Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Dos Ojos Cenotes, Mexico

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” ~ Joseph Campbell

I've been to beaches in California, Oregon, Washington. I've been to the water's edge in Alaska and Texas and Florida. Add in the beaches of South Carolina and Maine. I can't forget about all the beaches in Hawaii on the Big Island, Maui, Oahu, and Kauai. I had dipped my toes, sometimes the feet, but never past the ankle. Never ever. Swim in the ocean waters? Nope. Not even close.

But a few years ago after the second knee replacement I did it. I swam in the ocean in Waikoloa, Hawaii. Fast forward a few months and I snorkeled for the first time. Dropped off near the Belize Barrier Reef. Terrifying. Frightening. Scary. Exhilarating. Fast forward a few more months and I added a few more snorkel adventures in a few more countries. Some stick out in my memory more than others. Snorkeling the underground cenotes in Mexico is one of them.

The cruise ship arrived in Cozumel, Mexico on a stormy day. While many of the excursions were canceled for the day, mine was a go. Head off the ship, walk to the ferry in the rain. The ferry full of cruise ship passengers was just a few miles from shore on its voyage between Cozumel and mainland Mexico when the staff started handing out little plastic bags. Rain, wind, and very choppy waters made for ill passengers. I’ve been on this particular ferry several times before but have never quite seen it this rough. Thank you, iron stomach.

The rain continued after our arrival in Playa del Carmen. I’m not sure it could be called rain. Drenching downpour maybe? Our group was loaded in a van for an hour long trip to the Dos Ojos Cenotes near Tulum. Upon arriving at the cenotes we climbed out of the van to be fitted for life jackets and snorkel gear. The heavy downpours continued, with several of the ladies’ attempts to get to the restroom being met with ankle deep water. Back in the van for the trip up to the first cenote.

The thing about these cenotes is that they are underground. Like in a cave. They are replenished with rainwater seeping through the ground. What it means for the roads is that they can't be paved. There is a place for a vehicle to travel but could this be called a road? If a sandy/gravely place with huge flooded deep potholes everywhere can be called a road, I guess that’s what we drove on. What a bumpy adventure.

We arrived at the first parking place and headed down the trail and then down steps to the first cenote. Jump right into that first cenote. Heck, why not? We were all completely drenched from the rain already anyway.
Swim around a bit, climb back out. Walk down the trail and more steps to the next cenote. Put your shoes in this basket and we will have someone take them to where you’ll be getting out. Which means we will be swimming and snorkeling. Underground.
Through the caves. With the stalagmites and stalactites.  It was unreal to see formations from above and below the waterline at the same time.
While it would have been even more amazing to see sunlight streaming through the top of the cave instead of the rain dripping on our heads, it was spectacular. Our guide had a flashlight with him and would shine it both above and below the water so we could take in the sights. He also pulled along a life ring so the not-so-strong swimmers could grab on for a ride through the caves.
 I was hoping to get a glimpse of bats along the way. Only near the exit did we see any bats. We didn’t even get buzzed once.  But there were some scuba divers heading back farther. See their lights? They are with the bats.
Back to daylight for the snorkelers.
 Climb out of the cenote into a flood.
Get prepared for the hike back up the stairs and trail. You know the rain is heavy when there is a river flowing down the steps you are planning to climb. I wish I had taken a picture. But it was work for all of us to get up the stairs with the water gushing down so I didn’t think it was appropriate to hold up the group for the sake of a picture. (Although it would have been a good great one.)

Back to the van, return the life jackets. Back down the bumpy thing called a road. Head to Akumal Bay to snorkel with sea turtles.

A story for another day.