Friday, June 8, 2012

Wanderings: Floating in the Cenote


"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.

Delightful. Perfect.


A related post: The Pool At Night

25 comments:

  1. And this post is delightful. Perfect. It reminds me of the lake where I spent half my life before the age of 18. I know people who never swim and seem not to crave the feel of big water on skin. Can't imagine that. I want to swim in your big cenote. It sounds like a cool, soft heaven.

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    1. I know how you like to swim. You get down here, we'll figure out a way to get down to Cenote Azul. There are many other nice bodies of water for swimming in that area. It was my first visit. I will be going back.

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  2. A delightful description of bliss.........

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    1. Thanks, Babs. Bliss is pretty much what it is.

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  3. What a way to go! Just let out the air and sink into oblivion.

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    1. As I have commented before, knowing how close we are to oblivion at any moment makes each day that much sweeter.

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  4. Wonderful. Wateris a powerfully, wonderful thingg. I cant imagine anything more oeaceful. Sounds like it was the perfect day. Marking this place in my memory to visit when we get a chance.

    And bravo for taking the paddleboards for safety. As a swimmer, former lifeguard ans swim instructor I applaud this VERY smart safety precaution. Even the best of swimmers can tire, or get a cramp in the middle of nowhere. :)

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    1. It was a perfect day. And, as someone who doesn't swim any great distance on a regular basis, I take all the safety precautions I can. Especially in the cenote, with its size and depth. If anything happens, you're pretty much on your own. Better to be safe.

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  5. How I would love to swim in that cenote! One of my favorite places before I left Vancouver was a dive site call Ferny Bluffs. You had to go by boat to reach it so I wasn't able to dive there often, but when I did I liked to hang at about 90 to 100 feet in front of a wall that was covered as far as you could see in every direction with an incredible variety of sea life. The wall dropped straight down to about 2000 feet and I also had that feeling of floating in outer space.

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    1. Sounds wonderful. There are lots of places like that in Southeast Alaska, where I was born and lived, as well. The cliffs drop from a height, and keep dropping for a great distance underwater. But the water there is awfully cold. I used to go in on occasion, but only for a short time. In fact one of the things I like most about Yucatán is that I can stay in the water as long as I want. It is so nice and warm, by comparison.

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  6. Replies
    1. Yes, it was. And I try to have as many days as possible just about like it.

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  7. I felt your sense of peace and release just reading your words. Thank you, lovely way to start my day!

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    1. Thanks, Debbie. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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  8. I enjoy all bodies of water, oceans, rivers, cenotes... each with their own distinct beauty, and calming in their own special way. Respecting their grandeur and recognizing my limitations makes me appreciate them even more.
    Your adventure's sound wonderful!

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    1. I also enjoy water in the many different places I find it. I agree with you, the key to appreciating water is respect, and knowing your limits.

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  9. I'm deathly afraid of water. As you described your descent, I was holding my breath and my palms were sweating. I didn't breathe again until you said you were above the surface. I would love to be able to enjoy the water like most other people but I don't think it's going to happen in this lifetime.

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    1. Barb, I know others who can't enjoy water. I guess all you can do is take baby steps, and try to stretch your comfort zone bit by bit. You have a good chance to do that when you are staying at your place on the coast. Dip in a toe one week, ankle deep wading the next, up to the calves and knees later on. Who knows how far you might go?

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  10. I really enjoy your writing. Or maybe it's your point of view. Anyway, I check for a new post every day!

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    1. Thanks for being a faithful reader, Christine. I'm sorry I haven't had time to post more. I try to do so at least once a week, but sometimes don't quite manage that. Thanks for hanging in there.

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  11. The Yucatan Peninsula. So many incredible places and adventures. Enough to fill a lifetime. Thanks for sharing another such place with us, Marc.

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    1. Paul, there are several places in Mexico I love, and where I could be happy living. But Yucatan is by far on the top of my list. There is enough here to keep me interested for as long as I care to be busy, and then some.

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  12. Thanks for taking us along. It's still cold-ish here so no chance of any outdoor swimming anytime soon. That cenote looks appealingly like a lake - I haven't had the courage to take a dip in any of the subterranean cenotes, yet.

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    1. Taking us along in our imaginations, of course. Although if we could teleport to the Yucatan right now we certainly would.

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    2. I've tried a few underground cenotes, and they have their own appeal. However I think for sheer pleasure, when the point is to have a good swim, that Cenote Azul is my favorite so far.

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