fresh water. You can choose to take a short walk from here to the coral cenote to where you’ll find another large collapse with just the sides underwater and an island in the centre. Whilst diving the Eden cenote we were shown a pile of bones from a large bird that must’ve been trapped and drowned sometime ago. Then at the other end of the system we were shown many pieces of old Mayan pottery. Now, I myself didn’t know Mayan’s could dive back then, but there you go…

We enjoyed a dive exploring the Eden cenote. It’s a very picturesque dive with many large openings where the limestone cave ceiling have dropped into the freshwater to reveal the jungle above. This provided lots of light into the cavern system and many opportunities to get a few more light ray photos. Luckily enough I found a very willing buddy to be my model, plus Michel was very patient and obliging as I stopped frequently throughout the cenote system. Depending on your air consumption you can get 45 minutes to an hour within the cenote. Plus, there’s no currents to struggle against or big fish to chase to use up your air – easy diving.

Our final cenote dive was over all too soon and it was time to pack up and head to the boat… Boat you say? Yes, boat! We were off to check out what the ocean diving was to be like in Cancun!!! We were joined by two more of the dive guides. We jumped onto the boat only a hundred metres from the dive shop and we fired up in the harbour and cruised the shoreline past our hotel and to a spot up the coast – all of 15 minutes away! I could get used to this lack of travel time – really I could, Lee we’re moving to Mexico!!!

We stopped at a spot to let off the two dive guides… They were here to do conservation Perth Scuba Mexico Cancun by Johanna Poolwork to help the local wildlife by hunting lionfish. Native to the tropical Indo-Pacific region, lionfish are often kept in both public and private aquariums. Since 2000, however, lionfish have been observed, primarily by divers in the coral reefs of Mexico.  There is also increasing concern among fishery scientists that lionfish, having no natural enemies, and may adversely impact natural fish populations. Whilst most us divers are delighted to see a lionfish whilst diving, they are a menace in areas where they have no natural predators. The two dive guides were there to hunt and destroy the lionfish they found to protect the endemic fish species.

After we dropped them off we shot off to our dive site. We backward rolled off the boat into the warm waters of Cancun in a balmy 30°C – oh yeah! No wetsuit required here and the visibility was about 20 metres, just lovely. We descended to the reef and were delighted with an array of colourful soft corals unlike any diving I’ve done in the Asia Pacific region. There was all sorts of colours and shapes to marvel and get some photos. As we moved along the bottom there were big schools of colourful reef fish, irridencent blues, electric yellows and dusty pinks scattered across the bottom. There were lots of different fish species hiding under ledges, darting amongst the corals and swimming overhead. Plus were saw some big fat lobsters hiding in some rock holes, pleading for us not to notice them or have them for dinner – okay, this time they were safe! And all too soon it was time to ascend back to the boat – sigh – our final dive in Mexico over.

Lee and I only had the one dive in the ocean, but it was enough to see that you wouldn’t get bored! Plenty of colour, fish life, soft corals and during the month of June WHALE SHARKS!!! What? So I’m a little excited about WHALE SHARKS!!!! Hang on… Let me say that once more… WHALE SHARKS!!! As long as you’re in Mexico at the right time of year (May, June, July, August) there’s plenty of them to see on a day trip from the resort.

Lee and I went back to the resort after our dive to relax again by the pool and enjoy the beautiful 30°C air temperature. We had plenty of time to get the nitrogen out of our system, soak up a couple of cocktails and dry out the dive gear before we had to fly in the afternoon the following day. Before too long it was the next day and it was time to check out of the hotel at midday. Although, we weren’t heading out to the airport until 4pm, we were still allowed to use all the facilities including bars and restaurants until it was time to be collected by our air conditioned transfer vehicle. We were dropped at the airport and said goodbye to sunny Cancun, marvelling about the fun filled days we’d enjoyed diving and sampling what this South American destination had to offer….

For more information about Mexico join us at our Free Dive Travel Information Evening on Wednesday 3rd October 2012 @ 7pm or contact us.

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