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Monday, July 1, 2019

Mexico 2019: Jailhouse Downstream

On Monday we went to Jailhouse.  Kevin and crew needed to stop for gas, so we went into Tulum to get the key and decided to all meet at the gate. We found the house with the key without too much trouble and Rob impressed me with his Spanish by telling the lady 5 people and dispensing cash based on her response. There was a cute little wiener dog on the roof, looking down barking at us. Next we headed to the site. We had directions is that we knew approximately where it was. We found the gate to Cenote Escondido (which sounded familiar and I soon found out is the name for Mayan Blue). The gate really didn’t look familiar. It was unlocked and our key did not fit the lock. So we went back a little bit and found a dirt road with a sign for a hotel and decided it could only possibly be this turn off or the gate we were just at. While pondering that, we saw Kevin go by and pull off at the Escondido gate.  So we went back over there and convinced ourselves there was another gate further in where we use the key.  We headed down the bumpy road and passed the parking lot for Mayan Blue. On the other side where the road continued, the road was blocked with a big pile of dirt and rubble. Grumble.

So we headed back out and decided to try the dirt road after all. We saw on the google maps satellite picture a farm of some sort in that direction, and we knew we needed to drive through a farm. We drove down that road for a while and came to a T. I was suddenly reminded of a time when we went to Eagle’s Nest and got a little lost on the way. Bobby said to go right based on the satellite. Then we came to a spot where the road seemed to turn left but you could also go straight or right. So a four way intersection but it seemed like left was the main road. Kevin had the mark in his GPS but the batteries were dead. We borrowed some batteries from Rob’s strobe to wake it up and decided to go left. From there we had no more directional decisions to make before coming to the gate, which we recognized. And the key worked.  Phew. Right through the gate was a big pool of water which was previously not there, I guess they depressed out a small cenote?  It was big and surrounded by a little concrete ledge and big concrete stairs into the water. It seemed to be a work in progress.  From there, it was a short drive to Jailhouse. Phew.

Doesn't that make you want to go for a swim?
Jailhouse is also apparently undergoing some changes. The basin is much bigger and the water is higher.  There were dredging hoses laying around and one of the other guys there (another team was gearing up when we arrived) reported that someone was there 5 days earlier when they were dredging and the viz was blitzed.  The basin also had stairs into it, which we were warned were very slippery.  The have ropes running down each side, and the best technique that I could could up with was to hold the ropes and walk backwards down the stairs.  There are also bathrooms there now, which were surprisingly nice and functional, except for missing toilet seats :P

Given the report of possible bad viz fair into the cave, we debated whether to bring O2, since we wouldn’t want to deco in zero viz. In the end, Kevin, Karl, and Bobby decided not to bring them but Rob and I did. We were doing slightly different dives — we were taking the first jump down to the saltwater passage while they were taking the long way via a couple Ts.  We got in the water first, maybe 10 minutes after that other team got in (which was good, because they found the line for us). The viz was bad but not the worst I have seen on top in the basin. Rob was leading. When I first descended (on the line) the viz very briefly got better and then it went black. This isn’t unusual at Jailhouse, but every time I’ve been there, it clears up right before or as you enter the cave. Not today. Today it was zero viz past entering the cave (I could feel the big rock right as I entered and then the water got colder like it usually does when you enter the cave. But it was still black.). I negotiated a couple of tie offs to sticks in the mud; I was very paranoid about accidentally passing the T without realizing there were two ways to go. Then all of a sudden the water was clear and I was staring at Rob’s O2 bottle on the line. The water cleared up just before the T, right where the slope got steeper.  I dropped my O2 bottle on the line and we headed to the left. As I looked up the slope, I could see a mass of brown hanging in the water right above the line. But further to the side, the water was clearer.   This gave me some hope that viz would clear by the time we came back.

After a couple minutes of swimming, we came to an arrow and there were two jumps to the right. Rob had warned me of this and said we’d take the rightmost of the two. But we got there and the team ahead had installed the jump to the other line. So I was momentarily confused when Rob started running the line in a different direction but then I got it. That tunnel has like one or one and a half spots where it’s a pain to go through with two stages, but I had the benefit of watching Rob go through first so it was not too bad for me.  Of course I also had the benefit of swimming in Robs cloud of silt through that passage. When we got to the jump down through the halocline, we dropped our unused bottles, and Rob installed the slave strobe on my tanks and did some test fires. It worked today.  Then we headed to the right. Our pace was more leisurely here, since Rob was taking pictures.  I like this part of Jailhouse. There are some pretty decorated areas but even where the tunnel isn’t super decorated, it’s very pretty with the clear blue water and bright white walls.

We eventually came back up through the halocline into the freshwater, which was refreshingly cool. I was a bit toasty in the saltwater.  At some point I saw Rob turn around and thought he was going to take a picture as I came over and through a little slot into the room he was in, so I readied the strobe sensor and made sure my trim was good and then as soon as I came over the rock, he gave me the turn signal. Doh. I thought this may have been the last room downstream, but Rob said it wasn't, but since it was in the freshwater, he didn't think it was interesting to keep going.  After turning and swimming a few fin kicks, Rob signaled and asked to reposition so he could get pictures. We did this pretty much every time it was my turn to lead :(.

We came back to the jump and swapped out stages and continued on to the Swiss Syphon jump.  Kevin et al had installed a jump there.  Rob signaled for me to lay the jump (yay) but then he took over leading again. Swiss Syphon is my favorite part of Jailhouse, especially after you get to the T and go right. We stopped for lots of pics along the way. We passed the other team pretty close to the end of the line and Rob took a few pictures of them. Then a few minutes later, Rob called turn, either because we hit the end of the line or it got small.  There was no need to turn on gas so I assumed it was one or the other (according to Rob, it got small).  We repositioned again so he could turn around and get pictures, and meandered back to the T.  We debated whether to check out the other side, and I said let's just go a little bit.  So we went like 3 minutes and then turned back.  I don't think it was quite as nice as the right side, but we only gave it 3 minutes :)

Once we turned there, we headed back out without much in the way of stops.  Except to pick up stages and spools and the like :)  When we finally made it back to the jump back out of the saltwater passage, we had to pickup stages and switch onto those stages, and while we were in the middle of that, it got dark.  Sigh.  Rob's light went out again.  He pulled out a Scout light and turned it on.  He then gave me a signal which I read to be something about giving him a light.  So I pulled out one of my Scout lights (while mentally and maybe physically rolling my eyes) and went to hand it to him.  Then I realized that the "light flashing" signal had been meant to say that he was going to take the remote strobe off the back of my tanks.  Doh!  So I put my Scout light away while he was doing that.  After he took that back, he was fiddling with his Scout light, which kept flickering on and off.  Seriously?  So I had to whip mine out again and hand it to him.  Then we *finally* got going, with him in the lead (again).  This was the point where I finally thought I'd get to lead, since he wasn't taking pictures anymore.  Sigh.

When we got back to the main line, the viz was somewhat deteriorated.  I wasn't sure if it was worse than when we came in, or if it just seemed worse because when we came in, after emerging from the silt, it seemed really clear, relatively speaking.  Anyway, when we got back to the T, the viz in the room was okay by the T and relatively okay just up the slope from the T, but rapidly deteriorating from there.  There was no way we were going to be able to deco at 20', though.  I looked up to see if deco'ing on the ceiling above the T was an option, and while I think it might be an option in general, the viz above us was pretty deteriorated too.  And I really didn't want to be anywhere that wasn't within arm's reach of the line.  So we discussed and decided to double the deco and deco on backgas at 30'.  About 3/4 of the way into the deco, I started to wonder if we were actually shallow enough to be offgassing, but it still seemed like the most feasible option.

Even though Rob should technically lead out, since he was on a backup light, I was feeling like a big wimp and wanted to go out first.  I figured in zero viz, who has the more powerful light is not really relevant.  So I told Rob I would be leading out, and he said he was going to give me a 2 minute head start, so that he wouldn't pile up on me if I got hung up somewhere.  So I started up the slope, and was relieved to find that I had maybe 18 inches of viz.  There was enough viz that with my light on my left hand and the line in my right hand, the light was lighting the line ahead of me.  Until it wasn't.

It seemed to go from 18" of viz to 0 viz instantaneously.  I wondered if my light had died.  Then I turned it up to point it at my eyes and I saw a dull yellow glow.  So that was fun.  I got "stuck" twice on the way out.  The first time, I thought I was in the entrance to the cave, where there is a big rock on the bottom on the right side (as you exit).  So after I got through there, I thought I was probably in open water, but wasn't going to let go of the line until I was on the surface or could see the surface.  Then I got jammed between two rocks again, this time I was wedged in there pretty good, but I shimmied to my right and managed to get through.  I think this was actually the big entrance rock.  Because immediately after that, the water got VERY warm and brighter, more like a red-yellow than black.  I kept following the line up and it was soon very bright and more yellow white and I thought I heard voices.  Then I hit the surface and found Kevin, Karl, and Bobby hanging out in the basin, without their gear.  I guess they'd come out about 20 minutes earlier, but came back to the basin to wait for us.  Apparently as they were exiting the team that went in before us was going back in for a second dive.  So I thought maybe that was what stirred things up, but apparently it was like that before Kevin, Karl and Bobby had left the cave, so I guess it never settled.

A minute later, Rob's bubbles appeared and then he surfaced pretty quickly.  It was freaking hot in the basin, so we were pretty motivated to get out of there.  We cleaned everything up and headed to Don Cafeto's for lunch.  The super limonada was just as awesome as I remembered.  But I had forgotten about the pickled vegetables that they serve with chips when you sit down.   Mmmm.  After lunch we headed to the gelato place for dessert.

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