It is day seven of Giovanna s and my Riviera Maya-Yucatan Peninsula adventure. All is extremely well and we are having an amazing time.
Today s experience I think has been the highlight for me so far. We are staying in Tulum, about 100 kms south of Cancun. This area is famous for its Cenotes, which are limestone caverns filled with freshwater that stretch for miles underground, eventually connecting to the ocean. They are filled with amazing rock formations and stalagmites-tites that are millions of years in the making. Today, we both took a two-tank cave dive of the Dos Ojos Cenote a few miles outside Tulum. Our Dive master – Arturo – is a local, and we had fortuitously made his acquaintance on our second dive in Cozumel on Tuesday. He offered to give us an individualized tour, which was awesome, because it was extremely personalized and completely non-tourist trap in nature. We were both somewhat nervous of the dive – since we are still relative beginners, there is much comfort to derive in knowing that if something goes wrong, you can always come up to the surface. However, in this cave dive, we would be navigating through a series of whilst breathtakingly beautiful , altogether enclosed tunnel systems. We geared up in the hot midday sun. Walking down in our gear to the cave entrance was a task in and of itself. The water was perfect. Totally transparent with visibility easily in excess of 100 feet. Color – turquoise. Lots of tiny gupper fish swimming amongst us. After our safety and buoyancy checks (buoyancy being very important in a cave dive to avoid crashing into protected formations- and because it is more difficult to dive in fresh water) it was time to head down into a completely new world.
There truly are not words to describe the experience. No hay palabras. All I can say is that to be swimming in a totally pitch black cave, with a flashlight, and know that nothing separates you from the darkness but your mask is a feeling unlike any other Ive had. Looking up to the entrance of the cenote was especially breathtaking, as the rays of the sun filtered into the water creating various inspiring levels of translucent blues. I had some trouble half-way through our first 40 minute dive – all of a sudden my right ear would not equalize and I felt searing pain. Trying not to panic, I made the signal for distress and Arturo swam over to me. However, there was nowhere to ascend to relieve the pressure on my eardrum. We swam back to an opening and tried to rise a few feet, to no avail. We actually ended up surfacing after another back tracking swim. My ear finally popped on the surface, but from that point on, my anxiety level was a little heightened. This trip truly tested my fears- of confined spaces, and being trapped without real outside air to breathe…one can use their imagination. I was able to continue the dive, and followed Arturo s instructions to continue equalizing even when it didn't seem that we were changing depths.
After a short break, we loaded on another tank and completed a second 45 minute dive – this time in a more challenging part of the cave, where in parts, there were no light sources bar our flashlights. Absolutely unforgettable experience- I could only sum it up as deliciously terrifying!
The rest of the trip has been far less anxiety –inducing. I arrived without a glitch last Friday, only to have to wait for Gs plane to arrive – five and a half hours later…..! Her flight was delayed, and upon her arrival, I was forced to yell and scream for her to run so that we could catch the terminal transport to get to the last bus to Playa del Carmen, so that we could catch the last ferry to Cozumel….
We just barely made it.
After 18 hours of traveling, the LAST thing you want to do is be RUNNING through the streets of a strange city asking in very unpracticed Spanish where the **ck the ferry terminal is, and then continue screaming as you try to run to a boat that is pulling up the passenger gangway. We were very tired on arrival, had a quick bite to eat and passed out.
The following two days were spent in idle relaxation. In fact, the weather was rather nasty in Cozumel at first – around 60 degrees with harsh winds and occasional downpours. The port was closed, so were unable to dive. We had no problem, however, spending the time filling our bellies with delicious all-inclusive food and cocktails…. And more cocktails. We made lots of friends, including an inordinate and inexplicable number of couples from Minnesota. Everyone seems to be intrigued by Giovanna and I – and Im not sure if its our accents or whether its because we are constantly tripping over ourselves with laughter. It is so good to be back with my friend…. I love you G!!
Other than stuffing our faces, we did manage to work out, visit the local museum (where we had Mayan life in a traditional Mayan hut explained to us by a lovely older man who spoke Mayenglish – very difficult to decipher!) and we were very lucky to have arrived, completely unplanned, during Carnaval - celebrated with much gusto in San Miguel, Cozumel. The parade was wonderful and LONG…..the costumes, the dancing, the music, the drinking, the concerts – it was very easy to get caught up in the abundance and excess of it. And all we needed to share was a warm smile and a wave to get our beads….
Finally, on Monday the sun came out and the winds calmed down. We were able to go out on our first dive boat- leaving, conveniently from the palapas of our hotels private beach. Much of the reef here was very damaged by Wilma, but it is still teeming with life and has much vibrant coral that is unharmed (especially below 40 feet). On our first dive, we spotted a turtle, moray eel and a lobster- in the beautiful Palancar Gardens. Our second dive was a full drift dive – and the current was not at all as disconcerting as I had anticipated. We basically dropped down in a vast expanse of blue and then kind of "let ourselves go" to the current which pulled us in to a series of coral "walls" which we then just relaxed and watched as they floated by…This dive gave us a nurse shark , another turtle, and of course lots of parrot, angel and other reef fish. Wonderful.
Coming back from the dive, G and I had one too many cocktails by the pool (should have known better too – nitrogen from the dive exacerbates the effects of alcohol) – and we passed out around 5 not to wake up for four hours or so…. Too much fun!
By the way, the people of this region are just so friendly and curious. EVERYONE has been helpful, polite, endearing and very eager to talk to us. English is not very widely spoken, so I am being forced to dredge my three years of high school Spanish to the surface of my brain- but I am managing. If anything, the people are so friendly, there have been times where I have wished that they simply let us be- instead of enquiring as to our origins, places of residence, families, plans, etc etc etc… Not something to complain about really.
After another wonderful day of diving and celebrating "Fat Tuesday" the mother lode ending to five day Carnaval – it was time to bid goodbye to the coral reef fringed island of Cozumel.
Giovanna and I took the bus south from Playa del Carmen, stopping for the afternoon at Xel – Hal – an ecopark, that is really just a Tourist trap. It was very beautiful, except a bit exhausting – very far to walk between all the attractions (ie…45 minute walk barefoot on paths through the humid jungle just to wait in line for a tube, to wait in line to get snorkel gear, to wait in line to get in the bloody river, all the time telling yourself " oh ,,,this is supposed to be fun, I am having a great time, its so relaxing!" The lagoons themselves were beautiful and full of vibrantly colored fish. However, we were not going to pay $190 each for a "dolphin encounter" – so we stayed till sundown and then got a cab to Tulum, where we arrived last night. Our hotel is "nice" although the room smells a bit like the inside of a wet old sneaker. The owner is very kind however, and multi tasks between reservationist, chef, housekeeper and tour guide at an impressive pace.
This morning, prior to our Cenote dive, G and I got up early to avoid the crowds, and headed over to the Mayan ruins at Tulum. The excavated buildings are fascinating and in the most incredible location overlooking the emerald green ocean. Iguanas are everywhere, appearing to own the abandoned 1200 year old city. Archaeologists believe that this is where the Spaniards first appeared on the horizon in 1512 to the confused Mayans. Note to self: watch Apocalypto on return to USA:
Anyway, must go –my hands are starting to really hurt. It is so good to write a travel log again, I must say!! It has been far too long!.
Hope that you enjoyed part I – part II is on its way. Tomorrow we head to the ruins of Coba, then on to Valladolid, Merida, Rio Lagartos and then back to Cancun.
Be safe and well, and Ill see you all soon!