Friday, February 17, 2017

Nurse the Hate: Hate Cenotes

“Greg my friend… It is Alvaro…  Listen my friend… I have hurt my shoulder.  It is immobilized.  I cannot dive with you tomorrow.  I feel terrible about that.  But I have set something up for you with someone I know so you can dive.  His name is Gerry.  I feel terrible about it.  But at least you can go.  Ok.  Goodbye my friend.”  Click.

With that I learned I would be going to diving with some strangers.  Normally this would have made me uptight, but I was feeling pretty zen about it.  It’s Mexico after all, and if things aren’t sort of fucked up then they aren’t really authentic.  The key to enjoying yourself in the Third World is to give in to the culture.  They have their own way of doing things.  Oh, the elevator is broken so this little kid is going to haul that heavy shit up four floors in a bucket with a string on the handle?  Hmm.  OK.  Sounds good.  How old is he?  11?  Hmm.  OK.  That’s fine.

I went to the small scuba shop on a sleepy side street.  Young boys in official employee polo shirts and rubber sandals gawked at the young women walking to work.  “Hey, is Gerry here?”  No Senor.  They gave no indication that the had any idea of even potentially knowing Gerry.  A small brown girl in tight jeans walked by as they both turned their heads to look at her ass.  “Alvaro sent me?”  Alvaro Senor?  Another small man in glasses emerged from the office.  “Are you Gerry?”  No senor.  “I’m supposed to go diving with some guy named Gerry?”  He stared at me for a moment and then dug into a manila folder.  Yes.  Yes.  OK… but senor?  It is very important that you do not tell the other people on the dive how little you pay.  Special price.

I have been to Mexico a dozen times or more.  There have been zero (0) occasions when I have not paid “a special price”.  This is just like how every single person you know that has purchased a car got “a great deal” on it.  You know you are getting screwed, you just don’t know how badly.  However, when you get screwed in a Mexican tourist town you are out $3 not $300 like in the States.  I settled back into the plastic chair to fill out a form comforted by the fact I would be paying this man a “special price” to dive with him.  What a day.  I was, in my own small way, making America great once again. 

OK Senor, Cheena will be here in a moment and he will take you.  “Cheena?”  Yes, like “China” the country but sounds like “Cheena”.  As if on cue a small middle aged man with gold teeth walked into the shop.  He moved quickly, almost harried as he gathered gear.   He had the leathery limber strength of a man that has spent a life working outside.  “OK my friend… You have gear?  No?  OK..  Try this on…  No, this one!  OK…  You OK with deep dive?”  How deep?  “Eh?  120 feet?”  Yeah I guess.  “OK”  Hey, where are we going?  “Cenote”  Is that off Cozumel?  He looks at me with an incredulous look.  “Cenote!”  OK.  Whatever.

One of the things to know about diving sites is they are all named.  Usually they have these great adventure sounding names.  “The Devil’s Throat” is a favorite.  What better to swagger around in a beach side bar than to say “Yeah, so we drop down into the Devil’s Throat and the fucking current is ripping.”?  The fact it is a small swim through with a bunch of pretty little fish isn’t really something people need to know.  It could just as easily have been called “Butterfly Daydream”.  It’s hard to embrace that skull and crossbones sea mythology when you are dropping into “Butterfly Daydream” though.  In Mexico it might not surprise you to learn that most of these sites have Spanish names.  I have recently learned that the official language of Mexico is Spanish, hence the proliferation of Spanish terms.  Since my Spanish is essentially limited to two words (Cerveza and banos), if you tell me we are going to “Bolones de Chankanaab” or “Cinotes”, it’s all the same to me.  I don’t know where the fuck we are going.

The people I am diving with turn out to be two very attractive Swiss girls and one of their boyfriends, who is of course athletic and handsome.  They are very Swiss.  By this I mean they have that confidence of growing up Swiss, where everything is beautiful, works precisely according to plan and there is more than enough money to do whatever you want.  They are probably better at everything than I am.  They are all proficient in a number of different languages, are well traveled, and knowledgeable in every topic that crops up on the eternal car ride to “Cenotes”.  One of the girls is an orthopedic surgeon.  Of course she is.  The guy is finishing out medical school.  They all have a sense of humor, which is rare in Switzerland.  They’re really fun.  We get along quite well despite me being this weird American fourth wheel.

We make a right turn down a dirt road into the jungle.  There is no ocean in sight.  The drive down the hot dusty road is ten minutes or more.  We finally stop in a circular crude parking area where about six trucks have people in various stages of putting on/taking off dive gear.  This is when I learn a “cenote” is a sink hole in the earth where underground caverns run though limestone.  I will be climbing down a rickety ladder in full dive gear, jumping into a hole in the jungle and swimming into a cave that is 400 feet deep.  Hmm.  OK.  This looks pretty fucked up and well beyond my meager skills, but why let the possibility of death stop me?  The drive was pretty long, so I might as well jump into a cave with four strangers and drop down into a tight passage 120 feet under the water.  Besides, I don’t want to look like a pussy in front of the Swiss girls.

There is no way in hell any American insurance company would allow this to happen.  The staircase down the rockface to the pit is closer to a ladder.  That alone would have some State Farm guy in cardiac arrest.  Forget the fact that I’m wearing a scuba tank, in a wet suit, holding swim fins, and in flip flops with someone ahead and behind of me while descending this wet ladder.  It’s an excellent place to break multiple bones.  I get to the bottom, get my fins on, and jump in the pit.  It’s cold fresh water.  We descend into the pit.  The water is crystal clear, unlike anything I have ever seen really.  It’s the clearest pool in the world.  At one point the fresh and salt water mix and it creates a cloudy visual.  We drop below that to an entrance of an offshoot cave.  Flashlights on.  The natural light has disappeared. 

I am not normally claustrophobic.  Allow me to be honest.  I will freely admit that after six minutes of swimming further and further into the darkness and banging my tank on the cave ceiling, it was starting to work on my mind.   Silt made the visibility diminish.  Clank.  It’s getting tight.  Depth 126 feet.  I’m having buoyancy issues.  I am 100% in over my head on this dive.  OK, I am ready to start working towards the surface.  Don’t freak out.  Anyone seen the sun lately?  There’s no visible way out, but don’t freak.  I scanned in front of me with the flashlight.  Yes, your air is getting a bit low, but I’m sure this man you met an hour ago named Cheena with the gold teeth has everything worked out to the smallest detail.  Sure, he never asked you about your experience, but they wouldn’t just let some asshole jump down into an underwater cave would they?    

Finally natural light.  We emerge from the deep cavern.  We have to ascend in slow circles to decompress.  The dive, despite otherworldly beauty at times, wasn’t so much a pleasure as an endurance test.  Had I been an English frogman in WWII, the dive master ranking officer with a walrus mustache would have said “Let’s test your mettle a bit, eh Old Bean?”.  My mettle was tested.  We climbed the dangerous ladder back out of the hole, took of our tanks at the truck, and drove to another hole in the jungle.

We had some surface time to kill before jumping into the next spot.  I resolved to do a better job this time with my technique.  I absolutely detest not being as good at something as those around me.  The Swiss divers looked like fucking water fairies.  Meanwhile I felt like one of those primitive Civil War submarines.  Sonofabitch.  This next spot was a lengthy run through caverns.  Though only 15 feet in depth, they were totally submerged without any air pockets.  Freaking out means you probably die.  There was a nylon rope strung along the recommended path.  As the caverns stretch out in multiple directions, it would be very easy to swim off down a corridor and get lost.  Cheena gathered us for a pre-dive plan.  “OK, we will go in the order we stand here, OK?  Greg?  You take up the back?”  Sure.  Let me stay back here and make sure everyone else is OK.  Got it. 

It was probably about 20 minutes in when I got caught up swimming through a tight passage.  I was stuck.  In front of me the rest of the group moved ahead, took a left and dropped out of sight.  I waved my flashlight behind me to see what the hell I could be snagged on.  Nothing.  I swam forward.  Something held me back again.  I reached around my tanks feeling for something hanging onto the gear.  Nothing.  What the hell?  This was the time I reminded myself “Hey man, if you freak out right now, you’re done.”  I backed up again.  This is when I noticed my air gauge had somehow caught on the yellow nylon guide rope.  By my swimming forward I had now knocked the gauge out of alignment and was leaking air.  Hmm.  That’s not good considering I am alone and have no idea the quickest way to the surface.  In a restaurant I would have raised a finger and said “Waiter?”.  I untangled the line and swam ahead to try and catch Cheena.  Where the hell are they?  If there is one thing a leathery Mexican guy with gold teeth can do, it’s probably fix a fucked up diving gauge.

The Swiss who had been effortlessly sliding through the skinny rock openings with their perfectly toned bodies noted me passing them with some surprise.  I caught up the Cheena and pointed to my hose leaking air.  Had I been able to I would have said “Dude, I am not real handy, so if I try to do something here I will either fix it in a half assed fashion or knock it off completely and drown.  Can you give a brother a hand?”.  I think he must have recognized that in my pointing to the bubbling hose because he fixed it pretty quickly.  He then made the “OK?” sign and I gave one back.  Good times.  I clanked my way around the underwater tunnels until we returned to the original hole.  It was really beautiful with stalactites throughout.  It’s like swimming through a James Cameron movie set.  That said, it’s as David Foster Wallace once noted “a supposedly fun thing that I will never do again”.                 


At February 21, 2017 at 7:03:00 AM EST , Blogger Frank said...



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