Nat Geo and Bizarre Cenote Connections
Updated: Jul 8, 2020
When you are getting ready to do some research and the Universe conspires to help you, you follow the bread crumb trail...no matter where it might lead!
A few weeks ago, I submitted an application to National Geographic for a grant to do some research on Maya Mysteries. I really have no idea if I will receive the grant, but the research is already taking on a life of its own. It is almost as if there are secrets that WANT to be uncovered, as if the secrets themselves are leaving clues so I can find them.
On my application, I needed to include someone local to this area (I am in the Riviera Maya in Mexico). The local team member would serve as a local liaison to help us more deeply connect with local culture and help us navigate the jungles of the Yucatan. Since some of the stories (check out Sebriano and The Dragon here ) I want to track down take place in cenotes, I immediately thought of my friend Noe who is local, speaks great English so he can help me with translations, and is an accomplished cave diver. He is currently mapping unexplored cenotes, which I think is incredibly exciting. (PHOTO: Left to Right. Nick, Noe and Joanna)
Recently, Noe and my friend Joanna explored a 150 ft deep cenote called Maravilla on private land close to Puerto Morelos. The photos they came back with are breathtaking. Here is one of Joanna ascending into the light.
NOTE: For those of you who don't know, a cenote is a natural opening to the vast water-filled cave system that lies beneath the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. The caves are sacred to the Maya people and are considered to be the entrance to Xibalba, the Maya underworld...sort of a path to the afterlife. Sacrificial items including jade, gold, obsidian, weapons, tools, pottery, and even human remains have been found in the cenotes, including over 3,000 skeletons in one cenote alone!
I have been interested in the cenotes and their stories for years. Long before I ever set foot in Mexico I dreamed about what secrets the water-filled tunnels might hold. In 1987, Michael Madden of CEDAM International Dive Center established the CEDAM Cave Diving Team to focus on underwater cave exploration on the Yucatan. I remember seeing the photos in the National Geographic Magazine of the surreal stalactites and stalagmites in crystal clear water. Breathtaking! Even then, I felt drawn to this mystical cave system and I wondered what it must have been like for Michael and his team to explore the unknown reaches beneath the Yucatan.
So..... Noe came over one afternoon to talk about the research we planned to do. We chatted for a while, including talking about some of the mysteries of the cenotes. One thing led to another and soon Noe was telling me that he knew Michael Madden personally, was friends with his son, also named Michael Madden, and had seen the original hand-drawn maps of the cave system!
I sat there stunned.
It had to be some sort of sign. How could I be sitting in my living room chatting with a personal friend of the guy who first brought my attention to the cenotes all those years ago? The Universe was definitely up to something.
And it gets even deeper.....
Noe told me some very interesting things about cenote exploration as we sat and talked, including the fact that a team of divers recently found the connection between two of the longest flooded cave systems on earth, Dos Ojos and Sac Actun. The result being that System Sac Actun is now considered the longest underwater cave system on the planet with a length of over 215 miles or 350 kilometers!
You can check it out in video on the National Geographic website here.
Fast forward a couple of days and I am sitting in a bar/restaurant in the beach side town of Puerto Aventuras chilling out and meeting new people. (I think you might know where this is going.) Well, a woman sits down beside me and we start chatting. She tells me that she and her husband came back to Mexico after a year in The States because he wanted to do some cave diving. I asked her if she means cavern diving or real cave diving. Of course, she means real cave diving. I'm interested.
My heart started pounding just a tiny bit faster as her husband came in and sat down next to us. He is tall and blonde and looks like a typical California surfer. He orders french fries and something else to eat that I don't even notice because she is unloading information that has me on the edge of my seat. She talks about laying mapping lines and excursions deep into the humid jungle. She mentions divers quitting because the conditions are too difficult, too hot, too remote. I can hardly believe where this conversation seems to be going. And then she says, "something, something, something, when they connected the systems." I have zero recollection of the something something something part because my jaw was too busy hitting the floor when the word "connecting" came out of her mouth.
Was it even possible?
YES! The man I am sitting next to at a little beach bar is one of the two guys who finally connected the caves!
Well, I don't know where this trail will lead. I don't know if I will get the grant from National Geographic. But I DO know that I am on to something. And I can't wait to see where the next bread crumb falls!
Venturing into the unknown,