It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

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!

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