The sound of my breath is all that I can hear around me, loud through my regulator. I can just make out my instructor to my right, giving me reassurance that I?m dong well. To my left I shine my underwater flashlight to get a glimpse of what it looks like in here. When I turn back to my instructor, he is beginning to blur out of my sight and touch. In an instant we descend into total darkness and he is no where to be found?
We arrived in Tulum with the intention of doing some snorkelling in the world famous cenotes. After hearing about them from other travellers over the months before arriving in Mexico,?we knew we had to check them out. These cenotes are part of an unbelievable underwater cave system that runs along the Yucatan?Peninsula. It is like an underground super highway of flowing water, which eventually meets the sea. The most mysterious thing is, not all the underwater cave systems have been discovered and everyday the system continues to to grow as new discoveries are made.
I?have?been a certified Open Water Diver for many years, but always wanted to gain extra knowledge and training so I could attain my Advanced Diver qualification. The main thing stopping me doing my Advanced Course was that many dive spots we had been to were so expensive. I was just waiting for the right oppourtunity to come along to be able to do my advanced course.
We had been staying in the same place for 2 months at a discounted rate and had become extremely good friends with the owners of the hotel. The owners also run a dive shop where they have snorkelling and diving tours to the many cenotes around Tulum. The owner knew I really wanted to receive my Advanced Qualifications and offered to let me do the course with him for a reduced price. This was the opportunity I had been waiting for and immediatly jumped at the chance.
There are number of introductions into?specialty?courses involved with the Advanced Course, but I decided upon a deep dive, a?cavern/night dive, navigation dive,?underwater?photography as well as a Nitrox dry dive. Out of these I would have to say I was most hesitate about the deep dive. As an open water diver the allowable limit is 18 metres, however doing my deep would mean I was going to 30 metres-almost double the depth I had been used to for so many years!
My deep dive was the second last of the course and as we drove about 20 minutes out of Tulum during which time I was chatting about anything?other than the dive ahead. I was nervous and trying to keep my mind off it. We arrived at the cenote called Angelita, and?even though it had a beautiful sounding name, this cenote was basically a hole in the middle of nowhere, spanning 20 metres in diameter. It was black, dark and in the middle of the jungle. Oh Shit!As we stood there looking down into Angelita, Neils began telling me little facts about this cenote.?There are no cave systems attached to this cenote, it is just a rock formation that has eroded away over time. It?s just one big vertical hole with a depth of 55 metres?. Great, you?ve taken me to a murky pond to do my first ever deep dive. What have I gotten myself into?My mind instantly thought of all the other?crystal?clear cenotes in the area, thinking that there had to be just one deep enough to dive into?.not this big discoloured pond. Trees were clinging to the edges, their roots?desperately?holding on as though they were trying to keep themselves from being taken away into the black abyss. It did not look inviting at all.Neils could tell that I was hesitant to go in and was donig his best to reassure me that I will really enjoy myself once I was down there. Yeah right.Plowing through my nerves, we geared up and went through the usual system checks, then walked down the slippery?embankment?to the swamp hole I was now calling it in my head, ready to enter. After we jumped in, I stuck my head in the water with my mask to check visibility. I was shocked when I looked down and all I could see was silted water which turned into blackness below. I shouldn?t have been that shocked, I mean I saw what it looked like above ground, but now that I was in the water it seemed so much darker. At this point I was shit scared but there was no turning back. I had to face this fear head on.I took one last look around and then made eye contact with Neils and gave the ?OK? signal. We deflated our BCD?s and submerged into the water. While going deeper and deeper, I looked for any signs of life and found none. No fish, nothing. What the hell am I supposed to look at down here?While we were descending I kept checking my dive computer?12 metres, 17 metres?.when all of a sudden I noticed a pile of debris.
Trees, leaves and other organic matter that had come to rest. Around this debris I looked at what seemed to be the bottom. Impossible! We were now at around 19 metres, coming closer and closer to this mystery floor. I looked over to Neils with a puzzled expression and but all he did was motion for me to come a little closer to him.No sooner had I moved closer to Neils he immediately?disappeared?from sight. I grabbed at my torch and flashed it towards Neils, looking for any signs of my instructor. After what felt like the longest 3 seconds of my life, we both popped out the other side into complete darkness.It was then that I remembered Neils telling me at the surface that we would be descending through a hydrogen sulfide?cline at around 22 metres, which is created from the decomposing organic matter that falls into the cenote. It was such a thick white cloud of colour, that I thought it looked like the bottom of the cenote.
After coming out of the hydrogen sulfide?and into the pitch black of the cenote I was?surprised?at how calm and relaxed I felt. I also noticed that I was using less air at this deeper depth. We continued to drop another 5 metres in which we then reached the required depth of 30 metres.The only thing around at that depth were some fallen trees that I could sucessfully shine my flash light on. Everywhere else I put my torch the light just dissapated into the water.I was in awe of the complete silence. Only my breath could be heard. It was very different to ocean diving. Out at sea you hear the waves, the boats overhead and also the fish nibbling at the coral. Here there was nothing. Nothing except?darkness?in every direction, yet fear was the last thing on my mind. It was strange, but there was something almost peaceful about being surrounded by the emptiness and the seclusion from the outside world.
After Neils gave me a few moments to take in my surroundings we secured ourselves to a tree. It was now my time to complete a pop quiz.A pop quiz? Yep, a test at 30 metres underwater.Neils prepared these questions on a slate, where I was to answer them. It was to physically show the effects of narcosis-a bi-product of diving at this depth. Basically, the deeper you dive the more nitorgen gets concentrated in your blood stream which causes you to have an elated feeling or the feeling of being drunk; also known as depth drunkness.The questions I was?going?to answer were of a grade school level and on any given day would be a piece of cake to answer. Right? Wrong.Neils handed over the slate and started his stop watch to see how long it would take for me to answer. As I was answering these questions I really began to feel the effects of narcosis on the body. I looked down at the slate where I was supposed to write my name backwards and though?Ha! Who cares?! I look over at Neils and gave him a happy smile through my regulator.
I didn?t have a worry in the world and was loving it! I forced myself to try and answer the questions as best I could but my brain just wasn?t in working gear. I scribbled anything on the slate realising I was well and truly ?narcked? as the pro divers call it. This is fucking crazy! It was the strangest feeling, but I also loved the fact that I pushed myself out of my boundaries to get to that point.Getting ?narcked? also shows you just how serious it can be. You need to make sure at all times you are diving with your head still screwed on. You need to be aware of your depth and also how long you can stay at your?maximum?bottom time for. We were only able to stay at this depth for 10 minutes before having to slowly ascend to safer pressure levels to release the build up of nitrogen in our blood. As soon as you ascend a little the feeling of being drunk begins to wear off.
After my ?pop quiz? Neils then cracked an egg underwater to demonstrate the amount of pressure we were under at such a depth. It was amazing. The white of the egg fell?away from the yolk, but the yolk stays in a perfect shape.Neils hit the egg over to me in one slow swoop and it really reminded me of an episode of Mythbusters where they do extreme slow-mo?s of a balls bouncing. As soon as I touched the egg, it wrapped enirely around my fingers before coming back into a perfect form for me to hit over to Neils. I was so amused at how this egg just wouldn?t break no matter how much force I put against it with my hand. It was the coolest science lesson I?ve ever had.
As our time at the bottom depth began to run out we slowly started to make our way to shallower depths. I took a number of looks around the base of the debris and off into the black emptiness one last time before swimming to the side of the sink hole. We ascended in a circular fashion around the edges, looking at the 3 dimensional shapes the soil had formed upon entering the hole from the edges.
The narcosis effect quickly wore off and once again we now reversed our way through the cloudy acidcline and I watched everything disappear into blurriness. We popped back above the?sulphuric?cloud and Neils then guided me over to a section of the internal walls that opened up into a small cave. I watched his fins dissapear into the cavern and I?followed. It was spectacular entering this cavern with nothing other than the light of our torches. From floor to ceiling the cavern only measured 1.2 metres and we squeezed our way through, swimming in a U-Turn of sorts back to the exit.As Neils was exiting the cavern and back out into Angelita beams of sunlight somehow managed to squeeze their way through and created an?amazing?silhouette?of the rock formations and Neils.Upon each metre that we rose, the formations of the big black hole changed. It was like floating past different abstract artworks underwater.I felt like Alice in many ways, falling down the rabbit hole and it opened my eyes to a complete other world that I never new existed. Although the experience was facing the fear of the unknown and controlling my nerves before entering the water, I found that when I was at these depths I felt calm and relaxed. ?This is what I love about travel, it allows you to push past those barriers of fear and gain new?experiences?and overcome?challenges. For me, I was able to discover an underwater wonderland of magical beauty. Unlike anything I have ever experienced I am bound to talk about it to friends and family for years to come. Big thanks to Neils and Dream Diving Resort for helping push through my fears!