Exploration Diaries #3: La Bendición

Do you remember that deep well we were taken to a few months ago in Puerto Morelos? If you’re not much of a reader and prefer to watch a video go check Exploration Diaries clip by clicking here!

If you want the full adventure tale, keep reading!

Skanda and Jake at our Cave Entrance (a well).

Skanda had the bug after seeing a line go deeper than he could and after he completed his CCR Trimix course last week we immediately started talking about going back. I hadn’t gone down that other time because we were only scouting and this time, I was about to pass because I had a stomach bug the day before and I hadn’t been able to eat breakfast, we even had to pass on tacos Doña Ely, our signature breakfast spot when we’re in Puerto. Fortunately, after a little visit to the bushes and a little rest I felt much, much better and got my stamina back with some pastries we had bought at the petrol station (food has a very important role in our diving life).

I was ready to help the guys and also do a dive I had been waiting for. I am so glad I did and honestly, Skanda hadn’t really said much about how this place was THIS BIG, and how it was so diverse, and full of cracks to check. The plan was that Skanda would go in first (because  he’d been down before) so he could prepare a line on which to hook tanks, which I would then help our local guide Bistek put down. Then Jake would go down, and I’d be last.

If you’re wondering why our local contact is called Bistek here is the explanation (althought it may not make any sense to a non-spanish speaker): In local slang, people sometimes use words that start with the same letters to replace verbs or nouns. The word “business”, literally written and pronounced in local slang as “bisne” is commonly replaced by the word “bistek”, like a beef steak, so a person making business is a person who makes beef stakes… And all that just because it starts with “bis…”. Our local contact being good at business and trade has then been known as Bistek since a young age. I do not actually know his real name!

Back to the exploration. Descending the well was challenging, to say the least. Before we left the house Bistek tried to convince me to leave our ladder at home, he said there was a ladder already at the well but because last time we had so many problems with ropes and ladder this time we had more supplies and I didn’t agree to leave the ladder behind, what harm could it make to have two of them, especially If it was already on the truck and ready to go. Turns out the ladder at the well wasn’t there anymore, so my ladder came in handy. I told Bistek, this is why you need a woman in your exploration team.

Skanda being good at being Spiderman…

Plans to descend went smoothly, except for the wasp nest that was disturbed and gave Jake a lesson, watch where you put your hands! I would have screamed but Jake was more worried with getting to the water.

Skanda down there… Infrastructure needs to be improved if we want to keep the exploration going!
Jake Bulman going down the rabbit hole…

An advantage this time was that Bistek restored the old pulley that used to hang loosely over the well. He was able to run the rope and take tanks down in seconds, same for bringing them up. It also allowed us to have a rope tied on us, which then another person kept tight as we climbed up or down, just in case we would slip.

The ladder action was quite interesting and makes me think we definitely need another ladder. As we got on the well we would step on the edges and go down to the first step of the ladder, but the ladder isn’t as long as the well is deep, therefore, when we get to the last step the ladder needs to be lowered down. At this moment we need to do what I call “Spiderman”, spread legs and arms on any ledge that allows you to hold while they loosen the ladder, lower it, and secure it again. So, the first step of the ladder is at your reach again. This operation had to be repeated three times for each of us.

We got a system going…

The most difficult part for me is when the ladder is just inches of the water, you are completely vertical and there isn’t anything else to hold on. Jump down straight down.

Once in the water all is bliss. This is a small cavern with loads of thin stalactites. I immediately notice they are still dripping water and growing. Each stalactite looks like they have a tiny bulb lit at their tip. It’s a rainy day so we don’t have much direct sunlight.

The plan called for following the line previously installed by Vicente Fito, who we had consulted before pursuing this exploration as we had found his arrow going into the deep section. We were amused when we asked him if we could take over and he answered “denle duro”, in Spanish this means “go full blast”.

Team A, the guys… would go to the end of that line, push it, and come back to do their deco. They had all sort of gas mixes and their Sidewinder. I on the other side, was going to tie onto the same line and reach the nearest wall to the South, and then lay like in the cavern area between 10 and 30m as possible. I felt nervous as I started off because I literally couldn’t see the other walls of the cavern, the place opened up several times in an upside-down bowl manner. I swam counter-clock wise and I started discovering the place and its unique features. I here found some things I had never seen before. The shallow areas were decorated with drapes, bacon type stalactites or flags, and very long and thin formations. As I dove down to gain depth, I noticed a change in the rock. Mainly because it became very difficult to find a suitable place for tie offs. The rock would just dissolve with the light touch of fingers or line. I also noticed a great part of the cave had a tine (2cm) crack that ran horizontally along many many meters, as a two-layer cake. And from the cracks different colours seemed to have flowed down colouring the lower part with browns, blacks and oranges.

I continued on to around 23m, I passed the huge opening where team A had gone, it felt so appealing to continue descending and go in that blue window but I had to continue with my task. As I swam, I was also amazed by the number and variety of fossils I found, and frustrated as I was laying line, which prevented me from making photos and taking info on the fossils or other geology features that seemed very interesting. I knew I had to go around again to do that because the reel couldn’t be put down (the rock would not hold it).

At a certain point I started feeling like I should be completing the loop soon and indeed a few tie-offs ahead I recognized one of the stalagmites I had seen in the beginning. I visually inspected the area to be able to close the loop in a way that made sense if ever someone would be doing a cavern tour. After Cenote Bacteria I came here with no hopes but this is certainly a place I could conduct cavern tours and it could be added to the list of amazing spots to explore in Puerto Morelos at Ruta de los Cenotes, provided that a proper ladder is installed.

After closing the loop,  I decided to go back and do video and photos, I documented a large amount of bivalves that had an extraordinary size, some where open making a heart shape, some where closed and looked like big fruits. I also found beautiful conch shells and my find of the day, a big fossil of a walking coral (usually called free-living coral), these are species that aren’t sessile (they move around, which is quite awesome for a coral) and aren’t that common in this region. I had to consult with the experts as I could see it was coral, and somehow familiar but not conspicuous to me.

Walking coral, possibly Manicina species. Follow @CaveCorals on Instagram for my new Science project!

The line I laid around the cavern ended up being 250m of an oval oriented North to South. The line crossing from side to side on the longest stretch is 120m, wat more than the 30m the landowners thought their cavern had.

I then decided to swim off the wall and onto the middle of the cavern, the more I swam the bigger and diverse it looked. I could spot some glare from the surface where a big sun beam would normally be but the clouds wouldn’t let in today. During this part of the dive I found some trash, a sandal, plastic bottles, metal buckets and wooden debris (including some things I believed used to be the well infrastructure once). I also found three animal skeletons, most probably not fossils and one of them definitely a new set of bones, it looked like a small mammal like a coati or the sort. Another one I think looked like a small dog.

Is this a fallen stalactite?
Boneskies!

I spotted some lights coming from the deep. To give you an idea, I tried filming this but the powerful lights of Team A wouldn’t even be visible in the video, they were coming from 50m and slowly made it to where I was. I took one of their spare tanks to take to the surface and we had a short conversation. They had at this point 77 minutes to the surface.

I decided to make my stop and film a few more things in the entrance of the cavern. It turns out due to the heavy rains the surface support had taken shelter in the house and I was left on the surface for about 25 minutes before someone poked their face on top of the well. It took me a while to be able to lift myself up and get on the ladder and I needed a few breaks during the final ascent. When I arrived up there Bistek told me they had grilled a barbecue for us and I should go eat but I had to fulfil my duties as support diver so I decided to stay by the well until the guys came out, especially knowing that they were doing long stops I didn’t want to leave them waiting in the well. It was very difficult to convince Bistek that I wasn’t ready to eat yet and we wouldn’t be having lunch until all the team was out and dry.

It was pouring down and I waited by the well, completely soaked. It felt pretty good to have been there and I had plenty of time to thing about exploration and how we are not only adventurers and divers, we are also actors in an industry and region where everything is about money. If we explore a place, we are responsible for providing information to land owners and maybe also for helping them make informed decisions about their land and their cenotes. Many companies have holes dug to create swimming areas and attractions but that comes at high risk of damaging the cenotes irreversibly and us divers can drive and accompany some of those decision-making processes in an effort to preserve the environment and encourage a type of tourism that is not mass-oriented.

After more than an hour wait, the guys voices finally called from the well. Bistek and his team helped us get everyone and everything out safely. A lot of shrugging and sweating involved in climbing up from the earth insides I’d say. As cave divers we’re always happy to go in but in all honesty, we’re always happy to see the light too.

It took us another hour to out the gear away and pack the truck, needless to say that things didn’t fit as well as they had on the way here. Plus we were packing down in the rain. A lot of the stuff had been left out when we were in the water so a few of us were wearing wet pants.

Skanda and the Mexican BBQ on his bday!

But after so much discomfort, a reward was about to be served. As I wrote before a “barbie” had taken place and we were escorted to the house. The smell of smoke and wood, the hand made salsa and the grilled pork “poc-chuch” style was a blessing. Their spicy sauce was made directly made with a batch of tiny green chilis of the bush behind the house. It was Skanda’s birthday and the family gave him a lot of beers, a lot of food, and a lot of recommendations on Mexican traditions for birthday celebrations, I won’t go into details here.

Jake, Skanda and I had a lovely lunch and there was a lot of laughter. We had to leave because a long drive to Puerto Morelos and then to Tulum awaited us. And as always, we would be “mexicanly” late for Skanda’s birthday celebration.

I would call this day a success, so much to write in our exploration report, so many videos, and photos, and details to document. I am truly hoping to make a set of solid recommendations for the family so they can exploit their land in a sustainable way. We are expecting a set of follow up dives to push the line which is now 900ft into the cave at a max depth of 75m. I am hoping to be able to conduct the Cave Corals Project here too, and document these fossils to upload the info into our new data base as well as get some proper photographer to light up this 150m long room and maybe even get some cartography done.

Cenote La Bendición translates as The Blessing. Religious or not, a blessing can never be too much.

If you want to know more about our adventures follow us on IG @Cenote_Girl @SkandaCophield and @Jake_Bulman or watch the Exploration Diaries video here! If you’re interested in cave diving scientific projects check out my new endevour www.cavecorals.com

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