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Cenote Diving Part 1 – Astronauts in Inner Space

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A trip to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico can and should be epitomised by two words. Not ‘chicken fajitas’ – delicious as they are, particularly at the little sea front restaurant in Chen Rio Cozumel; nor ‘Mayan Civilisation’, although it is well worth paying a visit to the coastal temple ruins in Tulum, a short ride away from Puerto Aventuras and even closer to Akumal beach where swimming with turtles is as good as guaranteed. No, while all of these attractions are worthy contenders for the Mexican bucket list, the two words that should epitomise this fantastic country are ‘Cenote Diving’ – pure and simple, nothing else even comes close. Here’s why…

Luis is a larger than life character and greets us warmly for our first day of cavern diving. Buckets of confidence and an equal measure of charm oozes from our expedition leader as he explains that our first day will be led by Memo, a friendly and – by comparison – mild mannered Mexican cave diver. Sam and I take to the road with Memo as we head to Dos Ojos, a popular Cenote 45 minutes’ drive from down town Playa Del Carmen.

The Cenotes were incredibly important to the ancient Mayan civilisations; not only as a vital source of fresh water, but also because the many sink holes of porous limestone that constitute the sacred pools were commonly used for burial rituals. I was fascinated to learn that ‘The Caveman from Dos Ojos’ is the oldest human skeleton ever discovered in the Americas and dates to around 13,400 years BC.  Today we delve into the very cave system where he was found.

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An eager arrival at Dos Ojos Cenote is followed promptly by a look at our entry point for the first dive. It is breath taking. I had seen plenty of pictures and some videos before now, but seeing the crystal clear fresh water for the first time before my eyes was nothing short of exhilarating – and we hadn’t even geared up! Memo completes a safety briefing and explains our route through the intriguing cavern and into the infamous ‘Bat Cave’; it is here where we will slowly rise to the surface and look above for the many bats that will be hanging and flying over our heads – this is sizing up to be a dive like no other.

The water temperature is around 25 degrees Celsius, so for most divers a 3mm wetsuit or shorty will be enough to take off the chill; Samantha dives with two wetsuits as well as a shorty on top as she feels the cold more than most. Fortunately she is a very competent diver, and with fresh water only requires 2kg of lead for a successful descent, even wrapped up in all that buoyant neoprene!

As we descend I turn around and look to the surface as the light from above breaks through the water… crystal clear is now an expression I feel justified in using without fear of exaggeration. It feels as though I could see forever, if only the twists and turns of the cave system enabled me to do so. We forsake the sunlight as we slowly fin ourselves away from our entry point and delve deeper into Dos Ojos.

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Although there are other dive operations at Dos Ojos today – and due to the choppy conditions out at sea, Memo explains that it’s likely that there are more than there would be on any other given day – we rarely encounter anyone else during our time underwater. The flicker and glow of a distant torch occasionally provides a reminder that we are not alone down here, but the dive is anything but crowded. We cruise through the gin like water at a beautifully calm pace and do our best to mimic the expert precision of our dive leader’s gentle fin flicks. We are astronauts in inner space. I am hooked.

Mid-way through the dive we ascend into a cosy opening in the cavern. Daylight does not reach us here and I quickly acknowledge the peacefulness of the silence within the bat cave as I resist the urge to blurt out a crass American style whooping noise to exclaim my satisfaction of the experience so far. Instead, I join my buddy in a moment of quiet contemplation. We look to the many crevices in the cave around us as the bats huddle together. Occasionally one will flutter past us and search for a new resting place. The only noise is that of a droplet of water. We float. We breathe it all in. This is diving bliss.

If cavern diving is something that you have dismissed until now then I urge you to re-consider; this is a great introduction to an experience that can only be described as ‘other worldly’.  Perhaps you’ve thought about delving into the darkness but worry about the dangers and the extra training needed; fear not because with no special certification required to dive the Cenotes and with expert local guides on hand you’ll be in very safe hands.

So what are you waiting for? The Cenotes make for a spectacular diving expedition and should appear on the bucket list of any self respecting scuba adventurer!

Mat is a travel consultant for Dive Worldwide.

Mat Reeve is a photographer, travel writer and all round adventurer. Currently a consultant at UK-based tour operator Dive Worldwide, Mat is a qualified Divemaster, Martial Arts instructor and fitness trainer. Mat has a huge passion for exploring and experiencing all that life has to offer. He has travelled more than 3000 miles throughout Europe by boat, train and road without spending a single penny while raising money for a number of charities. Mat has camped for weeks in the wilds of Africa. He has paddled the treacherous waters of the Zambezi amid crocodiles and hippos, and has led divers on incredible underwater excursions, introducing them to apex predators including bull sharks without the protection of a cage. The Sardine Run in South Africa remains his most exhilarating experience to date and included incredibly close encounters with enormous humpback whales, super-pods of dolphins, and a feisty group of dusky sharks at feeding time. Over the years Matt has been charged by a hippo, chased by a lion, stalked by a shark, and stung by a tiny but painful Portuguese Man of War. A hugely passionate animal and nature enthusiast, Mat likes to get as close to the action as possible.

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Jeff chats to… Underwater Photographer Ellen Cuylaerts (Watch Video)

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In this exclusive Zoom interview, Jeff Goodman, Scubaverse Editor-at-Large, chats to Ellen Cuylaerts about her diving and underwater photographic career.

As an underwater and wildlife photographer, Fellow of The Explorers Club and having a front seat in exploration being part of the Flag and Honours Committee, Ellen is also a Member of the Women Divers Hall of Fame. She travels the world and tries to make the most of every destination and the path that leads her there. Ellen acts as an ocean citizen and believes as divers we should all be ocean ambassadors and lead by example. She is now based in the UK after many years in Grand Cayman.

Find out more about Ellen and her work at www.ellencuylaerts.com


Rather listen to a podcast? Listen to the audio HERE on the new Scubaverse podcast channel at Anchor FM.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Huge thresher shark is the latest of six murals to be painted around the Solent this summer

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The murals celebrate the Solent’s extraordinary marine life – marking National Marine Week.

Secrets of the Solent have commissioned street artist ATM to paint a series of marine-themed artworks at various locations around the Solent this summer. The latest mural to be finished shows a thresher shark on the Langstone Harbour Office. Langstone Harbour is an important area for wildlife as well as a bustling seaside destination for sailing and water sports.

Artist ATM, who is painting all six murals, is well-known for his iconic wildlife street art. This, his second artwork of the series, took three days to paint freehand, from a scaffolding platform. The thresher shark was chosen out of six marine species to be the subject of the artwork by the local community, who were asked to vote via an online form or in person on the Hayling Ferry.

Secrets of the Solent hope the mural will become a landmark in Langstone Harbour and inspire visitors to learn more about this enigmatic oceanic shark. The project, which is supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, works to celebrate and raise awareness of Solent’s diverse marine environment.

Aiming to highlight the exotic and unusual creatures found close to our coasts, artist ATM says: “I really enjoyed painting the thresher shark because it’s such an amazing looking animal, with a tail as long as its body. I hope when people see the murals, they will become more aware of what lives under the waves and the importance of protecting the vital habitats within the Solent.”

Dr Tim Ferrero, Senior Marine Biologist at Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust says: “The thresher shark is a wonderful animal that visits our waters every summer. It comes to an area to the east of the Isle of Wight, and this appears to be where the sharks breed and have their young. Not many people know that we have thresher sharks in our region, and so having our mural here on the side of the Langstone Harbour Office building is a fantastic way of raising awareness of this mysterious ocean wanderer. I really hope that people will come away with the knowledge that the Solent, our harbours and our seas are incredibly important for wildlife.”

Rachel Bryan, Project Manager for Secrets of the Solent at Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust comments: “We are really excited to have street artist ATM painting a thresher shark on the side of the Langstone Harbour Office building. We chose this building because of its prominent location right on the entrance to Langstone Harbour so that anyone who’s visiting, whether that’s walkers, cyclists or people coming in and out of the harbour on their jet-skis or sailing boats, will all be able to see our thresher shark. People on the Portsmouth side of the harbour will also be able to see the mural from across the water.”

The thresher shark is a mysterious predator which spends most of its time in oceanic waters. It uses its huge whip-like tail as an incredibly effective tool for hunting its prey. Herding small fish into tight shoals, the shark will lash at them with its tail, stunning several in one hit and making them easier to catch.

Secrets of the Solent hope to work with the species this summer to discover more about its behaviour.

Dr Tim Ferrero explains: “Nobody really knows where thresher sharks go in the ocean. Later this summer we are hoping that we are going to be able to attach a satellite tag to a thresher shark and monitor its progress for an entire year. This will provide really important information that will help us learn so much more about the shark’s annual life cycle.”

The new thresher shark mural is a fantastic start to National Marine Week (24th July – 8th August), which celebrates the unique marine wildlife and habitats we have here in the UK. Over the two weeks, Wildlife Trusts around the country will be running a series of exciting events to celebrate the marine environment. We really hope people will be inspired by our murals and want to learn more about each chosen species.

Events in the Solent include the launch of a new Solent marine film on the 29th July, installation of a new Seabin on the 4th August to reduce marine litter, and citizen science surveys throughout summer.

For more information click here.

Header image: Bret Charman

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Explore the amazing triangle of Red Sea Reefs - The Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone on board the brand new liveaboard Big Blue.  With an option to add on a week at Roots Red Sea before or after. 

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www.thescubaplace.co.uk

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