Cenotes! Et Cetera

A cenote (sen-OH-tay) at its most basic level is a hole in the jungle floor that opens to the waterlogged sponge of limestone that is underfoot everywhere in the Yucatán Peninsula. This definition covers a pretty broad range of features, however. Some of the countless cenotes are unremarkable little holes in the middle of thick brush, waiting to be discovered or to swallow an unwary passer-by. Others are huge both physically and in terms of popularity, drawing crowds of swimmers and snorkelers daily. Some, where the water table is high, look like small ponds; others have entrances that open into deep bat-inhabited caves with the water far below, ultra-clear without photosynthetic algae. They are full of history: millennia-old stalactites, preserved skeletons of prehistoric megafauna that took a wrong step, and stained limestone walls marking water levels at past ice ages. The Mayans used cenotes for drinking water and occasionally as sacrificial sites. Nearly all are interconnected in a vast subterranean spiderweb of caves and tunnels through which freshwater flows.

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the top of Casa Cenote

Okay so that all sounds pretty cool, and you may be pleased to know the above description is not a Wikipedia recitation, I learned and observed these things while actually here! What really got us excited about these geological features was not just seeing them, or swimming in them; it was diving through them.

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in Dos Ojos
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a juvenile tarpon in brackish Casa Cenote

What we did was ‘cavern’ diving, substantially different from its more intense big brother cave diving. The latter involves multiple tanks on multihour out-and-backs and traverses (one cenote to another) where dive skills, navigation, and planning all need to be flawless. For us, we simply tagged along with a guide (full cave certified) under overhangs and around limestone columns along set lines with with daylight always in sight. Still it’s a lot more cave-like than I would have guessed – and absolutely stunning.

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Caves are often beautiful. Many of you have probably been in one somewhere. The transition from small openings to large open spaces, the otherworldly molten-wax look of rock formations, and the way darkness and light sources play off to create dramatic scenes and shadows are all combine to make caves weird and awesome. Now imagine being able to fly through the cave instead of shuffling and ducking, with clear water multiplying the lighting effects and the occasional little fish passing by. Add in a halocline, where the sometimes-blurry, sometimes-mirrored interface between fresh and saltwater is visible. It’s really incredible!

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some cenotes have freshwater tropical fish, like guppies and tetras

We spent a full month in Tulum while Elaine took a yoga instructor course and I got ramped up on job hunting. Over that time I got to experience diving several cenotes, only some of which I have pictures to share (our camera is only good to 15m). Angelita is a deep sinkhole where at 25m a pile of decomposing jungle matter makes a dense cloud of hydrogen sulfide: it looks like Yoda’s home on Dagobah. Aktun Ha has lots of greenish light shining in; Calavera has a circular line at halocline depth with beautiful white-blue limestone. Our favorites, however, were The Pit and Dos Ojos.

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sorry it’s blurry. Barbie line in Dos Ojos

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The Pit is a deep cenote (hence, no photos) with a relatively small opening that broadens out into a huge clear space with rays of blue light shining down. It’s like floating around inside a vast cathedral, complete with a church-organ-like array of limestone columns. Dos Ojos is nearby and is more shallow, with a couple set lines routed through amazing limestone features and (again) beautiful blue/white colors.

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Barbie Line – one of the routes in Dos Ojos – is named for this lady halfway along.

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Elaine checks on me
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the “Bat Line” in Dos Ojos brings you, of course, to the Bat Cave.

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Our friends Jordan and Lauren, visiting from California, joined us for a snorkel trip to Casa Cenote. Jordan brought his monofin which made everyone jealous and we lucked out by getting an up-close look at Panchito, Casa’s chill resident croc. We later made a dive in Casa Cenote with another friend Marc, and Panchito visited us again! This time he lazily swam along over us as we made our way along under the mangroves.

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Casa Cenote’s mangroves
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Elaine tries out the monofin (I couldn’t fit in the shoes!)

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Okay now here’s Panchito in two acts: the first while we were snorkeling and the second while diving.

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Panchito isn’t in this one, but this is us starting our dive in Casa
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can’t say I ever expected or hoped to have this view!

We can now move on from cenotes and briefly cover through photos some other meaningful events from our month of March: Elaine’s new yoga certification, the visits of our friends Jordan+Lauren and Marc+Rori, going to see Tulum’s own Mayan ruins, and, as always, food.

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sunset on the beach

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a trio of frigate birds overhead
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a walled boundary of Tulum’s Mayan ruins, which are the most scenic ones we have seen
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the Temple of the Wind
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a coati family browse around the entrance to the ruins

Elaine’s birthday brought us to a really nice restaurant in Tulum called Kitchen Table, which we enjoyed so much that we went back there later on with Marc and Rori when they visited.

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this is a huitlacoche quesadilla; huitlacoche is very weird but this was very tasty 

We made a dinner with Marc and Rori that adventurously tried out a bit of a mystery ingredient: chorizo verde, shown below next to it’s more familiar cousin chorizo rojo. It’s actually super good!

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a mystery we debated at length: how can approximately one thousand delicious fresh tortillas only cost 10 pesos (60 cents)?

That’s about it for our time in Mexico! Right now we are in Playa del Carmen to catch a couple more days of diving before heading back to the States, but I doubt we’ll have new photos to share given our camera’s limitations. (It will be fantastic though, don’t doubt it). Still to come, at the very least however, is a summary post or two for revisiting our amazing year! So don’t go away. And congrats to our friend Rori, who got her open water diver certification while visiting us, and to Elaine who is now a yoga instructor!

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Rori (right) on her final open water certification dive
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Elaine and her group of instructor trainees!