cenotes mexico 2019

Welcome to my blog about my travel to Mexico in September/October 2019.
In 2016 I traveled the first time to Mexico/Yucatan to dive the cenotes of Mexico. Everything about my first trip you can find here http://www.diver-log.de/divespots/cenoten-in-mexiko-2016 (in german language). This trip highly motivated me to train my personal skills in cave diving. Today I’m a full cave diver (CD3) and started in May this year the planning of my trip.

  • Flying with Eurowings.com from Duesseldorf (Germany) to Cancun (Mexico) nonstop.
    I’m flying in BestClass to have the best seat in the plane and 2 x 23 kg of free check-in luggage and 2 x 7kg hand luggage. I addition I bought dive luggage extra (32 kg).
  • I bought a transfer from Cancun airport to the Hotel in Playa del Carmen at http://www.meetplaya.com.
  • My hotel this time is the Iberostar Quetzal in Playa del Carmen. The idea was to have a hotel with all-inclusive. It’s easier after a day of diving not to hunt the food on your own.
  • My dives are arranged by Dirk Penzel from Cenote-Diving.com. I met Dirk first on AIDA Cruises and dived with him and the team. 2016 I met Dirk again in Playa del Carmen. We call him the „tomb raider on FlipFlops“ and he has his own company for cenote diving since 2011.

Day 01 (September 26)
Today was the first day of diving with Dirk. He picked me up at am 08:00 in the lobby of my hotel. With all of my diving equipment, we drove to his home to do the equipment check and first configurations.
Cenote Poderosa

Cenote El Eden (called Ponderosa) was our first diving spot today. We planned a configuration and check dive with my equipment for the next days of diving. This beautiful cenote is placed between Playa del Carmen and Tulum. The open water area is perfect for testing weights and check the shutdown drill skills. The surface is easy to reach with solid stairs. After first configuration checks and optimizations, we started our dive into the cave. After 71min and a max. deep of 14,4 m, we arrived back in the open water area. On my first day, Dirk helped me on my first steps finding the best configuration with my equipment for the following days in paradise (for full cave diver).

Day 02 (September 27)
The pickup in the hotel started at am 7:30 in the lobby. This is no problem because of breakfast is served until 6 am. Never less, Dirk drove us today to Cenote Tajma-Ha. The first briefing was made directly at the map of the cenote.

plan cenote tajma-ha Maya fire place
Plan your dive and dive our plan is guilty all over the world. Our plan was to follow the golden line to the jump to the waterfall line. Following the waterfall line until a jump to the „chinese garden“. The line to „chinese garden“ has got a „r“ marked restriction.
First, we prepared our equipment next to the car. Equipped with two 80 cft alu tanks we carried both next to the surface level. After getting in the water and checked our diving equipment we started our dive by following the cavern golden line. Dirk placed the first jump and we followed the waterfall line. The second jump was set to the „chinese garden“ line. The restriction is to tide for back-mounted equipment. But with our side-mounted, we easily came through it (see vimeo video) . The funny fact about this restriction is not only that it is tide. There is a halocline in it and if you follow your buddy as I did, the visibility is interesting 🙂 . We visited the „chinese garden“ and with 2/3 of our breathing volume, we turned around and dived back. I found out, that my gopro hero 4 has problems with foto taking in that light. The videos are clear but the fotos are blurred. Never less, from now on I will make videos and cut off photos of these.
On the way back, Dirk and I visited and prehistoric 13.000 – 16.000 year old fireplace. Great to feel the spirit of this place down below. After 81 minutes we reached the surface. Thanks to Dirk for giving me once again a hand to learn some more views of cave diving.

Day 03 (September 28)
It was raining this morning when Dirk picked me up at the hotel. Our destination next to Tulum was the Cenote Aktun Ha or formally known as „CarWash“. It took us about 45 minutes with Dirks Pickup to drive over. When we arrived the door was still locked. But after some minutes somebody came to open it. The cenote is easy to reach and the car was parked nearby. Since I was there in 2016, all buildings (incl. toilets) are brand new. The funny fact about the cenote is, that in the open water a small crocodile is living. For some swimmers, it must be very motivating, when they see the crocodile hurried up :-).

Cenote Aktun Ha maya relicts Aktun Ha Room of Tears

In Aktun Ha, and in most of the other cenotes you can dive with an OWD (open water diver license) and with a guide the cavern tour. So it’s well known by a lot of divers, who visited Mexico and Yucatan. The difference to a cave dive is that we start mostly like cavern divers but then jump over to the cave. That means we leave the golden line. That is, what we did today (and the days before), too. Leaving the main golden line with a jump and diving through a lot of restriction „r“ to visit the „Room of Tears“ filled with a lot of dripstones (stalactites and stalagmites). Two jumps without any permanent markers were needed to reach the dripstone cave in a deep of 20 m. Dirk and I turned backward after a while and reached the open water area after 74 minutes of diving. In between Dirk found old clay pots from Maya culture. So we took a picture.
In Tulum Dirk drove to special sandwich dealer and we have had two delicious sandwiches and two Cappuccinos before leaving Tulum in direction of Playa del Carmen.

Why are dripstones underwater? Are they growing over there?
Well, the dripstones were built thousands of years before, when the caves have been dry. The rainwater seeps through the ground and was enriched with lime of the former coral reefs. Seeping in the air-filled room, the water vaporized and left a little bit of lime. If you repeat these thousands of years you get dripstones … very simple, isn’t it?
The dripstones are now underwater because the water level raised to a higher level.
Have you ever seen vaporization underwater? No! Good … then dripstones are not growing underwater, too.

That’s why we have to save this hidden world! Everything that’s been broken, can’t be repaired. It’s lost! Save the hidden world!

Day 04 (September 29)
Today is Sunday and everything is going more slowly today. Dirk picked me up at am 08:15 in the hotel lobby and we drove to the Cenote Chikin-Ha . When we arrived, nobody was there. Interesting is the information for divers: cameras are not allowed anymore …

Our starting point today was the cenote X-tabay and our plan was to cross over to the cenotes ponderosa or little Joe. Dirk started with a primary and secondary tie-off and we crossed over to the mainline. The dive today started with the current and we followed the mainline until the end. In between, we marked our dive twice on the lines and jumped over to the other cenote line system of ponderosa. Our way was going on until the cenote little Joe, where we reached our 2/3 tank volume and turned around. On our way back against the current, we dived tough but comfortable backward. After 99 minutes Dirk and I reached the surface of Cenote Chikin-Ha. This was a very interesting dive for me to work on my personal skills.

To be a full cave diver (cave diver level 3) does not mean to know all. The real skill of cave diving is the experience you have. And from experience I can’t get enough. Thanks to Dirk once again, to train me harder 🙂

Day 05 (Septemper 30)
Dirk was ill today. But he organized somebody, called Roman, for my cave dive today in Cenote Minotauro. The Cenote is placed on the right-hand side between Playa and Tulum. Roman is living 20 years in Mexico now and diving and guiding cenotes all the time. As a freelancer, he works for Dirk and some others. Never less, he knows the cenotes very well. When we reached the Cenotes Minotauro, we were the first divers today.

After a good briefing on the map, we started our dive by following the mainline. This dive isn’t a cavern tour, because of a lot of restrictions in the first 20 minutes. I liked this dive because I tried to dive like a ninja: soundless 🙂 . It was great to train my skills with the buoyancy of side-mounted diving and it worked very well 🙂 . After 40 minutes we reached the highlight of the dive: the room of halocline. This tunnel is filled with a mystic halocline. Well, my GoPro worked a lot over there and you can find and video here, too. Diving a „P“ was returning to the mainline back after the room of halocline. We took the way back and reached the entrance after 70 minutes. It was good to be as early as we were because on our way out we passed two groups of divers with three and two participants. Great job, Roman !

Day 06 (October 01)
The „jungle king on Flipflops“ was back on duty today. After the advice of another diver, we canceled our tour to the Cenote Dos Pisos and drove to the Cenote Taak Bi Ha in the old „Systema Dos Ojos„. When I was the last time in Mexico 2016 the geologists and cave divers thought, that the „Systema Sac Actun“ and the „Systema Dos Ojos“ are not connected. But then they found the connection between both systems and now all these cenotes belong to the „Systema Sac Actun„.
Then system length is actual 362,3 km and ends in the Caribbean sea with the Casa Cenote.

Today was a rainy day. It was still raining when we reached the Dos Ojos area. After a short briefing, we were able to take a short look at the surroundings. In Taak Bi Ha are two specialties: first is, that the cenote is under the jungle. We used stairs like going into a dungeon. The second specialty is, that we use a rope and a hole in the ground to bring down the equipment. After getting everything ready, we entered the water and dived along the cavern line until the „stop“ sign showed us the beginning of the cave area. With two jumps we dived into the cave and followed the direction to the LSD section. Our turning point was after 57 minutes. After 105 minutes we reached the cenote. The dive was very nice with great halls and no current. Thanks to Dirk for guiding me again.

Day 07 (October 02)
Today our daily diving tour brought us to the Cenote Nohoch Nah Chich. This is the place where the exploration of the system Sac Actun started. Dirk and I reached the diving area and were very surprised to be alone. No more divers in thins place. Only some people doing snorkeling and flying fox have been around.

Our plan was today to dive in the direction of the dining room.
Devils Mouth
After jumping form the cavern line to the main cave line we „only“ followed the mainline for 1 hour. On our dive we passed through the „devils mouth“ and finally reached the dining room and the dining hole, which is a small hole in the jungle from about 1,5m width. Next to it are some bones place from an animal (like a goat or equal). At the dining hole we turned around and followed the mainline back to the cenote. After 110 minutes we reached the surface with a big smile on our faces.

Day 08 (October 03)
In Germany was today a celebration day and bank holidays. But for us in Mexico it was a diving day. But today I’m sorry for all my followers: today we have to beware of some secrets. The place where we have been today is not a marker in google maps 🙂 but it’s placed next to Chermuyil and the name of the Cenote is Nai Tucha (oder Otox Ha).

This is a secret place. I’m very thankful to be invited to this place. Driving to the cenote took one hour from the „normal“ road. Dirk and I have had a wonderful dive of 93 minutes. All secrets are left there. But I have seen things, I haven’t believed before.

That’s why we don’t have a video today. But there is one. I will share it only very personal.
Special thanks to Dirk today!

Day 09 (October 04)
Today we returned once again to Cenote Nai Tucha to find other secret things.

We dived 110 minutes and made two jumps to find, what we searched for.
The direction was the Cenote Xuxi 🙂

I will mix up a video of both days in Cenote Nai Tucha but it will no go public.
But this is Nohoch Na Chick, too :

Day 10 (October 05)
Today it’s the day no. 10 of my diving vacation in Mexico and Dirk drove us to the Cenote Concha, which isn’t on Google Maps, too 🙂 If you want to read something about it, follow this link. This cenote is only allowed to access for „full cave diver“ , because of some restrictions inside. The cenote is placed about 12 km from Quintana Roo (307) and you need an SUV to get there. This cenote is one of the real „wild“ cenotes, and not a „pussy cenote“ like „the tomb raider on flip flops“ uses to say 🙂

The left picture isn’t the entrance … but could be 🙂
When we reached the diving place, we have been alone. Well, a lot of mosquitos were around us. It seems, that nobody was there the last month, because of their hunger.
We dived 80 minutes today. On our way, we made two jumps and found a lot of bones (mammoth, sloth, tusk). But I haven’t taken any pictures to save these places. But the sloth looked very complete … . Some of the divers steal bones to bring them home as souvenirs. This is one of the things, I don’t understand. These things are place over there for more than 15.000 years and they pick it up. That’s why we keep these places in secret. On our dive have been some minor restrictions. To pass them it was needed to put the tanks in front. Hope, that helps to keep some of the thieves out.

Dirk and I calculated on our way back to Playa del Carmen, that we now have 1.000 minutes diving in the last 10 days. That’s why we have a day off tomorrow. We go for a brunch and a little bit of shopping in the city.

Day 11 (October 06)
Today is our day off with only good food and relaxing. Cheers !

Day 12 (October 07)
It wasn’t planned, but today was my last diving day with Dirk in the Cenotes, because I got an unexpected call and have to fly home.
Dirk suggested for our final dive the Cenote Fenomeno which isn’t a „pussy cenote“ and not on google maps listed. We drove 12 km into the jungle again. The Cenote is placed next to Cenote Concha (Day 10).

The way from the SUV to the cenote was easy to manage, but the mosquitos were hungry again. Inside the cave, we followed the mainline for several minutes. With a jump, we visited the bones of a sloth and took some time to make videos. Back on the mainline, we followed it to the big Mayan clay pot. There we took some minutes again for making a video. After some minutes it was time to turn back to the entrance. We have had current on our way inside the cave, so the cave pushed us outside on our way back.

It was a very successful last dive. Thanks to Dirk once again.

how to navigate in caves

… or why cookies are better than bread crumps …

One of the biggest challenges in cave diving is to navigate inside of the cave. The main question is: how can I find myself a safe way to the next known exit?

§ 1. rule: the exit nearby isn’t always the best choice in all your cave dives, you have to be enabled to manage diving like being blindfolded within complete darkness. Circumstances like crystal clear water or visibility up to 100 meters (like in the cenotes in Mexico) can switch within seconds. Wrong kicked fins, occurring debris from the exhalation of gas bubbles or even starting rain outside the caves or debris from bubbles can change the visibility within seconds. No-touch contact to the line leads to disorientation and stress. What is the right way to act?
– the best way to the exit is the way you came in
– follow an exit which is lined (stay with one line)
– if a possible exit isn’t lined already, use your primary reel for a jump
– only do your explorations/jumps in the first third of our breathing gas volume

§ 2. rule: primary and secondary tie off
Starting your preparation outside the cave, you can attach your first tie off above the surface or with a direct connection without any obstacles nearby. But starting the jump outside the water can be problematic. Some visitors who see the line and try to pull it and cause serious damages to it. My preferred way for the primary tie-off is below the water with no overhead obstacles to the surface. If possible, my secondary tie-off is placed some meters away from the primary with no overhead obstacles, too.

§ 3. rule: keep in permanent touch to your (life)line
If your life is dear to you, never dive in a cave without a line – and keep your contact to it! To mark the right direction (if the entrance is supposed to be the exit), start by setting the OK-sign with your thumb and index finger around the line. Please be aware that the line is not set up to pull yourself backward or forward! … So please only use a gentle touch to place your markers. It doesn’t matter, if the line is your primary reel, safety reel, jump reel or any other reel (like gap or exploration reels), you need a permanent contact to the line. This rule isn`t exclusively made for the first and last diver in the group. Every team member is obligated to follow this rule for their own safety.

§ 4. rule: mark your markers
Like in the Tale of „Hensel and Gretel“ (Brothers Grimm), the bread crumbs are your personal safety system to get back to the secure surface. These Signs (the bread crumbs) won’t swim away or get eaten, but you need to personalize what is yours. Line markers are available in a lot of different colors. To make sure that your markers are truly unique, letter your markers with a permanent pen. But wait – how to differ the markers, if you are in complete darkness? It`s essential for your survival that you can recognize your own markers just by touch! Here are some options to make your markers one-of-a-kind:
– cutting the edges in a clear way to grope
– drill one (ore more) holes into each marker
– link two ore more holes in your markers to a group, by using a cable tie. 
Why must your own line markers be recognized by your self?

§ 5. rule: only take, what`s yours 
One of the main rules in cave diving is, to remove everything you brought to the cave when you are finished. Be aware to take only what is yours. It`s dangerous for other divers if you take stuff out or remove things. In some countries like Mexico, it’s a case of murder when you intentionally take or change foreign markers or lines.
Every line and line marker placed inside the cave has to stay where it`s found. But you have to manage to return every marker you placed on a line back to your inventory. 
In common circumstances, the entry is the exit. 
On these dives, it’s simple to take everything off what was brought inside. Just simply collect the markers you set on the way inside when returning.
Sometimes, the planned dive is a round path. On this occasion, a second dive is needed to pick up all of your lines and markers. 
In the case of an emergency, everything stays in the same place and needs to be picked up later on a second dive. Even in case, you lose your group or buddy, everything stays in the cave. You can additionally leave one of your dive torches on the line.

§ 6. rule: planned dives, mainlines, and jumps
Like every other dive, but especially at the cave dives: plan your dive and dive your plan! The most known, public caves have got a permanent mainline. The color of these mainlines depends on the region of the world. For example, these mainlines are in Mexico yellow and named „golden Line“.
On the mainline are not personalized arrows placed in direction to the next exit. These arrows are placed on junctions or …
For your dive planning inform yourself about the mainlines, starting points, and the cave topology.

… to be continued

hello darkness

… or why most people don’t find something in the dark, but a few good divers find themselves…

Scuba diving is an upcoming market of activity when people are on vacation or have some free time. It is feeling like an adventure to go diving on the weekend, left the chairs in the offices behind. Well, and today’s equipment for scuba diving is easy to handle and secure. And what’s about the certification? In 4 days you can certify an open water diver on your holiday at the red sea … Everybody can do that.

I do not appreciate the certification of open water divers in 4 days. In my organization CMAS, it takes up to 4 months for a one-star certificate (bronze) analog to an open water diver. But never less, it’s more a question of experience than of certification to be a good diver.

And if they are an open water diver, one of the bigger challenges for their experience is a night dive. What is going on with the diver in the dark?
– some of them are feeling more comfortable in the dark than in the daylight
– but most of them are getting feared
– do not know, what’s around them, because of visioning only what is in the reach of their own light(s)
– hear the melody of the movie „Jaws“
With all of these feelings, they breathe harder and quicker than in the daylight.
And they feel alone in the dark …

Another bigger challenge is to dive into the first wreck with a dive guide. Most times, it isn’t dangerous to dive on a wreck, but the possibilities of getting caught with the own equipment are higher than in the open water. Diving the first time in a wreck by knowing, that you can not surface gives the diver a feeling of being helpless. They worry about things which can happen.

If you have experience with night diving and wreck diving and you still feel comfortable, then your next level can be cavern diving. The cavern is the beginning of diving caves. The maximum operation deep is 18m and you will never be farther away from the surface than 50m. In this area you still have daylight, but a diving torch is needed at any time.

If cavern or cave diving is your goal, you should start a special training and certification for that. These levels are Cavern – Cave 1 – Cave 2 and Cave 3 (full cave diver).

… but still the question why …
I love the darkness and the sound of silence. The only sound you hear at a deep penetration of a cave is your own breath. Nothing else! And switching off the light is real darkness around you. You are a visitor to a hidden kingdom. In some caves, you are the first human since the last 10,000 years. What you find deep down below is yourself!

You are alone!
Even when you dive with your buddy or in a group. You are responsible for you and your equipment. You are responsible for the line and your navigation points. Nobody else is responsible for your life. You are!
(you will find other posts about buddies, roles, and groups later on)