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Exploring the Hidden Caves of Mexico

The Yutacan Peninsula in Mexico has one of the highest concentrations of cenotes, a sinkhole that leads to an underwater cave system, in the world. One such system was only discovered in late 2015 and I was able to join the two divers, Luis Leal and Alessandro Reato, who were mapping the system.

This new system, Mul Tun, had never been explored before. The hidden cave-like entrance to the cenote is an hour and a half trek into the jungle. Its discovery was made when a local Mayan was walking through the jungle and heard the calls of a Motmot bird. Known to nest in caves the bird lead him to the cave opening of Mul Tun.

At the entrance we checked our equipment, crawled down a slope into a shallow pool, swam through a small gap and the whole system opened up.

There was no natural light and the caves are between three and seven metres wide. As we swam through the passages we had to ensure we didn’t hit the stalactites that have taken centuries to form or to disturb the fine sediment on the cave floor – there’s very little current, or flow, in the caves and if you ‘silt-up’ you’re swimming blind and it can take a day to clear. Smaller gaps meant we had to unclip our air tanks, which are mounted on our sides rather than on our backs for better manoeuvrability, and push them through in front of us.

Alessandro was mapping the cave using lines; this not only marked the discovery but also our route back. You must never lose sight of the line as it ensures that you don’t get lost and can find your way out if your visibility is compromised.

Naturally there’s a particular intensity when cave diving that you don’t get when diving open water, and there’s definitely an adrenaline rush when you go into somewhere that hasn’t been explored before. After a while you begin to flow in sync with one another and you can really take in your surroundings. It is an incredible feeling to squeeze through a small passage to find a cave open up before you and I am always struck by the beauty of the cave – the stalactites, the water so clear and so still that the fine dust on the ceiling disturbed by the bubbles from your regulator drift down like snowflakes.

There are not many places in the world that haven’t been explored. Though exploration today is still about achieving incredible feats and surviving extreme environments, it often involves following in the footsteps of others. Yet these cave systems are still being discovered. It’s an incredibly special experience to be floating through these spaces that you know have not been seen for thousands of years, where you can stumble upon the remains of ancient campfires from before the caves flooded.

This is an adaption of ‘Exploring The Hidden Caves of Mexico’ (Avaunt, Issue 4, October 2016)