When my alarm went off at 4:30 in the morning, I was already on my feet and ready for this new adverture. In less than 5 minutes, my brother Angel and I had warmed up my old truck, which we had already loaded the day before with everything necessary to explore underground rivers. First, we picked up Armando “never let you down” Gasse, who was waiting outside his house and after completing the group, we went to pick up the enthusiastic Pablo Simon. We all looked a little nervous and excited because we already knew beforehand that this would be a very special adventure, as well as being long-awaited, because it was the date we had agreed to go and explore the sacred cenote of Kantemo.
From our last visit to the cave of the hanging serpents, where the daring Armando put on his visor for a short dive in the waters of the cenote and when he emerged the told me what he had seen, we suggested another trip to go and see what we could see. The date was kept and now under a bright red sun we found ourselves heading south on the highway. Passing by Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen, we arrived at the town of Tulum very early before the inquisitive tourists got up to visit the archeological zones of the area. We followed our journey to the heart of the Mayan area, where again we were awaited by Arturo Bayona, who was one of explorers who discovered the cave of the hanging serpents and has been an important driver for the ecotourism projects that are so needed in the area. Once all together we took the road to the town of José María Morelos, where we bought water and something to eat as we knew it would be a long day.
We arrived at the small Mayan community of Kantemo at around 10:30 a.m., where our guides were waiting for us, who Arturo affectionately calls “his gang”. After a short talk to agree among ourselves and obtaining the necessary permits, we began the final part of our journey through a breach, among exuberant vegetation and endless birdsong wishing us the best of luck.
When we arrived in the cave, the sun was directly in front of us. We took a short time to prepare our diving, photography and underwater video equipment, as well as agreeing our plan of action. Armando and I would be the first to enter the cenote, while my brother Ángel and Pablo would be in charge of safety on the surface with their equipment ready for any eventuality.
Armando and I submerged into the cenote slowly and carefully because we knew that the type of bed is muddy and the water may easily be disturbed. We secured our lifelines, switched on our lights and broke the surface of the water. We began our descent full of nerves although the clarity of the waters had a calming influence. The first thing that caught my attention was a totally white water anops, which seemed to me to be blind and swam in no particular direction. From that moment all my fears fizzled away like bubbles and I concentrated on my video camera to try and film everything that surrounded me. Right behind the anops, we saw a beautiful and similar shrimp. We had barely been in the water for five minutes and my videocassette had registered five minutes of recording; what we were seeing was incredible. We went another 15 meters deeper and the water continued to be incredibly clear. Armando caught my attention to show me a rare fish, again very white and blind, which the locals call the “white lady”.
But the best was about to begin, because going down to 19 meters in total darkness and going around a stone, we found a large amount of pieces of Mayan jars. Some were large like pots, others were smaller but they all showed off very pleasant colors. With excitement almost bordering on fanaticism, we set about photographing and filming our discovery. We didn’t want to touch anything because we knew we were in a sacred place and that we would have to leave the research to the experts in the field to determine their age and how they arrived at these hidden nooks of the underwater world.
The air in our tanks started to run out. In our euphoria we had kicked the water around and the bed has become very murky leaving us with very poor visibility. Now it was time to return to the surface. We began to follow a lifeline which was our contact with the surface. Being careful about our air reserves, as well as the speed of ascent, we were delighted with our discovery. We arrived to where my brother Angel and my dear Pablo were waiting with their lanterns lighting up a small white blind eel, which didn’t even notice when it became part of my image bank.
As our heads broke the surface, our companions on land as excitedly what we had found while Armando and I remained in deep and respectful silence for the greatness of the ancient Mayan civilization when we returned on the truck we all felt proud and pleased to have been the first to have dived and explored the cenote of the cave of the hanging serpents of Kantemo.
Text: Alberto Friscione Carrascosa ± Photo: Armando Gasse.