Frank's Excellent Adventure travel blog

Cenote Tajma-Ha

Jailhouse

Cool Shadow

Angeles Verdes

Panchito

Blown Tire

Cenote Angelita

My Favorite Sign Of The Day

Cenote Angelita

Sistema Sac Actun

Gran Cenote

Mickey & Me

My Second Favorite Sign Of The Day

Mr. Mario's Best Picture!

Hard Rock - Riviera Maya

Furthur

Friends

Watch Bobby For The Changes (Here He Tries To Conduct The Moon)

Pretty Women

Friends

Paradise Waits

Cenote Cristalino

Cenote Cristalino

The Pit

The Pit

The Pit

The Pit

Cenote Regina

Cenote Regina

Gearing Up

3 Hours and 30 Minute, 5 Tank, Multi-Stage, Deco Dive

Amanda & Me

The Ritz

Cancun


Well I know only this, I’ve got you today

Don’t fly away

‘Cause I love what I love and I want it that way

I will stay, one more day

Like I say, honey, it’s you

Making it too

Without love in the dream it will never come true….

Alright, so it was a long way to come - from South East Asia to the Yucatan Peninsula - and I had been in this part of the world for quite a bit of time last year, but there were some great reasons for coming again. Oh yeah, and it’s my dream, so I can dream what I want.

Friend’s, Cenote’s, Cave Diving …. Yucatan…. Quintana Roo …. jungle, crystal clear water, stalactites, stalagmites ….

I flew from LAX to Atlanta to Cancun, and when I exited the Arrival area at the Airport I was greeted by sunny skies, low humidity and a refreshingly cool breeze. Ahhhh… nice. I hopped a ADO Bus to Playa del Carmen and settled in. It was nice to be back on familiar turf.

The next week was spent doing some incredible Cave Diving with my friend and cave guide extraordinaire Tristan. We dove cenotes Taj Ma Ha and Jailhouse, with the latter being a muddy hole in the middle of the jungle.

After driving to Tulum, getting a key from the cenote owner in some shop in town, driving to an unmarked gate off the highway and then 4 wheel driving down bumpy dirt tracks, we came upon a small, almost tiny, dirty, muddy pond looking cenote in the middle of the jungle. We suited up, jumped in the water, did our gear matching, safety drills, discussed our plan and then swam over to a string that’s tied off to an old stump sticking out of the pitch black water, and down we went, blind, into the depths, using only the feel of the string as our guide, until we slowly submerged into fresh clear water. Then off we went for a good 60 minutes into the cave system before finally turning the dive and retracing our path another 60 minutes until we came to the same piece of string which we followed back up through the darkness to the surface of the muddy hole, in the middle of the jungle, in the cenote known as Jailhouse. Awesome!

A little later in the week my good friend Mickey showed up and he too wanted to try out his scuba skills in a few cenotes. So off we went, with Tristan once again as our trusty guide. The diving was amazing and I’ll get to that in a minute, but what was truly remarkable was our luck on the roads that day. First off I should mention that a few days earlier Tristan and I had a flat tire on his truck and had to stop on the side of the road and change the tire to the spare. Now on the morning with Mickey we were cruising along at 100 km/hr or so and BAMM! one of the back tires blew. I do have to say that Tristan handled the truck like an expert and safely pulled us off to the side of the road.

That’s when the fun began. First thing I said to Tristan is that I hoped he had already been to the Tire Shop and replaced the spare. He said not to worry and that he had indeed done due diligence and replaced the spare. BUT the only problem was that the mechanic at the tire shop broke his car jack extension when replacing the spare and did not have a replacement and without that we could not get the new spare tire down and on the truck! So basically we were stuck on the side of the road.

Again not to worry, Tristan is after all is a professional and he had, programmed into his cell phone, the number for roadside assistance, which he promptly called. And we sat and waited, and waited, and waited. Now to pass time and also because I have a story for everything, I started to tell my companions about the Green Angels - a free, good samaritan, road service, offered throughout Mexico - where the highways and byways are patrolled by these people in green trucks and if they pass by and you are in need of help they stop and get you going again. Very cool, yes? I did say however that it is normally in the more remote areas that they patrol and therefore we had little to no chance of them rescuing us on this beautiful morning. No sooner was the story out of my mouth then guess what, yes you guessed it, a truck pulls up on the side of the road and it is Angeles Verdes - the Green Angels!

Okay so here is the funny part - the truck this guy pulls up in is brand spanking new, all fresh paint and polish and chrome. The man who gets out is totally professional looking - all brand new overalls, cleaned, pressed, name tag proudly displayed. We tell him what our problem is and that all we need is the one little universal extension piece for the car jack, that every roadside assistance vehicle in the world should have - he looks very seriously at the blown tire, then at the spare tucked nice and tight up under the truck bed, then he paces around, even gets down on the ground and has a look underneath, then he says he doesn’t have the one tool that we need. Our angel then wishes us well and leaves! Huh?

Now a few minutes later here comes Tristan’s roadside assistance response team. Okay there was no team, just Panchito. Now Panchito rolled up in an ancient, sticker covered, paint peeling, black smoke belching, original Rolls-Canhardly (you know the truck that rolls down one side of the hill and can hardly get up the other!). Panchito gets out - looking haggard, disheveled, unshaven, old clothes, grease stained, unbuttoned shirt, well you get the idea. AND in less then 5 minutes he had the old tire off, the spare tire on and had us completely sorted out and back on the road!

Hahahaha…. Did that really just happen?

So off we went to dive, to dive Angelita, “little angel”, a almost unbelievably beautiful cenote with crystal clear, sparkling waters on the surface and an eerie, spooky hydrogen sulfide cloud below. Hopefully the little angel would be better to us then the green angel?

We suited up, walked a short distance through the jungle and leapt off the edge of the cenote into the inviting water below. This dive is a very unique dive and is possibly one of a kind. The cenote goes straight down about 200 feet or so and the top 100 feet is fresh water, the bottom 100 salt water. Because of the open hole, organic debris falls in and gathers at the bottom, which then is eaten and decomposed by the micro-organisms that live at the bottom of Angelita, and once these micro-organisms literally "pass gas" the hydrogen sulfide released gets stuck and gathers at the juncture of salt and fresh water. So a milky white cloud of poisonous gas hovers in the depths at about 100 feet. Sticking up through the cloud are dead trees with their skeletal remains of limbs reaching menacingly out and beckoning you to the depths and mysteries below. It is like something right out of a Stephen King movie. It just has to be seen to be believed. We swam around for 45 minutes or so, neutrally buoyant, just above the cloud, me with thoughts of angels and demons swimming in my head. Amazing!

The second dive that day was a true Cavern Dive to Gran Cenote, one of the most famous cenotes in the area and part of Sistema Sac Actun, one of the largest systems in the world. Tristan, Mickey and I enjoyed a leisurely dive, finning our way around stalactites, stalagmites and columns while following the cavern line in a spectacular white cave with visibility that seems to never end. It is almost like floating on air, or flying. Nice.

Okay back to the road. We had to of course drive back to PDC and though I was worried about "what if?” we blew another tire and had no spare and no car jack extension (though in the back of my mind I knew somewhere out there Panchito was waiting to save the day if needed), that didn’t turn out to be our problem on the way home. Our problem was the Police and getting pulled over - TWICE!

Yes, twice. First by the Federales. For what? I initially had no idea, but none the less there we were on the side of the road for a good while, with Tristan trying to produce more paperwork then any driver, legal or not, actually has. Eventually we found out that they were trying to say we illegally passed them on the right hand side - well, Tristan was having none of it and went on in perfect Spanish to explain that they - the Federales - were in the left lane and slowed down to a crawl and therefore we HAD to pass them or pull over and stop. Hmmmm?? They eventually agreed and gave us all of the paperwork back and saw us on our way. Okay?

No sooner had we got back up to cruising speed then up ahead was the normal, everyday, local Municipal Police Road Block. We go through it twice every single day, everybody does, no worries, they aren’t looking for us. They are looking for serious criminals, narco traffickers and all sorts of unsavory characters. Hahahaha…. Please pull over sir. So there we were, again, on the side of the road producing documentation. Fortunately it was still all out and handy from the last stop! This time there was no doubt why they had pulled us over - they immediately said Tristan was talking on his cell phone, which believe it or not, is illegal - you can do just about anything else and drive in Mexico, just don't talk on your cell phone! The thing was though that he wasn’t actually talking on his cell phone - he had it in his hand (technically not illegal), but was NOT talking on it! Well at least that was our story and we were sticking to it. So the search for something else wrong began, they went through the glovebox, the backseat, the paperwork crumpled up on the floor, they questioned us (I just kept saying "no entiendo” - “I don’t understand” - which is true) and eventually they grew tired of the game and sent us on our way? And that was that! Another easy day driving in Mexico.

By this point we were beyond disbelief and needed to blow off a little steam and laugh the bad juju off. So we headed straight to Mr. Mario’s, a local food spot that is a gem of a find, where we met up with another friend of ours - Saint Stephen (of NJ and Colorado fame) - and overindulged in ceviche, shrimp taco’s and Michelada’s (a sort of Bloody Mary spiced beer?) and of course aqua con gas for yours truly.

I figured it would be a great opportunity to capture the moment in digital format and pulled out my camera. I then asked Mario to take our picture - twice. He did and returned the camera to me. Now I do have to say that it is difficult to take good pictures no matter who you are, and as I travel I have found that asking other people to take your picture is not only annoying to them but also puts a lot of pressure and expectations on them and therefore effects their performance. You never know what you are going to wind up with! I have also learned to just say “thank you” and deal with whatever the picture turns out to be. (Loyal readers remember the infamous Stonehenge - cut me out of the picture - picture). So I say “gracias" and discreetly take a look at the two photo’s - they were horrible. So I waited, and when the shrimp tacos were served I risked annoying Mario one more time and asked him once again to take our picture, this time changing the direction we were facing and therefore the direction of the ambient light so that he had half a chance to take a decent shot. He took two. None of them decent! Hahahaha…. (Have a look for yourself to see the best of the 4 shots!)

Now, though it would be reason enough, I didn’t come all the way to Mexico to play around in Cenotes the whole time. There were much more important matters at hand. One of my favorite bands was coming to town :-)

Friend’s, Paradise Waits, Furthur, Live Music, Dancing …. Mexico …. Riviera Maya …. white sand, turquoise blue water, sunshine, cool breezes ….

Okay, so one my favorite bands and a whole bunch of my favorite friend’s too! Furthur - Phil Lesh and Bob Wier from the Grateful Dead - where bringing their current traveling circus to the Playa (beach) for 4 nights of fun. I had friend’s coming in from all over to join in on the festivities. It was going to be a party! A dance party!

It all started out a little pear-shaped. The venue it was booked into was the new Hard Rock Hotel in Puerto Aventuras. The only problem being that the hotel was not finished yet! I can hear the construction workers now “mañana”, “mañana”. Literally people were checking into rooms with no toilets, with painters still painting, rooms with no beds, rooms that didn’t exist, it was a nightmare! Fortunately for me I had an in, a connection, a card to play. My friend Tristan’s good friend Mabel works at the Hotel. So with thousands of people waiting in line for hours, I made a quick call and we were whisked off to our room, a room with a view, a stage view!

The resort may not have been ready but we were. An hour or so later the first note rang out across the courtyard and it was on. For the next four nights, we danced, and partied all night long. During the daylight hours we baked in the sun. The late afternoon’s found me wandering off to the spa for a deep tissue massage and a soak in the hot tub. Lather, rinse, repeat.

So, the whole week was awesome. Lots of smiles and laughter. Lots of overindulging. The Hard Rock is an “all inclusive” and we ate and drank and lounged with the best of them. The staff at the resort were so incredibly nice and accommodating, I don’t think I was told “no” during the entire week no matter what I asked for. The whole experience turned out to be a huge success. Unfortunately it came to an end all too soon and I had to bid farewell to my friends - until we dance again…

For me though the adventure continued. It always continues. I wasn’t going anywhere….yet. My thirst was not quenched. I needed water, more water. For me it was back to the Cenote’s. The following week was spent with Tristan doing technical, multi-stage, cave dives.

So with Dead music still ringing in my ears I once again submerged myself in the waters of the Quintana Roo. We did a warm up dive with 4 tanks each in Cenote Cristalino. Beautiful. Then we went to The Pit and did another 4 tank multi-stage dive. Spectacular. Last but not least, the best of the best, Tristan and I did a 3 and a half hour dive with 5 tanks each into the depths of Cenote Regina. Woo hoo!

We geared up, tied off to a tree stump, Tristan went down in the black water and found the cave entrance and connected to the cave line. He came back to the surface and we descended together into the blackness. The start of this dive is also by touch contact (zero visibility) and at about 18 meters we came to clear water. At this point we staged off our 50% Deco Gas Cylinder, and breathing a 32% Enriched Air Nitrox gas, into the system we swam. When the “rule of thirds” was reached we staged off that cylinder and swam deeper into the system while breathing from our second 32% tank. Eventually we reached “rule of thirds” on that tank and again staged off on the cave line. We now were breathing off of our twin tanks of 32% back gas. A “T” left, a “T” right and then another “T" left brought us to the end of that line where we “jump” up about 5 meters to find another line running deeper into the cave. We tied off, marked with a “cookie” and swam. Now in what is called a bedding plane which is where the rock splits into a somewhat perfect horizontal crack that is wide but with the bottom and top at times so close together that only you and your tanks can pass through. And we swam, until we reached our turn around pressure. As we turned the dive and faced each other for a brief moment before we began our exit the smiles on both of our faces were stretched wide around our mouthpieces. We paused for a moment, grinning at each other, taking in that moment in time, and then began our swim back towards our exit. We did the same dive in reverse, following our markers, making our turns at the “T’s”. retrieving our stage tanks, and finally picking up our decompression cylinders and starting our ascent. More then 3 and a half hours later we broke the surface back in Cenote Regina, tired, happy, and satisfied (at least for now). Now that’s diving!

A few days later I left for a side trip to explore a new country (Journal Entry to follow).

But I did return to the Yucatan peninsula for a few glorious days before leaving Mexico for good (well at least for now). I had a wonderful day with my friend Amanda and her Dad in Playa del Carmen. Amanda and I met way, way back in French Polynesia, we met scuba diving in Bora Bora. We then traveled together again a year or so later in Thailand when her and my friend Marion met me to go on a Scuba Dive Live Aboard in the Andaman Sea. We have made a point of staying in touch and have met up in NYC and one year she even brought her now husband up to one of my friend Kevin’s Memorial Day Parties. So it was great to find out that she would be in Cozumel with her Dad and wanted to come to the mainland to spend the day. We had a marvelous time wandering the streets of PDC, getting caught up on each others lives, and had a delicious lunch at Mr. Mario’s. (No way was I asking him to take our picture this time :-))

My last night in Playa I joined my friend’s Tristan and Mabel for a nice dinner and as we parted ways we agreed that we would see each other again soon. Mabel and I on the surface, and Tristan and I below. Next visit - 80 or a 100 meters in The Pit!

The next 3 days I spent in luxury - I hopped the bus to Cancun and checked into The Ritz. Ahhhh….

Big fluffy beds, huge powerful hot shower, room service, endless white sand beach, warm blue beautiful sea, and a Ruth’s Chris around the corner. Life is good.

Next stop….

Peace,

Frank



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