Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

February 17, 2008

Tinum...Searching For Cenotes

After living in this strange world for a while, it gets more familiar, yet still remains alien. The landscape is just part of the strangeness. There are no rivers here, no lakes, no mountains, no hills, just flat, dense undergrowth as far as we can ever see. The true rainforest is farther south, so this is just a dry scrub forest, and the canopy never gets much higher than a two- or three-story house. There are only two seasons, wet and dry. In the spring, it gets dryer and dryer, until the humidity builds up so much in late May that it starts raining every afternoon. So begins the wet season, which lasts until about October. We come for the dry season because it is easy to ride bicycles and do laundry, etc, in dry sunshine. But the fact remains that it is hot, and there aren't very many places to cool off except the beaches 100 miles to the East.

The only exemptions are the natural sinkholes, many of which are still buried in the midst of untamed forest. There are notable exeptions, like the one at the ruins of Chichen Itza, or the one we always swim in, in the middle of the nearby city of Valladolid. But there are literally thousands of cenotes (say-noh-tays) in the Yucatan Peninsula, and most of them are only known by the farmers who plant their fields nearby. We know of five located around Tinum, and it is always an adventure to try and find them again on the ever-changing forest trails, and even more of an adventure to reach the water and swim in them.

The water table is located 75 feel below the surface, and most cenotes have sheer cliffs straight down to the water. The only way in or out of those would be to rappel down and climb out. Fortunately, three of the four we knew of had small paths leading down to the water...if we could find the cenotes. We set off on our bikes with vague directions and a sense that we had been there before. Four miles down the highway; we turned off on a dirt path for another two miles, and then we started checking every path. Many of them dead-ended in beehives or small fields, but no cenotes. Finally we found one small cenote, down a path so narrow that branches brushed us on both sides. After sweating through 15 miles of dead-end trails, we were good and hot, and needed a swim. A steep path descended on one side, and we used roots and trees to keep from falling down to the water level. At the bottom, there was a tiny ledge to hold our shoes, and then a plunge into leaf covered crystal-clear water that hadn't seen a visitor for probably years. We could see the bottom far below us, and the sheer limestone cliffs surrounded us, and it was a tiny private paradise all our own.

And finally on another day with better directions, we found the big cenote, which became our oasis to escape the heat several times a week. And then during our time here, more just kept popping up, in nearby towns and cities and on the forest trails. But one was possibly the best one of all. It seems to be just another impenetrebly deep hole with steep cliffs. Yet when we walked about 500 feet away, we found a tiny cave that opened up into a small cavern with about an 8 foot drop into it. A decrepit ladder helped us down, and from there with our headlamps, we worked our way through narrow passageways lined with stalagtites and hanging bats. When the ceiling dropped, we duck-walked under it a few meters, until finally we could see natural light ahead of us. With luck, the cave opened up right at water level, and this was truly an undiscovered paradise.


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