To all my fellow Wildcats, new and old, welcome (back) to UNH. I hope everyone’s summer was fun, exciting and full of adventure. I was lucky enough to take some time off from work and journey to the Mexican Caribbean to backpack up and down the Maya Riviera, which I must say was absolutely beautiful… and cheap.
I began in Playa del Carmen and kept making my way south, stopping in key locations such as Akumal and Tulum. I slept in hammocks, cabana huts and hostels within the jungle throughout my adventure. I was living out of my backpack, wearing nothing but a bathing suit and sandals, renting bicycles to explore each location. In short terms, I was a beach bum; eating fish tacos, basking in the sun and drinking mescal. I participated in a variety of tropical excursions such as snorkeling with sea turtles and bicycling through the jungle to encounter a variety of natives and wildlife that inhabit the region. But I wanted something more; something out of the ordinary, a truly unique experience, and that is when I heard of the mysterious caves called cenotes.
Otherwise known as underground rivers, a cenote is a natural pit or sink hole that has a surface connection to subterranean water bodies. I found out about a cenote that was called ‘Dos Ojos’ which means ‘two eyes’ in Spanish, because from a topographical view, the two sink holes resemble a pair of eyes. The tropical freshwater is crystal clear, and after trekking through the brush in humidity and heat, slipping into these natural cave pools was a welcome respite to cool off. As I approached the cave entrance, I noticed a colony of bats that call these caves home. They were dipping and diving through the air, giving an ominous feeling to this intriguing underworld.
I kicked off my sandals and strapped a pair of swim goggles on and dove right in, the relief from the Caribbean humidity was amazing, the water seemed to cleanse deeper than skin, I felt fresh and limber, as if I instantly evolved into a merman of sorts. The initial pool at the cave entrance varied in depth and I could see a variety of tropical fish in all colors dispersed in every direction as I dove under and took a look around. My jaw dropped at the view before me. I suddenly felt miniscule; I felt as if I entered an alien world on some distant planet.
Like the tip of an iceberg, the crystal sheen of the surface was hiding this expansive underwater world. Stalagmites reached up from the depths. Stalactites hung from the ceiling piercing the surface. Submerged cave entrances lined with jagged rocks loomed before me like the maw of some terrible monster and the beam of light emanating from my underwater flashlight did nothing to penetrate the darkness of its depth. At this moment, I knew I found that unique and mystifying adventure that I had been searching for.
I spent quite a bit of time swimming in the initial cave pool, exploring all the nooks illuminated by the small amount of midday sun that made its way into the cave. I’d take a huge gulp of air and dive down, seeing how far I could go. I felt the pressure in my ears increase the deeper I went, but I’ve learned how to relieve this pain long ago, allowing me to continue through the depths. I quickly discovered the thrill of diving down to reach the tip of a stalactite hanging from the ceiling. A sort of game ensued with other cave divers, each of us seeing how far down we could go, moving on to the next, bigger and longer stalactite.
Throughout the experience, a discomforting and scary thought stuck in the back of my mind: what if on one of my dives I came to surface only to bang my head on rock and realize that I miscalculated my ascent to the surface? The thought of being trapped underwater and underground is very daunting, and when a sort of claustrophobia set in I knew I had to take a break. I emerged from the water and found one of the numerous hammocks that hung about, rays of sunshine piercing through the jungle canopy offered a warm spot to rest and recharge. For some reason I couldn’t shake the thought of being stuck underwater, and after some resting and thinking, I decided it was time to take it up a notch and overcome this newfound fear. It was time to see how far I could stretch the boundaries of my comfort zone. I wanted to go deeper into the darkness, to completely lose sight of the sun; I decided I needed a guide to take me deeper into the bowels of the earth…