Cenote - a sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath.
As an employee of YSI for more than five years, I have been very fortunate in my career to visit several field sites. My many opportunities have allowed me to help harvest fish at an aquaculture facility, to walk on wooden bridges over hundreds of catfish ponds, to holding thousands of fish larvae in my hands, and I can’t forget those times where I have been knee deep in waders and hiking thru the woods to sample the water in the flowing rivers, streams and oceans. Recently, I was fortunate enough to add another water experience to my list, and it is by far one of my favorite ones yet, and I wanted to share it with you.
Recently, I took a trip to Mexico. I was committed to ensuring the trip was packed with new adventures I had yet experience. This fueled my decision to venture out to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico to swim in the historical cenotes.
A cenote is a natural sinkhole that results in limestone bedrock collapsing and groundwater being exposed underneath. Cenotes exists all over the world, but in the Yucatan Peninsula, in the jungle, where I was, they are known for two major things:
- They were used by the ancient Mayans for sacrificial offerings
- It is home to what is known as the largest underground river network in the world.
The Yucatán Peninsula has almost no rivers and only a few lakes. The vastly distributed cenotes are the only recurrent source of potable water and have long been the principal sources of water in much of the Yucatán Peninsula. Major Mayan settlements required access to adequate water supplies, and therefore cities, were built around these natural wells. A great example of this is the famous city of Chichén Itzá. Some cenotes like the ones in Chichén Itzá played an important role in Maya rituals. Mayans believed that these pools were gateways to the afterlife. (To learn more about the Mayan connection, check out this National Geographic post).
Arriving at the Cenotes
After a turbulent ride via jungle jeep thru the Mayan jungles, we arrived to these natural wells. Once there, we had a couple ways to enter the cenotes:
- Hike directly into a cave and enter the water body.
- Repel into a fully collapsed sink hole into the cave and enter the water body.
- Zip line into a fully collapsed sink hole into the cave and enter the water body.
I decided choices 2 and 3 were for me.
Both times I entered the cenotes, one lowered by a rope and two, via zipline, I was greeted by the most breathtaking view. These natural wonders are found in the middle of the jungle surrounded by warm salt water filled oceans but these unique water bodies were filled with fresh water and the temperature was very cool. Enormous stalactites (rock formations that grow downwards) were everywhere my eye could see and bats hung all around me.
When I put on my goggles and dove underneath the cool waters, the site, again took my breath away. Hundreds of fish swam around me, which surprised me because there was very minimal sunlight reaching the waters. All beneath me were more incredible rock formations, called stalagmites (rock formations that grow upwards). I snorkeled and swam in the cenotes for hours, exploring every corner behind every rock. The depth of the groundwater ranged between 4 and 10 feet.
These swims, these natural wonders, were just another reminder how precious our water bodies are. Currently cave divers have taken an interest into these groundwater pools and organized efforts have been put into place to not only map these underwater systems but protect them as well. I am proud to be part of a company who plays an active role in this type of work every day.
If ever in the Yucatan Peninsula, I strongly encourage you to swim the cenotes, I promise you won’t regret it. The water, the view, will take your breath away.
All images provided by alltournatiave Ecoarchaelogical Expeditions.
Additional Blog Posts of Interest:
Advanced Groundwater Monitoring at National Corvette Sinkhole
How ORP Sampling Helped Determine Arsenic in Drinking Water Wells
Get the Most From Your Water Quality Sonde - Webinar
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