The warm dark water was refreshing. Little black fish darted around my legs as I swam out to the center of the pool. I looked up to see fifty- foot long, string-like tree roots hanging down in a kind of see through curtain. Colorful birds darted through that curtain and soared up to find their nests. High overhead were strangely formed stalactites. One of them looked like a wasp’s nest, papery grey and pock marked. Light streamed in from above, glancing off the mossy rock walls. Ferns and leafy, flowering plants grew from crevices in the stones.
On a trip to Cancun I had the opportunity to test the waters of a Mexican cenote. There are over 3000 cenotes in Mexico’s Yucatan province. Divers and visitors have explored only a tenth of them. Many remain hidden in the jungle. Cenotes are fresh water underground caves or sink holes. The ground in the northern part of the Yucatan tends to be gravelly and permeable allowing rainwater to filter through it and form caverns. These natural reservoirs can become very deep before they hit a layer of rock that prevents the water from filtering further down. The water in cenotes is turquoise and usually a pleasant 78 degrees. The cenote we swam in was quite small but some are thousands of meters in length and can be connected to other cenotes through underwater passageways.The ancient Mayans thought the cenotes were sacred because they were their only source of fresh water. The cenotes were considered the home of Chac the Mayan god of rain. Skulls wedged between rocks in many cenotes have led archeologists to believe that human sacrifices were made to Chac in the cenotes. I was a little scared my husband might become one of those human sacrifices.
He decided to climb up the steep stone steps on one side of the cenote and jump from this precarious position landing way down in the waters below. He survived the steep plummet however and enjoyed it enough to try it several times. Luckily he did not suffer the fate of the Mayan sacrificial victims who were thrown into the cenote’s waters and were never seen again.
The cenote we swam in was near the ruins of the Mayan city of Chichen Itza. The layer of limestone rock on its surface had caved in allowing light to filter through and create lovely rainbows and shadows. We visited in the late afternoon so there weren’t that many other swimmers around. At one point I had the water of the pool all to myself. Swimming through the sun lit tree roots I got an eerie sort of feeling imagining all the people who had visited this same subterranean cave over the last two thousand years.
At some of the spas in the high-end resorts in Cancun they pour water from a cenote over your body. It is said the water is sacred and will bring peace and healing. At other spas they take mud and moss collected from a cenote and put it on your skin. Apparently it keeps you looking youthful. These special cenote treatments can cost over $100. Luckily I got to use the cenote’s waters for free. A yoga expert who offers tours of the Yucatan takes her devotees to a cenote to swim. She says swimming in a cenote can make you wiser and give you a longer life. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see whether my cenote experience has that kind of magical impact on me.
Other posts about Mexico……