One Day in Mexico, This Happened…
Cenote Diving: Not a Normal Scuba Experience
I peer down the steep staircase built into the side of the earth and survey the dark gleam of water beneath. A flash of bright turquoise reflects off the water when the sun hits it. The rest of the water that I can see through the small opening in the ground below is dark with no hint of the depths that lie beneath it.
Excitement co-mingles with fear as I wonder for the hundredth time since booking this cenote dive yesterday through the Riviera Maya, Mexico resort Tom and I are staying at if this dive is a good idea. Not only is it going to be my first dive going deeper than 50 feet (all the way down to 90 feet – gulp!) it will also my first time diving where it wil be so dark in parts that I need a flashlight.
I’m kind of scared of the dark. Not in the “I must have a nightlight to sleep” way, but more I don’t like having my eyes open in the dark for fear of a pair of glowing red eyes – or green depending on the nightmarish scenarios my head likes to play out – suddenly appearing before me and scaring me into a heart attack before it (the body attached to the glowing eyes) has a chance to eat me. I hate the feeling of being surprise scared.
The dive master, Gus, said we probably wouldn’t see much more than maybe one or two fish, but I’m not convinced. He’s from Serbia and seems way too laidback about these cenote things. After all, cenotes are so deep, no one knows what all lies on their floor. Maybe today is the day the sea monster living 500 feet down decides to come up to grab some unassuming tourist, curling up its tentacles to grab my leg, like the fire monster with Gandalf in Lord of the Rings.
I share this thought with Tom.
He rolls his eyes at me with a shake of his head. “The things you come up with…” he mutters.
“What? It could happen.”
“How do you know. We don’t know everything that exists in the world.”
“Cenote dragons don’t exist.”
Our debate about the probability of underwater cenote dragons (which I’m quite certain are not real when I’m not about to go diving in a cenote) is interrupted by Gus beckoning us to come back from the entrance to the cenote and get into our scuba gear.
Five minutes later, I’m slowly descending down the stairs in my full wetsuit, holding carefully onto the rail so my heavy tank on my back doesn’t topple me over. I arrive at the bottom and carefully sit down on the edge of the platform and dangle my feet in the water. It feels good after wobbling around under the hot Mexican sun in a wetsuit. The rocky edges and ceiling of the cenote circle out around me, feeling both peaceful and a bit menacing as I prop myself off the ledge and into the water.
Once I’m all the way in, the shock of the cool water fills my wetsuit, but soon my body heat warms it and it’s time to descend.
“Remember, there’s no reason to be scared. The water’s so clear that you’ll always be able to see one of the three openings in the cenote,” Gus says.
I nod, nervous about losing him in the darkness of the cenote and worried that if I run into a problem with my tank I’ll shoot up through the water not knowing where to go and hit an underwater ceiling; fears I’d expressed on the thirty minute drive from the resort to the cenote, and which Gus continued to assure me were completely unjustified in his relaxed and friendly manner.
We descend underneath the water and begin following Gus along the wall away from the opening, moving our way steadily down into the mysterious depths of the cenote, the light from my flashlight showing flashes of blue water and rugged wall.
I know we’ve reached ninety feet when the water turns into clouds.
This is why I ultimately decided to be brave and go on the cenote dive instead of a reef dive. The underwater clouds are really a marine layer that stretches across the water in this part of the cenote. It sounded pretty awesome when Gus explained it to us yesterday, but now playing with it and watching the white mist slowly curve up around us like slowly moving clouds in a dark night sky is beyond amazing. I breath my air out and let myself sink slowly into the white swirls that look like stretched cotton winding around me. This is probably as close as I’ll ever get to floating on a cloud.
Too soon, Gus is beckoning us to follow him back up. Not only will we go through our oxygen quickly at 90 feet, he’d also told us before arriving that it’s not good to spend more than five minutes in the marine layer due to the nitrogen that’s in it.
As we make our way up the cenote, passing underwater rock formations along the way, I notice the glistening of three distinct light tunnels through the water. The water is bright blue where the light shines through it, even at 50 feet below the surface, and as we get close to one of the sunshine beams, I swim over and enter into the beam of light.
It’s magical. I’m weightlessly floating in a shimmering tunnel of light as rays of white sunlight beams dance around me. It’s like I’m in a science fiction movie, about to be zapped through time or into another dimension. The light rays seem to go on forever down into the bottom of the cenote, turning it into a glimmering kaleidoscope made by mother nature.
After reluctantly leaving the light ray’s warm embrace, I swim after Gus to a darker corner of the cenote. The light from our flashlights find underwater rock sculptures, stretching down at various lengths. I flip onto my back and slowly kick my way through them, marveling at how time and water carved out this underwater piece of art. The water is so peaceful and quiet and for a moment I wonder if this is what it was like to be in the womb (minus the cave like structures). As I float back toward the center of the cenote, still on my back and marveling at how peaceful I feel, I see an outline of a snorkeler far above me, and I’m reminded that all too soon I’ll be leaving this underwater meditation behind and be back on the surface. I hope this won’t be my last time scuba diving in a cenote.
Later, after making our way to the original opening we started the dive in, we get rid of our scuba gear and have one more adventure of cliff jumping into the opening on the opposite side of the cenote.
All in all…cenotes rock.
Have you ever gone swimming or diving in a cenote? What was your favorite part?