Mexico Cave diving
January 8th, 2009
I’d managed to squeeze in another cave diving trip this year. After several trips to Florida and France, it felt only right to go back to Mexico! My buddy, Clare Gledhill, and I arranged a 9 day trip with a day off in the middle. We stayed at the Dreams Hotel in Tulum which is a 5 Star all inclusive hotel -- a bit of a luxury but we’ve found it reduces the time you spend sorting food and makes the cost of the holiday very predictable.
I’ve been to Mexico several times, not as many trips as Clare, but we still arranged guided dives for the majority of the trip. The guys at DIR-Mexico know the caves so well, you get to places you wouldn’t have even known existed. Places like this:
Our first day started off with the traditional waste of time spent renting a car. I’ve tried booking online but it’s doesn’t seem to speed the process up whatever you do. Once sorted, we popped into Zero Gravity, said hello to everyone and grabbed some cylinders.
Our plan for the first day was a simple warm up dive in Carwash. It was actually the first cave I ever dived and as such I’ve got great memories of it. When we got to the site we ran into some fellow DIR Explorers members and got chatting. It was great to meet Nick and his buddy and put some faces to names but I was rather keen to get in the water. We jumped in, and as I stuck my head under the water to see the amazing crystal visibility and the start of the cavern, I started grinning. Clare and I discussed the plan, which was a 1/3’s dive jumping off to the room of tears. I always reckon I know my way into carwash and then end up wondering if the reel will run out before I hit the mainline. On one past occasion I ended up with the guideline somewhat taut in order to tie into the mainline! No dramas on this occasion, so we tied in and set off down the mainlin. One of the big changes from last time was that the cave seemed darker and siltier. Some locals had been trying to dig out Luke’s hope (cenote) and in the process seem to have chucked a load of particulates into the cave. We pass the first cenote and somehow overshoot the jump to the room of tears.
Clare is leading the dive at this point and we both decided to just keep going, and see how far we get. We pass through Adriana’s room which is a section of the cave with beautiful formations. I’d forgotten just how pretty the Mexican caves are and I marvel at the formations. We kept going and the cave started to get tighter and tighter. Eventually I see Clare skimming the floor and ceiling with her drysuit and tanks, and I’m glad she decides it’s just too tight and thumbs the dive. Exiting is uneventful, but as we reach the cavern zone I pause, enjoying the view of daylight streaming in. We sit at 5m for a couple of minutes and watch a cave class doing various drills before surfacing. A great start to the trip and a really nice warm up dive.
Next day we were diving with Danny as a three person team at Taj Mahal. The plan was a 2 stage dive plus 50 bar of backgas. At the depths of a lot of the Mexican caves that would allow us a 3 hour dive. We headed into Taj Mahal, and the initial part is now familiar cave, having dived it on both my cave-1 and cave-2 classes. Clare loves the size of some of the rooms in this system, and we headed straight up the mainline and through the vast chambers. The visibility extended as far as your light would travel.
We went right at the T into a second enormous room and dropped our first stage. We carried on before a jump to the left side, and headed on to the end on towards Boxk cenote, where we dropped our second stage bottle about 10m before the cenote. We surfaced into a breakdown area where the cave has collapsed, preventing further passage by water. There are some gaps in the ceiling and shafts of daylight light up the cave.
We spend some time just enjoying the view before we exit the water for some hardcore bouldering (while wearing double AL80’s). The ground is very slippery and it’s hard going. After about 10 minutes of scrambling I reentered at the furthest point and chilled out. Danny did relate the tale of someone spraining their ankle in the boulder section and then needing to struggle through the hour long exit dive – certainly made us cautious! Once we were all across and relaxed we started our next dive. We went through some beautiful cave and Danny took us on a tour of some of the least visited places. We headed right at a T and ran out of cave in a room with the most amazing white limestone and reluctantly begin the trip back to Boxk. Once there the process reverses and we get back into the first part of the cave and begin our exit. All told I think it was about 5 hours by the time we exit the cave, a truly stunning dive and an excellent second day.
Next up was a dive in Naharon. We were diving in a slightly bigger group, as we were diving with Dan Lloyd. Naharon is a big black cave, reminiscent of some of the WKPP caves. As you head down the line, your light just gets sucked up by the walls. You don’t get a huge view of the cave – it’s more a case of seeing little parts of it. We jumped left not long after reaching the mainline.
The cave now narrowed bringing the walls into view. It was filled with lots of dark formations, which looked like wax dripping down the walls and then stained black with soot. It’s actually tannic staining, but it does give the place a different feel. We went up through two breakdown domes where a collapse had caused some narrow spots. We then descended below the halocline into some amazing cave. The salt water had bleached the limestone, and the dark nature of the cave began to change. We reached the jump Danny had in mind, dropped our second stage as a marker, and jump left. This section is about 3m tall but narrow -- maybe 1m wide. We were now a bit deeper and in the salt layer so everything was white and blue coloured. We passed lots of limestone with intricate formations, and finger-walked through the narrow passage. Clare had brought her little camera and it actually managed a couple of photos. The light reflected by the limestone from 4 HID’s actually did quite a good job in such a small space. We reached the end of the line and turned the dive. It felt almost like 3 separate dives, as the cave changes so much as you progress. As we reached the cavern zone we saw some snorkelers peering down at us. We did 5 minutes of deco and a slow ascent with the opportunity for a few more photos in the shallows.
Diving with Dan was a pleasure – once again we just turned up, ran through a basic plan and went diving. It’s still really nice when the DIR just works as it should and lets you go diving in a safe manner.
Next up was Grand Cenote. As Danny pulled the map out of the car, he explained that he’d been one of the principal explorers in the system -- and sure enough, he’s listed on the map as having found huge sections of the cave system. As such he knows the cave incredibly well. Our plan was for a complex navigation dive with 5 jumps and a T, heading down into a section called La Boca. We descended and found the cavern line but came across a class making a dive. We made it past them but I was then on the back foot when running the jump, as I’d not started getting ready before I reached it. We jumped off at the stop sign (English version) and onto the white mainline. There were lots of pretty formations, with white and green being the dominant colours. We identified the jump to Calimba (we’d discussed it in the pre-dive plan) as it was right next to a change of direction marker. We dropped a cookie to reinforce our exit and kept going. Next jump was at the end of the line and it was a big one, so Danny used a reel. The cave now started to narrow a bit and the formations got even prettier. We took a shorter route past a cenote and kept going. I actually ran out of cookies at the last jump – I only had 5 on me so I had to use a line arrow (I’ve since added a few more to my pigtail). We eventually turned the dive on gas and exit. Despite a 3 hour plus dive we had no deco to do since we were on nitrox 32 and the average depth was 7m!
Next up was Jailhouse, one of Danny’s favourites. Our plan for this one was a photo dive, with Danny bringing his new SLR camera. This site is part of the Mayan Blue system but is further up the road next to a ranch. As such it doesn’t suffer from the break-in problems that Mayan Blue itself struggles with. For those who don’t know Mayan Blue is in the jungle, way out in the middle of nowhere, and a lot of cars have been broken into while the divers are in the water. Fred has lost his shoes and his lunch in the past -- an indication of the poverty of some of the people.
The site is called Jailhouse as it originally had a barbed wire fence around it, so when the original explorers surfaced in it they were penned in. It’s now been well setup for divers with a path down to the cenote. The cave starts off as a dark cave with lots of stained black rocks. We passed through that section with Danny only taking a couple of photos. We then reached a section where we descended below the halocline and found the big white Mayan blue style cave. The dive itself was absolutely stunning. Huge cave passage, fantastic visibility, lots of big formations. We passed a fossilized tree root, where dripping water had deposited rock and freeze framed it. All the time, Danny was shooting pictures. A simple stunning cave – I can see why it’s one of Danny’s favourites.
Another notable one on the trip was Dos Pisos, a relatively newly explored cave. It’s a bit of a longer walk to the water and it doesn’t smell nice but the cave makes up for it. The first section was tight, narrow cave which required careful progress. Our tanks were on the ceiling, chest on the floor, and we finned gently, as there wasn’t always anything to use your fingers on. It was a white and green cave, a little like Grand Cenote. After a short distance, Danny flashed from position three and indicated that his stage was free flowing. We stopped and he tried to fix it. It worked for a little while but played up again so we dropped it and carried on with only back gas. Lots more formations, and again very striking. We turned it on gas and began our exit. Right back near the entrance we made a jump to a stretch Danny hadn’t done before. We found a circuit which looped back onto the mainline nearer the exit. Amazingly, we went past a lot of roots which look almost spooky underwater. When we jumped onto the mainline, we turned right and reached the first jump we had done. We removed the first jump, returned down the mainline removed our second jump and carried on exiting. It did prompt a conversation around markers, and that on refinding our first jump and our own cookies that we had reconfirmed we were on the mainline.
On one of the days without DIR Mexico, we went to Grand Cenote. Once again, we started off on the cavern line with a jump onto the mainline. This time, though, we took the jump off towards Calimba into a section called Paso de Lagarto. This was still big passage, but very pretty. Along the way we stop to take some pictures, and we drop stages at 40 minutes in. At 60 minutes we reach the jump to Bosh Chen and keep going to the T. It also represents a change of direction, so we cookie it and head right to Calimba. The cave now becomes very tight and squirrelly. Often the line doesn’t seem to follow the cave, and you end up heading up into the ceiling or down through a hole. We pass several very close-in jumps, which I’m careful to study carefully on the way in and out, along with some amazing formations. We hit turn pressure at 90 minutes and began our exit. The exit is a little quicker than the entry, and all too soon we are back in the cavern.
Overall a totally superb trip which left me very dived up. Being able to do a load of 3 hour cave dives where our longest deco was only 5 minutes is just amazing. Danny did us proud with some jaw dropping dives and of course the photos left us some fantastic pictures. Hope you liked them.