Akumal Cave Project 2004 – 21st March Update

Sunday 21st March 2004

Links: Check out photos from the expedition here! | Read more on the expedition

The saga continues. 

If it is not one thing it is another.

Feeling better today.  Good and healthy.  However, woke up with a significant case of swimmer’s ear or better known as an outer ear infection.   I used to get them all the time.  Then, I let my body heal it on its own rather than using anything and I had been good for a few years.  Well, the left ear was swelled up, fluid in the middle ear and it hurt when I pulled on the earlobe.  Hurting when you pull on the earlobe is a sure sign of swimmer’s ear.  None scientific, but I have become a fairly experienced expert after all these years of diving. 

Luckily, Renee had the eardrops that clear up swimmer’s ear.  So, I spent the day with cotton and solution in my left ear.  As if I can hear well already.  Needless to say, everyone sounded like the parents from a Peanuts cartoon.  Waaa waa waaaaaa wa waaa waaaa waaaaa waa wa  wwaaaaaa.  It helps if you keep your good ear toward those that are trying to talk to you.   

No diving for me.  Give the ear a day to let the antibiotics take effect.  Instead, I joined the high school students from Fuqua in the jungle.  We have gained a few more to our expedition.  There are eleven students and staff from Fuqua.  Bob Jiguere Cambrian diver extraordinaire has come down for the second week to document the students’ adventures with us.  The footage will be used for broadcast on a show called Virginia Currents.  It is a series that airs on a local public broadcasting network affiliate in Virginia, USA.  Artie Ahr, former Cambrian intern and now volunteer, has come down to help Bob with the production.  Amy Giannotti, the project’s principle scientific investigator has arrived as well.  She will be conducting water sampling and leading the students through all of the testing that will be going on.   

Renee and Bob went to Cenote de Muchachos to get Bob tuned up and to see the cave for the first time.  The students received information about the system and helped the divers prepare for their dive.  During predive preparations Terrence introduced the students to all of the things the divers go through in their efforts to get ready to enter the cave environment.  He also covered the dangers of cave diving and possible injuries that could be sustained while diving on this project.  The students were led through all of the gear that the divers would be using to dive safely. 

Bob had never cave dived outside of Florida before.  He was amazed at just how different the system was here as compared to what he was used to in Florida.  Bob said, “Now, I do not know much about Geology, but that sure is a whole lot different from what I am used to looking at in Florida.  That was completely amazing.”  

While the divers went on their dive, the students and all of the rest of us moved to the path that would lead to Cenote Camilo.  It is hard to believe that it had been four years since I last step foot on that path.  Remarkably, very little had changed.  I clearly remembered every inch of that trail.  I should after making four round trips a day carrying diving equipment and cylinders. 

Cenote Camilo took us three days to find on the first year of the project (Look in the archives of the Cambrian site if you would like to read the details from the previous expeditions.).  The system now bares the name of the man who helped us find it.  Don Camilo was well into his late eighties.  He got out into the jungle with us and helped lead us to the cenote for the first time.  After two days of looking and not finding it we were happy to have his help.  In his honor, we named the cenote after him.  Since it was the first cenote found on the system, the system carries his name as well.  Unfortunately, Don Camilo drowned after falling into one of his own cenotes on his property a few years ago.  Apparently, he did not know how to swim. 

We blazed a trail to our old central location.  Along the way, I got to visit the new cenotes that have been found since my last visit.  It is amazing that one cenote, Carrie’s Loft, was just a few footsteps away from the trail we walked each day to Cenote Camilo.  The entrance to Carrie’s Loft is at the opposite end of a breakdown of a small cenote that does not go anywhere.  If we had just walked the collapse we would have found it.  Carrie’s Loft was found from underground.   

That is one of the funny things about exploration.  You just do not know till you go and look.  Your brain makes assumptions about what should be or what will be, but the reality is that most of the time you are wrong.  Those assumptions cause you to miss so much.  So, over the years you develop a sense to not listen so closely to that voice in your head that thinks it knows what its doing.  You just do not know until you know. 

The students in a few hours got to see what took the team five years to find.   The group was kept cool by a healthy tropical downpour.  When we reached Cenote Camilo, the water appeared so inviting most of the group went for a swim.  It is a very pretty place.  It still holds strong feelings for me.  The really nice thing is that there is very little trace we were ever there.  Just as we are very careful about conserving the cave environment, we place the same dedication to the topside one too.  Everything we brought into the area was carried out each year.  Even the cave line we strung between trees to make cover was removed each year.  It is really neat to see a place that has played host to so much exploration that still appears natural. 

The students got to explore with a mask that Artie brought.  They all were impressed by the cenote.  I was reminded as I walked, about just how active this karst region is.  Solution tubes and loose limestone pockmark the trail.  Each step you take needs to be thought through before you take it.  One wrong move or decision can have your ankle rolled or worse a broken leg.  You develop what Terrence likes to call the Mayan shuffle.  You walk looking at the ground with strange hesitations in your step.  Each placement of your foot is double checked before full weight is brought down on it.   

It is the active nature of this area that allows these caves to be here in the first place.  So, it may be a pain for us to move over the surface, but that is a small price to pay for being able to swim under it.

At sunset the students were taught how to setup and survey cave passage.  They will have to use these skills tomorrow when Team One begins the survey of the semi dry cave at Aktun Chen.  They were taught how to setup their guideline and establish a point of origin.  They learned how to make proper shots and how to establish stations.  They quickly adapted to using hand signals with one handed numbering.  They learned how to gather the survey data they would need to produce the map for the facility at Aktun Chen. 

Armed with their new knowledge, all three teams successfully surveyed the three line courses that were setup for them.  Each team recorded declination, azimuth, distance, sidewall and floor to ceiling distances and comments.  In spite of the dogs on the beach that got tangled in the lines, all the teams did very well.  Everyone had a great time.  The students will be simulating cave diving conditions when they conduct the actual survey at Aktun Chen.  They will not be allowed to speak, they will have to communicate with hand signals and slates only, and they will have to use light signals for long distance communications. 

During dinner we were lucky enough to be visited by Jim Coke.  He has been working this area for longer than pretty much anyone.  It was fantastic to listen to the wealth of knowledge he had on the area and the history of the exploration here.  He is head of the Quintana Roo Speleological Survey.  This group has been responsible for the cataloging and collection of survey and cave data for the region from untold numbers of sources.  Truly a Herculean effort. 

Tomorrow the real work begins.  Back to exploration and no more medical issues… Hopefully. 

For detailed daily updates checkout www.cambrianfoundation.org.

Links: Check out photos from the expedition here! | Read more on the expedition