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Playa del Carmen: Chac Mool and Kukulkan

Chac who?

Our last dive day was a trip to two of the Yucatan’s many cenotes, caverns filled with fresh water.  You don’t have to be a certified cave diver to dive these (and thank goodness, because cave diving terrifies me and I don’t see that certification in my future), but you do have to go with one.  First he reassures you that, because cavern diving requires you to stay within visual distance of surface light, he will be able to get you to the surface in seconds if necessary.  Phew!  Then he gives you the lecture about how you had better not touch a single thing inside the cenote, including the guide rope that you will be following, because everything (with the exception of the rope) took thousands of years to form and will never regrow now that it’s full of water.  Hope you’re feeling good about your buoyancy control!

We went into Kukulkan (the easier of the two) first, so we could get a feel for things and so he could make sure we weren’t idiots.  Down at a certain depth there is a halocline, where all that crystal-clear fresh water sits on top of salt water.  When you swim through that layer and it mixes, everything looks very blurry (freaky if you weren’t expecting it; still slightly freaky if you were).  It got kicked up in front of me and when we came up from that dive, I said, “Hey, what was that sign that said ‘stop’ and had the grim reaper on it?”  The instructor said, “Oh, yeah, I don’t tell people about that.”

click for source page

It says that more than 300 people have died while diving in caves, including instructors.  In case you get down there and realize your Spanish is rusty, this conveys a similar message in a more rudimentary way (the haziness is the halocline, only slightly stirred up here):

click for source page

But it’s not all death and stuff.  Once you get comfortable, the views are absolutely amazing (I have had to steal other people’s photos for this post because I wanted to stay focused on surviving the experience and not touching anything):

click to see a few more incredible cenote photos by the same photographer

If you are a diver and you find yourself in the Yucatan, you have to try this (shout-out to the dive shop we used — loved them!).  You won’t have this experience anywhere else in the world.  We are looking at going back to Playa someday to do our advanced open water certification, since diving the cenotes counts as a peak performance buoyancy dive.  Speaking of buoyancy, the cenotes are an awesome confidence-builder for that.  I surprised myself with how well I did — even though I became horribly anxious when we temporarily surfaced in the air dome in Chac Mool, inflated our BCDs, and I knew I would have to redo my buoyancy just in time to swim back through enormous, irreplaceable stalactites.

And no, I didn’t touch anything. :)

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