Akumal Trip Report, November 2003
All pictures are hyperlinks. Click on any picture to see a larger version.
A group of 16 divers from Olympia, Washington, followed Capital Divers owner Craig Brown down to Akumal Mexico to dive the Caves of the Riviera Maya. Many of the group had been there before, but this was the first time for the 6 of us that completed our Cavern Course in Akumal.
The flights from Seattle to Houston and then to Cancun went smoothly. We bumped in to one of my old neighbors at the airport, and again sitting next to us on the plane, and sure enough several times once we arrived in Akumal. It really is a small world. The only real hassle we had on our way down was with National Car Rental. The large 8 passenger Vans they had promised were missing, and they pawned a smaller, more costly Suburban off on us. It took us a good 2 hours to get the vehicles sorted out ( get the back seats removed ) and we finally headed south.
Renting large 8 passenger vans works great for hauling divers and all of their gear, but is quite expensive in Cancun. Be sure to shop around. We saw many dead rental cars along the road during our stay here.
We arrived in Akumal late in the evening, and found our rooms at the La Joya condominiums open and waiting for us. Our group had 5 of the 6 Condo units, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves, and it was very clean and comfortable. This small, private condo is right on Half Moon Bay, with great snorkeling, good air conditioning and plenty of bottled water. I slept like a baby every night. When we eventually met the couple that had rented the remaining condominium, it turned out they were from Vashon Island ( that small world thing again ).
Akumal is just across the channel from Cozumel, so the climate is very similar. Its not supposed to rain much, but of course it does. It rained most of the days we were there, but it really doesn't matter much when you are diving underground. The rain is warm and pleasant, and sort of reminds the Pacific Northwest crowd of home. This did cause some of the tannin to leach into the entrance to the cenotes, which made the surface water look green or brown, but once you were below the surface layer, the water was crystal clear. The days were very warm, and the nights were pleasant. It sure beats winter back home.
The restaurants around Akumal are wonderful. Our favorite was the Italian restaurant at the end of the Akumal Beach Road North ( called Que Onda ), the food was inexpensive, and outstanding. For inexpensive lunches, the cafe at the Cho Mak ( grocery store ) served great Mexican dishes ( where the locals eat ). For a quiet evening, with tables right on the beach, La Lunita is hard to beat. The best Margaritas were served at the La Cueva Del Pescador Restaraunt ( you can't miss it, right in the middle of town). I should add that no one in our group of 16 had any trouble with the food. We ate salads almost every night with dinner and many other foods that many would consider "dangerous" for el tourista. We just followed our doctor's advise of a Pepto a day, drank lots of purified water and had no trouble.
We also ventured into Playa del Carmen and Puerto Aventuras a couple of evenings for dinner. There are a lot of restaurants at both locations, and the girls really enjoyed the shopping there, but the food was better in Akumal, and there are far fewer tourists. For those of you that like to party till dawn, Playa has plenty of action.
The Dive Operation
Class started on Sunday, with both the Cavern and Cave classes heading off to Cenote Eden ( Ponderosa ) for our reel work on land, and the start of our open water work. The Cavern class met Rogelio ( our private instructor ) and the cave class hooked up with their Pro Tec instructors. We spent half the day learning touch signals, line protocols, etc. on land and then went over our equipment. I think the biggest excitement of the day was the large Mexican Tarantula that seemed fond of the lines we were running around the trees. Once in the water, we went through equipment matching and learned to do bubble checks and S-drills for each and every dive. We practiced following the guidelines in the open water and many other drills.
On day Two, we started the day as we would each remaining day, with an early visit to the Akumal Dive Center to pick up a dozen or so tanks. They had made us a good deal on tank rentals and fills (half price for everything we used ). We returned to Ponderosa Cenote (now called Eden), and once again did Open water drills. This time we were following guidelines with our eyes closed, with no Mask, and while air sharing ( blind ), etc. It was challenging and great fun! Air sharing while following a guideline ( blind ) makes you really appreciate donating a long hose to the out-of-air diver. We saw a couple of divers try this drill with a standard ( short hose ) length Octopus, and while being very entertaining, it just didn't work very well. Late in the afternoon, we finally made our first dive into the Cenote, running a primary line from the open water to the permanent Cavern Line.
On day Three, we drove down to Car Wash Cenote ( named after the taxi's that used to wash their cars here ). The Cenote is green on the top from the Tannin in the water, but clear below. There is no permanent guideline in Car Wash, so we ran a Primary line in ( all the way to the Stop sign ), and practiced running and retrieving lines. For our second dive, we ran in past the stop sign, and did our lost-line drills, which were very entertaining. The instructor would take us about 40' or 50' off the line, turn off all the lights, and then you had to find the line! It's easy to get disoriented in the dark, but you use your safety reel and eventually you'll find the line ( and the way back out ).
On day Four, we had finished all of the drills, and went for a fun dive in Dos Ojos, which is the stunningly beautiful Cavern that was used in the IMAX films ( Journey into Amazing Caves ). I was finally allowed to take my camera in with me, and I found it quite challenging to manage the camera, my buoyancy, adjust the strobes, f-stops and shutter speeds, focus and frame the camera all while maintaining perfect trim and fin technique so I wouldn't stir up the silt. I did manage to get a few beautiful photos, and thought Dos Ojos was the most beautiful Cavern we visited during our trip. A gallery of thumbnail pictures can be found here or you can click through a slide show. Late in the afternoon, we finished our classroom work, passed our test, and became certified Cavern Divers!
On day Five, we took a break and went Ocean diving with Akumal Dive Center. We saw lots of turtles, including several greens, and a huge leatherback. We saw the usual tropical fish, but after two dives, decided that we liked the Cenotes better and headed back into the caverns the next day.
On day Six, we attempted to return to Dos Ojos, (without our instructor) but the road was closed, so we headed north and did two dives in Chac-Mool Cenote. Chac-Mool was darker, with a strong Halocline and was actually pretty crowded. However, we were getting good experience as this was our first Cavern dive on our own. Everyone did a great job, even though we were accosted by 2 different Cavern Guides ( leading large bunches of roto-tillers into the caverns).
On day Seven we joined back up with the Cavers, and made two dives at Gran Cenote. This is another beautiful Cavern that rivals Dos Ojos. The limestone is bright and white, which made for some great photos. As an experiment, I strapped my spare strobe ( set in slave mode ) onto Janet's Tank, but it came loose and wound up pointing straight at the camera every time it went off. Oops! So much for that bright idea (no pun intended).
On day Eight, we headed back to Dos Ojos, and arrived early enough to dive the Cenote all by ourselves. We managed an hour-long dive on the main-line, and then made a second dive into the Bat Cave, which was a little more challenging, but very fun.
For our last day of diving, we met up again with our excellent Cavern Instructor ( Rogelio Mier-Ortega ). We made our last dive of the trip in Taj Mahal, which is darker like Chac-Mool, with a healthy Halocline, but is very beautiful. We surfaced several times, including in the "dome room" to check out the bats, the formations and the trees that had fallen into the cavern.
We had a blast diving the crystal clear waters of Mexico's cenotes, and it was amazing to watch how much our diving skills improved over the course of the Nine days we were diving. By the end of the week, we all had perfect trim and fin technique down. It will be fun to see if we can manage the same thing in the Cold, dark waters of the Pacific Northwest!
If you are interested in NACD Cavern Certification, I highly recommend Rogelio as an Instructor. He was amazingly patient with us, and made sure we learned the correct way to do things safely, with no short cuts. He spent 4 days training with us, instead of the usual 2 days. I'll be happy to send you his email address if you drop me a note. We also used the new NSS/CDS workbook for our class, which is excellent. It covers the material for Caverns, Intro to Cave and full Cave. The cavers in our group were borrowing our Workbook in order to answer the questions on their tests! If you are interested in Cave Diving certification, we had very good instruction from Pro Tec and plan on returning for more instruction with them next year.
Dive Log Excerpts
Dive #1: Eden Cenote Our first Cavern Dive. 400' penetration, 35 minute dive. Ran primary reel.
Dive #2: Car Wash Line drills to STOP sign. No permanent lines this site. Green water. 60' deep at bottom of cavern.
Dive #3: Car Wash Lost Line drills past the STOP sign. It's dark in here when you turn all the lights off!
Dive #4: Dos Ojos First dive with new Camera. Last dive with Cavern class. Very challenging to take pictures in a dark cavern. Nikonos strobe not functioning ( corrosion on battery contact ). 58 minute dive with a max depth of 24'.
Dive #6: Chac-Mool First dive without a guide or instructor. Rather crowded. Dark Cavern with very distinct Halocline. Salt water very warm compared with fresh water. Accosted by Marika during surface interval ( she thought I was guiding the rest of my team ).
Dive #7: Chac-Mool Back through the Haloclines, which are very cool. Max depth 40'.
Dive #8: Gran Cenote Beautiful white limestone caverns. Dragged my Camera along, both strobes working for some great photos. 52 minute dive, max depth 30'. Loco Marika drags Cathy out of the water and lectures her while ignoring her own roto-tillers.
Dive #9: Gran Cenote Amazingly beautiful Cavern.
Dive #10: Dos Ojos The road into this place is REALLY bad. Janet and I had the cenote completely to ourselves! 60 minute dive on the main line.
Dive #11: Dos Ojos Second dive into the Bat Cave ( the left line ). Much tighter and more challenging dive. 47 minutes, 29'.
Dive #12: Taj Mahal Focusing ring came loose on the Camera, so the pictures are blurry. Amazing cavern, but lots of up and down. Big Halocline area. 48 minutes, 45' depth.
Note: 2 Ocean and 4 open water Cenote dives not shown.