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5 Days in Merida - October 2016

Discussion in 'Member Trip Reports' started by LegoBloxs, Nov 19, 2016.

  1. LegoBloxs

    LegoBloxs Tiger Shark

    Grab a coffee and pull up a chair.

    This October saw a long planned trip come to fruition in ways we had not imagined. Last year on a trip to Cozumel, Birddog and myself decided to try something new and made the trip across the mainland to try our hand at the Cenotes.

    We made two great dives and on the way back the conversation turned to other dive sites. It was during this conversation that a multi day cenote trip was mentioned. I had already been looking at side mount diving as something new to tryout and having seen it action with our guide I was sold. Before leaving Cozumel we had a week of training booked for cavern and side mount for overhead in Florida early 2017. Fast forward a year (this is where Hollywood would insert a cool montage) and we were on our way back to the Yucatan for 5 days in the jungle..


    We flew into Cancun and transferred to Playa Del Carmen, our point of departure, a day ahead so after getting paperwork done and gear checked we spent the rest of the day relaxing in Playa, on the beach and enjoying a nice dinner.


    We had been expecting there to be other people on the trip, no, just the ourselves, our guide/DM Tristan and driver Juan. Over coffee we discussed our options. Given it was just us, we could call the shots on what we wanted to do so the plan quickly took on a life of its own.


    Having loaded up the van we left Playa Del Carmen and headed South towards Tulum before turning West towards Merida. Our first stop was Punta Laguna, a monkey sanctuary/ nature preserve near Coba. After receiving a Mayan blessing from a local shaman we went off in search of monkeys. After a short hike we were treated to the sight of a very relaxed mother spider monkey and her baby in the canopy. Continuing our trek through the jungle we came out by the lake and boarded our canoe before heading across the lake toward to the zip line. During the short hike towards the zip line a howler monkey was spotted. With some coaxing it started howling, what a noise! This must have been terrifying for early settlers who would not have known what it was. One dead tarantula and a live snake later we got to the zip line. This took us back to dock where our canoe was moored. This was the first time Tristan had ever seen both spider and howler monkeys on the same day. Back across the lake and and a short walk took us to the entrance of the cenote. Looking at the entrance it was soon clear why we had kept the climbing harness from the zip line. Making our way down a rope ladder into the earth the cavern opens up to a large sinkhole and you are greeted by a number of bats who circle the entrance. Another 50 feet or so and you plunge into the crystal clear but bracing waters of the cenote for a refreshing swim. In the crystal clear water there are a number of known skeletons which we observed from the surface of free dive. Looking back up there is a colony of vampire bats on the ceiling occasionally flying round is the cave. All too soon it was time to leave and we made our way back up the rope ladder into the sunshine.
    Lunch was grilled chicken at a small roadside cafe, very good chicken served with rice, cabbage and tortillas. Yum.
    After lunch we made our way to a second cenote called Yokdzonot , this was a large open cenote created by cave in of the roof. Access is by a series of wooden stair cases before diving the least few feet. Looking back up was very tranquil.
    Next stop was the town of three religions, Izamal, where we toured the church built on the base of the former Mayan pyramid. The adjoining crafts museum had exhibits from across Mexico.Now off to Merida fro dinner and a beer.
    We arrived in Merida to find the town center blocked off for a week long cultural festival so it took a bit of work to get to the hotel. We went to a nearby restaurant, Cisal, and had shared dinner of 4 local Yucatan specialties. Wow, this was amazing and I ate far too much but was able to finish off with a Mayan coffee, which is espresso, flaming liqueur and dollop of ice cream. Very nice and great show.
    After dinner we took a walk to the square and we're able to enjoy some opera before adjourning to a bar overlooking the plaza where we were able to enjoy more opera over a few beers. I am claiming it as culture.
    Day 2 saw an early start and after grabbing breakfast at a gas station we made for the first dive sight. After about an hour and half drive we reached the village where we did a few loops to find our local helper for handling the tanks. We arrived at cenote Kankirixche, a short drive outside the village, and proceeded to gear up and make our way down to stairs to the wooden platform at the bottom. Before entering the water Tristain lead us as we asked permission from the Alux, the local spirit, to dive in his home. We would take turns at this little ritual which I found to be quite re-assuring. We entered and geared up in water. After configuration checks etc. we made our way under. This is a sink hole type cenote with a large debris pile in the center. We descended and made our way round the pile. Highlights were the great sections of desiccation cracks and bone deposits along with curtain stalactites on the wall. There is a very fine and dark sediment on most horizontal surface that absorbs your light and makes for a dark dive but this does add a sense of penetrating the earth. All too soon it was time to come back up to reality, what a great dive to start with.

    Our second dive site of the day, Yaaludzil, is in a small field on the outskirts of the village. Entry is by means of wooden staircase, somewhat more rickety than the last site with a direct entry to water at the bottom, no platform. Our tanks were lowered down to us by our surface support. After gearing up, safety checks and seeking permission from the Alux we descended once more.

    Again this is a sink hole type cenote with a large debris pile in the center, we descended and made our way round the pile. There is a large bowl off to the side, still within ‘daylight’ limitations so we made our way in and around. Highlights for this dive included pottery, bones including some new one Tristain had not seen before. After our safety stops we surface from the dive and ropes were lowered for the tanks to be pulled up while we made our way back up the rickety steps.

    Lunch was served in a local couples house, a small one room home with outside/covered living and cooking area. A meal of black bean soup, and chicken washed down with chia was most welcome and filling. Following lunch, we stopped at a near by hacienda for a walk around the restored and un-restored sections of the complex looking at the auditorium which backs onto a cenote with its background of tree roots. The building that houses the processing equipment for the sisal preparation, although not yet restored is in very good repair and shows the level of decor in place on what is a utilitarian building, someone was making a statement of their wealth.

    Our third dive of the day was at Dzongkha Bacal. We had an audience rather perplexed looking tourists as we enter the water and clipped on tanks and checked lights. I am sure we are on a far eastern Facebook somewhere. Due to our audience we made our way to the back of the open water for our conversation with the Alux. We headed under and made our way into the narrow opening till we reached the main line. We followed the line down to about 100ft and the Yucatan blind fish before working our way back up to 85` then made a jump into a side cavern, long and narrow with a high ceiling the white limestone reflecting our lights to illuminate almost the entire space . Returning to the main line we made a very relaxed ascent back up the passage before moving round to the far side of the cenote to look at the skull and enjoy the rainbow created by the light refraction our on safety stop. Our audience had left by the time we returned, i guess an hour was too long a wait so we had a place to ourselves. We would see many human skulls during the next few days, whilst it felt invasive to point a camera at them, even by accident, it was very humbling to see them and I couldn’t help wonder what their story was and how they came to rest in these places.
    After the dive we returned to Merida via the dive shop to get fresh tanks for the morning and some new dive boots for Birddog. A quick shower, plug everything in to charge then off to the plaza for the exhibition match of the Mayan ball game best described as hip ball. This comprised two teams of three using their hips to pass a ball back and forth whilst attempting to shot is through a small ring about 10ft in the air, a couple got close but the game ended in 0-0 draw. Thinking back to Chichin Itza, those hoops were smaller, much higher and they didn't use a small compressible ball - ouch.
     
  2. LegoBloxs

    LegoBloxs Tiger Shark

    We returned to Cisal for dinner, this time soup and barbecue/fajita plate including an amazing Chorizo type sausage but with next to no fat (that`s what I'm telling myself) washed down with some local beer to round off a great day before some well earned sleep.
    We were greeted by another sunny day as we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the hotel of toast and coffee prior to setting out for the Mayapan region.

    After collecting today’s helper from the local village we made our way down a couple of miles of dirt track to Noh Mozon. The entry into the sinkhole cenote was by a wooden staircase and platform making for an easy entry/exit. Entry and prep was as previous dives and we were soon on our way. Skulls, animal and human were the order of the day from rodent bones, courtesy of the local birds, cattle skulls, including two resting on top of stalagmites, I sense some human intervention there and two human skulls, the first resting in the open, the second upside down a partially buried in a scree slope. In the overhead, the floor is white sand with many large limestone boulders, this made for a relatively bright dive with reflections of the light add to this the large size of the cavern and it was a jaw dropping dive.

    All too soon we were back on the dirt track, stopping to gather some vines on the way, and heading to the next site.

    We arrived at Nayah to find what looked like an open water class under way, I can think of worse places for check out dives.It wasn’t long till we were geared up and making our way down into this triangular cenote. The visibility was not as good as previous site but still much better than home and added an awesome spooky feel as the rays of light penetrated and died away in the water. Not long into the dive we saw what appeared to be human jaw bone, a closer looked relieved this to be the case. It was resting on an upturned human skull mostly buried in the white sand. This must have been only recently uncovered, the dive briefing mentioning only one skull towards the end. Other highlights included many cow skulls, most still with horns and some amazing rock formations comprising curtain stalactites, immense vertical walls. After our safety stop, and having plenty of gas left we indulged in a couples photo session, probably the most pictures of us both since our wedding. We asked about the jaw bone whilst relaxing at the surface, yes, this was the first time Tristan had seen it. Another first for the trip.
    After the dives we went back a short way to the village for lunch of stewed deer with onion and tomatoes, another honest and very filling meal. Tracy made a new friend called Boo, a little terrier mutt who dotted on her.
    The 4 sq KM complex making up the ruins at Mayapan were our next visit. Unlike other sites you are allowed to climb here. Our guide took us up one of the pyramids to view the original murals depicting the importance of fishing and into the round temple to look at the Mayan arch from the inside. He didn’t join us as we made up way up the main pyramid temple by means of a rather interesting set of stairs. The views from the top were amazing and let you see first hand the expanse of the surrounding jungle is in this part of Mexico.

    Our last day in Merida, and the first chance to see it in the daylight we visited the Governor's palace to see the series of painted murals. This series of murals depict the conquest and resultant suffering endured by the Mayans before political change in the late 19th, early 20th century. After some time relaxing the square and wandering round the local book market we made our way across the the cathedral for a light and sound show projected on the front of the building. Dinner was in a very unassuming restaurant, it looked like a simple shop front but opened out behind for several hundred feet of gardens and seating areas. Great margaritas and great food.
    Another glorious morning as we packed up and said goodbye to Merida. After a relaxed breakfast we loaded the van and set off our first stop of the day, the ruins in the town of Acanche near Techo. As there was a road running event taking place that morning we weaved our way through the back streets to make our way close to the main square where we made our way by foot to find the pyramid closed, most likely as it was also the finish line.
    Quick change of plan a few phone calls later we off to collect our tank helper and climbing guide for today's dive. It would prove to be an amazing climax.

    As we had proved ourselves worthy of the past few days our final dive was to be Canún Chen, not everyone gets to do this site.The cenote is located in an abandoned hacienda and is approached down a tree lines single dirt track to the main building complex. The buildings themselves are derelict and a tribute to how quickly nature can take over again, especially given the relatively recent collapse, some 65 years ago, of the sisal industry in Mexico. No more stair cases and entry platforms, this was going to be fun. Whilst we geared up, with the addition of a climbing harness the ropes and rigging was set up for our entry which would see us lowered down the 60` from the surface to the water below via the former well construction. When all was ready Tristan lead our request to the Aluch requesting permission, in Spanish this time, before he made his way down followed by birddog, who made her way down into the dark smiling from ear to ear. My turn came next, with everything tucked in the right place I lowered my weight back into the harness and eased over the edge ready to be lowered down into the expansive cavern below. We floated about the cavern in the absolute stillness looking at the bats on cavern ceiling and the pin point of light descending from the surface. It felt good to leave all the day to day worries up there in the sunshine for a more relaxing mindset down there in the dark. Our tanks were soon making their way down to us and we got tanked-up and ready to go. After a final check we turned on our lights and descended.

    There is a large debris pile from the initial cave in in the middle of the cenote, this is dotted with an odd mix of paint cans, cow and horse bones and skulls. Off the debris pile, the floor of the cenote if covered in areas of desiccation cracks and huge boulders, the towering white walls speckled here and there with fossilized sand dollars as our bubbles trapped against the ceiling taking on the appearance of pools of mercury reflecting our lights. Examples of charred bones and pottery remain in place resting on the charred rock from the original fires

    After the dive we surfaced and chatted, quietly for a bit before thanking the Alux. The ropes came down and tanks and divers were hauled back up the sunshine and reality. Such an amazing way to round up the diving portion of the trip.

    With all the gear striped down and after a final look about the ruins we returned to Acanche for lunch prepared for us by local cook Maria. Four tortillas and couple of glasses of tamarind juice we went back to the pyramid, this time we were able to get in.
     
  3. LegoBloxs

    LegoBloxs Tiger Shark

    The pyramid is part of small complex located in the heart of the town. It is in a remarkable state of preservation. It is believed that as the European settlers moved west the Mayans, in an attempt to protect the structure buried it having first removed the noses of the gods from the top so as not to bury their gods. As a result, archaeologists have been able to restore much of the carvings apart from the noses as there is no reference to work from. Only one of the believed to be eight faces has been identified. Also evident was the snake line, this is a marking line put in place during reconstruction to show the demarcation between original and restored sections of stone work. This practice apparently began after a few archaeologists got a bit too creative at other sites.
    We were unable to get into the dry caves in Tecoh as by the time we got there the site was closed, early. Despite Tristan's best efforts he could not locate the keys. As we waited for an answer from the town officials we went to look round the cathedral in the town, but it too was closed so headed off to the hotel a little early. This little hotel just outside of Techo consists of 10 huts or cabins very well finished and reminiscent of something from an African Safari. The cabins are set in a lovely garden with pool, paths, turtle pond and many trees and flowers creating a very relaxed setting. We had a short lounge in the pool before a pre-dinner snooze and sleeping through the alarm. Dinners was again a no choice affair, but as always the meal was fantastic. The habanero sauces kept getting hotter day by day. After our tacos we had Neapolitan ice cream and beers in the garden. Whilst relaxing some movement caught my eye, what at first I thought was a worm (of course the Irish guy thinks worm) was on closer inspection a baby coral snake about 5" long making its way across the path.
    As Birddog was getting ready for bed I was trying to get some close up shots of a Juvenile praying mantises which was relaxing our bed, this went well till until I heard,“SCORPION”. I stood up and turned round to see a yellow scorpion making its way across the floor where I had been sitting. After a bit of searching we could not find it so gave up and went to sleep anyway.
    Waking relatively late we began the day with a good breakfast before starting our journey back to Playa Del Carmen. First stop was hacienda Sotuta de Peon, one of only two still working haciendas and the only one that provided tours of the property and process used in the process for extracting the sisal. There was a tour of the main house, a weekend retreat for the original owner, as well home to the plantation manager, in the lower level. The process of manual fiber extraction and twine then rope product was demonstrated although this would only have been done to provide rope for internal use and securing the sisal bales for export. The main machine for fiber extraction was not working well so we didn't get to see it in all its glory but a good idea could be generated from what little we saw of it working. After the extraction process the fibers would have been dried in the sun before being bailed and sent out. The plants themselves can not the harvested for 7 years even then, only 7 leaves can taken at harvest every six months. Given the 25 year life span of the plant and 10% yield it is easy to see how synthetics took over.
    After the demonstrations we boarded Mayan limousines, or horse drawn carts, and were taken round the plantation grounds stopping at the home of a former worker. This elderly gentleman, who appeared to be in great form, had worked there from 1947 and now demonstrates the replanting process of the plants from the juvenile plants. The last stop on this tour was to a cenote in the grounds for an hour or so relaxing in the waters.

    Another restored hacienda, this time a restaurant saw use enjoy a very nice rabbit lunch.
    Last swim stop was an amazing cenote, which we had to ourselves at the end of the day, the ceiling is covered in stalactites and many stalagmites make their way up from the floor. The water is crystal blue and a little bracing judging from Birddog’s reaction when she went for a paddle in her own private cenote. I don't know how else to describe this place other than a hidden gem. Given the innocuous entry down another dirt track, indicated by a small sign at the side of the road the entry from the ground is not that spectacular, just a slight dip. But as you work your way down the stairs the beauty of this place become apparent. I hope this place stays off the tourist trail.
    We returned to Playa del Carmen in the early evening and having unloaded the van and said our farewells we packed up our bags for the morning before going for pizza and ice cream followed by quick walk before bed.
    Overall impression of the trip was amazing. The whole trip is run in a very professional manner but with a relaxed feeling. Having similar interests to Tristan we were more than happy to bend the schedule to see the sights less seen based on the concept we had from the start when said to Tristan, “You know the options, what would you like to do?’. Add to this the extra training we did in Florida we could do some of the lesser visited dive sites and spend the time to do them justice. Most dives we made were over an hour in length and 80-100 ft max depth. It was a year from the idea to the trip, was it worth the training, practice dives and wait, absolutely, when can I go back?
     

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