Cave Diving, Cave Exploration and Cave Mapping in Yucatan, Mexico
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Category — Cenote Angelita

Angelita With Allie and Resurvey at The Pit

I am in the states for a wedding, house repairs, life maintenance and CCR Hypoxic Trimix with Andrew Driver.  Before I left I had a chance to make two more dives, one at Angelita and one at The Pit.


Angelita and Deploying Lift Bags
Allie hadn’t been to Angelita and we wanted to take some pictures.  Plus, I needed to practice some of my open water skills and try out my new Liquivision X1 dive computer in advance of Hypoxic Trimix.  So we packed up the 4Runner and headed south.  The drive from Playa Del Carmen to Angelita is about 40 miles.  As you are passing through Tulum you need to stop at Don Pablo’s shack, pay him and get the key.  This was the first time Allie had to go through this process.  I think she found it very entertaining.  She told me that Don Pablo was impossible to understand, and she is fluent in Spanish.  With my limited Spanish, I agreed that I didn’t understand anything he told us.

We arrived at Angelita and it was very hot.  We were roasting.  Note to self, go north for August and September.  We geared up and walked the gear down to the water.  Allie thanked me for recommending that she dive in a single 80.  There is really no need for more then that at Angelita.  The Cenote is about 200Ft (60M) deep, however, the water below the Hydrogen Sulfide layer is really dark and creepy.  And unless you are a depth junkie, there is no reason to go below about 105FT (32M).  Most of the beauty is between 90FT (27M) and 105FT.

I was using my rebreather.  I wanted to practice making stops in open water and shooting a couple of bags.  As you can imagine, I don’t get a lot of opportunities to deploy lift bags diving in the caves.  And I think there is definitely something more challenging about doing precise stops in open water, then in the cave.  Andrew sent an email out that instructed us to be practiced in all our emergency drills and deploying the lift bag prior to class.

We did a one hour dive, I accomplished my skills with little chaos.  The only chaos for the day was when I broke the zipper on my new wetsuit.  Putting it on, I ripped one of the teeth off the zipper.  It is was a bummer, however, we found a solution and the dive was excellent!  Allie deeply enjoyed Angelita, it really is stunning.

A Shallow Cave at The Pit Needs a Resurvey

During my survey class with Steve Bogaerts, the last day was spent resurveying a shallow sidemount cave at The Pit.  The first attempt at resurveying the cave netted about 709 uncorrected feet of knotted line.  That survey was done over the course of two dives.  The cave is relatively level.  It is tight and highly decorated in some areas.  I was unable to finish the mainline survey, because the cave became too difficult for me to collect accurate data.   Steve showed his chops as he surveyed by me with relative easy.  Fortunately, I was able to complete the survey of the two branch lines.

This left with an incomplete resurvey and it has been nagging at me.  Every opportunity to dive was plagued with indecision about whether I should go back to The Pit to complete the resurvey.  Adding to the uncertainty was the fact that I hadn’t driven the Toyota 4Runner to the water’s edge yet.  On Saturday, I finally gave in and decided to attempt to complete my mission.  I packed up the truck jumped in and headed out, it wasn’t going to be a very successful day.  The first warning was that I forgot a second depth gauge.  I realized it before I got on the federal highway.  So, I headed back to the house and got the Liquivision X1.  Problem solved.  I headed out again.  This time I got on the federal highway and got down near Puerto Aventaurus when I realized I had forgotten my wet suit.  That was the second warning!  I should have quit and gone to the beach.  Instead I drove back, got the wetsuit and decided to dive any way, though only one dive.  Problems solved.

I finally reached the road to the pit and I started the tortuous drive.  I only dragged the bottom of the truck once and the running boards twice.  When I get back to Mexico, I am removing the running boards.  I think I can solve the bottom dragging with better route selection and a sledge hammer.

I suited up and got in the water.  Everything was going great.  I started the dive and the first thing I was reminded was how small this cave is.  Since I had spent so much time on the CCR, I had forgotten about tiny spaces.  We dive pretty big cave in the rebreathers.  I was a little out of practice and my sense of scale was improperly calibrated.  I really took my time returning to my last survey station.  I was enjoying the cave and relearning it.  We had identified a lead in compass after the last survey dives, so I spent some time checking it out.  I came up empty and continued on to the last survey station.

Before reaching the last survey station, I needed to negotiate two restrictions that required me to remove a tank and superman it.  The first resurvey I was able to collect data through the first restriction.  I was unable to collect through the second.  When I reached them this time, I was reminded why I had trouble.  They are both really difficult to negotiate with a tank, slate and pencil in hand.

I passed the restrictions, unclipped my survey slate and realized I had lost the pencil.  So, I reached for my 2-Zip pouch that was supposed to be clipped to my butt ring.  It wasn’t there.  I was frustrated to say the least.  I needed to turn around a look for the pouch in a really tight passage.  I elected to continue down the line to bigger passage and then come back.  I found the pouch, got my extra pencil out and got resituated.

I was finally ready to pick up my survey work.  I took one station, which was really difficult.  I was still super manning the tank and trying to manage the slate and pencil.  My hand was getting tired and I was reaching my limit.  I was reminded why I had trouble in this segment previously.  It is really difficult for this newbie surveyor.

I started to take a second station and I lost the pencil again.  I was about to give up and go home.  It floated by my face as I grasp for it.  Of course the cave was bigger here and I needed to ascend 5-6 feet in a crack to get it.  I got the pencil and continued for another couple stations.  At that point, I looked ahead at a bedding plane depicted cave with a lot of silt on the floor.  I just couldn’t fathom surveying through there without creating a real shit storm.  I abandoned my effort.  I was defeated again.  I had collected about 40-50FT of data.  I decided to disregard the new data, I was too much of a mess for it to be useful.  So, the survey work remains incomplete!  I had forgotten how much more difficult surveying is then just diving.  I need a lot of practice, especially in challenging cave.

I exited slowly and enjoyed the cave.  I felt defeated and bummed.  I felt like my performance was crap.  And to be honest, it was labored at best.  I should have called the dive when I forgot the wet suit.  I just didn’t see it as a warning.  I saw it as being forgetful.  Later that day I was admonished by Patrick, I should have bagged it earlier in the day.  I guess exploration fever had me.  When I get back to Mexico in a couple of weeks, I look forward to giving it another shot, after I do a handful of tight sidemount dives.

On the bright side, I spent about 30 minutes swimming around the cavern zone of The Pit.  I was there all alone and I was overwhelmed with the beauty.  It is one of those places that make me feel really really small.  The space is so huge it is indescribable.  A real natural wonder and it draws me.  I think it is one of my favorite places on earth right now.  It is on par with Moab, UT or the Tetons in Wyoming.

I am going off line for a couple of days.  I have a wedding and a Hypoxic Trimix class to tend too.  Wish me luck!

September 5, 2008   4 Comments

Don Pablo and the Nota de Permiso: Dive 426

I wanted to dive Cenote Angelita since I learned about it a couple of years ago.  Each time I would visit Mexico, I would get talked out of going by the people I was with.  The logistics of going to Cenote Angelita are comparatively challenging.  And I know the locals/guides, have gone a million times and find it a bore.  So, when I found a poor sot that was willing and wanted to go, I was super stoked.  Olly is a buddy of mine who was a local open water instructor and has now gone back to England.  He had Cenote Angelita and Gran Cenote on his bucket list.  So we scheduled them for a sunny Sunday.

As soon as I knew I was going, I had to tap into the network and find out the details.  I learned from a good friend, Pietro of Karst Diving, that Cenote Angelita is 17KM out of Tulum and you have to visit Don Pablo in Tulum to pay your respects and fees, collect the key and get a Nota de Permiso.  Now I was starting to see why the logistics might be challenging.  As you may know, I don’t speak much Spanish and I didn’t know where the Don lives.  To find Don Pablo, Pietro drew me a map of the south end of Tulum.  I was looking for a Mayan style house across the street from a furniture store and around the corner from a church.  The map was beautifully illustrated in a Word document.  Pietro gave me rough verbal directions to the Cenote.  Luckily, they only included one road and two sweeping turns to the left.  With the directions firmly in hand, I figured things would go somewhat smoothly, Olly speaks Spanish.  He passed the test to get his FM3 visa, right?

Sunday morning dawned and as a precaution, I asked Allie to translate a couple of phrases for me:

  • Querria la llave para Angelito?
  • Puedo tener una nota de permiso para entra?

I wanted to make sure I could communicate to the Don what I wanted.  I figured those two questions would get me as far as I needed to go.  The only problem would be if the Don decided to answer with anything other then, “Si!”.

Olly and I drove all over Playa to pick up his assorted pieces of gear.  Just as I was about to pull out of Playacar to head south, I realized the map, my tables and translations were missing.  We looked in the car for a couple of minutes then went back to my place to get them.  They were on my desk in the last place I looked for them.

Security at Angelita is questionable at best.  I was instructed to remove EVERYTHING from the car and just leave it open.  If I didn’t leave it open, it would be opened by force.  When we arrived in Tulum, we stopped by Xibalba, and left the last couple of extra items like our tool box, cell phones and wallets.  Thanks Robbie and crew!  We drove through Tulum looking for the Don.  When we were on the prescribed block, the directions turned out to not be as precise as I hoped.   Olly asked some locals where the Don lived.

When we found him, he was sitting at his table with a compadre and two 40oz bottles Sol beer.  It turns out there was a mob of OW divers at Angelita the day before, and the Don was kicking back celebrating.  The Don was sufficiently drunk and almost unintelligible.  We asked for the key and he tried to tell us, “Tienen llave”.  Of course, neither Olly nor I could make out what he was saying for the first 15 tries.  He then asked who the Guia was, and I responded in the affirmative.  He put his hand out and I handed him some money.  He took the money and never offered us the proper change.  He just pocketed it and then took 15 minutes to write a very deliberate 7 word Nota de Permiso.  Olly and I just stared at each other patiently, trying to not laugh.  Neither of us were brave enough to challenge the Don with our Spanish.  Once we had the note in hand, we bid farewell and abandoned any hope of recovering change.  We were just excited to have the sliver of white paper with his signature.

The Cenote entrance was exactly where it was supposed to be.  We handed the note through the gate to the land manager.  He stared at us for a minute and then opened the gates.  We were finally there!

Cenote Angelita is a 5-10 minute walk into the jungle.  Once you are at the water’s edge, you need to scramble down a muddy root covered slope to the water.  This can be a challenge with a couple of bottles.  You can giant stride into the water.  Exiting you have to use a rope that has been there for the last 10 years and pull yourself out.  No easy feat after spending a bunch of time at the bottom. Remember, DON’T DROP ANYTHING!  It will go to the bottom, some 180 plus feet below.

Olly and I geared up and in the process ran into Marcia, he was teaching Advanced Nitrox and Deco Procedures, he pointed out the four foot crocodile sitting on the broken surfboard sunning itself.  We entered the water and did a lovely 181ffw dive.  The Hydrogen Sulfide cloud is very cool!  It was a little broken up because of all the divers in the water earlier in the day but a thrill none-the-less.  The dive went according to plan and during deco we toured the entire Cenote.  Angelita was worth all the work.  However, when I go back, I am going to go earlier in the day.  I would like to get to the cloud before it is disturbed by divers.

With Angelita in the bag we returned to the car to find everything safely intact.  The couple of Pesos I left in the console as an offering were still there.  On our way out, the gatekeeper requested a ride back to Tulum, which we obliged.  The rest of the day was filled with eating half a chicken each at Pollo Bronco and then a very nice cavern tour at Gran Cenote.

All and all, it was a lovely day with a very good friend.  We will all miss you Olly.  Hopefully, you will come back soon.

June 3, 2008   2 Comments