The ancient Maya believed that cenotes were portals to another world, and they treated them as such, tossing untold amounts of gold, jewels, and people into these mysterious holes in the ground as offerings to the gods. I learned that in my Mesoamerican Prehistory class (my Archaeology degree may seem worthless to some, but I did get to spend all of my time learning interesting tidbits like this). Since the time of the Maya, we have learned a lot more about cenotes (sin-oat-ays). The jungle of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico is riddled with these incredible landmarks, which are actually an intricate interconnected series of underground freshwater lakes that have created jillions of caves and caverns.
So let me describe to you in picture words what a cenote is and why I am so very taken with them.
My sister and I visited a cenote near Playa del Carmen, Mexico. We were given our safety gear (hard hats) and marched along on a short trek through the jungle. In the picture above, I cut out half of the German guy standing behind me’s face because he had a very judgmental look in his eyes. I don’t mind if people look at me like I’m crazy, but I wouldn’t care for a photographic reminder.
We walked down some stairs into a big ol’ cave entrance (my sister is making the descent in the picture above, being sure to mind her head), and were pretty much at a loss for words at what we immediately saw. Stalactites dangle all around you, and you are greeted by a lake filled with literally the most crystal clear water you will ever see in the whole wide world. Rock formations of all types poke up out of the pool, and altogether it creates a scene that you really thought couldn’t quite exist in real life. And if it did you never thought that you would get to see it. It’s that kind of thing.
Unfortunately the lighting was poor (duh we were underground) and I didn’t have any equipment with me other than the camera around my neck, so I didn’t get any good pickies of the water-meets-cave factor, so if you want to see that you’ll have to just make your own cenote excursion… or google it I guess.
Being the lucky ducks that we are, we got to swim in the ever so inviting crystal clear water. When I say swim I mean we got to bob around in life jackets. It was real cold, but we’re from Colorado and we didn’t want to seem like Sallyanns so we kept our mouths shut and shrieked inwardly at the bodily shock. We also had to be quiet so we didn’t wake the bats. For real. Our guide took us on a bobbing tour of the cave, and pointed out to us the tunnels and ropes that the cave divers use, 30 feet below us. Yes, 30 feet. You could see it like it was right in front of your eyeballs. I have never seen anything like it. Cave floating is enough for me however, I have absolutely no ambition to swim into a cramped tunnel that is not only 30 feet down in the water, but ALSO underground, with no real idea if it is going to spit you out anywhere else or if you are just going to perish in the abyss.
Dramatic? Maybe. I am happy in my life jacket.
I think the reason that I am so fond of the cenotes is that they have multiple excitement factors for me. First, they are archaeologically historical, which really tickles the nerd in me. I love nothing more than standing somewhere and thinking about the people that were standing there before I was. Second, it was kind of adventurous in a not so dangerous way. I am no spelunker, so I found this thrilling. Finally, it was so stinking beautiful! It just knocks my socks off that God’s arts and crafts are so amazing. I felt like I was in an episode of Planet Earth or something, all that was missing was Sigourney Weaver’s voice-over.
Do me a favor, if you go down to Mexico, try taking a little break from your resort and do something different there. Disregard the cautionary warnings (to an extent) because for the most part they are way overblown. There is so much to do and see there, and the vast majority of people are so nice, helpful and informative, and they are genuinely happy to have us there exploring their country. Check it out!
*All photos on this post are copyrighted by Payje Bier Photography, 2011, all rights reserved*