Tulum: Hitting the Cenote
It’s a little odd waking up in the mornings under a tent-like mosquito net. Though it’s also still novel to wake up to rays of sunshine at 6am. We’re up early again this morning; skipping breakfast and flagging a taxi outside the resort to take us back to ITour to join our last excursion of the holiday. After a coffee and pastry we jump aboard a huge bus and go to pick up the rest of the group in various hotels around the area. The first item on the agenda is a trip out to Akumel – or turtle bay. We don vests, snorkels and fins and head into the warm blue waters to see what we can find.
It’s a small bay with plenty of other groups circling around in search of the elusive turtles. Close to the shore the sand murkies the water and it’s hard to see the hulks of these creatures ambling along on the ocean floor grazing. There are a few around, decorated with parasitic fish tails hanging out of their shells. You hover above them, trying not to block their light despite the push of the waves. Below us they continue about their business unconcerned while the area above them fills with spectators. We’ve seen a few turtles before out on the Barrier Reef, but those were fast-moving and didn’t dally long. We’re lucky to catch a couple of them here as they decide to make their way up to the surface for a brief appearance, sticking their head up for a gulp of air before returning to their meal. We even see a baby turtle close to shore that’s far more active and goes jetting off – a train of snorkellers following in its wake. Once we’ve finished a circuit of the bay we dry off a little before piling into the van again.
Next stop is Hidden Worlds. A kind of park containing many different cenotes. Our van makes a bone-jarring trek through jungle tracks that reminds us a bit too much of Fraser Island. Along the way there are monkeys, iguanas, butterflies and various other creatures to watch out for. Our cenote is reached by reversing down a ladder into a very small hole. The large underground cavern below is partially lit by sunlight coming in from an air hole punched in the ceiling overhead. In front of us is a natural architectural masterpiece. From the ceiling stalactites are inching down towards a pure mirror lake of filtered rainwater. Out of this stalagmites push their way up towards the ceiling. Occasionally a stalagmite and stalactite meet to form a sinewy rope, growing into a thicker column as they age. Some strategically placed lights in the water and overhead rocks light up the cavern spectacularly, like an underground cathedral with painstaking detail etched into the surroundings. The surface of the water perfectly reflects everything both above and below. The mirror images confuse the senses, hiding deep dark spaces and giving the impression of large areas that don’t actually exist.
We get into what initially feels like ice cold water, but is actually quite pleasant one we acclimatise. We follow our guide around the main cavern and then through narrow spaces around to the previously unseen rear of the cave. It’s hard to describe the experience as you swim along. You have to keep raising your head back above water periodically to make sense of the two very different views (and avoid bashing your head off a ceiling you can’t see from below water. Above the water the mirror effect of the high ceiling above gives a false impression of immense space below you. In other places ducking your head back underwater you can see large gaping black crevasses where very low ceilings hang just overhead, or a shallow shelf of stone suddenly appears that you weren’t expecting. The light and shadows play different tricks on your sense of perspective. You pass over a stony outcrop to see it suddenly drop away into a murky black abyss. It’s easy to forget in the clear waters that the depth is irrelevant to you – it has no impact on your ability to stay floating where you are. It’s an amazing experience that strikes awe into people to find themselves submerged within an entire work of art.
All too soon it’s time to return back through the jungle, drip-drying on the towels already laid across the seats. We stop off in Tulum pueblo for some delicious cold smoothies in KiBok before enjoying the last rays of the afternoon on loungers back at the beach. I take a stroll along the beach as the sun starts to sink and admire the changing colours of the clouds and sky against the ocean waters. The silhouettes of birds pass overhead while the sea scrubs away the tracks of all the other people out admiring the views. The lower the sun gets, the quieter the beach becomes. We return back to La Gloria De Don Pepe that evening to sample more tasty tapas and fish. Unfortunately it’s going to be our last day here tomorrow.