*…continued from last week’s issue… Having spent the midday hours swimming in the initial cave pool of the ‘Dos Ojos’ Cenote, a new found fear overcame me and I knew exactly how to overcome it. I needed an overkill, an experience that would bring me far beyond the realm of fear and into the world of astonishment…
I got up and wandered over to one of the bamboo, straw-thatched huts where a few of the local natives were sharing a cooking fire. I asked them how much it would cost for a guide to take me into the cave system, someone who knew the meandering tunnels. I bargained with them and found my guide, he encouraged me to find others who would want to join in, so I did. We assembled a group of about a dozen and were given snorkels, goggles and underwater flashlights for those who were not already equipped. The guide took us to the back of the cave where a small entrance sat, the wall and ceiling of the entrance was just big enough for a head and shoulders to pass through above the water surface. We slipped through and the world was instantly enveloped in total darkness.
It took a moment to catch my breath and orient myself. The sporadic bobbing of the flashlights of my group and I would illuminate my surroundings and I kept catching glimpses of the cave wall and ceiling surrounding me on all sides. A closing claustrophobic sensation began to take ahold. The guide told us it was best if we kept moving, so he began to pick his way through and we followed. Sometimes the area above the surface was only large enough to keep your head above the water, other times we had to swim through mazes of clustered stalactites, slithering around them like some cave dwelling serpent. The most shocking realization of where I was and what I was doing came when I decided to look underwater and shine my flashlight. While above the surface there was a claustrophobic sense of the cave closing in around you, under the surface was an expansive world of tunnels and enormous areas of open water. Sometimes I would peer under and shine my light, only to stare into a black hole in the earth, imagining some creature of the deep reaching out and pulling me in.
A welcome relief came when we would enter an opening in the tunnels, where we could all gather in a circle and tread water, not having to worry about hitting the walls or ceilings. One such clearing was dubbed the ‘Bat Cave,’ a small opening at the top allowed a few lonely rays of sunshine to peer through. In the middle of the pool of the Bat Cave was an island of rock. We all gathered on it and took a breather, observing the bats flitting in and out of the light, watching them find their perch on the cave ceiling and stretching their wings. The guide would take this time to entertain us about the history and legends of the ancient Mayans and how they used cenotes in their day-to-day routines.
Once we departed the Bat Cave, it took another half an hour of swimming through numerous tunnels varying in size, and eventually I saw a brief glimmer of sunshine. Although I was still high off the rush of adrenaline coursing through me, I was relieved to emerge back into the world of sun and vegetation. As I gathered my belongings and dried off in the afternoon sun, a smile was etched onto my face. I could still feel the lingering sensation of the rush this exotic experience has given me. I successfully quenched my thirst for a truly unique and mystifying opportunity. I headed back into the town of Tulum to enjoy some well-earned enchiladas, checked into my hostel and found myself dozing off to the sounds of the jungle. The smile of adventure eased me into a dreamless, satisfying slumber.