Spelunking in the Cenote Caves on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico - An Adventure in Eco Travel and Green Living
Posted Oct 19 2010 1:58pm
In 2009 my family and I went on an eco-adventure of a life-time into the Mayan Riviera . I was invited
back in 2010 to film a mini-series of short internet videos which show the
region from a sustainability perspective. Rio Secreto , the
underground river system near Playa Del Carmen, Mexico is an amazing beginning
to the series (see photos in the gallery below).
Watch me and my fantastic 2010 guide, Victor Rodas, experience
the Rio Secreto cenote caves in the below video.
Included with this post is an excerpt from the 2009 Mexican Eco-Blogging
Green Adventure post-series - Spelunking in the Yucatan Peninsula's Underground
Caves and Secret Rivers. It really speaks to the Rio Secreto experience
and needed to be retold in accompaniment with the above video. Enjoy!
Spelunking in the Yucatan Peninsula's Underground Caves and Secret
Cave spelunking in the jungle - not exactly what the ordinary traveler thinks
they will find on a visit to the Playa Del Carmen region, which is known for its
night life and beaches. This was, however, one of the singularly most wonderful
experiences at touching nature I have ever had in my life.
Just south of Playa Del Carmen, Rio Secreto is indeed a well kept secret. Our group pulled
into a rather unassuming parking lot. Little did we know, the real adventure
would begin as soon as we stepped into the Rio Secreto tour van.
My daughter and I climbed into the very back of the van, and our tour group
immediately started off. We turned onto a paved road that strongly resembled a
dirt road laid delicately on top of a roller coaster. It took several miles of
twisting, turning, up, down, and tilting at all angles driving into the jungle
to reach our destination.
You can imagine that being an eight year old and riding in the back of a van
over an extremely bumpy road is adventure enough, but watching your Mom crack
her forehead on the window pane while laughing so hard she was crying is almost
too much fun for any eight year old to take. She and I were both being bounced
around the back at that van and laughing so hysterically we were squealing. The
rest of the passengers had a much milder ride, had no idea why were laughing,
and were dead silent the entire trip while my daughter and I loudly giggled and
guffawed until tears were running down our cheeks. My advice if you go to Rio
Secreto - sit at the front of the tour van if you get car sick, sit at the back
of the van if you are under the age of eleven.
What struck me as powerful was seeing, as we drove into the jungle on this
bumpy man-made road, what an impenetrable thicket a jungle is. Without a guide,
in less than twenty feet of walking into the thick green of it all you would be
swallowed whole and be unable to find your way out if you became disoriented.
Soon the jungle parted to reveal an entrance to the Cenote and caves. A
Cenote (pronounced "se no teh") is a sinkhole with exposed rocky edges
containing fresh ground water. The Yucatan Peninsula is the primary location of
most of the cenotes in the world. Cenotes are surface connections to
subterranean fresh water bodies and are formed when rock is eroded. This erosion
creates a subsurface hole, which might be linked to an active cave system, and
then the rock ceiling collapses creating an open hole.
My earliest cave memory was from Silver Dollar City's Marvel Cave in Branson,
Missouri when I was 11 years old. That cave had hand rails, dramatic
up-lighting, and a cheesy miner-49er tour guide - thankfully not a single
miner-49er was in sight as we began our spelunking adventure. Instead we had
Moises - a fantastic cave-guide who so thoroughly and completely detailed the
life of a cave, that I came away with a wealth of knowledge.
Rio Secreto is an incredible labyrinth of underground natural passageways.
Moises helped us suit up and we walked and swam about 600 meters through the
underground system. Without a doubt this look at the natural world of the
Yucatan peninsula was not one we ever expected to see and the experience was a
Thousands of calcified stalactites and stalagmites displayed.in soaring
caverns emphasized the quiet and solitude of a cenote system. Drips of water
sifting through the natural sieve of jungle, then sandy soil, then limestone to
land underground in a silent cenote is a natural process that has happened for
millions of years, and is quite amazing to behold.
(To Continue Reading This Story, please click the link.)
At one point Moises had all of us sit in a pool of water. He asked us to turn
off all our headlamps and flashlights so we could sit silently in the complete
dark and listen to the caves themselves. As I write, remembering that moment
brings a tear to my eye. It was very moving to sit there and be silent. To stop
thinking about all the business in the world and listen to my own heart and to
the dripping of the mineral-filled water. It left me considering nature in a
unique and immersive way which I had never done before. Describing it is
difficult, but I can say I felt something touch me in that moment of silence and
darkness - it can only be described as "touching nature".
Even the smallest child in our small group, who was only seven years old, sat
quietly in the dark and touched nature. I am absolutely sure that I will never
forget that moment and am even more certain that my family will also remember it
Rio Secreto's water is quite warm for an underwater system, with a year round
temperature close to 70 F degrees. Our diving suits helped keep us warm and the
diving shoes helped protect our feet from injury on the jagged calcifications as
we navigated through the underground system of caves. Most of the time we
walked, but several times the water was above our heads and we swam. Towards the
end of our adventure we had to crawl through the caves and water as the ceiling
was so very low.
Crystal clear fresh water runs through the cave which has been filtered down
from ground level. It does not smell like mold, in fact, it smells clean. No
slime or fungus or greenery of any kind grows in these caves because there is
absolutely no light. We saw a family of tiny bats high up in one cavern, there
were also many small catfish and are quite unafraid of humans, so they swim
right up to our feet to say hello.
While I expected the caves to be the color of limestone, I was quite
surprised at the dozens of different colors which covered the walls and
ceilings of the caves. Mineral drips of varying sorts create different colors on
the walls. Roots from trees and plants above ground can be seen forcing their
way into the cenote system, breaking limestone and dipping their roots twenty
feet down into the water so they are able to sip while plants in the jungle
around them might be suffering a drought.
I carefully touched one of these roots and they are so thin, so delicate; it
astounds me that the power of a single plant can rip apart rock just so it is
able to drink water. Sparkling crystals, soaring caves, and ceilings filled with
thousands of tiny formations were only the beginning of our adventure at Rio
Secreto. It was truly an impressive experience to touch nature in this special
way and I hope you can visit this natural wonder in the Riviera Maya region of
Mexico to see it for yourself.
Seeing the world from underground is an interesting experience because it
gives you a better view of the process that water really goes through. If locals
were spraying herbicides and other chemicals on the jungle above this cave, the
waters in Rio Secreto would soon be ruined from the chemicals. Many people who
live in the jungle tap into cenote waters to live, so it is important to keep
them clean and fresh.
Poisoning of aquifers and other sources of water is happening the world
over. Perhaps in your own neighborhood. Now, thanks to Rio Secreto, my family
has seen how the system really works.
Having experienced this, I can say how important it is to protect our water
systems. Please do not use chemicals on your lawns or gardens unless you
absolutely have to. These chemicals percolate through the soil and goes to a
cave or underground aquifer and can be poisoned by your careless use of
Help save our underground water systems. Each of us can make a difference and
now that I understand it is a global concern, I will certainly do my part as
well. It is as simple as trying not to use non-organic chemicals on your
property. Please try an alternative treatment first before using chemicals - you
could be saving the life of fresh water you might need to survive in the future.