Exploration Diaries #1

It is about the journey, not the destination…

We recently organised a 1 day cenote hunting trip west of Puerto Morelos in an area famous for deep sinkholes rather than cave diving, La Ruta de los Cenotes. A potential 2 cenotes became a potential 6 cenotes to be “checked” in the area in various properties.

It was really a very small outing (we didn’t even call it exploration) and we knew we would never do the 6 cenotes with the number of tanks, gear and snacks we packed. But it could lead to a second day or a second trip. Plus, we just like going out to the forest and scout for new places.

Making sure we don’t forget anything!
Car packed and ready with cave diving gear!

The first cenote we checked was a massive opening with a great wooden bridge structure and platform in the middle. Difficult to believe no one had been already but no apparent line was there. It was my turn, for the first time in my life, to lay line in an allegedly “unexplored” cenote. Skanda, way more experienced than me and an actual cave explorer, was going to survey behind me while I’d swim straight to the wall, find the deepest point and try and find an entrance to cave or any horizontal development clue, going counter-clockwise.

We got in the water, murky and rather not the clear blue water of my exploration dreams, it was dirty to say the least. I headed as planned realizing that the water was so dirty that it faded my light and I wasn’t able to see much further. Instruments, said my good voice, instruments… Laying line sucked. I got entangled with the line almost right after starting the descent and felt disoriented immediately as I couldn’t see the ground, walls or surface. Once I was free of the line I navigated straight until I found a stalactite, I sighed, I tried to find a spot to tie off next and found a wall. I continued on and even knowing that Skanda was behind me I felt like I was on my own but I was now on to doing more tie-offs. I guess that’s one thing I learned that day about exploration. You’re on your own, together. Skanda would be one tie off behind to allow me time to tie off the next one, before surveying the newly placed line with an Mnemo, my newly and first line ever laid.

The cavern didn’t go into cave and had a depth of 15m only, the rest was bacteria, snottites hanging and appearing to me as perfectly vertical stalactites, only until the tiniest water movement would break them and send a thousand particles everywhere, making it very difficult to enjoy the experience. I could feel them touching my face and I tried pressing my lips harder around the regulator but felt it wasn’t enough. Massive beige blubber formations gave its name to Cenote “Bacteria” as it was later baptised. Did I mention that laying line sucked? I could tell that Skanda was repairing my tie-offs as the reel sometimes became lose on my end, tension, tension!

My exploration dreams were sinking in this brown bacteria-filled foreign land but at the same time, I wanted more. Vincent’s words from a recent article he wrote sounded in my head: if we don’t go, we won’t know. This is the kind of place where you get spooked by a stalactite because there isn’t enough visibility to see it coming ahead. I thought of a recent question someone asked me: do you ever get scared that something is going to come out of the dark? Well, I don’t, but if I was it would definitely be in this place. This is also the kind of place where you don’t want to make a reg switch and the kind of place where you can’t see daylight but you know you aren’t far -both reassuring and worrying feelings, if it isn’t far why can’t I see it-. We were going around and every tie off I felt like I had to question myself, is it really worth leaving line here? I had a flashback to other moments of my life where I had asked myself a similar question. The sediment on the bottom was black and muddy. A few tree branches stuck out and a few massive mounts came up from the bottom like very fat stalagmites rising among rubbish, although I expected a lot more trash than I found.

A very spooky area of black wall was covered in white matter resembling the Halloween spiderweb decoration they sell at the supermarket for Halloween. I wanted to quit because the place wasn’t pretty but I had started to relax so I wanted to make sure we didn’t leave with knowing only half of this big cavern, what if the good part was on the other side? I admit, sometimes I was scared that Skanda wasn’t following as it was very difficult to see his light in that place but at the same time trusted, checked and continued. This is what I came to do (I told myself). The exit is that way (I knew, certain). And things are under control (a good feeling). Regardless of the unpleasant shit hole we got ourselves into, my reel felt lighter and I could see only a few more tie-offs so it was time to plan the exit although I hadn’t made a loop. I would have had to retrace steps if I hadn’t found daylight above where darkness had been all along the dive. Covering my light, I was able to see both a huge shadow on the left and a light orange glare on the right. I was behind a massive column and could make a final knot on another stalactite further towards the light. Skanda had to help with that as I literally had never asked myself how to make a final tie-off. I signalled Skanda “we cut the reel”/follow slope/end dive”. He confirmed and we started swimming together, empty reel in hand. He gave me an approval nudge in the arm, or maybe he just accidentally bumped into me.

As we ascended, we came across a massive tree trunk and I turned on the video lights, asked for the camera and tried to take a snap souvenir of our adventure. It did look cool right then but Skanda gave me a thumb up as in “this is shit, let’s get out”.

Skanda exiting Cenote “Bacteria”

We surfaced and I saw the two faces that had taken us there eager to know everything.  That has been my place before, on the platform. Looking at time go by and fantasizing about the adventure of the diver below. This time me. No hay cueva. No cave. We exited the water but I did place an arrow with our names and “2020” written on it, and took a second to think that this arrow, in the most filthy place I’ve ever been, will probably not see a lot of divers but it will just be a tiny souvenir for me of the very first time I emptied my 600ft reel somewhere near my hometown surrounded by frogs and mosquitoes.

First of many Tamara arrows!

I do believe that it is all about the journey rather than the destination, I would have loved to find a big beautiful cave but I am pretty sure that this experience adds up, just like every other dive I’ve done in my life, to the skill, the ability, the mindset and the completeness of being a cave diver. It would be rather unusual to find an amazing place the very first time I poke my face underwater with a full reel in hand wouldn’t it?

Empty is good!

Want to read about cenotes 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6? follow me on social media and stay tuned for the next post!

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