It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Back to Cold (Clear) Water

After a week of cave diving in Mexico, it was time to get back to local diving.  We were on a tech boat on Sunday, which conveniently left time for me to retrieve my drysuit and new undergarment from AWS on Saturday.  I had left my drysuit before we left for Mexico, since it needed to go back to DUI, and I thought two and a half weeks should be enough.  Turns out I was wrong... I called AWS to check on the suit on Saturday and it had not come in yet.  This was quite a bummer, since the suit I took to Mexico was leaking in like 5 different places.  Anyhoo, I decided it wasn't worth the drive down there to get my new undergarment, which I would of course regret later :P  Rob talked to Jim on Saturday afternoon.  He said it was really windy, was supposed to stay really windy through Sunday, but that the viz in Carmel was epic, so we had to try.  Indeed.

The wind turned out to not be too bad.  I was prepared to get knocked around on the way down to Carmel, but that never quite materialized.  It wasn't super flat or anything, but it wasn't scary either.  So we managed to make it all the way down to Yankee Point, woohoo.  I think that the drop point was supposed to be in the canyon south of K2, but not all the way south to the wall.  We figured that if there was really epic viz, we would head over to the south annex.  It was just me and Rob today, Kevin was on a work trip again (after a whopping two days back in town).  When we got into the water, we were not disappointed by the viz.  It was nice!  And it was cold!  When we got to the bottom, I wasn't really sure where we were.  Like I mentioned, I'm not 100% sure where we were supposed to be, but it was definitely something involving K2 or the south wall.  Somehow we ended up on the more western end of the south wall, where it is a lot deeper.  But once we found a deep wall, it was pretty obvious where we were, so easy to correct.  Once we got our bearings, we headed to the south annex.

The viz was awesome.  There was a big school of blue rockfish hanging out at the top of the wall, which seems to be pretty typical.  We scootered along the back (south) side for a bit.  There seemed to be a lot of fish out in general, lots of lingcods, and a decent variety of other kinds of rockfish (though not a large number of any one kind).  I saw a nice looking juvenile yelloweye tucked into the reef.  Eventually we worked our way up to the top of that reef, where Rob took pictures of the fish and I got some video.  There was a really big lingcod there, sneaking around, laying in one spot just long enough to not get a picture.  Eventually Rob did manage to snap a picture of him though.  When we were finished up there, we headed back over to the south wall.  We were scootering at like 150', which is 50 to 60 feet above the sand, and we could very clearly see the bottom.  It was a great day for a scoot through the midwater!

When we got back to the south wall, we never really found the canyon that we usually follow to get back to K2.  But luckily with viz like that, it wasn't really necessary.  We just headed northish and eventually found our way to K2.  You just have to follow the fluffy gorgonians and eventually they will lead you to K2 :)  As we were approaching the peak, I was a bit surprised not to see either of the other teams because, well, we were supposed to meet up there for the drift.  But then as we came around the peak, I saw that John's team was just hiding on the other side (I don't know how I missed their bubbles).  They were there, enjoying the big school of blue rockfish.  And of course there were a few big sheephead in the mix.  Once we were there, I saw that the other team was just north of us, one hump over from the main peak.  We hung out there for a few more minutes, and then went onto our 50% bottles, shot our bag, and started the drift.  We could see both teams as we started the drift, and throughout most of the deco.  Though strangely, we started out much closer to John's team and ended up much closer to Doug's team.

Deco was mostly uneventful.  There was a jelly here or there, but not too much.  At 20 feet, there were a ton of these little (but not tiny) white jellies.  Then, when we were at 20 feet, I saw a big beautiful purple-striped jelly in the distance, 20 to 30 feet below us.  I started flapping around excitedly and Rob turned to see what it was.  The jelly slowly drifted toward us (but still below us), and we watched it for several minutes as it approached and then kept going off into the great blue yonder.  I was pretty sad that it was so much deeper than us, but it was still really awesome to see.  It was the nicest looking one I've ever seen.  It had a nice long tentacle train behind it.  That was definitely the high point of our deco.  By the end of deco, I was super freezing.  I really regretted not picking up my new undergarment.  My fingers and toes were numb.  Since I was bored at 20 feet, I decided to get some video of Rob with the little white jellies around.  Unfortunately my fingers were so numb that I couldn't clip off the camera when I was finished with it.  After trying for a while, I eventually handed it over to Rob to deal with :)  When we surfaced, it was a little sporty, and I felt like my arm was going to get ripped out of my shoulder while I tried to hold on to the ladder while I removed my fins.  As I was climbing the ladder, my hands were so numb that it was hard to get a good grip on the ladder.  I had to ask the crew for help because I was worried I wasn't going to be able to hold on.  Totally bad for the street cred.  After retrieving everyone else, we got out of there.  The conditions were worse on the way back, so I guess we were lucky to sneak in an awesome dive during the lull.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Last Dive of the Trip: Jailhouse, Downstream

I know some divers like to go down the list of all of the dive sites in a particular location and check them off one by one.  This seems especially common among cave divers.  But personally, I prefer to dive one site over and over so that I get to know it really well.   (Which is good, since sometimes you end up in Florida with only Ginnie being diveable!)  So if it had been up to me, I probably would have gone to Gran Cenote twice, Jailhouse twice, Naharon twice, and someplace new once.  It's a good thing that Kevin was with us, and encouraged us to check out some new sites, since I really did like every place that we went.  But today was our day to return to a favorite site, so naturally we picked Jailhouse.  Plus Kevin had missed Jailhouse while he was sick, so we had to go back anyway.  Meredith and James came along with us, since they'd never been to Jailhouse and thus didn't know the drill for getting the key and getting to the site.  So we all met up at ZG in the morning, caravan'd down to Tulum to get two keys, and then headed to the site.  I wow'd everyone with my ability to both lock and unlock the gates today :)  I think there wasn't quite as much wind today, so it was quite toasty while we were getting setup for the dive.  Plus I think we got started a little on the later side, what with the meeting at ZG and then stopping for keys.

We weren't diving together, though we were both planning to go downstream.  Team Kitty managed to get into the water first, so we headed in.  Our plan was to take the (first of) the second jump(s), which would spit us out on the L-R-R line, beyond the Swiss Siphon jump.  There is a pair of jumps right around the same spot just a couple minutes up the downstream line (left at the T).  If you take the "left" of the two jumps (the jumps are to the right, but if you are facing the two jumps, one is more to the left and one is to the right), that puts you further up the L-R-R line, just before the Swiss Siphon jump.  We did this on a previous dive.  We did want to go to to Swiss Siphon, but first we wanted to go further downstream, ideally to the final room.  So for that, it made more sense to take the "right" second jump.  The map shows a restriction, and there really is just one spot where it gets small.  But not so small that we couldn't get through with 2 stages each.  But then the tunnel pretty quickly gets bigger (though not big).  After maybe 10 minutes, we ended up popping out into the big tunnel, below the halocline (which we pass through just before the end of the jump we took to get here).  We jumped back onto the mainline, and depoted our full stages for use later in the dive.  We continued downstream, in a big tall tunnel for maybe another 10 minutes.  Eventually the tunnel takes a turn to the right, and it flattens out (on the deeper end) and gets narrower.  So you abruptly transition from a tunnel that is bigger than a subway tunnel to a tunnel that would be more appropriate for the parking tram from Hershey Park.  We dropped our stages right before the transition (on gas, not saying the tunnel was small enough to drop stages before going through).

Doesn't this make you want to go for a swim?
So, on the map, it looks like there is this really big second-to-last room.  But if you are expecting a really big room, you will be underwhelmed.  I think it's because there are some big floor-to-ceiling formations that kind of split the room up, plus at this point you are in the fresh water, so the tunnel is quite a bit darker.  On the way in, I didn't even recognize the big room as being a room.  Only on the way out (after realizing that we must have passed through this big room) did I figure out where the big room was and how it was that I missed it.  I think that the line essentially runs to the left (west) side of the room, and then takes a 90 degree turn and runs along the north side of the room.  So it seems a lot more like an L-shaped passage than a big round room, which is what it looks like on the map.  Once you are through that, you pass through several restrictions.  I counted three, though on the map there are only two (but I'm really certain that there were three).  The first restriction is low and flat, and Rob had to drop his camera before he got to it.  The other two are more narrow and sort of angled to the side slits.  Between them, you are in a vertical canyon/crack.  As you progress from the big room through the restrictions, you are slowly getting shallower, so that by the time you get through the third restriction, it's probably about 35 feet.  And then you pop out into a big room, where the line ends once you get to the other side.  This room seemed a lot bigger than the first big room, because you can actually look around and see to the walls in all directions.  After a minute or two in there, we headed out.

On the way out, after passing through the restrictions and the big room, we passed Meredith and James,  in the tram tunnel.  After we got back to the subway tunnel, and picked up our stages, we were moseying along, and I kept seeing Rob's strobes go off.  But Kevin and I were both swimming along, so I didn't know why.  Then I realized that Meredith and James had caught up to us, and Rob was hanging back to take some pictures of them.  So we eventually ended up moving along as basically one team.  I asked Rob to try to get a picture of all four of us in the tunnel, but sadly I guess none of those pictures came out.  He said that they were, for some reason, all badly out of focus.  Sounds like user error to me.  We made it back to our depoted stages, and we dropped the ones we had with us and picked up the full ones, and headed to Swiss Siphon.  It was maybe a 10 minute swim from there.  I was in front at this point, and I impressed myself by actually being able to find the jump :)  So we headed in there, and had quite a few stops along the way for pictures.  I was video'ing too and so was Kevin.  There was a bit of reordering throughout this part of the dive, so everyone got a chance to do their thing.  We went right at the T, which is even closer to the jump than I remembered, probably because we didn't stop for that many pictures before the T (compared to the last time I was there).

My memory of Swiss Siphon is that it is basically non-stop big tunnel with big decorations.  But actually it is somewhat varied, with areas that are big and open with big decorations, and others with smaller, more delicate formations sort of filling the tunnel.  Perhaps I didn't make it that far up the line the last time I was there, but I'm not really sure.  We went through a couple of relatively narrow spots, and then the tunnel would widen again.  And then eventually it got really flat, and single-file, and it was a bit chalky squeezing through the flat area.  Then it got a little open and then flat again.  I was waiting in the slightly more open area (I was #3 at this point) and saw Rob (#1) signal turn to Kevin.  I guess this is the end of the line.  Two ends of the line in one dive!

Scheming about the dive
We headed back out to the T, and we took the other side of the T.  I dropped my bottle there because, well, I was feeling lazy :)  This turned out to be pretty silly.  I didn't realize it, but that side of the T just takes you back to the mainline, after not very long (maybe 5 minutes).  Actually it takes you back to the jump from the mainline to Swiss Siphon.  So we got to the end of the line, and I could see our spool jumping into the Swiss Siphon line.  We turned back and returned to the T, where I retrieved my bottle, and we headed out.  From there, it was a pretty direct exit, though we did have one little stop along the way.  We were swimming along, and at some point, Kevin dropped down near the bottom, and was looking under the ledge on the left side. I thought maybe he was looking for some hidden jump or something.  He signaled us and I dropped down, expecting to see a tunnel, but instead, there was a pile of bones.  Neat!  For some inexplicable reason, Rob did not immediately recognize them as bones, though I thought they were pretty distinctly bone-looking.  Kevin said he thought they were sloth bones.  I was skeptical (not because I know anything about sloth bones, more because I know something about Kevin :P), though the internet does seem to agree with that claim.  That wasn't too far from the jump back toward the exit, and before you know it, we were back in the entrance room, arguing (err, negotiating) deco.  We did far too much deco, and then we headed to the surface.

The rarely-photographed land kitty
It was hot and (relatively) buggy as we broke down our gear (boohoohoo) and cleaned up.  Then we headed into Tulum to return the key, get some lunch (at Don Cafeto's) and one last gelato!  I think we went to the gelato place a total of four times on the trip, which may be a personal best for me.  And I had a different flavor every time!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Ox Bel Ha from Yax Chen

On Friday, we did a big dive.  So big that I find it hard to put into words.  But since I don't have a map to show, I will have to try.  Before the trip, we had been talking about doing a guided dive with Chris or Fred.  Kevin had wanted to repeat an Ox Bel Ha dive he did with Chris on his last trip (which involved 2 scooters and 3 stages, sigh).  So, in case this dive came to fruition, we schlepped 4 stage regs each all the way to Mexico.  In the end, setting up a guided dive didn't happen.  But since Kevin had done the dive before, Fred didn't think we really needed a guide for it.  He (or maybe it was Chris) suggested it as a two stage dive, which seemed WAY more appealing to me than a three stage dive.  I can get on board with a boat-load of stages, if there is high helium content (in at least some of them).  But 3 stages of 32%?  Gag.  Despite some last minute attempts (from Kevin) to change my mind, we settled on two stages, and I was happy.  On Thursday morning, we asked them to get all of the scooters charging, and then picked everything up on Friday morning.  We had settled on 3 of the Suex big boys,  two T16s and one XK1.  Originally we were going to go with three T16s, but we decided to swap one out for the XK1, for a variety of reasons, including that I really wanted to try out the XK1!  We managed to get all of the scooters packed into our cars, plus a totally sweet cart that ZG provided.  It was a wheelbarrow base with wooden slats instead of a bucket, which scooters or bottles could lay between.  And a strap to hold everything onto the cart.

View of the cenote
We started the long drive there, which is really just made long because once you are on the coast in Tulum, it's a slow drive.  After a bit of searching around, we found the place where we were to enter the water.  It's not that it's difficult to get there, but you just have to know which random gate is the one to knock on to gain access :)  The access to the water is through this hippy resort of sorts.  There are cabanas and tents and stuff where you can stay.  There is a nice flat path to the water, though it is kind of long.  You definitely want a cart if you have much gear to move!  There are steps into the water, which were in pretty good shape.  Apparently the steps usually lead to a deck, but the deck was out of commission (out of the water, in fact -- they were working on it while we were there).  The steps were fine, though I guess it is easier to move gear into the water when the deck is there.  The water itself isn't super clear and beautiful, but it looked nice enough to swim in (but looked like it would be more like swimming in a lake than a swimming pool).  Overall I thought the facilities were really good (there were even flush toilets!) and the people working and staying there were all very friendly.  After a rather lengthy setup, which took about 4 trips back and forth (for all three of us) to the water, I was completely soaked with sweat!  It was actually pretty shady and cool by the tents and stuff, but we were parked in the blazing hot sun, so the walk back and forth was probably about half unshaded.  We had walked our doubles over to very close to the water, so at this point it was just a matter of getting into our suits and into the water.  After trying to dry/cool off for a few minutes, we quickly got suited up and headed back over to the water.

While we were collecting our gear from the various places where we had clipped and stowed things, Steve and his buddy appeared at the water's edge, planning to dive there as well.  They helped us with some of the gear, and then once we had everything, we scootered off on the surface for a bit.  The cenote is really big, it seems like it would be more appropriately called a "lake".  The water right by the steps was relatively murky (5 to 10 feet viz), but once we dropped down, the viz was good on the bottom.  I was pretty surprised when we broke through the layer on top just how good it was.  We scootered across the cenote until we spied the entrance.  Kevin was in the lead (since he'd been there before and thus allegedly knew his way around), and did an impeccable job of navigating to the entrance.  My gauge read 7 minutes when we got there, so there was plenty of opportunity to get lost.  I  must admit, the first few minutes felt a bit like my-first-scooter-dive, since it's been quite a while since I've towed a scooter.  But eventually the little T16 and I came to an agreement, and it sat still for the ride.

Rob pulls the wheelbarrow
The coolest thing about the first hour of the dive (while we were on the trigger) was that we passed through a lot of cenotes, and a lot of them were really big -- again, I think the term "lake" is more appropriate!  I felt like we spent almost as much time scootering through open water as we did in the cave.  The viz was not that great through the first few, but eventually it opened up and then it was very pretty as we approached each one of the cenotes. In addition to the cenotes that we actually traversed, there were a bunch of openings that we could see off to the side of the cave passage, where light was streaming in.  At one spot (not terribly far from our destination), we passed under several relatively small holes where there were these very bright vertical beams of light streaming in... it was the middle of the day, so they were super bright.  Just beyond that, was another cenote with crystal clear water, so the view of the beams of light with a bright clear cenote behind it was very nice (on the way out of the cave, the beams of light were not nearly so distinct, I guess because it was later in the day and the sun was not as high in the sky).  The cave itself was big power cave -- it reminded me of Florida.  It kind of reminded me of Hole in the Wall, actually, because it had a brown silty bottom, and crumbly-looking walls.  I think that after the dive, we each said it reminded us of a different Florida cave, so take my analogy with a grain of salt :)  Oh and this first hour of the dive was pretty much all around 30 feet in the cave, with the path through the cenotes being shallower.

We eventually made it to the jump that we wanted to take, which was to the left, just before another cenote (called Gemini, I think).  The jump pretty quickly took us down below the halocline.  Once below the halocline, the passage is a lot smaller, but it is much brighter.  The walls are pretty rough and craggly looking, interspersed with smooth formations, and there are lots of chunks of rocks (of various sizes) on the bottom.  There was a black band along the walls in a lot of places.  Well in some places it was a band and in others it looked like the walls were black-coated below some level, and white above it.  It was definitely very different down there versus in the main tunnel.  The tunnel just sort of meandered, and you could see tons of side passages, some with marked jumps and some without.  We had barely even touched our second stage when we took the jump, so we had a while to look around.  We eventually made it to a T, where we turned it (though I can not, at this point, remember if that was the first or second T, but I promise I could remember it during the dive :P).  On the way out, when we were getting pretty close to the mainline again, we took a jump to the right.  This passage struck me as being "brighter" (maybe there was less black on the walls?).  Eventually the line ended in a pretty big room, and in that room, there was another line, roughly perpendicular to the one we had been on, which I suppose we could have jumped back into, but we did not.  We had other plans.

We headed out and scootered a little less than halfway out, where we took another jump to the left (if you are facing out of the cave), to Little Chen.  After not too long, this line drops below the halocline, or should I say into the halocline.  It seems like we spent a lot of time in the halocline.  Eventually (after going right at a T, I think), we ended up in a wide, flat, bright room where we were pretty much right in the halocline.  Since the room was nice and wide, it was pretty easy to spread out so that we could all see ahead of ourselves.  I liked this passage a lot.  We passed another T that was sort of in the halocline, where we again went right, and just a few minutes past that, we turned it and head out.  The whole way out.

Loading gear into the water
At some point on the way out, when we were about 2 cenotes away from Yax Chen, I started to hear this terrible squeal.  It seemed scooter related, but it kept going off even when no one was driving their scooter, so it took me a moment to realize it was indeed coming from my scooter (I was momentarily worried it was tinnitus since I hadn't exactly been kind to my ears on this dive :P).  It was the battery indicator on the Suex big-boy.  I had heard of this concept of a battery indicator before, but I'd never actually heard the battery indicator before.  It's a pretty annoying noise.  I continued riding the scooter, even though it was slowing down.  I wasn't particularly bothered by it slowly down, since we were less than 10 minutes from Yax Chen at this point, we had hours worth of gas left, and I was enjoying the scenery.  But Kevin was apparently really bothered, because he kept trying to "explain" to me that my scooter was slow and I should switch.  I finally got the "so what?" signal across to him, and then he left me alone.  Apparently I was moving SO SLOWLY that even when he was on the lowest speed, he was outpacing me. I guess that's why he was so insistent :)  When we got back to Yax Chen, I did switch, because wow, that scooter was really moving slowly :P  I asked Rob later if it was bad (for the scooter) to continue driving it after the battery started to beep, to which he replied "I would have switched scooters, if only because you were moving about as fast as you would if you were being towed by a crab".  Teehee.

When we surfaced in Yax Chen, we were not too far from the exit point, so after a brief surface scooter, we were back to the stairs.  We ditched all of our gear and climbed out and walked our rigs back to the car.  By the time we got there, I was melting in my drysuit.  So Kevin and I decided to change and go for a swim while we pulled gear out of the water.  That was definitely the way to do it!  Then we slowly walked/carted the gear back to the cars, and then went for another swim to cool off again :)  By the time we got out of there, it was after 5.  We headed back to ZG, ditched gear, swapped out tanks, and then headed back to Akumal, where we were meeting Meredith for drinks.  James and Steve were there too.  So we swapped stories (and made fun of Kevin) over girly tropical drinks and eventually some food too.  And came up with a plan for our last day of diving for the trip!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Cenote Regina

We finally had our Kevin-puss back today, so we let (made) him pick where to go diving.  He picked Cenote Regina, which Chris had suggested to us (me and Rob) earlier in the week, and Kevin had been to before.  Chris drew us a little map to get to a deep section (100') that he said was really nice.  And he gave us driving directions -- it's near Naharon.  The cenote is really close to the road, which is nice, since you don't have to drive down some long bumpy road to get there.  You basically pull through the gate and you can see the water, and just have to pull forward a few car lengths to park, and you are really close to the water.  There are some tables to set gear up on.  It isn't super shady around the water, so it's good that it was just a short walk to the water.  Chris had described the cenote as kind of like Jailhous but not as gross, and that's pretty accurate.  I wouldn't really be tempted to go for a swim there, but I didn't look at it and say "ick".  The best place for entry/exit wasn't obvious.  The rock on the sides sort of slopes down, but it's covered in slipperyness.  There was a big, not very reliable-looking ladder laying at a very shallow angle (along the slope, I imagine).  Kevin got into the water in his suit to scope out the line, and see if there was a deep spot we could jump into.  But he couldn't find a good deep spot (that didn't require jumping over a big tree root, and I haven't quite perfected the jazz leap-in-doubles maneuver).  So I decided to float my gear out into the water and get in and wrestle with my rig until it fell into place.  Kevin and Rob got in in their gear.  I missed Kevin's entry (I was busy with the wrestling), but according to Kevin it wasn't too graceful.  Then Rob walked over and found the perfect spot along the edge where there were some tall step-sized rocks that he just turned around and climbed down.  Hmph.

We weren't sure where the entrance to the cave was, but Kevin knew the general vicinity of where to find the line and had found it while he was in the water without gear.  The entrance is a bit Jailhouse-like in the sense that you follow a line from the surface in pretty bad viz and then you find yourself on a mung-covered slope into the cave.  However, the viz cleared up before we were in the cave.  And the entrance is bigger (though not huge) than Jailhouse.  So it's an easier entrance, but still reminded me of Jailhouse.  Based on Chris's map, we expected a couple of domes on the mainline and then a T about 45 minutes in.  The rooms on the mainline were quite large, and I say "rooms" because the tunnel would pinch down now and then (e.g. in the domes).  We crossed through the halocline after not too terribly long, maybe 15 minutes.  Once through the halocline, I counted three "domes" or at least three areas where we had to pop back up above the halocline, before making it to the T.  The mainline isn't super decorated, at least not compared to some of the other caves we've been to.  We eventually hit the T, about 40 minutes in.  We were back up in the freshwater at this point.

We went right at the T, and were back through the halocline lickety-split.  From there, we planned to jump left into the deep passage.  The jump is not far from the T at all, maybe 2 minutes ahead, but before we got to that point, we passed a very nicely decorated area off to the right.  I suggested Rob take some pictures (of me, of course) of that spot, which turned out quite well.  There was a lot of percolation after he got a few shots though.  So, we got to the jump and jumped down, to a passage in the 80 foot range.  You end up in a very tunnel-y tunnel, it's pretty round and small enough to completely light up, without actually being small.  It meanders for a bit and then the passage becomes taller (and less round).  The tunnel slowly gets deeper until eventually you get to 100'.  Chris told us there would be a 90 degree turn to the left, with a jump at the turn, and then you go through a restriction that you might not be sure you can get through, but then it opens up again.  So I was a bit nervous about what this seemingly-impassible restriction might look like.  Turns out it was not terribly restrictive... Rob went through ahead of me, with a stage and his camera.  And while that took some care, after watching that, I was pretty sure I could make it through with no stages :)  The low section was really more like a couple of low restrictions broken up by a small room which is also low.  In there I noticed that there were really tall travertine dam formations on the floor.  The floor of the deep passage is pretty interesting overall.  After the passage opened up again, I noticed that the floor had a bumpy texture like it was covered with little upside-down raspberries.

Once the passage opened up, it was quite unique.  The passage is surprisingly colorful.  First, there was a dark streak along the wall about halfway up the room.  Second, there were these craggly-shaped giant chunks of rock on the bottom which were a dark reddish color.  It kind of reminded me of coral.  It was a really cool passage, well worth the swim and squishing through the restriction (and wrestling gear on the surface, though I suppose that's not strictly necessary for the dive, at least if you are Rob).  We eventually made it to a T and quite arbitrarily (I think) went right.  I think we got about 5 minutes past the T when I turned it on gas.  We headed back out, and on the way through the shallower deep section (after we were back through the restriction), I video'd some of the round tunnel.  Kevin was ahead of me, and he had his video reflector on, so we lit up the tunnel very nicely.  After we cleaned up the jump, without really any discussion of continuing up the line we were on, we headed out, back to the T.

When we got to the T, we dropped some gear and headed up the other (left) side.  Chris had told us that the left and right side met up again in another T, and then the line continued on, and he described what that would look like.  After a few minutes, including a short dip below the halocline, we came to another T, which we assumed was meeting back up with the right side.  So we went left, which put us onto a line with arrows pointing in the other direction, so evidently there is another entrance somewhere.  After swimming for a bit, this line was not looking at all like what Chris described... it was not deep enough and instead of ending and then continuing shallower across a gap, we found ourselves on a huge, very nicely decorated slope, which just went up and up.  (We later confirmed with Fred that this must be a new T where there was previously a jump, and that if we had gone right at the T, we would have eventually closed the loop from the first T.)  I got up to about 20 feet, and it kept going, and then I signaled to Kevin that I wanted to turn there, since I didn't feel like subjecting my ears to going any shallower, since I knew there were still a few more ups and downs on the way out.  Kevin did go up to the top of the room and looked to see what happened next, and he said it headed back down.  So we loitered in this big room for a while, and Rob took some pictures.  It was a really cool room.  After we were finished with pictures, we headed out.  Just as we were finishing up, another team of two appeared and swam past us.

We headed straight out from there.  Apparently this other team was on our tail the whole way out, though I didn't noticed because I wasn't in the back.  As we swam out, I was counting the dips below the halocline, longing to get to the last stretch of freshwater, because those two floaty stages were driving me crazy in the saltwater!  However, the freshwater felt pretty chilly to me.  My gauge says it's only one degree different between the salt and fresh, but oh man can I feel a difference!  We finally made it back to the first room, where we had dropped our O2 bottles.  The other team was right on our heels, so I scooted ahead, wanting to find a spot where we could tuck ourselves off to the side, out of their way.  I poked around off to the right, where there's a little nook, but Kevin and Rob passed me and found another nook off to the left so I went and joined them there.  Rob was in the middle, and while I could see both Rob and Kevin, Kevin couldn't really see me, so Rob mediated the deco negotiations.  We quickly settled on 25 minutes and began to wile away the time.  We were all sort of crunched up, pinned to the ceiling, since the mung bottom is easy to stir up.  The team behind us puttered around for a few minutes and then exited.  A couple minutes later, another team (I'm not sure if it was one or two divers) passed by us too.  The viz got a bit worse with every diver that swam by.  Off to the left above Kevin, we could see bits of mung rolling/sliding down the slope.

Anyway, I was pretty much in a zen deco state when all of a sudden I got a fast signal and I looked up at a diver swimming at me.  I was about to stick a reg in his face when I saw that he was spooling out line, and holding the mainline, and wanted me to hold the mainline.  When he handed it to me, I could feel that it was limp, and he told me that the line had been cut.  So he was repairing it.  I helped him repair it, and by the time it was done, the viz right around where he had tied in the new line to the existing line was a bit deteriorated.  But it cleared back up after a couple more minutes.  Eventually deco was over, and we headed up to the surface, where we found 3 divers cleaning up gear.  The team of two that had been behind us on the way out had apparently traversed from some other cenote "across the road".  I guess that is where the opposing arrow was pointing.  I didn't get a name or any details about this other cenote except that it is "sidemount but will probably be backmount in a couple more weeks" :)  Upon surfacing, we found a pole in the rock, next to the ladder, which was not previously there.  I guess there is a hole in the rock that the pole is stuck into, and you can use it to get out of the water.  Rob climbed out along the same set of ledges that he climbed in on, right next to the pole.  After watching him, I decided it was pretty doable, so I did the same thing and with the help of the pole and Rob's hand, it was not so bad.  I think that with the pole, it would be doable to get in there as well.

We cleaned up and headed to La Nave for lunch.  We suggested another round of empanadas, but Kevin was afraid of them, since he ate them the day before he got sick.  I hope he eventually gets over that :)  I do feel a little lame going for pizza in Mexico, though one thing I like about it is that it is easy to actually get some vegetables to eat, which I always find pretty challenging when we are in Mexico.  We headed back to ZG and chatted with Fred for a while, and formulated a plan for the next day.  Then we eventually headed to happy hour at the Buena Vida in Akumal.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Xunan Ha

Kevin was still not feeling up to diving but he suggested that we go to Xunan Ha. He even escorted us there since it's not too far. When we got to the gate, it was locked and no one was around, but about a minute later, a guy came along (who we had driven by on the road as he walked there) and opened the gate. It was a bit before 9 so maybe he opens at 9?  We drove to the parking area and looked at the site. There is a moderately long walk to the water, but it is on a nice path that is well-shaded. The cenote itself is really pretty. There is a drop to the water, with a few options for getting in and out.  There is a diving platform, with a drop of like 8 feet into deep water (obviously only useful for entry), a big sort of rickety-looking ladder, and a series of stone steps that stop just above the water, with a slippery-looking rock slope below. The dive platform is conveniently about the right height to sit down and gear up on, so we staged our rigs there. And we staged our bottles on the slope below the rock steps.

Path to the water
We didn't know too much about the cave. Kevin told us that about 25 minutes in, there is an air dome with lots of creepy looking tree roots hanging down into the water. I think he also mentioned that there were a lot of jumps.  He also told us that the average depth was around 40' though this was misinformation... It was really more like 20 feet.  (I will give him the benefit of the doubt and blame this on the bad empanada.) So we should have brought one stage instead of two. Two stages was ridiculous for this dive!  Anyhoo, we got geared up by the water and made the jump (which was scary but by that point I just wanted to get into the water!).  Another diver was getting geared up as we were and he ended up entering first. This was fine by me, because I could see where his reel ran to give me a hint where the mainline started :). Yes, I was running the reel; I know it's shocking!

The cave is really white and fairly decorated.  There are many fairly large rooms, so it's not always apparent that there are so many decorations on the walls, but the cave basically has very decorated patches here and there but not everywhere that you look.  There were several medium to big rooms and then the cave would narrow for a bit before opening up again. And oh my were there a lot of jumps. I think we passed at least 5 jumps before the air dome (which was around 25 minutes just like Kevin said).  The air dome sort of snuck up on me... All of a sudden I saw some hairy tree roots sticking down from the ceiling, and the passage got much shallower.  We didn't go up into the air dome, but we did end up at like 4 feet before the passage descended again.  So my ears had that to look forward to on the way out :)

The dive platform
Past the air dome, a lot of the passages had that white, rough-textured floor, that can be very chalky-silty. But the passages were never very small, so this wasn't really a problem. We passed several more jumps but kept on heading up the mainline. Eventually we came to a T (about 50 minutes). We went right, because it looked nicer right by the T. But that was a trick... Maybe 50 feet later we were once again on a slope heading up, with hairy tree-stuff hanging down from the ceiling.  Presumably another airdome, but I didn't think it was worth the potential ear trouble, so I turned us around and we headed up the other side of the T. By now the rooms were smaller (though not small), and generally relatively flat. After 10 more minutes, we hit a change in arrows (right at yet another jump).  After another 10 minutes, I decided that the cave had become less interesting than it was earlier, so I turned it and suggested that we get some pictures and hit some jumps on the way out.

Rob and I had agreed that I would video on the way in and he would take pictures on the way out. So once we turned, the video reflector went away and the camera came out.  At some point not too far from the air dome, Rob asked if we should take a jump, but I suggested waiting until we were past the air dome and I no longer had that hanging over my ears.  So once past the dome, we started looking down the jump lines. We didn't take the very first jump after (before) the air dome, but I think we took the first jump to the left. There were actually two jumps to the left right at the same spot... One was forward left and the other back and to the left.

I rather arbitrarily picked the forward one, and put in the spool, dropped one stage and led us in there. The line was fairly small cave, white and prickly all over, and after a few minutes, it looked small ahead.  Not necessarily unpassably small, but small enough that I'd have to drop my stage, etc. And I really didn't feel like doing that especially since I couldn't see that it actually opened up and didn't just get smaller immediately ahead. So I turned it instead.  When we got back to the jump, Rob moved the spool over to the other jump right there, and he led us in there.  This jump was much the same... After a few minutes, Rob signalled that it got small and turned us around.

So we went back to mainline, picked up our gear and headed toward the exit.  Rob found another jump to take after not too long, this one to the right.  After the last two jumps, I was sick of schlepping a stage into possibly small passage, so I dropped both of mine on the line and went to back gas.  It was very decorated at the entrance of the jump, though that soon gave way to a less decorated but still very interesting passage.  The walls were white and craggy and there were big boulders/plate-shaped formations laying on the floor. There was quite a bit of clay back there (my favorite) much of it lining the "plates" on the floor.  I thought this jump was one of the best parts of the dive.  There were also some jumps off of this line, though we didn't check them out. Eventually the passage got kind of sparse and boring, so after about 15 minutes, Rob suggested turning and I agreed. I think he had intentions to explore some other jump on the way out, but by this point I was pretty pooped, so we just headed out.

Since it was a 20 foot dive, there was no deco, though we did stop to play with the fishies in the basin.  We surfaced and then had the semi-daunting task of getting out. Rob wanted to try climbing the rocks.  So he did that, without much trouble, and then deposited his gear on the dive platform and came back to assist me.  Since he made the rock climbing look easy, I decided to go that route.  He held onto my manifold at some critical moment, and then gave me a hand up at the end.  It wasn't too hard though and certainly less scary than the ladder since you have solid rock beneath you at every moment :). Then we started the slow process of gear retrieval. After a quick break on the dive platform, I walked my rig back to the car. Rob carried two stages to the car, and then I negotiated a deal wherein he would carry my two stages and I would carry his rig.  I think I totally scored on that deal, though I did sort of wish Kevin was there to snicker at Rob while I walked his gear to the car. After the gear was cleaned up, we went for a swim.  Best swimming hole ever. The jump in was terrifying (worse than jumping in with gear) but once I was in the water it was great!  The water is super clear and the scenery is very nice, with trees all around.

Here, kitty kitty
We finally got out of there and headed to Tulum for lunch.  The empanada place was closed so we wandered for a but and randomly picked a place, Sabor Infinyto, which seemed like it was touristy but in fact was not at all.  The menu was in Spanish only, and our waiter spoke no English.  But the arrachera was really tasty!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Crack at Naharon

We were still without Kevin today and fairly without a plan too.  Our fallback was to go back to Gran Cenote and go toward Calimba. Naharon was on the radar too but Rob wanted to scooter it. So we stopped at ZG and they had two T16s all charged up and ready to go, so it was settled (actually first there was a quiz about gas planning which I guess we passed). We got a briefing on the workings of the T16, which I had never used before.  Neither had Rob, though he has driven an XK1 which has a similar interface.  We told Chris where we wanted to go, to the crack back there, and he told us that we would eventually hit a T and he recommended going right there.  Apparently the left side ends after not too long plus he said if we liked the earlier part of the tunnel, we'd like the right.

When we got to Naharon, we were the only dive team. There were a couple of locals there swimming but overall it was pretty dead.  The stairs we used last time were in disrepair so we just used the little wall that drops into the water for our entry (we stood our tanks up on the wall and got into them there).  After unloading all of our tanks and setting up gear, I realized that I had pulled the ultimate John Heimann... I forgot my undergarment!  After debating our options, we managed to cobble together makeshift undergarments between our base layers and Rob's "undergarment" (which is really just a heavier base layer). I ended up pretty comfy and Rob... did not. But it was at his insistence.  Somehow Rob led the dive, even though I guess it was technically my turn. The plan was to go up to the crack and then hit Southwest and/or Southern Sacbe on the way out.

We stopped at our primary tie so that Rob could install the strobe on my tanks. Then we stopped again at the stick around 30' to ditch our O2 bottles and then we headed to the mainline, which we sort of missed to the left. Then we headed to the Descondido (or whatever it is called) line, which in hindsight we should have just run the reel directly to. Then we finally got going.  I really liked riding the T16. I love the trigger... It is way more ergonomic than either the X or the Gavin trigger mechanism. And the T16 is easy to maneuver, perhaps even more so than my Sierra, though I didn't really notice any stability problems that typically go along with maneuverability.  Anyhoo, we quickly blew past the SW Sacbe jump and before you know it, we were riding the halocline for a while. I was rather amused to see the hazy water spewing from the back of Rob's scooter as it chewed up the halocline and spit it out. Thanks to the ease of maneuverability, I only had to briefly go off the trigger once or twice as we passed between speleothems.  And through the first dome, but that was more of a buoyancy/ear clearing thing.

Before you know it, we were at the base of the chute up to the second dome, where we planned to drop the scooters. I backed off a bit so we wouldn't be all piled up, though ended up in the haze of the halocline trying to clip stuff to the line. We left our first stage bottles with the scooters, even though they had a lot of gas left, because it was convenient and was part of our contingency gas for the scooters.  The path to the second dome is a little bit cozier than I remembered. Also once we were past the dome, the descent through the halocline and turn in the line was sooner than I remembered. We quickly came to the jump we were looking for and had no trouble recognizing it.

Rob installed the jump and I switched over to my video reflector and whipped out the hero cam. I decided to video from behind today, since Rob waggling his light around behind me was problematic yesterday.  Rob was also shooting some pictures, which was awkward since I found myself switching light reflectors a bunch, since I think the regular one looks better in pictures. Eventually I decided to just put the camera and video reflector away, so Rob could do his thing. My clearest memory of this passage from the last time we dove it is based on the pictures of it that appeared in one of Rob's calendars.  So based on that, I didn't remember how much decoration is in there. I think of the passage as being mostly the rough cheesy textured walls, but these parts of the passages are broken up by more decorated patches. We came to the T and jumped right. The passage beyond that seemed a bit more decorated, but otherwise pretty similar. We made it about 15 minutes beyond the T.  Just before I turned it, we were in a little vestibule before the passage sort of narrowed and went a bit deeper, around some formations. Rob started gesticulating some very complicated combination of hand signals that involved me staying, him going, video, and light.   Then he scurried down through the passage ahead. I wasn't really sure what I was supposed to be doing, so I shot a little video and then followed him. I guess this was mostly what I was supposed to do. It was a bit silty in this narrower part. I turned the dive a moment later so I don't know if it opened back up or what.

On the way out there were more photos and a bit more video too. Because of this, Rob led on the way out too (until we got back to the Descondido line).  The passage was a little chalky in some areas on the way out. When we got back to the spool, I passed Rob so I could get some video of him cleaning up the spool. He loves taking pictures of me doing stuff like that so it was payback time!  After that was cleaned up, we headed out, after a brief stop to doodle around with the hero cam in the halocline.  Then we passed through the dome, and I had trouble clearing my ears on the way back down. I had to go back up to the top of the dome and try again. When we got out, we retrieved our gear; mine was annoying to retrieve in the halocline (I can only blame myself, for dropping it there!). We headed out, with me now in the lead (woohoo).

When we got to the SW Sacbe jump, we dropped some bottles and our scooters and I tied the spool in.  I headed down toward the jump, and couldn't clear my ears. I tried again and then handed the spool off to Rob. I tried again, even more slowly and just couldn't get below 38 feet!  Meanwhile Rob had finished installing the jump, though it was all for naught. I thumbed it and we headed out :(. After a short deco, we eventually surfaced to a few more swimmers in the water.  After we got out of the water, I decided to join them. This was a convenient way to cool off while retrieving bottles. I think Naharon is a great swimming hole... The water is nice and clear but the site isn't super built up and touristy (like Nohoch or Gran). It actually still resembles "nature".

Amazingly, I wasn't super hungry after the dive, I guess because we scootered. So we headed back to ZG instead of eating in Tulum.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Jailhouse, Upstream to Ninth Level, etc.

On Monday we went to Jailhouse.  After discussing the options for where to go there, we decided that we would just have to do two dives there, one going upstream and one downstream.  So we decided to do upstream first.  Unfortunately Kevin got sick (food poisoning or something) the night before, so it was just me and Rob.  Rob decided not to schlep the camera along for this dive, but I brought the hero-cam with video reflector.  I was pretty impressed by the quality of the video that Kevin had captured the previous day with this configuration.  We had picked up the key the day before, so we headed straight down to the site.  I was tasked with opening the two (yes, two) gates.  I was a bit stymied by the first gate.  After Rob drove through, I couldn't figure out how to lock the gate once we were on the inside.  In fact, I was so stumped, that I made Rob get out of the car to show me.  Yea, I'm never going to live that one down.  Once we were inside of the first gate, we got only slightly lost on the drive to the site.  I think that the road has changed a little bit so it is actually now a lot easier to find... you just go straight until you get there :)  But if you are expecting to have to go right at a fork, this seems a little confusing!  The facilities have improved a bit, with an even nicer path and stairs down to the water (not into the water though, that's pretty much the same as before, but with a stump where there used to be a poison tree).

So, the plan was to go down to the INAH room and then back up and to the right, then up to the Ninth Level.  Then further up the line afterward if gas allowed.  The water in the basin didn't seem quite as gross as usual, which I attributed to no one diving in there for a while.  There was a kayak sitting at the edge of the water, which we both found pretty funny.  Anyhoo, we lined up our bottles along the edge of the water, got into our gear and did all of our checks on the benches (to minimize time in the basin), and got into the water.  We agreed to go onto our stages once we were in the entrance room because, well, verifying bottles in the muck didn't seem like a great idea.  We found the line and down we went. The viz in the basin was probably like 3 to 5 feet rather than the usual 1 to 2, so I'll call that good :)  Viz was clear in the entrance room.  We headed right at the T and dropped our oxygen bottles and went onto our stages once we were to the edge of the room, where there was a non-mung bottom to drop our bottles on.  Then we headed along a couple of minutes up to the INAH line.  I did want to get some video of that line, but I figured that I could do so on the way out, so we pretty much just scooted through there without stopping.  I've been to the end of this line, but never actually made the jump back up (I think Rob was halfway to installing the jump when I turned the dive once).  Going up through the halocline on the way out of there was one of the best through-the-halocline views I think I have ever had!  The boundary was so crisp-looking.

Swanky new path to the stairs
From there we headed to the right, or in the direction that the arrow pointed back toward Jailhouse.  This passage was all above the halocline, and pretty similar to the downstream above-the-halocline portions of Jailhouse that I've been to before -- dark tunnel, orange-y pillars small and large.  After not terribly long, maybe 6 or 8 minutes, we came to the end of this line, which sort of surprised me, though looking at the map now, it probably shouldn't have.  I thought that the line we were on was what the mainline from Jailhouse would eventually become, but instead, the mainline takes a turn and this line is a jump off of it.  So we jumped back into the mainline, where it takes the turn.  I dropped my first stage bottle there too.  After another like 2 minutes, we hit a T (which I think we thought would be a jump... can't believe everything you hear!).  The T was right in the halocline, which seemed, umm, non-optimal.  From here on for the next 10 minutes or so, the halocline was pretty much right in the middle of the passage.  The tunnel was both wide and tall and I would describe it as not particularly decorated (though a very attractive tunnel nonetheless), though maybe if I had been closer to the walls and paying more attention to them, I would say differently.  For a good bit of this passage, Rob was riding right about the halocline, and I was riding right below it.  This made for some pretty funny attempts at conversation.  Rob would start gesticulating at me, and his hands would be flapping around right in the halocline.  Which wouldn't really signal anything to me so much as it would stir up the halocline.  Doh.  We made one stop for Rob to check out what looked like a passage below and to the right (not sure what it was, since we didn't get a chance to check it out on the way out).

Before you know it, we were at the jump to the Ninth Level, which was perfectly obvious despite our concerns about that.  We took the jump down, which lands you in a wide tunnel, really more like a big rectangular room, in 70-some feet.  After maybe a minute, still in this room, we came to a T.  Hmm, a T.  I remembered on the map that it did look like there were two spits of tunnel going off from this jump, but I couldn't remember which one was the Ninth Level (not that it really mattered).  So we went left first, which was really more straight than left.  The passage gets deeper and narrower, and the walls are that rough "cheesy" kind of texture.  After just a minute or two, the line heads up into a slightly tight chimney of sorts (which appears right at the start of the video), and we popped out into a shallower passage that was a bit wider.  Both parts of the tunnel are a nice size in the sense that you can see everything and really light it up with one (or two) lights.  But it's not small in the sense that it is hard to maneuver through (we were both carrying stages the whole way).  After another minute or two, Rob stopped and reported that the line had ended, so we turned around.

I got my hero cam out at this point, and switched out my light reflector.  I swam back toward the chimney while videoing, and stopped before it so that I could get Rob swimming by and then disappearing down the chimney (I stopped filming when puffs of silt started to poof out of the chimney).  We returned to the T and then went the other way (the correct way), with me in the lead so I could video before it got too chalky :)  This side of the T started out similar, with a nice-sized white-walled tunnel that meanders for a bit before eventually getting wider and more decorated.  After a short passage with quite a few big decorative columns in the middle of the passage, eventually the tunnel flattens out, all the while slowly getting deeper (down to almost 90').  I finally decided it would be a good time to drop my stage, since it was getting low.  When I clipped the stage to the line, the bottle could not comfortably stand vertically, to give you an idea of the height of the passage.  I continued on and like 30 feet later, the line ended.  Doh!  Total waste of a bottle drop.  Rob was in disbelief, because it really seemed like the tunnel kept going, but it got really low first.  So we turned around, I retrieved my bottle (grumble) and out we went.

View from the top of the stairs
When we got back to the mainline, I dropped my bottle and we headed further up the line.  Ahhh, so free without any stage bottles.  For the next 5 minutes or so, the tunnel was pretty similar, with the halocline in the middle of it, though there were a couple of spots where it sort of pinched down before leading into another bigger space.  Then we came to a BIG room, very tall, with the line running at about 45 feet in a channel next to a tall tall ledge.  I was halfway up the ledge and Rob went all the way to the top.  He saw that there was a line up there, so asked if I wanted to take the jump.  Sure, why not?  We'll rack up less deco than if we keep heading up the line we were on :)  Rob put the jump in and we headed up the line.  The top of the ledge was about 20 feet, but the line slowly worked its way to 30-some feet.  We passed through a low, flat, somewhat silty area, and then there were a couple of narrow twisty turny areas.  It was definitely the siltiest part of the dive so far.  Eventually I turned the dive on gas, probably about 10 minutes up this line.  Looking at the map, this must have been the line that passes by Fenceline Cenote, though we didn't see the cenote.  Maybe we are just oblivious.

Our exit was fairly straightforward, and a bit faster than the way in.  As we approached the INAH line, I got my camera back out and deployed the video reflector again, because I wanted to get a shot of the halocline.  But it was still pretty stirred up, so that wasn't too successful.  As I dropped through the chimney there, I practically bounced off of the halocline.  I had a feeling I might be a bit underweighted in the saltwater passage on the way out (with an empty and near-empty stage).  I had meant to add a 2-pounder to my rig before I ventured beneath the halocline, but my bullet weights were in Kevin's car, and Kevin wasn't with us!  So, I had to either dive my suit completely squeezed, or breathe off of the bottom of my lungs.  The latter option was quite doable, but I really wanted to get some video of that passage, and didn't necessarily think I could do a great job if I was underweighted.  So I told Rob that I was light, and he offered to take my empty stage :)  Ahhh, what a good dive buddy.

So we meandered through that passage, with just a brief stop for Rob to checkout a jump (to the left as you head in, right before the end of the line).  The halocline on the way up was likewise too stirred up for any good video.  When we got back to our O2 bottles, I offered to take my stage bottle back, but he ignored my efforts (not sure if he didn't see, or was just ignoring me).  So I picked up my O2 bottle and just continued along.  I was relieved to see that the entrance room was as we left it, with good viz.  I suggested 8 minutes of deco, which was probably overkill, but I don't have a deco rule for 56 feet average, so I split the difference between 60 feet (16 minutes of deco) and 50 feet (no deco).  While on our very short deco stop, I managed to find out the hard way what happens if you flail around in the mung.  My light handle started to slide off of my hand (because it is sized for my hand with a 5mm glove) and I swooped my hand down to "catch" it and poof, there was a giant cloud of stuff in the water.  I watched the cloud float across over the line and then eventually it dissipated.  When our deco was over, I headed up and surfaced, and a moment later Rob appeared too.

It was hot and muggy and a little buggy, so we were quite efficient at packing up and getting out of there.  We headed to Tulum to get some lunch (Don Cafeto, love the super limonada) and return the key.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Gran Cenote: Lithium Sunset, etc.

We decided to go to Gran Cenote for the first day since it's a nice easy dive. Or so we said when we were trying to decide between it and Jailhouse.  I had a couple spots in mind, one of which was Lithium Sunset, and that's what we ended up settling on. With a side of the Cuzan Nah loop if there was time.  We got going at about 8 and after a super quick stop at ZG (to pick up some wet notes) we got down to Gran Cenote a little before 9. We were the only people there!  After Rob gave us a quick demo of how to back into a garbage can (twice) we managed to find a spot by the closest table.

It was quite breezy so it wasn't too uncomfortably hot while we setup gear. The stairs and deck are in pretty good condition with just one rickety step. We laid our bottles down on the deck and then while getting dressed a couple groups of snorkelers appeared. We also met a very friendly teeny little dog who could best be described as a ragamuffin -- super cute and fluffy but he looked like he'd been rolling around in the dirt :). Anyhoo Rob went for a swim once in his suit. By the time I was heading down the stairs to join him, he was heading up. Since Kevin announced that he didn't need a swim, I decided to skip it too and got geared up forthwith. We got into the water, did gear checks, grabbed our bottles and we were off. Kevin led the dive since he knew where we were going.

I have posted about various dives at Gran Cenote before (mainline and Box Chen) so I will focus on what was new to me.  We took the PDL jump and I really had no memory of how far up that line it would be to the jump. It ended up being about 35 minutes to the Lithium Sunset jump (though that included a brief pause to drop a stage just a couple minutes before). Once we put the jump in, lots of camera gear was dropped on the line, since we planned for pictures on the way out. For the first 10 minutes or so, the passage sort of alternated between bigger not very decorated passages and smaller "doorways" that were pretty well decorated with tall skinny columns you had to thread yourself between, soda straws on the ceiling and the like. We eventually came to a T. Kevin had promised a jump but instead we got a T. We went left into the passage which I guess is technically Lithium Sunset.

After the T it got smaller and more interesting. Lots of little doorways or underpasses before opening up into slightly bigger passages. And because the passages were smaller, you could easily light it all up and see all of the formations. It wasn't non-stop decorations but it was consistently interesting.  There were some areas that weren't really decorated at all but had lots of the more rough craggly rocks. There were also some interesting restrictions that we passed through.  Luckily we dropped our second bottles before the restrictions got too interesting.  There was an area where there were a bunch of ups and downs through interesting shaped cracks. This sort of reminded me of the path to Box Chen but on a much smaller scale.  The most interesting of these cracks was a flat crack, at an angle like 30 degrees from horizontal, right at the top of a hill, and you had to squeeze through at the right angle and in the right spot, while also sort of diving down the hill.  I watched Kevin go through and thought that I saw a way better way to approach it.  So I did, clunk.  I don't really think my approach was any better or any worse... just different :)  But once through that, it got bigger for a bit, flat but easy to pass through.  The bottom was very chalky at this point, and thus it was pretty easy to blitz the viz.

Eventually we came to a really interesting restriction, where the passage was VERY flat, what the term "tits to tanks" was made for.  There were also formations at various spots, which complicated it.  There were essentially 3 holes you could possibly pass through.  The one on the left was the widest, but also looked the lowest, and the line ran through it.  Kevin attempted to go through that and quickly decided it wouldn't work.  So then he approached the center hole, which was the narrowest, and wiggled for a while and eventually made it through.  While he was wiggling, I was checking out the right-most hole.  Once he made it through, I thought I'd try that, since it looked a little bigger.  But I quickly determined that it wasn't -- it was wider but not as tall.  So then I went through the center hole, and found it not too hard to get through.  Just after the really tough spot, the bottom was really chalky, so the viz was pretty crappy right after the restriction.  But then I popped out into a bigger room, phew.  We continued on from there for another 5 or so minutes, and then we came to another spot that looked very tight to pass through.  It was low and had lots of formations that you had to thread yourself through.  Kevin made a signal about it getting small and did I want to keep going (or that's what I thought the signal meant).  I said okay, and then watched him wriggle through.  As I watched him go through, I decided that I didn't feel like wriggling through another tiny hole, since we already had 2 tough holes to wriggle back through on the way out :)  So I turned the dive on enough adventure for one day.  I felt a bit bad to turn it AFTER Kevin had wriggled through, though he didn't seem to mind.  Later Kevin told me that he was signaling that the passage got bigger on the other side.  Oops.  I misunderstood that one.  When I turned and signaled turn, Rob showed me his gauge, to signal his disdain for me turning it early.  Teehee.

When we got back to the first (on the way out) tough restriction, things got interesting.  The viz was already a bit milky (from everything we'd poofed up on the way in), and this time we would be stirring up the viz before getting to the restriction.  And there was the little complication that the line ran through the slot that we had found too small to pass through (probably technically a line trap, I think, though it may have been possible to pass the line from hand to hand while going through the center hole).  I was on the line, and while the viz leading up the restriction was really bad, once I got to the restriction, I could see (through the hole that the line passed through) that it was really clear on the other side.  From this position I could also see Rob trying to get through the restriction... through the third hole (the one I failed to pass through on the way in).  I figured that once Rob made it through, I could reposition myself in the middle hole and have a clear view of the line on the other side of the restriction (with the help of Rob's light) and drop the line.  So I waited and watched.  I wasn't sure why Rob was trying to pass where he was... I didn't know if he had come through that hole on the way in, or if he was confused and meant to pass through the center hole.  I figured if it was the latter, he would eventually figure it out (since I was not really in a position to communicate that anyway).  And indeed, he did eventually figure it out, though it was after what seemed like forever (but was probably like two minutes).  I finally saw him back up, move over, and wriggle through the center hole.  That still took a bit of maneuvering, but he got through and waited for me on the other side.  I backed out of the hole I'd been watching him through, approached the center, and got through with really not too much difficulty.  After watching Rob and Kevin both go through both of the really tight restrictions, I realized that I really do have an advantage in this respect.  Once we have all of the gear on, I don't really think I am that much smaller than them, but I got through both of these restrictions a lot more easily than they did... and it's not because of skill!

Once we collected Kevin, we continued out.  Luckily the bad viz didn't follow us (or couldn't keep up with us).  When we got to the other really small restriction, it was funny to watch Rob go through, because at some point all I could really see was Rob's fins kicking around, because the rest of his body was engulfed in a plume of chalk.  I kind of plowed through the restriction, and waited for Kevin, and then we headed out.  From there, the rest of the passage seemed big, even though on the way in it had seemed kind of small!  When we got back to the T, Rob stopped and was shining his light on the other side, and then looking at our cookies, and this went on for a moment, while I waited for the question. And then it came.  Should we go up the other way?  I asked Kevin, who seemed to passive-aggressively agree to it.  I wasn't really sure why... if he didn't want to go that way, Rob and I weren't particularly invested in it.  We headed up that way for maybe 8 minutes... more than 5 but less than 10 I'd say.  It is quite nice.  There are a bunch of pretty flattish (but not small) areas that are pretty heavily decorated.  It's definitely a spot worth returning to.  There was also a neat little room at the top of a hill, where you swim up a slope and come out into this relatively flat but big wide plateau that is solid rock (without any sediment on top), and then head back down the slope on the other side.  At some point Rob asked if we wanted to keep going, and I suggested that we turn it, since he wanted to shoot photos on the way out.

So we headed out.  Kevin took a little bit of video on his hero cam on the way out, so we reordered when we got back to the T.  I ended up in front again for a time.  When we got back to the jump, Rob mounted the slave strobes on our tanks, and then we continued on, with Rob in the lead so he could stop us for pictures.  I think that lining us up for shots was a bit like herding cats, though even cat herders can benefit from the use of clear hand signals :P  When we got back to the mainline, we ditched our bottles and headed further up the line.  The plan was to do the Cuzan Nah loop.  I put in the gap at Ho-Tul... Rob pulled a spool and then handed it to me, since his hands were full with his camera.  So there, I did get to do something on the dive!  When we came to the jump to the loop, I dropped a cookie on the line, but we decided to follow the line instead of installing the jump and going counterclockwise.    We made it to the huge calcite mound by the cenote (is that also Ho-Tul?), where you come up to like 12 feet before heading back down the mound.  Just around the part where it gets small again (still on the slope), I couldn't clear my ears.  Rob paused at one spot (not sure why) which I thought would help.  Then when he started moving again, I tried to follow and just couldn't clear my left ear.  So I signaled to him that I couldn't clear and retreated back up the mound.  I came back out to the big room, where Kevin still was.  Rob did not follow me.  So Kevin went in to retrieve him, and I turned the dive.  As I headed up the mound, there was a bit of a screeching noise in my ear and then some clicking noises and then all was good.  Then when I came back the other side, I had no problems clearing.  Phew.  We stopped for a few more pictures on the way out, but otherwise it was a pretty efficient exit.  Once we got back to our bottles, we were really moving (I guess the flow, I didn't feel like we were kicking too hard) and made it back to the reel faster than I expected.

As we got to the cavern zone, I saw that there were a zillion swimmers in the water.  I could see tons of dangling legs!  We slowly meandered out toward the open water, with our lights off once we were in the cavern.  I got to the open water and my gauge read 3:58:30 or so.  So I had to wait for the clock to tick over to 4 hours.  Yes, I'm vain.  Or something.  We surfaced to a zillion swimmers.  We found a little rope to clip our bottles off to.  Rob got out of the water and then helped me up the ladder.  There are two ladders, and the one with the longer post at the top had a bunch of swimmers hanging out on it.  I find the taller post helpful to put my weight on when I climb that last tricky step.  So since I had to use the other ladder, I basically just polaris'd from the top step onto my knees on the platform, and Rob helped me up from my knees.  He gave me one hand to push off of to stand up.  As I was almost completely up, I think he thought I wasn't going to make it, and tried to "catch me" and ended up grabbing me by the face.  Awkward.  I headed up the stairs while Kevin was getting out of the water.  I got out of my (somewhat soggy) suit and went to the bathroom, and when I came out, the boys had brought my bottles up from the water.  Sweet!  Rob told me that my penalty was that I had to go back down to the water with a pair of fins to collect some water to rinse the suits with.  It seemed like an excellent trade to me... two stage bottles versus two fins filled with water.

We were all starving, so we packed up quickly and headed into Tulum for some empanadas.  And gelato.  Mmm.