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Mexico- November 2020
The Yucatan Peninsula is a flat limestone landscape covered in jungle and battered by seasonal hurricanes. Despite the seasonal deluge of water the flatness of the Yucatan is devoid of natural lakes and rivers. Insteado, rainwater trickles down through the ground creating thousands of cenotes many of which have yet to be discovered. Costco in Merida even has a cenote in the parking lot that they discovered during construction. Others have been turned into tourist facilities.
I picked a well rated hotel for us in the village of Homun which is famous for its cenotes. On arrival the hotel resembled more of a high-end jail with its high fences and five locked gates and doors one had to transit through in order to arrive or leave. The single staff member didn’t help matters either with his serious demeanour and lengthy covid rule procedures he rattled off at us in incomprehensible Spanish. The room and grounds themselves were very pleasant and clean and the solitary staff member very attentive with helping us exit or enter the multiple gates as we only had keys to two of five doors.
We started our cenote tour at the very touristy Santa Barbara Cenote complex. We arrived early enough that we were the first of only a handful of visitors that morning. The three cenotes are over a kilometre away from the visitor center so a traditional style train runs between them. The Yucatan used to have the most extensive train system in Mexico but sadly none are running anymore. Our “train” consisted of a small flatbed carriage pulled by a horse who runs in front as the wheels click and clack over the thin rails.
Our first cenote was fully enclosed and very dark. A wooden staircase circled around into an underground lake. Being such a quiet morning no one had turned the lights on yet. This made things much more interesting as Lena has a mild fear of both caves and water. We descended into the darkness wito a sizeable deck which was completely flooded creating a waist deep place to swim. We explored the deck with my flashlight and found a scorpion clinging to the only non submerged balustrade.
Once the lights were turned on the cenote was even more incredible. Many of the lights were below water line giving the cenote an incredible blue colour. Roots dangled in from the roof with the occasional stalactite reaching down towards the water.
The second cenote at Santa Barbara was a short walk further and was even more impressive with more daylight shining down resulting in the most brilliant blue water and a very golden orangey glow to Lena’s skin and made her eyebrows disappear in photos. It is here we took the most shots.
The third and last Santa Barbara cenote was very flooded meaning we had to swim along a cut limestone underground passage to the open to the sky cenote. Some of the Mexican tourists were highly amusing hanging on to various pool toys while wearing lifejackets as guides pushed them along the passage insisting they would not drown and the cenote was worth seeing.
Homun was wonderful and remarkably busy. Usually a place popular with day trippers and even cruise ship tours it was just us and the locals along with a few tourists from all over Mexico. We found a little road side eatery which had a different menu everyday. A constant stream of locals came for takeaway but we were lucky enough to be allowed to dine in. Each time we arrived a table and two chairs magically appeared on the sidewalk for us to eat the most delicious food.
Day two we hired a driver on a three wheeled motorcycle taxi. He took us to four more cenotes all very different from each other as well as an underground cavern filled with bats in the middle of the jungle. The access point for the cavern was a squeeze you had to climb into, something which Lena was surprisingly excited to do.
Many of the cenotes in the Yucatan have become quite pricey and very touristy particularly those around Playa and Tulum. Cenote Zaci is probably the most pleasant of the busy ones. Situated in the middle of Valladolid it serves as the local swimming pool. Mostly collapsed the half roof serves to shade the cenote as well as keep the rain off. Manmade waterfalls cascade into the middle of the cenote adding ambience as do the iguanas that are fed by the locals. Swimming in this one proved to be quite a conundrum for Lena. All the other cenotes provided a life jacket which she happily donned using mine as a raft for extra flotation. However in Zaci lifejacket rental costs as much as admission. Send me a message with your guess of whether Lena rented a lifejacket or not.
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