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Rumble in the Jungle: Cave Diving in Cuba

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stu 3I was busy humming the Indiana Jones theme tune as we made our way through the jungle. This was by no means a ‘normal’ diving day and had turned out to be a real life adventure complete with the full entourage of creepy crawlies. Our tropical surroundings were alive with squawking Birds, Crabs, Geckos, Snakes (not poisonous I might add) and other exotic bugs. I was definitely experiencing raw Cuba at its very best. Jorge Millet Corchete, the Manager of Eagle Ray Dive Centre, had told me about two, virtually un-dived, underwater cave systems located 70km from the popular beach resort at Guardalavaca. After buttering me up with the exciting bits he then hit me with the bad news: the first cave system, known as Ring Hole, was a 1km walk through dense bush in the swelteringly hot sunshine. Worst still, the second system called Blue Tank, which in Jorge’s mind was much better for photographs, clocked in at more than 3km’s from the drop off point. Why are the best sites always the furthest away and hardest to get too? The saying ‘no pain, no gain’ came to mind as I mentally prepared myself for the cardiac inducing hike.

Jorge said at the beginning they used to cover the journey in rented 4 x 4’s but the hire companies got wise when the Jeeps kept coming back completely trashed. Jorge seemed to think that the gentle ‘stroll’ added an extra ‘feel good factor’ to the whole experience. I didn’t have quite as many positive vibes as Jorge but after some gentle persuasion (one or two Mojitos – I’m cheap!) I agreed to take part in the event.

We stopped off at the town of Gibara along the way to pick up some 4-legged help. Jorge’s friend Floro owned the Mule that we were using to carry all our diving equipment. I asked Floro what the Mule was called but he told me that it changed daily depending on how he felt. I decided to call the Mule ‘Pepe’ as it seemed quite appropriate for this neck of the woods.

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stu 10We had also picked up Jose Corella, the local cave diving Guru. Jose, a Geologist by trade, had been diving inside the caves since the late 80’s and had clocked up more than 300 deep penetration dives. He became fascinated by above water caves from an early age. Military friends introduced him to the Blue Tank and the rest was now history. Jose showed me the detailed maps he had made of the cave systems. He had chartered more than 3,000 metres inside the Blue Tank and so far had not reached an ending in any of the 3 independent entrances. Jose had a theory that Ring Hole may well join up to the Blue Tank, it’s just that no one had tried to find out. As well as making maps Jose had laid most of the 3,000 metres of line complete with directional arrows for other divers to follow. As far as Jose knew Czech divers were the first to explore the caves back in 1982. Eagle Ray Dive Centre began offering guided dives to UK tourists in 2004. Jorge said that divers have to be minimum PADI Advanced qualified to explore in the light zone (around the entrances) and he prefers them to do several standard sea dives before venturing inside the caves. This gave Jorge a chance to check the divers out and see how comfortable they were in the water. Jorge said he would only take certified cave divers deeper inside. So far there have been no serious incidents at Ring Hole or the Blue Tank.

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We drove to a clearing and waited for Pepe the Mule to arrive. Jorge, an ex-Cuban Navy SEAL, had stripped down to his waist and was raring to go. I followed Jorge’s lead by ripping off my t-shirt and slapping on a good helping of factor 30. I had put the Strobes and other camera/dive gear into my rucksack which now weighed in at around 15kg’s. I thought it would be best to carry my housing and camera by hand. In no time at all Pepe had arrived, was packed, had a poo and began trotting down the jungle path. I followed along behind Jorge and Jose (dodging Pepe’s fall out). The track was mainly made up of broken uneven rocks making it very difficult to walk on. My flip-flops weren’t exactly the most appropriate footwear for this kind of terrain. I managed to stub my toes (and swore) a number of times. I asked Jose why they hadn’t made a proper pathway to the Blue Tank and he said that this would only encourage more locals to visit the spot and he preferred to keep them away. He told me there had been a 30 metre long underwater tunnel connecting the town’s popular swimming hole to the open sea. Authorities decided to block up the entrance, with a controlled explosion, after a number of people drowned trying to breath hold swim through the tunnel. Jose didn’t want the caves to suffer a similar fate. Jorge said ‘nearly everyone moans about the walk and they constantly ask ‘are we there yet?’ but when they see inside the caves they are much happier and forget about the return journey’. Jose talked non-stop for the whole 3km’s, which was enough to distract me from the ever growing number of Mosquito blotches appearing all over me (I counted about 30 in total).

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stu 9Jose said that the pond measured in at 30 x 15 metres. The seemingly ‘dead pool’ was surrounded by dense bushes and trees apart from one spot where there was a narrow pathway leading down to the water’s edge. Jorge saw a something break the mirror calm surface. A Turtle popped its head up and then quickly disappeared again. This is the first time he had ever seen a Turtle in the pond.

Jorge guided me to the first cave entrance which was big enough for at least six divers to enter side by side. The bottom of the pond was around 6-8 metres deep and covered in a thick luminous green layer of algae, branches and dead leaves. I stopped to take a picture of Jorge entering the cave and felt something feeding on my ankles. I looked down and saw hundreds of Prawns ‘cleaning’ any part of my skin they could find. The pond was far from dead. I had missed out on some really good Macro opportunities.

My equipment wasn’t adequate for a full-on penetration dive but I decided to take a risk and venture in more than 100m’s keeping a firm eye on the guideline and my air gauge needle. The inner chambers were massive with 2 metre long spiky Stalactites hanging from the roof and stubby Stalagmites growing up from the cave floor. When I’m taking photographs I sometimes use a finger touch on a rock just to steady myself. But as I touched the top of a small Stalagmite it broke off. It was only a small piece just a few cm’s long but I was absolutely mortified. It had been such a gentle touch. I had no idea that they were so fragile. I really did learn a valuable lesson and doubled my buoyancy efforts. A diver with bad buoyancy skills inside this cave would be equivalent to a Bull in a China shop – nothing would survive. Afterwards Jorge told me that the orange looking rock formations were much stronger than the white looking ones. I wish he had said something earlier!

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The huge chambers (as a rough guide – the size of a Bungalow) were an impressive sight and the further I went in the scenery just got bigger and better. The chambers seem to alternate between all Stalagmites and then all Stalactites. Jorge said that the maximum depth he had ever reached inside the caves was around 18 metres with the average depth being 15 metres. Water temp hovered around 24 degrees. Jorge suddenly made an ‘ugh’ noise from his regulator and as I turned around I caught sight of an Eel about 500cm long swimming away from us. Jorge said there were also 2 species of indigenous blind fish living inside the caves.

stu 8stu 2I made the mistake of putting my fins on the cave floor and found it was carpeted by a thick layer of silt. Within seconds my fin had totally sank into the soft quicksand. Even the slightest disturbance reduced the visibility dramatically. I was trying my best to ‘frog’ kick but my longish fins weren’t ideal for this type of environment.

Jorge, or should I say Pepe, had brought along 4 powerful lamps, two of which were brand new, never been used, retailing at $800-00 a-piece. The blue anodised metal cases certainly looked impressive. I strategically placed the lamps on the floor of one of the huge Stalactite chambers and pointed them upwards. They lit up the scenery like a theatre stage. I wanted to try and get some shots of Jorge surrounded by the spectacular scenery. Having no natural light to work with made the whole set up quite challenging which I guess is very similar to a night dive where Macro subjects don’t usually pose a problem, but wide angle is much more difficult to light up. I managed to fire off a few pictures and then one of Jorge’s new LED lamps started flickering on and off. When I looked closer I could see water inside the glass and the level was rising fast. This was not a good advertisement for the lamp manufacturer. Later Jose told me that he used to use normal flashlights sealed inside knotted condoms when he first started and never had any problems! We had a good nose inside another of the cave entrances and I was surprised how different it looked. There were far more orange formations and they were a different size and shape.

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Unfortunately there had been no time to properly plan and prepare for a full on exploration of the caves. My jungle dive had purely been a recon mission. I had completed a cavern course in the Brecon Beacons several years ago. We spent all of our time in a river or inside a mine shaft. Water temp was around 6 degrees. At the time I remember thinking what is the point in this? It was freezing cold and there was nothing to see, I know this was a training course, but it didn’t inspire me to progress any further. The Blue Tank was different. There were spectacular rock formations and even fish life to see and to be quite honest it was a nice feeling knowing I was only one of several hundred divers that had ever been inside the cave. As for the walk… well to be honest it wasn’t as bad as I imagined, and it did make me feel that I had ‘worked’ for my dive. We finished off our adventure with a few ice cold Bucanero beers and Lobster dinner at the El-Faro Restaurant. Not a bad ending to a full-on day! Jorge said the dinner is normally included in the package price and there’s no extra charge for Mosquito bites. Jorge has full cave diving equipment available at the dive shop but it’s only enough for the Instructors. Anyone seriously interested in going deep inside the caves should bring along their own gear.

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Stuart has spent the past 26 years taking pictures and writing stories for diving magazines and other publications. In fact, this equates to more than a year of his life spent underwater. There have been plenty of exciting moments from close encounters with crocodiles and sharks to exploration of deep wrecks and more recently rebreathers. He lives in Poole, Dorset and is very much an advocate of UK diving.

Marine Life & Conservation

Jeff chats to… Ana Filipa Sobral, Founder of The Manta Catalog Project in the Azores (Watch Video)

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In this exclusive Zoom interview, Jeff Goodman, Scubaverse Editor-at-Large, chats to Ana Filipa Sobral, Founder and Project Leader of The Manta Catalog Project in the Azores.

Ana Filipa Sobral is a marine biologist and conservationist based in the Azores Islands. She moved to the Azores in 2011 and once there, realised that this was one of the few places in the world where Sicklefin Devil Rays (Mobula tarapacana) gather in large groups, making it a strategic place to study them. She started the The Manta Catalog Project and through this project, collects photo ID and occurrence data on Mobulid Rays, with the precious help of divers and dive operators as citizen scientists.

Ana is also finishing her PhD which focuses on population genetics and connectivity of migratory elasmobranchs in oceanic islands in the Atlantic Ocean. The main goal fueling my research has been to help fill the knowledge gaps on elasmobranch biology and ecology to ultimately assist in the design of effective conservation and management plans aimed at protecting their populations in this remote region of the North Atlantic Ocean.

You can find out more about Ana’s important work at: https://mantacatalogazores.wixsite.com/mobulaid/project.


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

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Dive Holiday Deals from Diverse Travel

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Planning your next dive holiday? Check out the latest special offers from UK-based Tour Operator Diverse Travel and get yourself a great dive holiday deal!

INDONESIA | MY Emperor Harmoni | Bali, Sumbawa & Komodo | 15 – 23 September 2022

Save up to 1/3 off a trip to Indonesia!

Your chance to dive Bali, Komodo and Raja Ampat aboard the NEW luxury MY Emperor Harmoni for less!

Launching in September 2022. Emperor Harmoni is Emperor Divers Indonesia’s brand new liveaboard.

Built of Sulawesi Ironwood and offering a truly new experience to liveaboard holidays, experience a true sense of sailing the Indonesian seas in freedom, style, comfort and confidence with her two engines. Enjoy spacious diving and relaxation areas or relax with a massage on deck.

Example price based on Bali departure to Komodo

WAS £2900 / NOW from just £1995* per person based on sharing a twin luxury cabin including:

  • 1 night in Bali before the boat departure with airport transfers
  • One way flight from Labuan Bajo to Bali after the liveaboard with 20kgs baggage
  • 7 nights onboard MY Emperor Harmoni with 3 meals a day, afternoon snacks, unlimited drinking water, tea & coffee
  • All diving with guide, cylinders & weights, Marine Park & Port Fees
  • Free Nitrox
  • 1 cocktail party on a local island (weather allowing)
  • Return airport transfers

* Price excludes international flights, these can be quoted at the time of reservation

Booking deadline: Subject to availability.

Other Dates available – book before 30 September!


MALTA | Dolmen Hotel | 28 September – 05 October 2022

With easily accessible dive sites offering great visibility, caves, overhangs and swim-throughs, with few currents, Malta is an ideal diving holiday location.

A modern hotel, with spacious, comfortable guest rooms and a choice of restaurants with delicious international and national cuisine. Several wonderfully relaxing bars, outdoor and indoor pools, plus a casino and several function rooms.

Price from just £975 per person and includes:

  • Flights from Gatwick to Malta with 23kgs baggage
  • 7 nights in twin room
  • Bed & Breakfast meal plan
  • 5 day / 10 dives diving with guide, tanks & weights

Booking deadline: Subject to availability – alternative dates available


MALDIVES | Emperor Atoll | Best of Maldives | 10 – 18 September  2022

This popular liveaboard and her crew give a personalised welcome to small groups of no more than 12 guests.

Built to high, comfortable standards she measures 26 metres and accommodates guests in 6 twin-berth cabins, all with air-conditioning and private bathrooms.

From just £1925 per person based on sharing a twin cabin including:

  • Flights from London to Male with 30kgs baggage
  • 7 nights in shared cabin
  • 3 meals a day, afternoon snacks, unlimited drinking water, tea & coffee
  • 6 days’ diving – total of 17 dives (incl. 1 night dive), guide, cylinders & weights
  • Free Nitrox
  • 1 BBQ dinner on uninhabited island (weather allowing)
  • Malé city tour (on request)
  • Return airport transfers

Booking deadline: Subject to availability.


EGYPT | Emperor Superior | Reefs & Wrecks | 11 – 18 November 2022

A very popular liveaboard, Emperor Superior offers fantastic diving in comfortable surroundings. Her experienced crew make this one of the best for divers in the Red Sea.

NOW from just £1255 per person based on sharing a twin cabin including:

  • Flights from Gatwick to Hurghada with 23kgs baggage
  • 7 nights in shared cabin
  • 3 meals a day, soft drinks, red wine with dinner
  • 6 days’ diving, guide, 12ltr tank & weights, Marine Park fees and port departure fees
  • Free Nitrox
  • Airport transfers

Booking deadline: Subject to availability. Limited spaces available.


EGYPT | Emperor Echo | South & St Johns Itinerary | 05 – 12 January 2023

Jump on board the latest addition to the Emperor fleet and enjoy diving the famous sites of the Red Sea with this fantastic special offer. Great value for money and perfect for small groups of buddies with a ‘Book 5 and 1 dives for FREE’ offer all year round.

Price NOW from just £1035 per person based on sharing a twin cabin/room including:

  • Flights from Gatwick to Hurghada with 23kgs baggage
  • 7 nights in shared cabin
  • 3 meals a day, soft drinks, red wine with dinner
  • 6 days’ diving, guide, 12ltr tank & weights, Marine Park fees and port departure fees
  • Free Nitrox

Booking deadline: Subject to availability – limited flight seats at this price.

Alternative departure airports available at a supplement.


All offers are subject to availability. Call Diverse Travel on 01473 852002, email the team at  info@diversetravel.co.uk or click HERE to see the latest special offers on their website.

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Save up to 1/3 off a trip to Indonesia! Your chance to dive Bali, Komodo and Raja Ampat aboard the NEW luxury MY Emperor Harmoni for less! Launching in September 2022. Emperor Harmoni is Emperor Divers Indonesia’s brand new liveaboard. Built of Sulawesi Ironwood and offering a truly new experience to liveaboard holidays, experience a true sense of sailing the Indonesian seas in freedom, style, comfort and confidence with her two engines. Enjoy spacious diving and relaxation areas or relax with a massage on deck. Example price based on Bali departure to Komodo WAS £2900 / NOW from just £1995* per person based on sharing a twin luxury cabin including: 1 night in Bali before the boat departure with airport transfers One way flight from Labuan Bajo to Bali after the liveaboard with 20kgs baggage 7 nights onboard MY Emperor Harmoni with 3 meals a day, afternoon snacks, unlimited drinking water, tea & coffee All diving with guide, cylinders & weights, Marine Park & Port Fees Free Nitrox 1 cocktail party on a local island (weather allowing) Return airport transfers * Price excludes international flights, these can be quoted at the time of reservation Booking deadline: Subject to availability. Other Dates available - book before 30 September! Call Diverse Travel on 01473 852002 or email info@diversetravel.co.uk. More Less

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