From Utila, Honduras to Caye Caulker, Belize
I’ll admit that as soon as my plane ticket was bought, I sort of checked out and turned on the autopilot. I’m glad my brain did that on my behalf, because the journey was a grueling one. Numerous chicken buses, border crossings, a boat; it took two days and a half to get there. To make things a bit faster (but more complicated), we even went through Guatemala. The reason I just pushed through was that I wanted to dive the Blue Hole in Belize, some cenotes as well, and meet a friend on Isla Mujeres. That’s too bad because what the Lonely Planet said about Belize is true, it vibrates to a different tune than the rest of Central America. It is friendly, clean and boasts well preserved nature as well as loads of mayan ruins. It is well worth spending come time in but I had to press on.
The Blue Hole did not live up to its reputation and that I expected. Many people back in Utila had told me just that but I still enjoyed it since I had never ever done a dive that special and got to see sharks for the very first time as well. Otherwise, it was just a big, deep, dark, blue hole; like seeing the Eiffel tower is a must on a trip to Paris, the Blue Hole has to be dived on a trip to Belize. The two other dives afterwards were interesting and considered by most the highlight of the tour, but for me, swimming at 41 meters deep between stalactites with sharks watching us from far off into the hole is what made my day.
From Caye Caulker, Belize to Tulum, Mexico
A solid day of travelling later and I had reached my second stop, Tulum. Compared to the rest of Central America, going places on the Yucatan peninsula was a piece of cake: no chicken buses, plenty of departues and reliable services. Tulum is a popular destination, praised for its beaches and the many activities you can do around. After all it sits just at the edge of the Cancun region, a resort paradise. But beside a quick trip to the local Mayan ruins, I was not there for that, I was there for diving the cenotes.
Consider world-class diving sites, the cenotes are simply big sink holes in the jungle. As a side note, the Blue Hole is also a cenote, it just sits completely underwater now but it was formed in the same fashion before the level of the seas started raising. Little life is to be found in there, blindfishes, shrimps, small isopods, the cenotes are not popular for their fauna and flora. They are famous for their rock formations, the lighting effects you can see under the right conditions, and cave diving in general. The Yucatan peninsula lies over a huge network of underwater rivers of which the extent is not very well known, but every time a cenote opens up on the surface, a new access to that labyrinth is created. You can enter through one and come up another a few kilometers away, but that is serious cave diving and done by very few highly trained people; if you get lost, you die. I am not that crazy yet, but I feel that if I keep subjecting myself to compressed air at depth, I could get that mad eventually.
Crystal clear water, infinite visibility, no currents, mind-blowing rock formation and being deep enough in a cavern not to be able to see the light of day make for an out of this world experience. However, the highlight of my diving there was not swimming between millions of year old limestone columns, but going down the pit, where two very impressive natural phenomenons can be witnessed: a sulfur cloud and a halocline. The sulfur cloud lies at the bottom of the pit and is the result of vegetation that has fallen down to the bottom slowly decomposing in the water. Everyone is accustomed to seeing clouds in air, but water being a different fluid, their formation takes in a different shape, especially when it is perfectly immobile. From a distance, the result is layered perfectly even and opaque clouds, as you close up, fluid dynamics patterns start emerging, disrupt (it take a few days to reform) the cloud by passing your hand through and create some more, move your flashlight around at the same time and you are in for a trip. The halocline is not as impressive but provides for another interesting effect on the way up. It is the interface between salt and fresh water and because the two have different densities they do not mix. Well, only across their fuzzy boundary, which has a varying refraction index and consequently distorts light traversing the layer that you just pass through going down but actually swim in going up (as part of the dive), making everything look blurry. A similar effect happens between cold and hot water called a thermocline, but the difference in density not being as high, the blurriness is a lot more subtle. With the halocline, you vision is severely impaired, everything you see takes the appearance of a painting from the impressionists and if it was not for the flashlight of the guide, I would have totally lost him. Best dive ever. Here are links to two images from the cenotes I dove in (they are not my own so I cannot post them here), one is from dos ojos cenote and the other is from the pit.
From Tulum to Cancun, Mexico
Initially, the only reasons I departed from Cancun was because I wanted to dive the cenotes and because the plane tickets were cheap. Back in Utila tough, I befriended Rodrigo, who worked as a dive master at Isla Mujeres, an island a couple kilometers off of Cancun, so I decided to shorten my overall way up to meet him over there.
I did two dives with him around the island which were fine, apart for the insane currents on the first one, but the highlight was supposed to be a wreck the next day, which got cancelled because the two other idiots had partied too much the night before. I was hangover myself and still showed up because I knew that operations like this need a minimum amount of people to justify going out, but apparently they did not and decided to sleep in. Quite frustrating. My plane was leaving the next day early in the morning (as usual, I slept at the terminal) so I could not dive in the afternoon and was stuck killing a full day’s worth of time on the island, which is extremely touristic. After 4 months of travelling and being so close to the end, I was not in the mood to enjoy it, all I wanted was to get home.
This is it. That was the end of this Central America trip.