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The “New Normal”

Diving in the times of COVID-19

Some of the measures I will have in place when we get to dive again: My dive groups will be all private from now on | You will have the option of meeting up directly at the Cenote | Rental equipment and personal equipment will follow the same disinfection methods | Food will be handled depeding on your personal preferences | We will not sacrifice dive safety to implement no-contact policies, but we will encourage a safe distance. For more details read on!

Cenote Edén without a soul…

I am writing from home, like everyone else I’m starting to feel like this has been enough. Of course, diving has made this experience salvageable and I do consider myself lucky for being able to escape to the jungle and get in the water, but we all must agree that life must go on. And life now has COVID-19. Although there is talk about restarting dive operations, so far, we are not out of the woods, and after June 1st we are still requested by the State Governement in Quintana Roo to stay home. So, the lockdown continues.

So, what do we do now?

After extensive reading about recommendations for dive ops, DAN guidelines, State guidelines, learning way more on disinfection methods than I really need, finding endless lists of products that are efficient against the SARS-CoV-2 however NOT available in Mexico, and after feeling frustrated one minute and hopeful the next, I decided to look at things from a practical point and come up with a plan, for when we dive again.

Ready to take you diving and make 2020 a better year!

How would I expect thee dive shop I dive with to provide the service? This is how I have always made decisions for my business so I took it from there and I feel like I it’s doable, it makes sense, and I can adapt making those measures stricter or more relaxed depending on the evolution of this phenomenon, or depending on the comfort of my customers. After all, it’s you who I dive with, so I want to make you happy from start to end. The fact that I’ve worked with private diving only for a number of years has made this easy to organise. For me it is business as usual! 

Cenote Girl COVID-19 operation background, changes and guidelines

  1. I operate only private dive trips but in the last year I would offer solo travellers to join other solo travellers to form a small group of divers, mainly to have them meet other people and have more fun. From now on and until new notice your party or you as a solo traveller will get to share your dives with me but there won’t be other people from different groups anymore. This will reduce the contact with third parties during your trip. Once we know more about the epidemic, we can start offering joint trips again.
  2. We share closed space during car travel. You will have the option of meeting me at the cenote (driving there by your own means) or coming with me in my car. In any case the inside of the car will be disinfected with Lysol after the last use. Lysol is a product available in Mexico that can be used on surfaces and fabrics without damaging them. The car is equipped with disinfectant gel to use during the day as well as soap and potable water (other than drinking) to wash hands between dives, before eating or before handling equipment. Some cenotes also have sinks with soap.
  3. Rental equipment will always be rinsed, disinfected with Lysol (in the case of fabrics) or chlorine (in the case of masks, regs) for 30 minutes at least, it will be rinsed with fresh water after disinfection and dried separately. Gear will be handled and stored in an individual plastic container once dry. There are no other people handling the equipment so I will personally conduct this process. Containers have lids and should be used by the same person. If you have your own gear you have the choice of rinsing it yourself at your lodging facility or leaving it with me, in which case I will follow the same procedures as with rental gear. I own enough regulators to allow for 3 days’ time between using one set by two different people. This means we have enough time to properly treat the gear without affecting the operation.  I will ask you to empty the BCD by orally inflating it and flushing it before we part so I do not have to inflate it orally myself, like this we are all safe.
  4. During dive trips we usually stop at food stalls, taco stands or restaurants and I also provide snacks, biscuits, fruit and water. I completely understand if you prefer to prepare your own food, or if you have a preference for food that can be easily disinfected (like fruits, which can be properly washed before eating). The easiest way is to let me know your preferences and I will cater to it having in mind that I prefer to operate zero waste lunches and will always look for the most environmentally friendly option when possible. 
  5. We are encouraged to reduce and limit contact with divers. While I find this measure the hardest one because I tend to be near my students and divers, I want to provide the best experience and therefore I’ll need you to communicate with me about your comfort zone. It has been suggested dive guides should not touch divers when entering and exiting the water or during dives. I will continue to help you as much as I can and ensuring your water entry and exit are safe. Working in slippery and wet environments can be challenging as it is so I will ask for yet more attention from your side so that I can assist you with minimum contact. Knowing that I will not hesitate to touch your gear or hold you if I consider a dangerous situation may happen. 
  6. The fun and the love for diving should not be shadowed by the worry of the pandemic and I encourage everyone to increase measures and focus on having a good time at the same time. Trust me in making your dives memorable and do not hesitate to talk with me about your concerns and even your ideas. We can plan your trip together be it cavern, cave or ocean dives, and explore underwater Mexico while we stay safe and healthy. Let’s do this together, I’m waiting for you in the Mayan Riviera! 

If there are measures being taken in other locations that you’d like to share with me please do send me a message through the contact form or on social media!

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

Exploration Diaries #2

Tight spaces and an all-male exploration team.

If you read my previous post and you’re here to learn about this explorer wannabe, thanks, and continue reading…

Cenote #2 There’s hope but later!

The second cenote “we” checked was an old and out of use well. Looking down, we immediately realised our ladder would never be as long as needed to go all the way but the walls of the well were narrow enough to be able to descend climbing down. Skanda took the lead on this one, went down and after checking underwater he requested his sidemount set and fins. We could see the light beams and blue water inside of the cenote from above. Skanda disappeared for a few minutes and came back with a surprise. He found line from Vicente Fito! The cavern was big, clear blue-blue water, and the yellow line went deeper than 145ft. Something we would enquire about later.

We had just been walking in the jungle with Vicente the day before so it would be fun to share the story with him and ask for details of that yellow deep line. Vicente happens to be my Cave Diving instructor and finding line from his explorations gave me the feeling that we weren’t that crazy to be there. Since we needed to check more cenotes and there was already exploration as well as the line was very deep, plus the difficult climb down (I knew I was saving my stamina for later!) we didn’t consider necessary for me to go down at that point, maybe another time. As a side note, it took a few days to scratch Vicente’s memory, it’s funny to ask an explorer “hey, I found one of your explorations, it’s a hole, deep, remember it?”. But after a few hints Vicente said he had once forgotten his exploration reel and the one he had was yellow line. That was it! We have plans to go back.

When Skanda was safely back on the surface we had lunch using the shade of a tree against the melting sun. We ate potato salad, guacamole and mushroom sandwiches. We weren’t going to be late for our next meeting so we packed the car and headed to Leona Vicario. Leona is a place somewhat stuck in time. Known for being a good spot to buy plants and soil. It’s the end of la Ruta de los Cenotes, this historical route that starts in Puerto Morelos and which I have walked and camped along twenty years ago when I was a scout (or as I used to say, I was a boy scout).

Cenote #3 and #4 – My turn

A few months ago, on a FB group, a guy had asked for the contact of a cenote explorer or someone who could “check” cenotes. While other people suggested that they had contacts for heavy machinery operators who could make a cenote for you, I was actually the only person who offered to dive the cenotes first and I asked the owner to wait on the cenote-making. That’s how we came in contact with the guys from Leona, who then took us north from there to a huge piece of land with only a few basic dirt roads, on the way they stopped to refill their old Ford pickup truck with fuel they had in a metal container, they also stopped to pick up another guy and ropes in a nearby ranch… when we parked after driving for a good half hour we thought we’d have to walk to the spot, we wanted to see it before deciding on a plan.

It turned out we were already at the spot, and it was merely a hole on the side of the trail, the opening was the size of a medium trash can. A crack on the ground in a tiny depression, if you could even call it that. This hole seemed to be at least 15ft deep but there was little water at the bottom. The vegetation was prominent, especially the wild Chaya surrounding this hole I was about to get into. Chaya is a type of plant that is eaten like spinach, part of Maya cuisine and also known for causing skin rashes if ever touched. There is the belief that you must ask the Chaya for permission before collecting the leaves. In my mind I asked the Chaya to let me in and out this hole of dirt safely, seen that I was already covered in rashes from the Chechen and the wasp stings of the day before I could really use some kindness from the Chaya. By the way, next time you’re in the Yucatan Peninsula try Chaya tacos and tamales, it’s a must!

I talked to Skanda for a second and we decided this was my turn to go down. I appreciated his encouragement and he didn’t seem to doubt that I was fit for the job. We were going through the basic plan when yet another guy arrived by foot and joined the “exploration team”. He was carrying a rifle. Not uncommon in the area where the land belongs to the Ejido (communal land given to the people to exploit it) and hunting is still tradition. Beers popped up (not for us) while the guys got busy setting up the ladder, although theirs seemed longer than ours it was still way down from the ground level. I wore my wetsuit and sidemount harness. I also wore my helmet and turned my primary light on for the descent. I felt the eyes of six men looking at me as I stepped down the slope and started approaching the hole. I was expecting a bit more fuss about the fact that I am a girl but they were either respectful to begin with or the diver attire gave me the superwoman look. Either way it was refreshing to be able to do this without anyone questioning my abilities, which is something, many women will agree, is standard practice in many fields.

Getting ready to perform, I didn’t hesitate but I needed to know where I was to place my foot exactly because once in the hole I wouldn’t have much space to wiggle, I planned where to place my hand, and my other foot, using the limestone as steps. The neoprene felt like Velcro against the rock. I then reached the ladder but felt it was too vertical and moved it up, swinging it and letting it fall further to the other side of the hole to be able to create an inclined angle that would help me, especially coming back up. I went down slowly; it was warm and the water below was brown like soil. I finally put one foot down in the water and confirmed the ground held me alright. There were maybe 40cm of water and I could feel there was no solid ground under my feet, it was leaves and branches. I put my head in the water and tried finding a clear spot, looking in every side of this rather narrow well. I used my leg to try and push under the wall, looking for an opening but my leg, every time, was blocked by the wall or the massive amounts of branches. There was nowhere to go. I started my ascent and met the guys at the surface with the bad news. No hay cueva. No cave. But they had Cenote #4 waiting.

Cenote #3, it’s getting tight!

A few meters away, they said, was the smaller of the two. And the smaller of all we’d check that day. The opening was probably smaller than any restriction I’ve been in and I only fit on one side, if I tried to turn it became too narrow so we’d have to place the ladder in the right position from the start. I was feeling quite good and quickly sat down with my legs in the hole, trying to visualize the way down and plan again where I’d put my feet.

The rock was sharper and I could feel it was catching my wetsuit. I started down. The hole opened a bit more once down and this one had a lot more life than the previous one. Spiders and crickets jumped. And the decomposing body of a bat lay on a ledge. I kept climbing down and started to feel the heat of the exertion (all this  time in a 7mm wetsuit). The weather, the hole, the effort. It was becoming tiring but I was already at the ladder. I didn’t look up but I could hear a lot of instructions from the guys this time. I did not think about what would happen if I couldn’t come out, nor I thought about an emergency plan. How would someone take me out of here if I would faint? I did not think of all that. I just thought about finding cave. As I stepped down into the clear water that covered a similar leaf filled ground my leg sunk until my knee, I took a deep breath and a bug got in my throat. I started coughing frantically.  I heard Skanda shout “if the air is bad you should climb back up right away!” I appreciated it but I couldn’t stop coughing and gagging. I calmed down and I decided to keep my foot on the last step of the ladder and scout from there to avoid the quicksand effect of the mud. This wall was even more vertical than the previous one. Not a single hint of cave or cavern, not a single space where I could stick a hand. Time to go back up.

Cenote #4, the smaller of all…

I exited the hole with a bit of difficulty, the guys offered to pull me out but I felt that it was riskier to be dropped than to fall by my own means, if worse come to worse. A few times the places I chose to support myself and climb collapsed in small bits so I had to find another spot, the whole seemed narrower on the way out. At some point, my head was at ground level and with all the different instructions I felt that I just needed a moment to breath fresh air and put myself together. I asked for water and drank it. I then made one last push and found the rock under my feet as perfectly placed steps. I was now half way out and used my arms to push my lower body out. I felt fit and accomplished, but I didn’t find cave.

We walked to the car, I drank all the water I could and took a few sips of coca cola. A huge fatigue then started hitting me as adrenaline went down and I just wanted to get out of my suit. I asked the guys to stay on the other side of the truck so I could change into dry my skin felt hotter than usual.

We packed our stuff again, this time not so tidy, promised to be in touch for more holes in the jungle and we snapped a photo of the 6 men, a rifle and me.

Tamara´s all-men Exploration Team

We parted in search of cenote 5 and 6. We were tired but we are the type of people who will park the car and go make photos of a dead (or alive) snake on the road. We enjoy the ride. We love spotting fox, coati, monkeys, birds and whatnot. Being tired is just a condition and a price to pay, we happily do.

Making guesses about this snake… My guess was I’m out of here before it wakes up!

Long story short, we never found cenote 5! Cenote 6 was another narrow well but easier to access, it was a quick dry check with a flashlight only and we knew there was nothing.

Find Skanda checking Cenote #6!

We were also hungry and tired so we drove back to Puerto Morelos. As we found phone reception again a message from my mom read: we made dinner, we’re waiting for you.

I wanted to share all the stories and talk about it endlessly over dinner, but there’s something about exploring caves that isn’t easy to tell and a silence that binds those who share the same passion. This day will forever be the day when someone asked if I knew who can check a few cenotes, and I answered “it’s me”. 

Please follow me on Instagram @Cenote_Girl and let me know if you enjoyed the read. More to come and more to explore!

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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Smart Stage Rig

One of the things keeping divers busy these days is catching up with repairs, service and and enhancements to our dive configurations.

My little DIY project: The Smart Stage Rig by Jaime De La Puerta

Many divers, including me, have always preferred buying ready made accessories from a shop or online but, truth be told, making your own accessories or adjusting it with DIY hacks and modifications is something every tec diver should get a hold off early in the tec diving career.

For this very reason I have become a fan of learning those tricks from more experienced (and creative) divers: your computer strap, the primary light holder, tank straps, mask straps, find straps, solutions for pouches, survey slates, pig-tails, and more. These are just every day examples of things you might want to produce yourself, a piece of bungee is the key to most things.

My latest course in Cave Decompression and Stage Diving was at the beginning of the year in Tulum. Jaime De La Puerta at Protec took me under his wing to teach me this exciting course and he showed me a way of rigging the stage that he’s improved and modified from previously known versions of stage rigs. The particularity of this rig is that instead of having the lower clip of the rig fix on a set string, the clip is attached to a bungee that runs through the clamp and holds itself with the own tension of the bungee material. The difference? Well staging and picking up stages in different moments of the dive can prove to bleed your knuckles and thumbs, literally, but being able to losening the bungee prior to unclipping and clipping makes all the difference. It makes space for you to operate between the tanks, behind them, etc. It becomes EASY, even effortless after you practice a few times. And you use the weight of the tank to yank the bungee back and forth as needed in order to tighten it or losen it. It requires more technique than strength and it’s just smart, convenient and efficient. The other advantage is that the bungee will always keep the stage tank tuck to the body, no matter whether it’s empty or full and its buoyancy varies.

Jaime teaching us Cave Decompression Stage Diving in the classroom at Protec Tulum

After my course ended I approached the guys at Protec to obtain the “Jaime Style Rig” but as they are mostly DIY and fidgety guys themselves their answer was “why don’t you make your own?”. I felt it was more an invitation than a suggestion, go ahead, try it. And so I did.

With the help of Skanda to find the one key piece I was missing and taking advantage of his wonderful array of string bits and pieces I managed to build my own rig. I put the project off for a while being that we are locked down and chances of me diving have been getting slim, but being out of the water for over a week just made me want to do something diving related. I must admit there was a bit of sadness when I finished my rig and couldn’t mount it on a tank to go diving. But that won’t take long. You can watch the fun little video I made on my IGtv How I made a stage rig! Or on my IG account @Cenote_Girl

Stage diving is like having a longer curfew when you’re a newish cave diver. You get one more third to your dive, you get to go a tiny bit further. You get to explore new depths, new lenghts, and your ability to multitask increases as well as your stability and control. Your dives also become a tiny bit more expensive, and you do need more gear (another reg, a rig, etc.) without mentioning you need more space on your truck and more time to get ready, more things to check and avoid forgetting! During this particular course we could not fit enough tanks for the three of us to conduct a deco stage dive, plus equipment on the same truck!

Ready to go outside the shop, birght and early.

I personally love training and I admit it usually puts me on edge although I know I can manage it and learn and grow as a diver, but there’s always a piece of me that breaks down with training, as if the previous version of myself would no longer fit in the mold. And then at the other side of it there’s me again with newly acquired sense of self awareness and awe.

If you need a rig for stage diving or training, do definitely get in touch with these guys, they might have ideas and solutions you’ve never thought of before.

This is Jailhouse, the scenario for many cool dives, and now even cooler with a stage!

Wishing everyone a safe and fun luckdown, feel free to share with me your DIY projects or hacks you’ve come up with during training, diving and teaching. It’s never to late to learn and share. You can send me a message through the contact form or on social media! Thanks for reading!

Blogging as a Cave Diver

Not an experienced writer here, but finding my own way through the tec diving world I have realised how important it is to get first hand information from divers that have gone through the same path or are now going through the same path as me. And I know there are great resources out there by the icons of cave and tec diving worldwide. But how does a newbie find information that speaks to him both technically and practically? Because we’d all love to buy a rebreather, a scooter and a ticket to Plura, but is that realistic in the first years of cave and tec diving for the average student?

Hence my interest in writing about every day topics like gear hacks, gear malfunctions, the 5 primary light failures I’ve had in less than two years of diving caves and how that makes me feel, how I met my boyfriend who is also a cave diver, what do I eat during cave and cavern trips and why, how much this stuff costs, who are my diving inspirations, how did I end up at the bottom of the bravo crater in Bikini (not in a Bikini, but in the place called Bikini), how much time does it take to be a tec diver, and why girls in tec diving are the coolest shit. I am in no way aiming for a teaching blog, I am aiming for sharing what I know, how I learned it, and why I chose to dive and live like this. For this and more, follow this blog, subscribe, follow me on Instagram, Fb, just don’t follow me on the street 🙂

If you have a specific question or request for the blog feel free to contact me through the contact form or on IG @Cenote_Girl