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May 2005 Vol. 31, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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In the Realm of Mayan Gods

from the May, 2005 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

As the only sources of fresh water, cenotes were considered holy by the Mayans, who drowned virgins in them as sacrifices to their gods. Sinkholes on the Yucatan peninsula are laced with stalagmites and stalactites, which create an otherworldly aura in gin-clear water. Not so on Cozumel. I dived one with Omar Gomez, who calls his one-man operation Fathom Diver Expeditions, and he warned me that I wouldn’t be seeing anything quite that spectacular on Cozumel.

At Aerolito de Paraiso, a quarter of a mile inland north of Parque Chankanaab, we entered a figure- eight shaped pond with mangroves on one side and rocky walls on the other. Fresh water flows out of the cave system, mixing with salt water from the ocean. Vegetation flourishes in the sunlight zone. I saw a few tropical fish in the brackish pond.

Omar’s briefing followed standard cavern-diving procedures. Avoid any restrictions that two divers couldn’t fit through together, and use one-third of our air on the way in and one-third on the way out, leaving a third for emergencies. We’d also stay within the cavern zone, ostensibly in view of daylight at all times.

Leading us single file, Omar twisted through dark passages, unspooling a guideline and tying it off at each twist and turn. We soon left the sunlight behind and were in a fully overhead environment. So much for the briefing. A two-foot thick halocline between the salt and fresh water impaired my vision, but I could either rise above or duck below into clear water. There were no ethereal limestone formations, just ghostly rock walls all around me.

Within ten minutes we’d reached a large room with a sign warning that only certified cave divers should venture further. After a few minutes exploring and watching our silvery bubbles settle onto the chamber ceiling, Omar began reeling in his line. Having been the last one in, I led the way back out, as planned. Omar then took us into another arm of the cavern system, with more intermittent light. I swam over debris and what looked like pieces of pottery, and then surfaced in the other portion of the figure eight. I noticed a small barracuda in the mangrove roots, a nursery for 'cudas until they can fend for themselves in the ocean. Omar mentioned that crocodiles sometimes prey on them in the pond. Hmmm. Finally we followed Omar’s line back to our original starting point, never getting deeper than 35 feet.

This outing cost $60/person. However, rather than dive cenotes on Cozumel, my advice would be to hire Omar for a day trip to Playa del Carmen. It’s $165/diver and includes round-trip ferry tickets, transportation to and from one of the Yucatan’s more scenic cenotes (chosen from a list), tank rental, lunch, and fees.

Omar Gomez can be reached at +(52)987 871 9212 or

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