Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsular is full of holes, a veritable Swiss cheese of limestone, eaten away by water, weather, wind and time. Some of the holes are big enough for a person to squeeze through, some don’t even require much squeezing and, if there’s room, you can guarantee someone will have been in to have a look around.
Caves have a peculiar hold over humans, a complex dualism of safety and danger. They offered our early ancestors a place of shelter but extended the same hospitality to bears, wolves and big cats. They have preserved our art, our writing, our artefacts and also our bones. They are places where both gods and monsters dwell, entrances to the underworld, sacred subterranean spaces where new lives can be brought forth and old ones come to an end.
It is no wonder that caves speak to us of adventure and those of the Yucatán offer a particular kind of thrill, the chance to explore underwater.
There are numerous sites to choose, dependent on ability, experience and bravery. In June 2010 we decided upon Dos Ojos, or two eyes, a two cave system linked by a network of tunnels. As beginners to cave diving we would never be more than 6 metres from open water, where access to the surface would be unrestricted. As regular divers following a pre-set line and accompanied by a guide, we were aware that the dangers had been mitigated as far as possible. In places such as this limits are to be respected and there were plenty of reminders of what awaited those who did not pay due deference.
One of the attractions of cave diving is the clarity of the water. There are no currents or waves to cause poor visibility, and all that limestone acts as a super filter of particles. Here the only culprits are divers lacking control of their buoyancy or with careless control of their fins. The water is so clear as to be a little unnerving. Whereas, in the open sea, you can expect to see 20 metres or so in excellent conditions, here, if your view is unobstructed, it can be as far as 50 or more. Depth and distance become difficult to decipher and divers can experience a sensation akin to vertigo as they hang in the stillness.
Whether you bring your own equipment, as we did (less the aeroplane unfriendly tanks and weights), or rent from your chosen dive operator, a good torch is a must have. I had wondered whether I would find the darkness oppressive but experience of diving in the murk of Scottish lochs is good training for low light and, examining the rock formations under the focused beam of the torch was oddly restive, an opportunity to calm the mind and block out the noise of the world above. An experience I would highly recommend, though perhaps not to the claustrophobic.