"Doing nothing feels like floating on warm water to me. Delightful. Perfect."
-- Ava Gardner
I've mentioned before how much I love the simple act of floating on water. I don't just roll onto my back for a moment or two and try to keep my nose above the surface. I cease to move. I do nothing and quiet my thoughts. I doze. I take my time.
I enjoy resting this way in a variety of places, but mostly in convenient locations like off of Gulf beaches north of Mérida or in my home pool. However I've got a new favorite place for this activity.
Here the water is fresh, warm and silky smooth against the skin. This cenote is large, around 200 meters (656 feet) across, so you can swim out to where there is nothing in your field of vision except water and sky.
The water is crystal clear, but that doesn't mean you can gaze at the bottom, because the cenote is 90 meters (nearly 300 feet) deep. And there is no sloping beach, nowhere to wade along its shores. An inch away from the edge you cannot touch bottom. You are in, or you are out. Period. One step off the rocky lip of this sinkhole and you are in the deep, blue-black abyss.
What's even more interesting is that in many places along the edge, once in the water you realize that the land's surface here is only the very thin roof of a limestone dome over large water-filled caverns which extend under the banks so dramatically that the cenote in places also has no apparent sides. If you wear goggles or a mask you can swim within an arm's-length of the edge and glance underneath the "shore" to view tree roots and stalactite-like formations of stone jutting into the watery blackness as far as you can see.
I spent the week in Bacalar, Quintana Roo, and visited Cenote Azul, which although easily accessible from the Chetumal highway is delightfully unspoiled. There is a gift shop and restaurant, through which you must walk to visit the cenote, but there is no entrance fee. It's very pleasant to drop off your stuff at a shaded table, go swimming, and then return to rest with food or a drink. The atmosphere is casual and a bit kitschsy. Prices are very reasonable.
There are no lifeguards at Cenote Azul. Given the cenote's size, when we decided to swim across, my friends and I trailed paddleboards for safety. The swim was a good workout. We stopped in the middle for a few minutes, lay on our boards, and talked.
After swimming I floated on my back for awhile, out far enough so that I felt alone and could see only the clouds above me. Later I found myself bobbing under the overhanging trees which dip their branches into the water along the edge, watching birds and enjoying the shade.
With goggles on, I rolled onto my stomach and dived down into the dark until my ears began to pop. Descending a bit more, I passed beneath the surface layer, and as the color deepened the water became suddenly cooler. I stayed at that depth for a moment and realized that I'd let out enough air to have neutral bouyancy. My body would not rise to the surface of its own accord. My head faced downward so I could see only the blackness, and my toes pointed toward the surface. This must be close to what it's like to float in outer space, I thought, with no sounds, little sensation of gravity and the void visible in all directions.
I blew more bubbles until I was sinking headfirst into the depths, the water getting cooler, and the surface getting farther away above me. Suddenly the notion occurred to me that I was a bit too deep. I realized at that moment how easy it would be for someone who suffered a cramp or gulped some water to sink out of sight into the black depths. I worked a bit to regain the surface.
Happy to take a few breaths and feel the sun on my face, I rested, once again floating on my back, until I felt ready to swim in. Friends, guacamole with chips and a cool beer awaited me at our table.