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of the off street price. We snorkeled one afternoon and found the near shore fish were poor compared to even the first 15 feet at Bonaire. Chankanaab had a fine botanical garden with thousands of orchids and a large collection of artifacts (portions of temples and buildings). It also had a dolphin pool and snorkeling beach. The high point was a trip to the mainland for “cavern diving” in the cenotes (“sen-oh-tay”), limestone sinks and caverns carved by water erosion millennia ago before the land subsided to present level. Cave divers may go for hours, out of sight of light and require cord reels and special markers. Cavern diving — one specialist divemaster to no more than four divers, not more than 100 yds. from a visible outlet. We took the ferry to Playa del Carmen and were met by a chauffeured van and rode 40 min. to Cenote “chac mool” (Mayan for tiger god). Our guide Juan Carlos Carillo explained standard signs, dive protocol (1/3 in, 1/3 out and 1/3 remaining air) depths, routes and procedures (ex. frog kick to avoid kicking up sediment). He made a special point of buoyancy control. Indescribable beauty. Variety beyond description. And the sight of emerging from the depth to a pool of glacial blue sunlight coming from above 50- 75 yards away cannot be put into words. Stalactites, stalagmites, ribbon forest, pyrites gleams, enormous fallen roof domes, occasional open air caves. “Taj Mahal” was breathtaking. In the deep there were twice as many formations. We once came up in a pool where palm trees above were

silhouetted on the surface like a Gauguin painting. In another we rose slowly to see sharp beams of sunlight streaming through 3 inch portals in the cave roof to refract at the water’s surface 45° and continue 40 feet to the bottom of the floor. The water was so clear at first we thought we were to descend into a dry wash, we couldn’t see the surface — until a tiny fresh water catfish ambled by. About 40 feet down there was an obvious thermocline. One diver penetrated and kicked up a hazy mist of swirling fog. I noticed my computer which read 70° F. on the water’s surface jumped to almost 80° F below the clearly defined thermocline line. It was saline below and totally fresh above. Underground rivers connect a vast region of caves, sinks and depressions. Salt water evidently intrudes from the shore miles away held down by its greater density creating a temperature inversion of ten or more degrees. The number of divers per guide rule was honored by some Italians we met and another group of Americans but the same was totally spoiled by the arrival from a nearby Club Med of a bus load of 30 garbage strewing, loud talking and inconsiderate people. The 30 had only one guide who basically brought up the rear. Lunch was something special — behind the previously referred hovel was a Mayan household settlement from which fresh fish cooked over a wood fire emerged. Served with it were rice, avocado, lots of limes and superb pico de gallo.

Del Mar Aquatics, Casa del Mar, March 2000, Ben and Lyn Smith, Mount Airy, NC. Vis: 60-150 ft.

Copyright 2000, DSDL, Inc. publishers of Undercurrent, www.undercurrent.org 157

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