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Cenote Diving Part 2 – Little Angel

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Read Part 1 here.

I recently learned that Buddhists do not believe in happiness. Instead, they assert that the general ‘suffering’ of life or ‘dukkha’ as they refer to it is something that we all should acknowledge and work hard each day to accept. It is the absence of dukkha that the rest of us would recognise as happiness. 5000 miles away from the grey skies of England and my cluttered desk lay the placid waters of Angelita Cenote, and upon seeing her I am filled with a sense of calm serenity. As we prepare to slip beneath the green water of a sink-hole nestled quietly in the jungles of Riviera Maya, it is safe to say that there will be no dukkha for us here today.

Luis is leading what will turn out to be an unforgettable dive; Angelita or ‘little angel’ is unique and difficult to justifiably describe. His briefing by the edge of the glorious fresh water pool fills us with nervous anticipation as we are reliably told from someone who has dived the Cenotes for close to twenty years that this is by far his favourite. We will reach a depth of 40m; regarded the maximum one should safely go on a single tank of air. During our descent we will lose sight of each other as the sunlight cannot penetrate the layer of mulshy water after 30m or so. Due to the nitrogen in our system, the depth of the dive and the overall freakiness of the dive site itself, Luis explains to us that everyone suffers from nitrogen narcosis when taking on Angelita; a condition that temporarily renders a diver feeling somewhat drunk and light headed. We will get ‘narked’ today. This dive, he tells us, will separate the men from the boys.

After more than 500 dives in locations all over the World, this is the first time I recall feeling slightly anxious since my early training dives more than a decade ago. Anxious, but utterly excited.

Laden with cameras, Sam and I step carefully into the water by a small wooden platform on one side of the Cenote while Luis plunges in from a higher point on the opposite fringe of the spherical swamp-like sink hole. We float to meet in the centre and take a look around us. We are in no hurry. Birds can be heard singing to each other in the trees that surround Angelita and dragonflies dance around our heads just inches from the water’s surface. We smile, nod and signal that we are ready to begin our descent.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The broken branches of gnarled trees waste no time in presenting themselves beneath us. It is as though a long forgotten forest has slipped beneath the water for only a fortunate few to witness. Our descent deepens through a foggy haze of particle rich water and seconds later the light leaves us as if a switch has been flicked off unannounced.

Blackness…

If not for the narrow beam of light from our torches, complete darkness surrounds us. Scattered on the Cenote floor are leaves of brown and yellow. We navigate around the protruding branches. Sam will later tell me that it is at this point that the narcosis set in. I don’t recall getting ‘narked’ but I certainly had a strange feeling. The previous day I had dived a Cenote called Chac Mool without Sam; I would later describe it to her as the setting for Indiana Jones if it were to be filmed underwater. On a similar note, Angelita stirs up evocative comparisons of Sleepy Hollow or better yet, Alice in Wonderland, only a much darker version than even Tim Burton’s re-make. Like Alice, we are now falling down the rabbit hole. Whether up might be down is almost impossible to tell… light creeps back to us; the fog of the dense water all around does its best to convince us that we are not diving at all. Instead we emerge from a cloud, flying through the forgotten forest in water that could be air.

We sweep around the edge of Angelita during our slow purposeful ascent. The past 30 minutes have elapsed in what now feels like mere seconds. The other world, the unusual place that has captivated us like never before is now disappearing beneath our fins; it is forsaken for the portal that now waits a few feet above our heads. The sunlight pierces the surface of Angelita and reveals the familiar world we left behind. Trees and clouds can be seen all around us; just an arm’s length away we need only to reach out, another fin kick or two and the mystique of the Little Angel will become a recent memory. Warmth kisses our cheeks and daylight hurts our eyes as we take our first breath of earthly air and look to each other for a reaction. What just happened? We are unable to effectively describe the feeling, the experience we just shared. We are elated. Luis has been here hundreds of times before but it’s clear to see that Angelita remains a special place for him. It is magical.

Freya Stark said something beautiful that I find poignant after such a day; “Good days are to be gathered like grapes, to be trodden and bottled into wine and left for age to sip at ease beside the fire. If the traveller has vintaged well he need trouble to wander no further, the ruby moments glow in his glass at will.”

Angelita is a ruby moment I will treasure forever.

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.

Marine Life & Conservation

Exhibition: Protecting UNESCO Marine World Heritage through scientific research

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From now until 30 October, the photo exhibition “Protecting UNESCO Marine World Heritage through scientific research” features 21 photographs at UNESCO Headquarters, Paris, as well as a digital edition.

Exceptional photographs highlight how innovative marine experts and scientists take the pulse of the ocean by exploring ecosystems, studying the movement of species, or revealing the hidden biodiversity of coral reefs. Scientific discoveries are more important than ever for the protection and sustainable conservation of our Marine World Heritage. This memorable exhibition comes ahead of the launch, in 2021, of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (“Ocean Decade”). The exhibition was jointly developed by UNESCO and the Principality of Monaco.

The 50 marine sites inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, distributed across 37 countries, include a wide variety of habitats as well as rare marine life still largely unknown. Renowned for their unmatched beauty and emblematic biodiversity, these exceptional ecosystems play a leading role in the field of marine conservation. Through scientific field research and innovation, concrete actions to foster global preservation of the ocean are being implemented locally in these unique natural sites all over the world. They are true symbols of hope in a changing ocean.

Since 2017, the Principality of Monaco supports UNESCO to strengthen conservation and scientific understanding of the marine sites inscribed on the World Heritage List. This strategic partnership allows local management teams to benefit from the results obtained during the scientific missions of Monaco Explorations. The partnership also draws international attention to the conservation challenges facing the world’s most iconic ocean sites.

The exhibition invites viewers to take a passionate dive into the heart of the scientific missions led by Monaco Explorations in four marine World Heritage sites: Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (Philippines), Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary (Colombia), Rock Islands Southern Lagoon (Palau), and the Lagoons of New Caledonia: Reef Diversity and Associated Ecosystems (France). It is also an opportunity to discover the work of a megafauna census; the study of the resilience of coral reefs and their adaptation in a changing climate; the exploration of the deep sea; and the monitoring of large marine predators through satellite data.

To visit the Digital Exhibition click here.

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Dive Training Blogs

Deptherapy returns to its Roots – Part 7

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Join Richard Cullen from Deptherapy for the final part of his Blog about the charity’s recent expedition to Roots Red Sea, El Quseir, Egypt.

Deptherapy expeditions do not just magically happen, they need planning and they need funding.  This expedition was funded by our long-term partners the Veterans’ Foundation.  The funding is part of a grant they awarded us for programmes this year, which were then put on hold because of COVID.

All charities in the Armed Forces’ Sector are struggling for funds. Deptherapy desperately needs support going forward and every penny counts.

We know what we do works and at the end of this blog you will find details of the research studies into Deptherapy’s programmes and how they impact on the lives of our beneficiaries.  This includes details that are hot off the press about the latest study that reports that what we offer through scuba diving and 24/7 support has benefits beyond those found in other sporting rehabilitation programmes.

Well tomorrow we fly home, late in the evening with the journey home for some of the guys who live up North taking around 15 hours after leaving Roots.

We want to make the most of today but with the tide running we are not going to be able to dive until later this morning which means only two dives today.

Oatsie and Swars about to start their sidemount dives

Things, however are really busy over at the dive centre with Swars and Oatsie putting their sidemount kit together for their training dives with Steve Rattle leading to their RAID sidemount qualification.  It has been nice to be able to offer the guys this extra training, given the amount of work they have put in this week.  They have needed to get through their theory quickly but given the RADI online learning system this has not been too arduous.

Steve came diving with us yesterday to get some more photos and was really amazed at the progress that Corey had made. He was quite open in his praise, as in his view Corey has gone from a non-diver to being a very competent OW diver capable of diving, unsupervised, with a buddy.  Praise indeed.

Other than the sidemount course we are diving as a group today: Corey, Keiron, Michael, Moudi and me. Corey has been given some tasks – SMB deployment on both dives and the afternoon dive will be a ‘naturalist dive’.  Guy Henderson has set Corey a task: ‘to identify three species of fish and record the time into the dive and the depth at which each one was spotted’.  Guy runs Marine Biology courses on the reef and knows where the fish are to be found, how long into the dive, and at what time.

The two Toms are getting put through their paces. They have walked their cylinders down to the entry point, but Steve sends them back to the dive centre to collect other kit they should have brought with them.

Our general dive goes well and the sidemount guys appear from their sidemount dive some 90 minutes after dipping their heads under the water.

Corey enjoying being a RAID OW20 Diver

Lots of bubbly chat at lunchtime, a group of really happy divers. Corey really has benefited from the week and over lunch thanked the team for making him a diver. He has very quickly become part of the family and after returning home he published an amazing post on Facebook about his experience.  Corey really gets Deptherapy and had soon realised that we see past mental and physical injuries and see the person inside and work with that person.  He also realised that we want beneficiaries to see their fellow beneficiaries in the same light.  He knows he now has another ‘family’ – a family of brothers in arms who have two things in common, they served their country and they have suffered life changing injuries or illnesses.

Back into the water for the afternoon dive and Corey identifies the fish and records the details on a slate.  The two Tom’s complete their second dive and qualify as RAID Sidemount Divers. Great!

Kit packed away and it is time to return to the camp for a few well-earned last night drinks.

I am often asked why we use Roots as our exclusive base for diving. I have mentioned before that it offers us an ideal retreat, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. We are secluded and there are no distractions such as late-night bars etc.

Roots Accessible Room

The second reason is the amazing welcome we receive from Steve, Clare, Moudi and the team.  We have been going to Roots since 2014 and many of the staff have become good friends, they understand our needs and are the friendliest people you could ever wish to meet.

The third reason is the huge investment Steve and Clare have made in making the resort and dive centre accessible for those with physical injuries including those who need to use wheelchairs.  All our beneficiaries can enjoy Roots and, in fact, love it here.  The reef is perfect for us and in non-COVID times we can travel to the Salem Express and other dive sites to enjoy more of the Red Sea experience.

Accessible toilet on the Roots beach

After discussions with the team I was very proud to be able to tell Corey that his progress had been such that we were inviting him on the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust sponsored two-week Marine Biology Course at Roots in June 2021. There is lots of homework to undertake under the guidance of Dr Debbie McNeill of Open Oceans and Corey will be sent the Red Sea Guide which is the basis for study.

While on that programme, Corey with fellow beneficiary Dale Mallin, will complete his RAID Advanced 35 course.  This all builds to a 10-day Red Sea liveaboard in 2022, onboard Roots’ new boat Big Blue where 18 beneficiaries will compare the coral and aquatic life on the wrecks of the SS Thistlegorm and the less known SS Turkia that is to be found in the Gulf of Suez and is rarely dived.

Paul Rose, our Vice President, is supporting the programme and is seeking the support of the UN and the Royal Geographical Society. A comprehensive report will be submitted to our partners in the project and to the Egyptian Authorities.

Last night and chill

What we do works:

In recent years there have been three academic studies into our work:

2018 – A study by a team from the University of Sheffield Medical School.

2019 – A study by The Centre of Trauma at Nottingham University.

Both these studies reported very positively on Deptherapy’s work both underwater but also in terms of the provision of 24/7 support.

The following is from our press release which was issued on 26th October:

‘A new study into Scuba Diving Rehabilitation Charity Deptherapy’s approach to supporting Armed Forces veterans with psychological injuries such as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) through the medium of scuba diving has been carried out by Petra Walker in conjunction with Hanna Kampman of the Posttraumatic Growth Research Unit at the University of East London.

This study, which used Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), demonstrates that scuba diving has rehabilitation benefits beyond those found in other forms of sporting rehabilitation exercise. IPA is a qualitative methodology that examines the experiences of participants and has been used in previous studies of Posttraumatic Growth (PTG) in para-athletes.

Petra is an experienced diver herself and was exploring the wellbeing aspects of scuba diving as part of her Masters in Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology when she came across a previous study on Deptherapy. Past studies have mainly focused on the medical aspects of diving, so the opportunity to examine the mental health side of rehabilitative scuba diving was impossible to ignore. The full study is currently embargoed until it is published at a future date in an academic journal, but it follows similar academic research into the work of Deptherapy by the University of Sheffield Medical School (2018) and the University of Nottingham (2019).’

This is amazing news and sets us apart from other sporting rehabilitation programmes.

We are currently working with our VP Richard Castle who is a Consultant Psychologist and our Dive Medicine Advisor Mark Downs to identify further areas of psychological and physical dive related research.

We end the week on a happy note.  A young man who has learned to dive properly with a RAID OW 20 certification, a new RAID Master Rescue Diver, two new RAID Sidemount Divers, 5 new RAID O2 Providers, many assessments for our DMs but most of all a week of learning, of making new friendships, renewing old friendships, and building on our family ethos.

Until we meet again…

For us, Deptherapy is a journey, a journey that continues to push boundaries in the use of scuba diving in the rehabilitation of those suffering life changing mental and/or physical challenges.  On our journey we want to change the way the scuba diving industry views diving for those with disabilities.

In the new year, we will be launching, with our diver training agency partners RAID, a new and exciting adaptive teaching programme that will offer diving to the disabled community. We can’t wait to share it with you!


Find out more about the work of Deptherapy and Deptherapy Education at www.deptherapy.co.uk

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