I didn’t turn off my alarms, but the lightning flashes woke me up before they had a chance. I lay in bed thinking about how the morning would go… breakfast of divorciados (something with eggs) and possibly a quesadilla before diving our first cenote (pronounced sɛˈnoʊteɪ). Here’s what actually happened… We went downstairs at 7:30 and don’t bother with the menu when we see the buffet set out. A waiter asks for our room number, we fill our plates, and sit down.
We go back to the room to wait a bit longer for the dive shop to open and there’s a knock at the door, “Sir, you no pay your bill.” Umm, well, we thought it was going to be charged to the room, but you can take my credit card with you and figure it out. Just as Caleb began to wonder where he was they met at the elevator and we learn that breakfast cost more than our one night here, but remember we got a discount. Then the diveshop calls to tell us we’re 15 minutes late.
Caleb thought she said 8:30, but she got there at 8am, and the guy going with us was already there too. Luckily we’re only 600 meters away from Coconut Divers in the torrential downpour that is outside. Our destination is inland and under rocks so it’s not affected by the weather. We pile into a taxi with Pedro behind the wheel, our guide Leif in the passenger seat, Caleb between me and a Croatian who speaks German with the guide, and our gear piled up to the back of the seat — an efficient use of space.
The Chac Mool Cenote is a 1.5hr drive south and we splash through the ponds on the street and almost miss our right turn. On the way we learned all about cenotes — stick together with flashlights on so you don’t get lost and die, it’s a Mayan word for cup of water (made in the Ice Ages), and that we’d go from diving in fresh rainwater to salty ocean water (a halocline of blurry water due to science, not being drunk).
I asked about the guys in the tall huts along the route — they have to make sure new tents/lean-tos/huts aren’t built on the owner’s land so that when the current tenants leave/die they can sell/develop the land.
The ride was full of laughs. Leif checks in with the owner, napping in his hammock, at the gate and then we park among the trucks. We’re told we can either take pictures or live, but there’s a sign forbidding dying, so there will be a photographer in the water and we can decide later if we want some with us in them or to buy his basic package for cheaper. We take a look at the two entrance points, and start to prep, as third dives are forbidden — possibly to manage traffic between the thousands of cenotes in the Yucatán.
I wear my 7mm wetsuit and 5mm boots and make the lengthy walk (of the two) and then use the handrail to go down the stairs and into the 77°F water to put my fins on. We’re down 42min (bringing me to 24hrs total bottom time) with Caleb in the back as we stay in a line. We are authorized to cavern dive, meaning we have to see natural light at all times. There are safety lines but they don’t come with arrows or the voice from Google Maps and signs clearly marking the entrances to caves.
I feel like my buoyancy is great (even with 16lbs of weight), but I try clearing my goggles (my least favorite part of diving) and rise to the cavern top and continue the dive with water touching my nose. It’s best to leave a little bit of water around the eyes too, so you can swirl it around to clear the fog instead of having to let in water, swim blindly or stop in sand, and then blow your nose. I don’t know how this works, but it’s better to see under the sea than to swim in a haze.
I’m swimming along with big rocks below, green algae above, and yellow fins in front of me when part of the mouthpiece from the second stage of my regulator (primary breathing hose) comes off and in a split second decision (choke, just breath, or litter) I chose to spit it out. We go through the halocline and visibility turns to blurs as the guy in front of me turns around to make sure he’s not the only one. I let him know it’s ok and if he keeps swimming it will be over soon.
In another area it appears we’re looking at water and it’s reflection off the rocks from above, as you would do at a lake, but from 20 feet below the surface. We get out, walk past the taxi, and then wonder where Pedro got off to as he walks up and tells us that he parked closer for us. We switch tanks and struggle to pull our wetsuits back up as the Croatian was ready to change for lunch (he was promised a burrito and beers) before we take the stairs down to enter at Little Brother.
This dive is fantastic. I’m behind Leif and used to the freshwater by now (way easier on the face). I’m using my octopus (secondary breathing hose) as my primary. There are so many stalagmites and stalactites and cave bacon that took thousands of years to develop in rooms not flooded with water. There’s also signs of early tourists who took samples with them, but unless we drain these cenotes with buckets and wait a millennium for the next three inches of growth, these are irreplaceable and incredible.
We swim into the Air Dome, a room where we can come to the surface of the water and talk about all the plant roots we see as they appear as thick as trees. This is definitely going on the top-five list of most memorable dives. From there, it’s another 15 minutes to reach the stairs. I get to the table and realize as I take my gear off that I’ve torn a chunk out of the pad of my pinky finger. Leif asks one of the guys in the restaurant/photo booth/first aid station to assist me. I’m given an excessive amount of iodine and a band-aid to soak it up.
We are served a chicken burrito as part of our dive package and charged $30 MXN per Dos Equis for lunch. When the group in front of us is done oohing and ahhing at the laptop screen it is our turn to preview the pictures and we are given the option to split the pic/video charge of $60 USD, so that we only pay $40 for footage of our first dive as the photographer isn’t allowed in the second.
Pedro packs our gear and we grab the wetsuits hanging from lines in the trees before I sit in the middle this time — it makes sense to have the smaller person in the middle (though I will deny this fact as a child or when given the option for a window seat on a plane). We make a beer stop and Caleb offers up the $150 pesos for an 8-pk of Victoria with “ni clara, ni oscura, mestiza” meaning ‘neither clear, nor dark, but mixed’ written on the label.
The Croatian was going to buy the next round, and even though the beers are only 4% ABV, he did the responsible thing and bought us a local snack mix of Paketaxo Botanero (Cheetos, Churrumais, Crujitos, and Sabritones) to share instead. We get back to the Coconut Divers shop at 5pm, get signatures and stamps, and as we walk away Caleb remembers that he forgot to tip the guide. Oh well, we’ll be diving with the same company all week.
We find our first successful Airbnb rental, no problem, and actually go the right way down the one-way by missing the first turn. The front door has two locks (one keypad and one key) and we have to unlock the box on the wall to get the keys, the other one will unlock our room. I walked in and then stepped back to admire the cute place we would call home for the week. There’s bananas on the futon, all the lights are on, and we place our bags down to set out on foot in search of cheap food.
We walked through Mercado 28 and I found a dirty looking booth that I was about to approach when this old guy led us under a tent to Margely for 80 peso meals and then walked off after offering me a free margarita (which probably would’ve been crap too). A woman near us was vomiting into a bucket and the tacos were disappointing. I left them the change so we could get back to the room just before the sun disappears.
The other room is being used by a shirtless guy named Finn (introduction via message from hostess) who will take a 30 minute shower upon our arrival while Caleb attempts to sleep with his clothes and glasses on. I will pretend to read my book, post my daily Instagram picture, and then join him in slumberland.