Death and Scuba Diving in Cenotes

As a scuba diver, Cenotes fascinate me.  I’ve always been intrigued by these freshwater deep caves, which seem somewhat mysterious.  And it didn’t fascinate just me – the ancient Maya believed that cenotes were pathways to the afterlife and would sacrifice humans and items of value to the cenotes.

The cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico still have the skulls and bones from ancient sacrifices, as you can see in the amazing video below.

Scuba Diving in Mexico at Clint's Wedding
Image by Mark Busse via Flickr

Several years ago, I read the fascinating story of diver David Shaw, who made a cenote deep dive (almost 900 feet) to retrieve the body of Deon Dreyer, who had died there 10 years before.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Shaw_%28diver%29

Amazingly, David Shaw videotaped his descent and the attempted retrieval of the remarkably preserved body, and ended up videotaping his own death.

WHAT IS A CENOTE AND HOW WERE THEY FORMED?


Millions of years ago, the Yucatan Peninsula was a giant reef set under several feet of ocean water. During the last ice age, the ocean level dropped, exposing the reef to the surface. The coral died, and jungle grew over the mile thick limestone platform created by the coral reef. Fossils found far inland are proof of this and are commonly seen during a “cenote dive.” In time, the rain filtered through the organic jungle soil, carving tunnels through the softer limestone creating a giant network of caves and tunnels. This filtering of rain water continues today, forming stalactites, hanging from the vaults, and stalagmites, projecting from the floor, which often join to create columns. These stalactites and stalagmites number in the millions and range in size from that of a pencil to the size of a big tree.

When the ice age was over, the ocean rose back to today’s current level, partially submerging the cave network with crystal clear fresh water and sometimes collapsing the limestone creating sinkholes. A “Cenote” is a natural sinkhole created where a cave ceiling has collapsed, a window to this spectacular world. Cenotes were the only source of water in the jungle for the Mayan civilization and are considered sacred by the Mayan people. The Mayan consider cenotes to be an entrance to their “underworld” where their gods live and their spirits reside after death. The Mayans first called these sinkholes “Dznot” or sacred well. A word which had been perverted into “cenote” by the Spanish “conquistadors.”

EXPLORING CENOTES:

There is a very strict protocol of conservation for Cenotes, and visitors should take it seriously: Nothing is to be touched or removed. Take only memories, kill only time, and leave nothing behind, but bubbles. One can enjoy the beautiful cenotes of the Yucatan Peninsula through a relaxing swim or snorkel or for the more adventurous by diving.

Cavern Diving. If you are a certified diver, you can visit the natural light area of the cavern safely, under the guidance of a local cavern diving instructor.

Cave Diving is different from cavern diving and means further penetration into the area beyond the natural sunlight. Extensive training and special equipment is required to enter these areas. A Full Cave Diver Course and Certification is required.

The amazing story in Outside Magazine you can still find here.  It’s really a good read – highly recommended:

http://outside.away.com/outside/features/200508/dave-shaw-1.html

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One Comment on “Death and Scuba Diving in Cenotes”


  1. […] Side note if you don’t know what a cenote is (because I am going to be writing about them a lot): A “cenote” (pronounced say-NO-tay) is a natural sinkhole created where a cave ceiling has collapsed. Cenotes were the only source of water in the jungle for the Mayan civilization and are considered sacred by the Mayan people. The Mayan consider cenotes to be an entrance to their “underworld” where their gods live and their spirits reside after death. The Mayans first called these sinkholes “Dznot” or sacred well. A word which had been perverted into “cenote” by the Spanish “conquistadors.” (Source) […]


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