By Richard Varr
I step carefully onto the submerged cave floor with its slippery stones and loose rock formations, poking my long walking stick into the water.
“There’s a bad drop here,” warns one of my traveling companions as I am about to plunge deeper into the cool, waist high water in a string of cenotes along the Maya Riviera. I’m maneuvering along an underground river as low as 21 meters below the coastal Mexican jungle above.
“Walking is a bit tricky because nature isn’t just plain, but it’s the fun part as well,” guide Julio Zacatzi tells me as we walk in single file, maneuvering through the narrow and contorted pathways one by one. “We have to step down and use balancing skills. It’s rough ground, but still quite maneuverable for us,” he says.
Around me are jagged, dripping stalactites and protruding stalagmites shooting out from above and below the twisted passageway before us.
Through the clear water we see slender hand-length catfish gently undulating along the cave floor. Bats hang still in pockets of chipped limestone above us, their eyes piercing our gaze and seemingly watching our every move.
Donning wet suits, life jackets and spotlighted helmets, we’re spelunking through a 700-meter-long passageway of Rio Secreto, a now popular attraction six miles from Playa del Carmen. Julio tells me we’re walking along the “Alegría” route – just one path within the six miles mapped out for tours amidst the region’s seemingly boundless cenotes. “Alegría means happy in English,” says Julio. “I feel happy every time I enter here and every time I make contact with nature as well.”
We enter one cavern where we’re now wading in deep water. Julio instructs us to turn off our helmet lights, form a circle and hold hands. “Now float on your backs and let’s be silent,” he says. Abject darkness and stark solitude now engross us. I hear only the staccato echoes of dripping stalactites and the gentle motion as some of us quiver to stay balanced in the still, cool water.
“It’s another world – it’s like being literally inside nature and having a moment of relaxation,” Julio tells me. “I have a new experience here every day, and I have the opportunity to share this experience with the people who come to Mexico as well.”
For more information: http://www.riosecreto.com
MOON GUIDE BOOK
With the controversial end of the Maya calendar this year, one guide book is highlighting tours, events, ceremonies and celebrations throughout the Mayan world. Maya 2012: A guide to Celebrations In Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras is a Moon Travel Guide written by freelance writer Joshua Berman who splits his time between Colorado and Latin America.
Read his Maya 2012 blog at Moon.com: http://www.moon.com/blogs/mundo-maya