Mayan Blue – Black Hole to Firmament

With that name, what would you expect from it? It is quite clear, but won’t encounter the blue well until some penetration inside the cave, but then… Magic happens! or salt water happens!

It was my second time in Mayan Blue, the first was 4 years ago, with some friends, and I remember it to be amazing, it was actually my first deco on a cave. I only remembered two passages, one super super dark, that lead to a extremely blue tunnel with a halocline. With only this description, it wasn’t easy to ask for it, as many tunnels can be like that, but on my mind, I could perfectly recognise it if I was there again.

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Everything packed on the back, ready to go!

This time, was not the time for this tunnel unfortunately, or fortunately, the plan was to dive tunnels B, F and E. We planned for that our twinset and one stage, and as Mayan Blue is slightly deeper, we took with us a S40 with Oxygen to cut the deco time to half. With that amount of gas and with an average depth of 20 meters on most of the tunnels,

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Cenote Escondido, you can sense the blue/green already

Mayan Blue cave entrance is in Cenote Escondido, located on the left hand side of the road (on the seaside) passing Tulum. The Mx $200 fee per diver must be paid in the entrance of Cenote Cristal, where you will either get the key, or someone will go to open you the door.

There is a parking close by the entry of the cenote, with tables to gear up, and wooden stairs and a platform to leave the tanks close to the water. The cenote itself is quite big, and there are two entries: tunnels A and B, as we can see in the map. For the first dive this time, we would enter through tunnel B. The mainline starts around 20 meters far into the cave, so a reel is needed from the open water.

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Divers ready to go!

All geared up and ready, the four of us started the dive. It was my third dive in Mexico on this trip, so my mind was still not set up for the so dark caves, which I ended up loving. They have that point of mystery, that I can’t still explain, and they just unimaginably absorb the light, so you’re suddenly like in a black hole, floating around in zero gravity, where nobody from the outside world can bother or disturb you.

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Absolutely dark cave, absorbing all light.

The whole tunnel B is in fresh water, where the dark cave lays. It is when you jump to the side tunnels, deeper, when you encounter the salt water, after the halocline around 18 meters, where you can see that unbelievable intense dark and shiny blue, that only in fairytales and on places out of this world can be found. In nature, I have never seen that kind of tonality, that combined with the white walls, makes you fly from a black hole into the firmament.

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We are still on tunnel B

The main line goes along B tunnel, to connect with A tunnel, so to jump to passage F, we need to jump to the right. Also, from F to E, we jumped to the right as well. Our way is marked on the map in green, and it took us only 54 minutes to swim to the return point. We dropped the stage on the first jump.

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Passing through the halocline, can you see anything?

The cave is not the highest decorated, specially on the salt water part, but it has the combination of dark/white, which on this case, is not white, but blue, a blue that you can’t find anywhere else around.   

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Tunnel F, getting to the blue!

The cavern is big enough to have a comfortable safety stop at 6 meters, at least it was for the four of us. The pool in the cenote is around 2.5 meters deep, so it is easy to stay a couple of minutes just hanging out there, while you do some extra-safety stops.

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Astonishing blue
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Swimming along the tunnels
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No words to describe the indigo blue
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Some parts are full of speleothems
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We had to come back… at some point passing through the halocline

One of the awesomeness of this cave as well, is that you can do several dives within the same cave, and do completely different paths. It is also a well known cave to complete circuits for example, during GUE Cave 2 courses.

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Back at the entrance

Happy divers went out of the water! And we still had enough gas for a second dive, plus we had some Oxygen with us in case we needed to do some deco. As I actually didn’t remember where I was on the first time, we gave it a go to Death arrow passage, one of the most famous ones.

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Entrance of Death Arrow

Two of us just rested for a little bit at the surface, only a bit, as mosquitos on this cave are horrible!!! They will bite you everywhere. Geared up again, and there we go!! Tunnel A and death arrow, with back gas and Oxygen. We left the O2 tank at 6 meters, on the second tie-off for our primary reel, and continued into the cave. Attached the reel to the mainline and swam on tunnel A. This tunnel is really similar to tunnel B, but I felt it even more dark. It has really big chambers, and you will reach the first entry of Death Arrow within 10 minutes of swimming into the cave.

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Inside death arrow, and with one of my future models

This passage has two entries, both are a jump and both of them are marked (as the first and second jumps) but the second one is easier to see, as it is just to your right, if you look down. As soon as you descend, the blue water hits you, after the halocline, and you move worlds again. This passage, instead of a shaped tunnel, is wider and more decorated with speleothems, and big columns, one of which will be on my next dive here my first 3D model on a cave.

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Some wide angle
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More and more columns!
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And we would play with video lights

We hit turn pressure almost at the end of the passage, coming back on the same way as we went in. It was such another world indigo blue!! Coming back to the entrance of the cave, we didn’t have any decompression obligations, but we did some minutes on O2 anyway, just for safety, enjoying the view and the peaceful of the end of the cave, with a huge smile on our faces.

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Indigo blue on death arrow

And no… Death Arrow was not the passage I was talking about at the beginning, this needs to wait until next dive here!

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First Dive
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Second dive
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First dive
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Second dive

Dive Technicalities Dive #1

  • Distance travelled: ~ 700 meters
  • Upstream time: 54 minutes
  • Downstream time: 68 minutes (including deco time)
  • Total diving time: 122 minutes
  • Maximum depth: 24 meters
  • Average depth: 16.7 meters
  • Gas: Nx 32.1 stage, Nx31.7 back gas, 89.8% O2 for decompression
  • Tanks: 2 x S80 + S80 + S40
  • Temperature: 25ºC
  • Dive base: Zero Gravity
  • Team: Britta & Rainer & Holger & Belen

 

Dive Technicalities Dive #2

  • Distance travelled: ~450 meters
  • Upstream time: 27 minutes
  • Downstream time: 31 minutes (including safety stop)
  • Total diving time: 58 minutes
  • Maximum depth: 24 meters
  • Average depth: 13.9 meters
  • Gas: Nx31.7 back gas and 89.8% O2
  • Tanks: 2 x S80 + S40
  • Temperature: 25ºC
  • Dive base: Zero Gravity
  • Team: Rainer & Belen

 

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Welcome to Cave Country – or the Middle Earth

When I first heard that name, I thought: why? why would you call that area “Cave Country” if you have México? Nothing further from reality… Where everything started!! Little I knew about this area of the world, for sure.

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Quick search in Google for springs in Florida

On this map, only a few of the springs are shown, with a potential cave entry. Most of them are unexplored, because of the depth, the logistics, or simply because they are privately owned or in state parks, and entrance is not allowed. There are only around 270 mapped cave systems, and the access is granted to a few selected teams of divers, like WKPP (Woodville Karst Plain Project)  and KUR (Karst Underwater Research).

Both of these groups have been really active for the last years, leading all the explorations in the area, specially the deep dives, where a huge team is needed as well as complicated logistics. They help the scientific community, as well as environment to preserve and protect karst aquifers and preserve and protect the water quality on the area.

As of today, there is no mean for any organization to know what is it on these aquifers other than technical and cave divers, that risk their own lifes for their passion.

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It was a really smooth flight, 9 hours from Madrid to Miami and then just one to Gainesville, a super small town with the closest regional airport to High Springs, where the home base will be. This is where the GUE headquarters are and all the logistics that you can need through Extreme Exposure, we can get fills, catch up with some people, and just hang out.

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Filling station at Extreme Exposure, directly in the car!! Carrying tanks is over!

I knew very little about the caves here to be honest, my knowledge was limited to: “Be careful with the strong currents” and “There’s this really cool cave where the entrance is covered on green stuff, I want a photo there!!”, that I’ve been seeing in some of my friends caving photos, and to be honest, as I always think: “I would never be able to go there!”, and finally I got to go!!

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The famous Ginnie pool

So when I got there I started to hear about all these caves… Peacock, Madison, Little River, Manatee, … including THE LEGEND: Ginnie Springs with Devil’s cave, where everybody have been going for the last weeks. I couldn’t wait to get there!!

You can see on the following video, that not even scooters can go in.

Some of us met at Extreme Exposure in the morning, got tanks, and adventured into Peacock springs, located at Wes Skiles Peacock State Park, an hour driving from the base. As much as I wanted to go to Ginnie, we all agreed that the first dive may be better on a lower flow cave. Another consideration, or… let’s call it inconvenience, was that the tanks available in Florida are the high pressure 107cu, which are huge and really heavy, making necessary to have a 60lbs wing with them, instead of the 40lbs that we are used to in Europe or out of the US with double 12 liter tanks, and of course, you need an aluminum back plate.

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Entrance to Orange Groove, you can clearly see where’s the entry and where the flow comes out. It is actually a good measurement of how much flow you will have that day.

One hour driving from Extreme Exposure, we got the site, my first cave in Florida! At that point I had no idea that I was going to see “that place covered with green stuff that I always wanted to go to”. That was a huge surprise!

 

I was so excited!! we did our first dive in Orange Grove and the second in Peacock I. At this point, both to the GUE Cave 1 limits: double thirds, and no deco. The second was shallow, which allowed us a long run time in the cave. The entry to both of the caves is really easy, with the stairs that have been installed recently by the state park on both sites.

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Our gear ready for diving!

At the entrance, you need to pay for the day, $5 USD per vehicle, up to a maximum of 8 people per vehicle, that you put on an envelope and get the receipt to show it in the car. There are some benches close to the car park spots to gear up comfortably, and then is just a 30 seconds walk to the water.  But I’ll leave the dive itself for some other post.

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Weeki Wachee and Twin Dees most recent map overlay

The exploration still continues on many of the springs. One of the most famous is the one run by KUR, on Twin Dees / Weekie Wachee. The entrance to Weekie Wachee was described by Paul Heinert, famous cave explorer as: “It’s the toughest entry of any cave system I’ve ever been in”. There was no legal access to this cave until 2006, and the initial exploration was done in the late 70s and early 80s by Paul Heinert and Sheck Exley. This cave is only accesible on an average every 5 years, due to the flow and conditions: it needs to be a really low rain rate year!

 

A close by spring has been explored recently as well, named Twin Dees. It is believed that both of them are connected, specially after the discover in 1996 of an enormous underground room and deep spring tunnel at 90 meters depth named Middle Earth and Alph Tunnel by Jeff Petersen and Dave Miner of KUR. Yes! It’s right, every passage and room on these caves are named after Lord of the Rings.

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Monitoring of water quality by KUR

The divers finally connected the caves in 2014, after great efforts. This recent discovery, not long ago, demonstrates that there could be hundreds of hidden underwater tunnels and connections, that would affect the water quality. An example of the usefulness for the public and local organizations and governments of this explorations is the map produced by KUR on the water quality within the cave system and springs. This can only be done by placing different sensors and probes in the caves, and monitor them constantly. The only way of doing this task is by volunteer divers that go in this cave!

 

Cenote Jailhouse – where is it? This pond of dirt?

Me salió del alma… Or… it left from my soul: What?! This pond of dirt?!  That was actually my first thought and actually I said it loud when I saw our entrance to Jailhouse.

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The cenote

In the morning we decided to go this Sunday to Jailhouse, again, everybody was talking amazing things from it, so we gave it a go, every cenote is someone’s favourite!

We started planning: 1 set of doubles and 1 stage, no O2 for deco this time. One of our buddies draw us a map with directions so we knew where to go with the most beautiful areas of it, of course, always trust a local!

 

Something quite common here, as the caves are in private lands, is to ask for the gate keys someone: either at a dive center or go to the owners home and get them. For Jailhouse, this is marked on Google maps!!

 

Once you get the land key from the lovely Mexican mama, and of course pay your fees (Mx$200 per person), you have to drive to the middle of nowhere to find what I called a marvellous pond of dirt.

 

The way there is not easy, when you ask for directions, everybody will tell you: just go straight, all the way straight (in Spanish, of course). All the way straight is not really the answer!! To get there, you can either go through Mayan Blue gate, and then take all right on every Y intersection you see, and you’ll get to a gate with a lock, where your key works! we had to try a couple of gates before we reached the one it worked 😃 We were told that you can also go all the way straight from previous the road from Mayan Blue on the left coming from Tulum. The coordinates to the cenote are: 20°11’18.4″N, 87°29’24.2″W. This cenote is also called Muknal siphon, belonging to Sistema Naranjal.

On site, there are some tables and benches where you can gear up easily, but be careful with mosquitos!! it’s in the middle of the jungle. The entrance to the cenote is zero viz on the open water and the first 3 meters, to open up to my beloved “black” caves, with fresh water.

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Main tunnel
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Main tunnel
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Main tunnel

The first part of the cave is really dark, and has a complete absorption of light, I am still amazed about the darkness and feeling of mystery that these caves give you, and it’s like being literally in one part of the world where just a few people have been.

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Swimming on main tunnel
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The Swiss Gallery

We passed the first jump, and continued towards the halocline, which is around 20 minutes swimming from the entrance. Just when you hit the halocline, the cave changes suddenly to a white huge space. I was really impressed on the change, like crossing a door marked by the halocline, there is no smooth or gradual change, on just a click, you’re on another dimension of shinny white huge cave system. After this halocline, the cave opens up, in a passage of about 5 meters tall, with different “river” shapes, and awesome views.

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The Swiss Gallery
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The Swiss gallery

The jump to the Swiss gallery is marked exactly on the halocline interface, but you will need to swim a little bit further down to find the line and into the passage to find the line. There are two parallel lines (for two parallel tunnels) that go to this section, and you can jump to either of them. This section is extremely decorated with stalactites and stalagmites, and it is actually one of the most decorated caves I’ve seen on this area, with narrow passages and big rooms as well, making your way through the columns.

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I’ve always had a weakness for ceilings
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Pointed stalactites

Entering into that area is like going into a different dimension where everything is white and baroque. There are speleothems everywhere, and the passage area is reduced to the minimum as well, but still for a back mount configuration.

We jumped the first T we encountered to the right, to continue on the passage, until we hit turn pressure and returned. We left the stage on the first jump to the Swiss passage, as we used it as well to go further into the main line.

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Floating on the Swiss Gallery
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Floating on the Swiss galery

Personally, I don’t mind to come back in a cave on the same path as I came in, the perspective is completely different, the decorations have a different perspective, and not to mention the different formations that you see and shapes evoking other mysterious figures.

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The entrance upstream
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Just at the entrance of the cave, reduced visibility

Once we got close to the entry, where we took the first T to the left, we still had enough gas to continue upstream, so there we went, to see this piece of the cave. I first noticed that there were a few monitoring instruments installed there, like a flow meter, or sediment traps.

 

The cave is amazingly black as well, and very shallow, which allows maximizing the rest of the recalculated gas. We left the stages at the T, so we went only with back gas, and also, to spent the deco time we had accumulated for the downstream branch.

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Our path

 

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Dive profile

 

Dive Technicalities

  • Distance travelled: ~800 meters
  • Upstream time: 80 minutes (including excursion second branch)
  • Downstream time: 64 minutes 
  • Total diving time: 144 minutes
  • Maximum depth: 23 meters
  • Average depth: 15.2 meters
  • Gas: Nx 32.1 stage and Nx30.8 back gas
  • Tanks: 2 x S80 + S80
  • Temperature: 25ºC 
  • Dive base: Zero Gravity
  • Team: Peter & Kostyd & Belen

Cenote Caracol – col col Saca los cuernos al sol

On the driving there, around half an hour, I was singing this song the whole time. It’s a popular Spanish song that comes to say: “Snail -il -il, take your horns to the sun”, but of course, it has a rhythm in Spanish.

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Welcome to Caracol!

This cenote is on the Labnaha group, belonging to Sac Actum System, one of the biggest cave systems in the world. The road there is quite tricky, especially after some rain, with all the bumps and stones on it, so it is recommended to have a jeep or a 4W drive car. The coordinates of the cenote are N 20.297313 W 87.414706. It is also a popular place for tourists and swimmers, so it won’t be strange to find some there. There are toilets as well and a small bar, so it’s all prepared.

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It is actually a hole in the ground!

Nevertheless, the cave is not on the beaten track for many of the cave divers in the area. After paying MX $250 as entrance fee to the local guards, we took our stages from the car and went to see the cenote, access and ways of water entry. The place is literally a hole in the ground, and it seems that they put the stairs according to its name Caracol.

After gearing up with our twinset, we were doing another GUE Cave 2 dive, we went down the hole in the ground, jumped in the water, had a quick review of the dive plan: first T left, second T left, back, first T right, back, jumps after end of recalculated gas: really simple!! GUE PLAN and GUE EDGE and off to a relaxed dive to have some mind rest and enjoy the cave.

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Basic cave map, most of the jumps are not marked here

The line on this cave starts inside the cave area, so you need a reel from the open water in the cavern area. It is easy to locate, just find the STOP sign and the line will be just behind it. The sign can be seen from the cavern area, swim around the circle and you eventually will bump into it.

The cave has some small passages, so you need to be really careful about not hitting any speleothem in some of the areas. We decided to go along the main line until the first T, and take left there, the goal was to complete the circuit, using the stage tank and 40 bars on our back gas, so we have enough to play with some jumps on our return.

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It has some more tight passages

We dropped the stage around 2 minutes before the T, as we hit 110 bar of drop pressure, marked the T, and jumped the left. On the way there, you will pass a sinkhole, which could be a cenote, it is not taken care of, because if you look up you can see a bit of dirt on the water surface. One of the characteristics of this cave markers, is that jumps to the right are marked with red arrows and jumps to the left, are yellow arrows. It was the first time in Mexico I was seeing something like this!

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And some other bigger

On the way to complete the circuit, there is another cenote, where you will see a T again, with two jumps, on it, one to the cenote and one to another passage. We continued on the main loop as planned, until we reached TP. We were really close to closing the loop, but decided to save some gas for the jumps afterwards. The cave just changes so much on each section, with wide and narrow passages, millions of speleothems with different shapes and formations and some remaining of what it seems to be what used to be an inhabited cave.

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Beautiful colours because of the tannic water

For our surprise just when we were coming back, we saw some bones on one side of the line. We took some photos of them, but they don’t really seemed to be old, as they were not covered at all by sand, and they were already quite close to the entrance.

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And beautiful formations everywhere

On the way back, we cleaned the jump and took the stage, to do some jumps afterwards. On the main cave map, not all the jumps are marked, as you can do a few of them before exiting. To be honest, one that I really wanted to do, is one that you jump to the “bottom floor” of the cenote, through a hole, that’s on the list for next time!

The logistics for this cenote are really easy, and easy to dive, as it is not deep at all, and it can be done with Nitrox 32% as GUE standard gas mix.

 

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Our dive profile

 

Dive Technicalities

  • Distance travelled: ~1400 meters
  • Upstream time: 92 minutes
  • Downstream time: 114 minutes (including way back jumps)
  • Total diving time: 206 minutes
  • Maximum depth: 8 meters
  • Average depth: 5.6 meters
  • Gas: Nx 32.5 stage and Nx32.1 back gas
  • Tanks: 2 x S80 + S80
  • Temperature: 25ºC 
  • Dive base: Zero Gravity
  • Team: Emir & Belen

Jabalcuz – ex… ex… explore?

Exploration… that BIG word. What is exploration for you? To be honest, exploration for me is to get somewhere where you can’t find any information about it, where you have no clue of what are you going to find, where you put your mind on that state, that there is nothing like: oh yes, this is the way point someone told me about, to put your mind on a situation that just wants to know what’s next, and it is a complete unknown.

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All tanks ready for the next adventure
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Exploration doesn’t mean just get in the water, there are LOTS of preparations on the back scenes
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Exploration doesn’t mean just get in the water, there are LOTS of preparations on the back scenes

Through a really good friend, a couple of us got invited to continue the exploration of the Jabalcuz Spring, a resurgence close to Jaen, Spain, and with private access from an old thermal resort. Or course, to be there, you first need to ask for all permissions to the local government, and be prepared to carry your gear for a fair distance, spend the whole day there just organizing the gear, carrying it and getting everything through the tiny passage that leads to the water.

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Here we go!!! on the road!!

We had little but solid information about the cave. Our friend, has done a few dives on it before, so we knew that on the passage leading to the first sump, it’s a swim of around 300 meters, that goes down to 30 meters deep and up again. He told us as well that there was a few restrictions, and that it was easier to get there in side mount configuration.

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What are those mountains hidding?
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Not a really bad way….

We know that due to the nature of the area, during summer, the water level drops, leaving a longer dry area that leads to the water, increasing the distance the tanks need to be carried and also the effort. Also, since the sump dries out, there is no water flow during summer to clean up the cave after silting, something that we noticed on the second day of diving.

Our friend has been up all the way to the first sump, and our minds were already thinking if we would get that far, or further. This was the first time I was there so the goal was not to push the cave more, but to get to know the topography of the already explored passage, get a feeling if the cave could continue or has some potential, and do a risk assessment of the entrance, times, possibilities, hazards, and how the cave behaves in terms of silt, water temperature, open areas, etc. Also, we wanted to check if the water level was still low to swim on that sump or it was completely dry. As secondary objectives we had the goal of doing filming and some survey to be able to enhance the cave map, so everything was prepared: lights, cameras, survey sheets, gases, sidemount and backmount rigs, stage tanks, ropes, … what can go wrong? 🙂

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Uhmmm too tight?!

Definitely, when we saw the entrance, it was clear that we needed sidemount, at least to pass through there, we’ll see what happens next….

The first day – First touch contact

Wake up!! Marvelous day for some exploration, clear and blue skies and not too early, sun is up!

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Let’s go diving!

We arrived to the site in the morning, and our friends showed us the entrance that leads to the water. There was around 50 meters carrying on rocks until the entrance of the narrow dry tunnel, and then around 30 meters until you find the first pond of water, where we thought we could start the dive. Unfortunately not, our surprise was when we started gearing up, and saw the other side, there was another 20 meters walking over the rocks, to find the next pond. On this case, there was a sump, only a few centimeters deep, and half a meter long, where you needed a tank (or free dive) to pass through the next chamber, another 30 meters walk to get to the next pond, where you can put your tanks on, and swim, there is no need to go underwater, but you definitely need to get them off again, to talk another 30 meters to the final section, where the cave line and the actual cave starts!!!

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Our playground

All geared up, we descended following the main line, and seeing a crystal clear water in the cave going down on the first tunnel, 4 meters deep and around 3 minutes swim, where you arrive to the vertical tunnel going down to 14 meters. This tunnel is quite amazing, and if you’re diver number 2 at least in your group, you will have the luck of seeing your buddy going down through a vertical fall, descending into the unknown, on a golden environment.

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Down the first sump

It took us a fair amount of time, to go through the sumps at the beginning, since we weren’t sure what was going on with the water level and which passages we could pass by diving or not, we geared up three times, which on that environment it was really time consuming, so soon we ended up exhausting the 2 hours that we gave our safety officer back at the surface: we thumbed the dive.

On the way up, we decided to leave one of the tanks by the entrance for the next day, so we didn’t need to carry it all the way out. With the gas planning that we had, it is actually way easier to do something like this, and only carry your stages that you breathe on that day.

Second day – let’s beat up the cave

Actually, you will never beat up a cave – EVER. But you can understand it and learn how to manage it and how to have lots of fun on it and with it. Also, you need to read the cave, get to know it, and treat it with all the respect on the world.

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A little bit of weight movement…

We geared up with a stage tank, and got into the cave. Again, there was a fair amount of dry area, so it took us one hour to get through it. We were expecting this, so we allowed more time for the dive. We entered into the tunnels from the day before, and surprisingly, they cleared up completely. For the nature of the cave, it is really easy to silt it up, it is full of clay and sediment, and also because of the percolation, only with your bubbles and with the current that you generate when diving. No one dives here, so it is something to expect. This clear up means that there is some current in the cave, which is a good sign for it, probably, the sump now has some water on it. We navigated through the tunnels, went down to 30 meters and up again, on the way to the sump.

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No, it’s not tight at all!!

Just going up, by the breath of a diver, all silt and clay went down, so me, who was number 2, went up in the tunnel in zero visibility for a couple of minutes. When I got to a tie off at 9 meters, I wasn’t able to find the continuation of the line, so I waited there for my buddy.

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The only underwater image that I could recover

It is amazing how a cave can turn into zero viz in just seconds!! I waited for a minute and he came back on the line, and we decided to go back.

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And…. let’s go back!

Surprisingly, all the way back took the same amount of time that the way in, and considering we were on zero viz, that is not a bad plan. We planned the gas anyway for this, as it is a new cave and you need to take these variables into the equation.

The worst part?! To carry all our tanks all the way out through the dry area!!! But well… it is what it is!! Part of the fun as well… or, where else would you be on a Wednesday?

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Finalizing the day with amazing views…

As for the results of our exploration trip; well, besides the great experience, we learned that survey definitely needs to be done on the way in ! 🙂 We shot some nice video going in, but will have to wait for the next dives to look for the lost GoPro (sorry buddy ;))

Really grateful to my friend for having invited us to share this cave and experience with him. Already making plans for a return trip 🙂

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Happy divers!!!

We end up with the profile for our second dive:

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Profile of the fist part of the cave

Dive Technicalities Dive #1:

  • Upstream time: 4 minutes
  • Downstream time: 5 minutes 
  • Total diving time: 9 minutes
  • Maximum depth: 14 meters
  • Average depth: 5.6 meters
  • Gas:  Nx32.3 
  • Tanks: 2 x S80
  • Temperature: 13ºC 
  • Team: Ricardo & Belen

 

Dive Technicalities Dive #2:

  • Upstream time: 29 minutes
  • Downstream time: 30 minutes 
  • Total diving time: 59 minutes
  • Maximum depth: 29.8 meters
  • Average depth: 14.4 meters
  • Gas:  Nx32.3 
  • Tanks: 3 x S80
  • Temperature: 13ºC 
  • Team: Ricardo & Belen

Diving for Science – Yax Chen, Venus Moon

A lot of people ask me why did I choose to dive with Global Underwater Explorers. Among many reasons, there is one that is on top of all: their focus on Conservation and underwater projects.
When I became a cave diver, as many of the cave divers out there, was dreaming with exploration, finding new caves, mapping them, and do all these great discoveries, who doesn’t?! But… Why? What for? Why is this helpful? Is it just to fulfil your own ego? Actually, at least on my case, nothing further from there!! Let’s just have some fun!! Also, the exploration of a cave can lead to conservation projects, and to help communities like it happens in Yucatan Peninsula, but we’ll see that later.
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A present from the cenote, to welcome us!
What is parallel to this, and really exciting as well, is actually to study and monitor some aspects of the already explored caves, like the impact of environmental effects, or human behaviour, as well as interaction with external factors.
With this in mind, and my passion for caves, I joined on December 2017 a Science Project run by Mexico Cave Exploration Project group, created by a few GUE divers, CINDAQ (Centro Investigador Del Sistema Acuifera de Quintana Roo) and Mc Master University in Canada. The project has been organised twice per year during the last few years, with results published on the most important environmental journals.
Who would think that Hurricanes Ingrid and Manuel (2013) would have an impact on the water properties in the cenotes up to 2017? Was we can see in the map below, these hurricanes didn’t pass through that area either…. Interesting, right? This is an invaluable data to study climate change in the World! And not only that, but the connection between water sources in the world and the effect on different systems.
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Hurricane Ingrid in 2013
So… what divers can do to contribute to these projects? To place instruments underwater, and specially far inside a cave, you need to be trained accordingly. Most of these scientists don’t have this training, they are not even divers, so the only way that the instruments can be installed are with the aid of divers. Divers also, since they are the ones visiting the caves, they can be the witnesses of the changes on the environment, and alert scientists, and communities, so it is a win-win situation.
On this particular project in Mexico, which I joined, our tasks were from installing infrared cameras on remote cenotes to take water and algae samples on different spots, passing by installing and replacing sediment traps or temperature or flow meters.
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First project meeting
The volunteer teams are organised according to their training level, or the skills that they can put in the project as well as the needs for a specific day. At the beginning of each day, there is a briefing with the activities that need to be accomplished and the teams are assigned. You need to be open as well to fit in any of the teams, you may be diving each day with different buddies! Always, depending on skills and needs.

The first day – Yax Chen, or Ying Yang

Waaaay easier to call it Ying-Yang, at least, I have that in my mind 🙂 Actually, Yax and Chen are two Mayan Zodiac signs that means Venus and Moon, everything is related with Astrology!
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On the first day of the project we had the kick-off meeting, some results from previous years were presented by Ed Reinhardt, and Fred Devos; also a brief on what are the goals for the week, the scientists that will work with us and ourselves.
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Ed Reinhardt doing the pre-dive brief
The main site for the project will be Yax Chen cenote. I’ve never been there, and there were other locations to go as well, but if you haven’t been there before, it’s the day to go. So 90% of the divers went there. It’s located in Tulum, by the beach, on a really beautiful area, mixing with tourists and also some alternative and hippie people. The cenote is managed and run from a lodge, that appear to be super easygoing. You can park the car close to the road, and then walk around 50 meters to get into a huge lake, where you get in the water. The cave entrance is just on the opposite side of the entry.
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Cenote Yax Chen, from the entry, peace!!!
What a beautiful place!! You feel like at home being there, definitely to consider staying for a couple of nights and relax by the water. Yax Chen is really close to the ocean where the underground rivers of caves come to an end and also, some organisms from the sea come in, a similar concept of an estuary, of course, completely different in essence.
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Teams preparing to carry gear
The whole group was divided into smaller teams, depending on diving level, to be able to replace sediment traps along the cave. Cave 1 level divers were replacing the ones closer to the entry, and for example people with DPVs were replacing the furthest. First, a small brief on how to manage the samples, and an explanation of the topography of the cave.
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Come on! let’s go in the water!
So… Let’s have some fun!!
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All our gear ready!!
First teams start to gear up and enter the water, they have a fairly long swim to do, and there starts the up and down of divers carrying gear. We can’t forget about the camera team, of course, everything needs to be documented! Together with the sediment traps, some temperature loggers were collected and renewed, to be monitoring for the next 6 months, until the project gathers again.

 

The day was a success, only one of the traps was not installed!!

Dive Technicalities

  • Distance travelled: ~200 meters
  • Upstream time: 32 minutes
  • Downstream time: 36 minutes 
  • Total diving time: 68 minutes
  • Maximum depth: 9 meters
  • Average depth: 7 meters
  • Gas:  Nx30.3 back gas
  • Tanks: 2 x S80
  • Temperature: 25ºC 
  • Dive base: Zero Gravity
  • Team: Rene & Andre & Belen
 More info:

Happy Friday!!!

DSC05935Tux Kupaxa Cenote, Tulum, Mexico

  • Maximum Depth: 13 meters
  • Average Depth: 9 meters
  • Dive Time: 218 minutes
  • Gases: 32%
  • Team: Emir & Kostya & Belen