Mexico Part 1 (Tulum on the beach and diving caverns) – June 2009

– Another crazy day leaving Belize towards Mexico. I thought I had it all figured out…with the right ferry, express buses and a plan to get to Tulum, Mexico in a shorter time. Once again…I was wrong. Luckily enough, the journey worked well and after an hour ferry, many lies about buses to Mexico, I boarded hopefully my last chicken bus for four hours to the border with Mexico. Clearing customs on both sides was easy and then after a short walk, learning there was an hour time zone difference (yet I traveled directly north of the border), I was on another bus to Tulum. End of the day, I was in transit from 8:00am and arrived in Tulum at 9:00pm. But at least I made it and I met up with some friends at the hostel and was set. Time for a beer!

– Before I took this trip, I had never heard of Tulum, but many travelers I met all raved about how great it was, so I decided to stop for a day or two. I never knew I would stay a week, but I really liked it a lot. I didn’t know what was in or around Tulum, but figured I would make some friends, ask around and it would be fun. Lucky for me, all this happened.

– First night with a beer in my hand to celebrate the long journey, I met Sinead. She is a 33 year old from Dublin, Ireland and has been traveling on her own for the past year. Like me, she is also at the end of her trip. I also met up with Eliza, a 25 year old from Sydney, Australia, that I met prior in Caye Caulker, Belize. Right off the bat, the three of us were off for fun and had made plans for the beach the next morning.

– The hostel we were staying at had a free shuttle to the beach and so we were off. As soon as I got off the bus, I was shocked at the beauty of this beach. It was one of the most beautiful white sand beaches I have seen anywhere in the world. The sand was also so soft, and I learned it was a coral beach which also meant it never got hot to the feet. Another bonus! I spent many afternoons relaxing on this beach. The biggest stress I had was hoping a coconut didn’t fall from the tree and knock me.

– Friday night, I ended up playing drinking games with Freddie, Mel, Bard, Jonas, Kirsten and the crew. I actually learned a new game called 7, 11 doubles and that just started the night off. A few bottles of rum later, we were off to the bars in the rain. As we passed a police guy with a big gun, I wanted to see if he would let me hold the gun. Lucky for the rest of the world, he wouldn’t give it up, but he did let me pose for a photo with him. From there, we walked in the rain to find a bar. I guess with all the swine flu scare, there were few tourists, less bars open and we were looking for anything with life. We came across one bar, but the drinks were so expensive, we left. Then we crashed a birthday party at another bar and had a fun time. We realized after we started drinking that it was a party, as there were pink and white balloons everywhere with “Feliz Cumpleanos” signs hanging. Whoops…but they liked us there and we were the only gringos. Ended up being a fun night!

– After a few days at the Tulum beach, we decided to branch out and go north to Akemel beach. This was know to have a bunch of sea turtles that tend to swim near the shore and we are allowed to snorkel there. So off we went and after renting some of the most expensive snorkel equipment ever…we saw four different sea turtles and they were magnificent! I just sat there in the water watching them as they were only a foot below us in the water. Amazing as they were eating grass, then popping their heads up to breathe and then back down. It was all fun until I saw a local girl (about 20 years old) grab onto the sea turtle and start to ride it in the water. This was so bad and we heard this stressed the turtles out so much, they stop reproducing. Its a big problem in Mexico, but this time…it was the local that was the problem. I actually grabbed her friends hand and started to explain as best as I could in Spanish how bad this was, but they didn’t care. It was frustrating as you try to do what´s best for the environment and many people don’t care.

Cavern Scuba Diving
– My final adventure in the water was scuba diving in the Cenotes. These are special fresh water pools and are only found in this part of Mexico. I figured if this was the special activity of Tulum, and I had to do it there.

– The word “Cenote” is pronounced, say-no-tay and is derived from the Mayan word, “Dzonot” which means sacred well. A combination of various geological events and climate changes created an unique ecosystem in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. These caves and underground rivers were created naturally over 6,500 years ago and are full of stalagmites and stalactites.

– Cenotes are an underground river system containing fresh water (and saline deeper down, read on for more) that has been filtered threw limestone and so provides amazing visibility well beyond that found in the ocean. The formations, formed over millions of years, provide the possibility of cavern and cave diving that gives you a feeling of being in outer space or on another world with only the air bubbles being there to remind you that you are in water.
– As cave diving can only be done by experts with specific training, I stuck with the cavern diving. The main difference being that cavern diving has the entrance to the Cenote relatively close by whereas cave diving can mean the entrance/exit being much farther away and so more dangerous should anything go wrong. Overall I did two dives, one at the Grand Cenote and the other at La Calavera (The Skull), or more ominously named, The Temple of Doom!

– The Grand Cenote; well, this was described to me as like being in an underwater cathedral. The beautiful white limestone walls along with the formations gives the feeling of flooding a duomo in Italy, jumping in through the dome and having a good swim about. It is quite the opposite to what you may think would be a claustrophobic experience.

– There are a couple of more technical parts however where you do have the cavern walls all round you with little space to get through so does require good buoyancy control to not hit your tank on the formations.

– The second dive was at “The Temple of Doom” where we started off with a jump about 15 feet into the water with all our scuba gear on. This Cenote is much darker and more mysterious than the Grand Cenote and really makes you feel like an explorer.

– I described this experience as what I think driving drunk may be like (as I have never done it!) or looking at someone else through beer goggles. This is because the dive takes us through the halocline or mixing zone. This is the layer where the fresh and saline waters meet which makes the vision blur. It is a very weird experience as I could see the diver in front of me somewhat.

– In the end, these dives were great and such a different experience from the dives in the ocean. Plus it was fresh water, which changes the weights I had to wear and I had to remember to add air to my BCD before jumping in or I would sink with all my gear.

Logistics:

Weary Traveler Hostel – Great place to meet other travelers and for 120 peso a night ($9) I had a dorm room with Air Con which was great (but gave me a bad cough which I hope is not swine flu!)

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