Saturday, November 17, 2018

Mexico caves 2018 segunda vez

I was back in Mexico for a week of cave diving.

My last trip there was to do the Intro to Cave course so this would be my first trip primarily for fun dives. I wanted to keep it really simple - not renting a car, stay super close to the dive shop - and also see some new caves which I would need a guide for. I opted to dive with Under the Jungle once again and had a great time diving familiar caves, learning new caves, exploring sinkholes in the Yucatan, meeting super adorbs puppies and walking through semi-solid-mostly-liquid cow poop.

Day 1 - Tajma Ha
Day 2 - Mayan Blue
Day 3 - Otoch Ha
Day 4 - Dos Palmas
Day 5 - Yucatan sinkholes
Day 6 - Nohoch Nah Chich

 - U

Friday, November 16, 2018

Nohoch Nah Chich

Last day of diving and we headed to Nohoch Nah Chich for another photo session.

Our first dive was on Alberto's Line - this is a slightly smaller passage that curves around the right side of the upstream mainline and eventually EOLs on it. There were a couple of hidden jumps on it with the arrows in not so convenient locations for a team of 3. It was great for me to see an EOL and look onto the mainline as I had passed it the last time I'd dove there. Visualizing stuff like this is exactly what I need to get used to before starting doing jumps.
-> 76min, 19ft, 76F
The photo dive was on the upstream mainline again, same as last time. We turned the dive at Heaven's Gate and spent over an hour getting photos of us in various configurations. Great end to the trip!!
 -> 99min, 25ft, 75F

 - U

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Yucatan sinkholes

This was the big adventure of the trip (as if cave diving isn't an adventure in itself). We were going to be Under the Jungle's guinea pigs for their trips to sinkhole land in the Yucatan. We wrapped up our day of diving at Dos Palmas early and struck west for Izamal.

Izamal is a beautiful city near Merida and one of Mexico's pueblo magicos. It is known as the Yellow City as most of the buildings in the city are painted yellow to honor the visit of Pope John Paul II who visited there in 1993. It is also called the City of Hills - these hills are actually the remains of ancient Mayan temple pyramids.

We spent the evening walking around the city center, exploring the cathedral and visiting a native Mayan art museum.
Dinner was at Kinich, a restaurant that specialized in Yucatan cuisine which is redonk delicious and, strangely enough, features Dutch cheese in a few of the dishes.
After a night at an adorbs B&B, we began the drive into remoter parts of the region to finally get to what we came here for - sinkholes!!

Our first destination, Chin Dzonot, took us through small villages, jungle roads, barbed wire gates and, eventually, fields of cow poop. We learned some valuable new cave diving skills that day with some new equipment - how to use poop boots and get through those fields without slipping and falling. For extra credit, I did the same walk in my drysuit and only slipped once.
The tanks had to be lowered down into the water using a rope and pulleys as we scrambled down a wet slope to get to the cenote itself.
After gearing up in the water with bats flying about overhead, we dropped down into green murk. Close to the surface, the tree roots and stalactites backlit by the dim green ambient light made for a creepy but insanely cool atmosphere. Once we got to the debris cone, we struck out towards the circuit line that Rory had installed during his exploration and pretty much stayed on it for the entire dive. This was one of the tightest cave dives with lowest visibility that I've ever done but, even so, the black rock with gold striations were really pretty. We tried taking some photos but the conditions didn't cooperate. There were lots of sponges and isopods near the debris cone which were fun to light up.
-> 49min, 90ft, 77F

We had the cutest little puppy keep us company the entire time we were on the surface. We almost brought him home. I mean, look at him. I can't even.
Once we caught our breath after all the squealing over the pupper, we headed out of the cow fields towards our second destination, Cenote Xoch. This one was a lot more civilized even though access to it was down a set of ladders through the rock.
The dive here was mostly in blue water along the sides of the sinkhole which belled out a couple of times as we went deeper. There was also a really cool swimthrough which had me scraping my tanks and drysuit inflator as I went through. A few catfish, shrimp and freshwater sponges kept us company during the dive.
-> 46min, 92ft, 77F

We were done diving for the day but Nat's local contact took us to another gorgeous place, Cenote Ucil. This one is small but super deep and is used for freediving competitions and trimix training.
This was an absolutely amazing experience overall and I can't wait to go to more of these. Under the Jungle is actively exploring these sinkholes and is constantly adding to their list of ones to dive. Can't wait to do this again!

 - U

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Dos Palmas

Today was a planned 1 dive day as we were hoping to get an early start on the drive to Izamal. We headed to Dos Palmas which has an upstream mainline that's suitable for Intro level dives.

This cenote is adjacent to Dos Ojos, and you can easily reach that system from here, but is not part of the ejido. What this means is that you don't need to pay the exorbitant amount of money Dos Ojos charges for SCUBA divers to dive the system (upwards of US$120 compared to the US$10-20 charged everywhere else) and you also avoid the hordes of snorkelers there.

The cenote itself is small but has excellent facilities - it had, quite possibly, the cleanest restrooms I've ever seen in a park. The stairs, deck and benches are also super convenient and I found the ease of access to be on par with Nohoch Nah Chich.
Another notable thing about Dos Palmas is that it has flow - medium-high by Mexico standards. I was looking forward to experiencing it and getting a feel for what that's like. It's nowhere near what Florida has but I figured something gentle like this would be a good place for a first experience with it.

The mainline is in open water right off the deck and was super easy to find. It was pretty different from anything I've dove before - a bunch of small-ish passages that opened up into large rooms. It was really cool to come out of a tight window that abruptly became a large hall. It reminded me of scenes in space operas where the smaller space craft enter and leave the landing bays of the capital ships. There were a lot of jumps on the line but I only managed to locate two of them. I spoke to Vince about this later and he mentioned that he had spent a lot of dives mapping out this system - definitely need to talk to him before going back here.
The flow on the way back was not at all what I was expecting. If you think it's just going to push you out and you can glide without working to hard, that's not the case it all. I was in the lead on the way out and kept getting pushed diagonally off the line. Another annoying thing was how it kept pushing my fins up which made it feel like I was getting gas trapped in my legs. Lots of lesson learned on this one dive.This was also the first dive I did with just the SmartWool base layer and that worked totally fine too for this water temperature.
-> 62min, 34ft, 76F
 - U

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Otoch Ha

New cave! Oh, the excitement :D

Otoch Ha is on the Nohoch road with access controlled and limited by Zero Gravity. This cenote (also called Nariz) is an offset sinkhole with one line the goes up and downstream and an entry T in the very beginning of the cave. Since this is technically outside of what we're allowed to do at the Intro level, Nat did a full briefing on how to handle and navigate Ts - we got the briefest taste of what a Full Cave class was like.

You need a sturdy 4-wheel drive vehicle to get here. For real. The "road" is bumpy at its best and requires a little bit of planning while driving so as to not completely destroy your undercarriage. Interesting fauna along the way as well. Tarantulas are fairly common in the jungle around here but this thing was large enough that even I saw it from the backseat of a truck that was trying its best to dislodge me from my seat.
The walk down to the entrance is a little dicey in backmount doubles but, thankfully, very short. The mainline comes all the way out to open water and is at about 5ft but is super silty. It took me a good minute or so to find it even though it was a foot from my face.
Otoch Ha is amazing - I think this is going to become one of my favorite caves. It has a little bit of everything; decorations like the Nohoch mainline, some smaller areas, large boulders and lots and lots of jumps to explore. We did two dives here; first downstream (green line on the map below) and then upstream (pink line) from the T.
-> 78min, 36ft, 75F downstream; 63min, 41ft, 75F upstream

Diving one of the caves that Beto had mapped was super cool for me!
 - U

Monday, November 12, 2018

Mayan Blue

sea_otter's ears were doing much better after a day's rest (and copious amounts of Sudafed) so we headed out to some familiar caves again to do a few drills and get used to diving as a team of 3. The first stop on the way to Mayan Blue was to pick up some lunch. I'm sure Beto will love my unsubtle sense of humor 😝
The first dive was down the "A" Tunnel. sea_otter ran the reel and I successfully managed to get it wrapped around my fin on the way back out to recalculate gas. The dive itself was pretty much as I remembered it - dark and creepy. We did a zero viz team exit on the way out which was absolutely god-awful from a team positioning perspective. At least I remembered the hand signals ...
-> 69min, 58ft, 77F

After lunch, and studiously avoiding all the Chechem trees, we got back in the water and went down the "B" Tunnel. This is by far my preferred one at Mayan Blue. A team before us had silted up the passage pretty well and a lot of it had settled on the halocline which made it look like a ghostly mist on top of the sparkling blue water. Very cool even though it reduced the overall visibility.
-> 48min, 67ft, 77F

By the time we got out of the water and broke down our rigs, we had the cenote to ourselves. This is how gorgeous it is.
 - U

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Tajma Ha

Back in Mexico for a week of diving and started off with the usual day 1 jitters. I checked and re-checked all my gear, to try and avoid the drysuit inflator hose snafu from last time, before Nat and I drove through her backyard to Tajma Ha.

At the site, I realized I'd made a whole different snafu and forgotten my SmartWool socks in my suitcase. Lovely. My feet would be cussing me out before the day was done.

The first dive was down the Goldline. I ran the reel and, surprisingly, didn't make a total clusterfudge out of it. The water was pretty tannic around the Room of Reflections; very dark green. I got a little bit past where I had turned on my last dive here - at the hard left turn, looking down the Jumna River Tunnel. It was great to be back down there - seeing familiar passages and almost anticipating what was going to come next was an amazing feeling (yay for super detailed notes and being a data nerd).
-> 77min, 44ft, 75F

My feet did get pretty badly squeezed and the idea of developing a blister on day 1 didn't sound at all appealing. Also, I was pretty tired after the previous day's travel and decided to call it after one dive. 

The rest of the day was spent reacquainting myself with the shop cats.

 - U