I just had gotten Open Water Diver certified a month ago in Vietnam, didn’t have any experience in diving (except from the dives I had to do in order to get licensed), but was more than ready for any kind of crazy adventures. Let’s please add that it was the year 2014, I was young, inexperienced, not really aware of the risks of diving and looking for the next epic trip. A foolish person, looking back. But it’s been that foolishness which shaped so many of my adventures.
I’ve been dreaming of exploring Mexico’s underwater cave systems for a very long time, so I decided that I wanted my first proper dive to happen there.
I use to never plan a lot once I’m on a trip and just let things happen, because it makes journeys easier and more thrilling. This way of travelling brings me off the beaten path. I love surprises, they are a great way to learn.
Well, I spent the first part of that day snorkeling at different cenotes. In the afternoon I went to the beach for some sunbathing, but got bored pretty soon. So I started to ask locals if they knew someone who could take me on a dive in one of the Cenotes (name of the caves), because I couldn’t find an instructor at the diving schools I’ve been to earlier that day. I was lucky, I met a Mexican guy, Miguel, who told me that he already did a lot of dives in those caves and knows them very well. He sounded nice, but after having been kidnapped in Vietnam (that’s another story), I tried to be a little more careful with whom I trust. I asked him lots of questions, went over to my friends to introduce him, took a photo of his number plate and had my phone as well as my pepper spray in my hands all the time, ready to use it if I would have had to.
So we got into his car, a red Jeep with rusty spots all over its body. When Miguel started the car, a rattling noise came from its engine. It didn’t seem to bother him and we hit the road.
After half an hour we stopped at his place to get the stuff we needed (tanks, regulators etc.), I borrowed the gear I would be wearing at my new friends neighbor, who, as a matter of fact, also was a cave diver.
Miguel told me about a cave he recently had discovered but not explored properly yet. I immediately got curious and told him I would love to join him on the expedition.
It took us one or two hours to get where we wanted to go to, because we were talking a lot (in a mixture or Spanish and English), time passed by very quickly and I lost track of it.
We drove on a dirt road almost all the time until we stopped in front of a wall of exotic plants. Miguel told me we would have to walk for a while, carrying all our gear because the cenote was surrounded by jungle. I really liked the idea of diving at a place probably just a few, or even only my instructor had dived before, and didn’t mind carrying the heavy gear at all. Actually I enjoyed it because it was part of the adventure. You have to work to receive great things.
After about half an hour we arrived at a circular hole filled with sapphire blue water. We were there. I remember how excited and curious I was when I first laid eyes on its sparkling surface. The plants around made the sunlight appear like a translucent veil of diamonds lying on the reflective and clear water. I couldn’t wait to see which treasures might be hidden under the cenotes surface.
I jumped into the cold water first. After our hike it felt so refreshing. I showed Miguel that I’m fine by forming a circle with my thumb and forefinger, then he joined me. We slowly let the air out of our jackets and went down into the unknown. As we got deeper, I looked up and could see rays of sunlight dancing above my head.
We crossed the halocline, the boarder between fresh and salt water created by their different densities. Everything got blurry for a few moments but then finally cleared up. When we reached the holes bottom, I could see a cave opening right in front of me. We only had one torch which I was carrying, so Miguel went first.
I could feel my heart rate speeding up as we entered the great unknown. Limestone formations to both sides, even above us. Roots of trees were piercing through the ceiling like bony fingers.
When I breathed out, the escaping oxygen created mirror-like, silvery shimmering bubbles of air between the rocks above me. Every now and then I turned around in order to check if there was still daylight shining through the entrance behind us, the only reminder of the other world above us, our insurance to find our way back. But it was slowly disappearing the further we moved forward. Then we reached a point when it was gone. Complete darkness around us, only my torch gave us light. Miguel was carrying a rope, which he had tied to one of the trees on the surface. He wrapped it around certain stalagmites, in order to know which directions we took. The only thing I could hear down there was my heartbeat and consistent respiring. I tried not to breath too fast and moved very slowly in order to make sure not to use too much of the oxygen.
Suddenly Miguel stopped. He was gesticulating, wanted me to dive next to him. The cave wasn’t narrow, but it was a little hard though to get right next to his side. So I stopped at about the height of his waist. He wanted me to point with the torch in the direction his forefinger showed to. Even though Miguel’s face was almost completely covered with diving gear, I could see through his mask two widely opened eyes. I knew immediately that there must be something which has drawn his attention, and not only that, which has made him feel very excited. Slowly I moved the torch into the direction he wanted me to move it. And all of a sudden I could see it.
There was the remnant of something that must have been a turtle long ago. But its shield still looked like as if that animal has fallen into the cenote only before a couple of days. The cave preserved all its beauty irrespective of time. We didn’t touch it. Actually we didn’t touch anything. The cenotes have been a very spiritual place to the Mayas. Miguel, who was half a Mayan, still wanted to preserve his ancestors’ culture and tradition. And even though he told me earlier that day, he had found lots of things like pottery and bones in the cenotes already, he believed that those things should remain untouched. They belong to another world, not ours. A world which has vanished many decades ago. But yet we have to respect it.
We moved on forward, but all of a sudden the torch’s light started to fade. There must have been an issue with the batteries. I hit it against the palm of my hand a couple of times and it started working again, but only a few minutes later it failed. I remember that I couldn’t see anything. I knew that the rope Miguel was carrying must have been somewhere close to my left. So I reached out, trying to find it. When I finally managed to grab it and felt a drag. Miguel was pulling on the rope and I answered by pulling it back towards me. That way we could make sure that the drag didn’t come from one of the stones the rope was wrapped around. I shook the torch again, clapping it against my left knee. After a few moments which felt like an eternity, all of a sudden light filled the cave again.
We both knew that it was time to turn around. While diving back, Miguel carefully freed the rocks from the rope. And then I could see it. Shining into the cave like rays of hope, a feeling of security surrounded me. There it was: A sign of daylight. At first, I could only see a few rays of sun. Their number grew as we got closer to the opening. And then the first one touched me. I remember the feeling I got when it was shining into my face. I closed my eyes for a second and felt its warming light on my eyelids.
We had made it back. After a safety stop we slowly approached the surface. When we put our heads out of the water and the regulator out of our mouths, we hugged each other. It was just an overwhelming feeling.
I still can’t think of any better way to complete my first proper dive.