What is a cenote?The Yucatan Peninsula is composed of fairly young limestone. Limestone is fairly porous. The limestone dissolves as the copious amounts of rain the Yucatan gets infiltrates into the limestone. This creates pockets and caverns geologists call karst. Sinkholes are pockets that have collapsed. A cenote is one of these pockets at about the level of the groundwater table with a small to medium sized opening to the surface. Many of the cenotes are connected by passages under, at, or above the water table, so you can scuba, float, or spelunk through them, respectively.
Who owns the cenote?A lot of the cenotes around Tulum are on Mayan land. Emilio spoke to the gate keeper in Mayan, a language that sounded more like American Indian than Spanish. Emilio said most people in this region learn Mayan at home and Spanish at school. The developer has an agreement with the Mayan landowner to use the cenote.
What do you do in a cenote?So this particular cenote was only discovered about 20 years ago. The guy that discovered it and has developed it for tourists to enjoy is still there doing it. After paying $47 USD per person, he handed us off to Emilio, who drove us in a Jeep Cherokee that had 130,000 miles on it and absolutely no struts down a very rough bedrock road through some Mayan houses to the cenote. We put on life jackets and grabbed a snorkel mask and flashlight and went down a non-OSHA approved wooden staircase about 20 steps to a platform in a cavern about 40 feet across with clear water in it. It was almost dark except of the beams of sunlight coming through the 10 foot diameter hole we had descended through. We were instructed to jump in. Brrrrrr! The water is about 77 degrees*. Once in, we followed Emilio through a series of passages and rooms of various sizes looking at different things above and below the water with our flashlights. It's really dark and nearly sterile down there. Stalactites and stalagmites grow from the roof and floor. There are some pockets on the roof where bats roost. We saw one big family of 12 or so big and little guys. Other life included spiders up to 3 inches in diameter, strings of what looked by spider silk made by filamentous worms so thin they looked like part of the silk, and lots of blind minnow-sized fish and a small white catfish. Emilio said the fish eat minerals. I'm not a biologist, but that seems like a hard living for a fish. Huge roots from the trees above also protruded from the ceiling but stopped at the water surface.
*By comparison, groundwater in the valleys of Utah is at about 56 degrees, which is the mean average annual air temperature. Now that would be really chilly to swim in!
We swam around into different rooms, bumping into stalactites here and there. At one point we all turned our flashlights off to total pitch darkness. I would not do well as a blind fish. After about 40 minutes we made our way back to the platform and the heat of the jungle above. It was the only time we would be chilled in 10 days of vacation.
TULUM RUINSActivity #2 for the day was the Tulum Mayan ruins on the coast a few kilometers from Tulum town. The parking was a rip off and they make it hard to get to the entrance without passing shop after shop of tourist trinkets, but once inside the ruins ($65 pesos or about $4 USD entrance fee) the ruins are quite nice. The complex is small, about the size of a wide football field, and not all the buildings are well restored, but the beautiful setting on the coast made us understand why they Mayans would build a fort here to occupy between 1200 A.D. up until disease brought by Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s wiped out the population.
|Temple at Tulum Ruins|
|Temple to the wind God|
|Detail of the temple to the wind God. The god is upside down.|
|The Caribbean Sea from the Tulum ruins|
|Coming through the barrier wall that served as protection from enemies and a separator between the privileged class and commoners.|
|The grass behind us was where people lived in huts made of perishable materials.|
|We stayed until they closed the place down. At 5 pm sharp, archaeologists came in start restoration work. They get to climb in and around the buildings. So lucky!|
|Detail of the building being restored|
|No people live in these ruins anymore, but iguanas like the rocky sunshine.|
|Ringtails and feral cats feed off human trash in the vendor area.|
|I don't take the most graceful animal photographs!|
|The rocky part of the beach|
It's a nice beach, with warm water, soft white beautiful sand, and barrier reef and gentle slope that make it perfect for swimming.
Then back to clean up and head back into town for some delicious fish and shrimp for dinner at El Camillo Jr. Restaurant. Day 1 success!