Mexico Diving Holiday – Part 2
Having just spent a fantastic week in Cozumel (see Part 1) we caught the nearby ferry and headed over to Playa del Carmen. We arrived at our posh new home for the week, the lavish 5* all inclusive ‘Catalonia Riviera Maya & Spa’. This lovely hotel is built in the style of Mayan thatched huts and to top it off pretty much everyone received a free room upgrade, this meant we could visit the spa for free and eat at the a la carte restaurants as well as buffet restaurants.
There was some bad news though, due to high winds and poor sea conditions it meant that the whale shark tours were cancelled for the foreseeable future. On a positive note it meant that we could spend more time diving the Cenotes – yay!
Having checked in to our rooms we soon were making full use of the 4 pools, 6 bars and several of the 6 restaurants on our arrival. The next morning the first group headed off to the Cenotes to do two dives. After a thorough briefing and checking our kit for leaking bubbles we made our way down to the first cave entrance.
The Cenotes are the largest cave systems in the world spreading hundreds of miles beneath the Yucutan Peninsula. They have been formed by the natural erosion of rainwater dissolving the hard limestone rock over hundreds of thousands of years. Naturally the group had a mixture of feelings, some were charged with excitement while others had some nerves and trepidation or a combination of both.
Entering the water we made our descent in to the first of the underwater cave systems, one of the most famous and highly regarded dive sites in the world.
As you descend deeper in to the naturally formed tunnels the colours change from amazing clear greens to hues of blue – truly breath-taking. Exploring the caves even further there are small holes in the ceilings that allow small amounts of light to penetrate the chambers aiding the divers torches to see the sensational underwater typography. The fresh water is crystal clear and just like the photos of the Cenotes I have been googling for many years, one of the things that I wanted to experience was to see divers appear as if they were suspended in the air and floating like astronauts on a different planet. It was everything I had hoped for and more. Apart from the trail of bubbles leaving the divers regulators you could be mistaken for thinking they were truly weightless.
As we delved even deeper we entered in to a large dome called the ‘Cathedral’, and just like its name suggests it was a large chamber in the middle of the underground with 5m long stalactites hanging from the ceiling, each formed over tens of thousands of years resembling church organ pipes (hence the name) formed by mother nature over centuries. It takes approximately 1 year to grow a stalactite 1mm and since the caves were flooded at the end of the last ice age they haven’t grown any further.
Moving on further we surfaced inside a chamber where you could often find little scorpions and the roots of trees searching for fresh drinking water. Here we chatted for about 5 minutes about everything we were experiencing. We then popped our regulators back in and made the 15 minute swim back through the cenote to the exit point.
Our excellent dive guides from Mexico’s ‘Prodive’ not only ensured our safe return but gave us a tasty lunch of spicy pork rolls, crisps and fresh watermelon. Everyone was trying to describe what they had experienced and the names of lots of film analogies were made – Indiana Jones, Middle Earth and Harry Potter to name but a few.
After lunch we mounted our equipment for our 2nd Cenote dive. Sticking in our teams of 4 divers per guide we jumped back in to the gin-clear water. Much like the first dive we felt suspended in the air while we made our way through the labyrinth of tunnels. This time the hydrocline was far more prominent. This is where a layer of fresh sits on top of a layer of saltwater. Where the two layers meet the water goes very hazy caused by the density and temperature differences of the two water bodies (someone described it as the heat swirls you seen when you pee in a toilet but without the yellow). Swimming through this layer meant that you could only make out shapes in front of you, and it made everything appear as if from a contemporary artist’s painting. Once through the haze the clarity of the saline water was slightly less than that of the fresh clear water above. So as you ascended back up through the haze it resembled a human aircraft emerging through the clouds.
Each group at some point was joined by a professional photographer who was taking snaps in the hope to make a few bucks. Like the photos of thrill rides at Thorpe Park people made their way over to see if they wanted to purchase a copy. Unlike Thorpe Park every single person purchased a full set which genuinely made you look like a model on a postcard shoot.
On the way back to the hotel everyone was buzzing, Stuart reckoned that these were his favourite dives ever. As the next day’s whale shark tour had been cancelled most of the group decided to join the second group the next day for some more spectacular Cenote diving.
That evening we mostly ended up in ‘Pure’, a chill out bar situated on the beach. Andy and Dan were wearing their new Sombreros and not looking like a couple of Brit tourists at all. I believe John felt the effects most from the extensive list of free cocktails.
The following day the rest of the group went for their first dives in the Cenotes, except for Rae and Dave who were stuck to their mattress with a Tequila hangover. The group returned in the afternoon and said that their cave dives were even better than the previous day. They penetrated even further and spent a long time without seeing any natural sunlight, not for the fainthearted.
For those who stayed at the hotel, we experienced a full day of torrential tropical rain. This did allow people to catch up on sleep, explore the hotel and get some R&R in their comfortable rooms.
In the evening a handful of the group headed for ‘Coco Bongo’, a famous nightclub in Playa del Carmen. Congo Bongo is one the Caribbean’s most famous night clubs. As well as the usual night club dancing and elaborate bars it has different shows on stage including dancers, light shows and gymnasts. On the bars young scantily clad ladies shook their hips and wiggled their bits.
The next day one group headed for Chichen Itza. These Mayan ruins are even older than the Egyptian pyramids at around 5,000 years old. They are considered to be one of the 7 wonders of the modern world and a truly awesome feat of engineering considering their age. Others made their way back to the Cenotes, myself included, and the remainder slept off their Congo Bongo hangovers.
Todays Cenote dives were very different to the first day. The first dive had less clarity but a much more prominent hydrocline. My buddy Lee was probably only 2 metres in front of me but through the swirls of 2 water bodies mixing I could only make out the shape of his fins. This dive we went what seemed miles underground without seeing hardly any daylight. Myself and Lee turned around halfway through the dive and hid our torches against our chest. It was completely pitch black and not recommended for anyone who suffers from claustrophobia.
The second dive at ‘Taj Maha’ was jaw dropingly beautiful. As we descended in to the small cave entrance we made our way through a system of large and small tunnels, after several large caverns we found ourselves in an area called the goldfish bowl. Deep underground this large dome had 5m+ stalactites suspended from the ceiling and the floor was littered with stalagmites – a geographers dream!
The water was so clear that your torch light enabled you to see way in to the distance. We swam even further in to the cave system until eventually we surfaced in a small opening in the ground. Inside this hold small bats were suspended from the ceiling (until Lee woke them with his torch light) and the roots from trees hanging down like vines from a Tarzan movie.
Swimming back through the Cenote we went up, down, left and right through a series of different tunnels and caves. Again the clarity of the water meant we looked like we were gliding through space. This is a dive I will never forget; the colours, typography, sensation of flying and witnessing one of the oldest natural museums in the world, one which few people will ever have the good fortune to witness. Today it feels like I have the best job in the world!!!
For our final day we had people doing lots of different things; some headed to Chichen Itza, some to Tullum, some soaked up rays by the pool while others went for more Cenote diving including the 7 ‘die-hard’ divers that went to ‘El Pitt’. This is one of the most famous Cenotes due to it’s depth (32m), layer of sulphur water towards the bottom and some of the largest stalactites in the entire Yucatan Peninsula.
For our final night out we all met in the bar on the beach where we made use of the free Tequilas, beers and cocktails Once the bar shut we headed to the in house nightclub here Dan and Andy decided to take on some Americans in a dance off. Their party piece was Andy lieing on the floor with his legs in the air while an pushed him around in circles. I believe they also ended up fully clothed in one of the pools once which meant that the hotel security had to escort them back to their rooms. After a few hours chilling out by the pool and recovering from the night before, the group made their way up to the reception area to depart on the buses to the airport. There were lots of hugs and a few watery eyes as everyone said their goodbyes to the few people that were staying on for a few more days.
This trip has been truly amazing; a great bunch of people, lovely hotels, diving that was out-of-this-world and lots and lots of laughter. Mexico we will return for another diving holiday soon!
Thanks to everyone who came along and I really look forward to seeing you again soon.
I can’t wait to get back to the office and start arranging our next trip to Thailand in February which I’m sure will be equally sensational.