For all adventurous hearts out there:
Since the beginning, México has found it’s identity in it’s past. Since the first humans found their way to my beautiful land, there have been explorers looking for treasures and adventure.
From the day I made the decision to join the cave diving community I was pretty sure what I wanted to do: follow the steps of the people discovering places, where most likely they are the first humans ever being there… I knew back then that it would not be an easy task. The amount of work is huge and everything works against it, the fear of the people that owns the land, the black market dealers, the wild animals, the amount of resources needed, the lack of unity in our community, etc. AND especially if you want to do things the right way... It is by working with the communities that the best results are accomplished.
I spent several days camping in the jungle next to Orquidea, one of the most impressive cenotes I have ever explored. It is located 8 km deep into the jungle, at the end of a dirt road, handmade by the property owner, near Tulum on the Riviera Maya. The family that owns this land welcomed me as one of their own. I was able to experience their life in the jungle. The food was incredible; the stories and their way of looking at life reveals much of the nobility of people who don’t have the pressures or neurosis that often accompany city folks like me...
For several days we walked in the jungle marking GPS points to delimit an area, nevertheless, my partner knows perfectly how to navigate the jungle naturally, just by observing the trees and formations. We stumble over many rocks that we are sure couldn't have been be piled up and formed by accident. So we started following the patterns of them. I am relatively new to this area; but, there are several cenotes nearby with Mayan ritual places. The families who live here often stumble upon pottery, bones and Mayan paths or even ancient artifacts. To be completely honest they are the real explorers of this story...
The search is frustrating most of the time. Walking in the jungle is difficult and it takes considerable effort to open a path with a machete. In addition to tarantulas, snakes and wild animals, mosquitos are ever present. The heat and humidity can cause you to stumble at any moment. Carrying adequate water is critical for both the hike in and the walk out of the jungle. The holes may have water but not necessarily a cave to dive. Examining some holes, you can see water in the bottom; but, they are too small to get into in many occasions.
So why do I do it?
well... when the magical cenotes appears is like discovering fire, the sensation is undescribable….
The first time that I saw the cenote where these bones lay, it took my breath away. That day we woke up early, had some delicious beans with coffee made over a fire. A few days earlier, we had found a cave entrance in another cenote, the plan was to explore it that afternoon after the walk in the jungle. We measured our water carefully to ensure that we carry enough to walk into the jungle for 3 hours, and 3 hours back out. Finally, we started to walk. partly a path and partly thicker jungle following a trace of greener fauna. We reached many places that look like a white stone paths made on purpose (really old). At this time of a year, this area is mostly dry so only the parts that have more water remain very green. The trail is hard to follow if you don't know the type of fauna. My partner was in front of me when he started to tell me the story of the type of tree that was starting to appear in front of us. The tree requires a lot of water and is distinguished by the rings around the corteza so we knew we were close to the point that we almost fell in to it.
It is impressive how nature can tell us how small we are.
This place is stunning. It is not a big hole; probably 10m x 5m. But it drops 15m deep inside the cave before reaching water. We lay a rope and get down (not easy task) because we are chubby but strong (too many tacos and jungles beans). My heart was pounding when I observed that the first part of the cave had fire marks on the floor with some bones around it, like if someone was cooking animals in there, Later on, just by examining the place more calmly, I realize that the stones had been arranged as a barricaded area with 2 fireplaces, I was afraid to touch anything even with my steps so started to walk carefully, and that was only the beginning! As we were walking inside, we were dragging in the mud, trying not to touch any of the trillions of stalactites and formations around us. As we were getting further inside the cave, deeper into the darkness, and after passing a few tight restrictions, with my knees bleeding and soaked in sweat, we finally found a cenote with water! Immediately, I took off all my clothes and, as the world saw me start my life, I got into the water with nothing but a mask. It is impressive how nature can tell us how small we are. I was excited just to think that I was probably the first one in those waters. After exploring the entrance of the underwater cave, I knew I had to come back with proper diving equipment.
Returning to the cave with diving equipment roughly tripled the work. So a I took only a 6L tank with the minimum of equipment necessary to verify the cave before taking a major step. This site is deep in the jungle and it was a titanic effort to reach it with the necessary equipment. However, going back led to the discovery that has been my greatest satisfaction. The bones are simply laying down in the darkness underwater waiting for us. At first, I passed them since they blend in well with the rocks and the bottom. As I was making my exit I recognized a tooth. It took me like a minute of closely examining it, since it is full of calcium. It has the appearance of a stone; but, with a tooth form. From that, all appeared in front of me! I feel like the luckiest guy in the world! I knew that this needed to be part of the world culture, regardless of its importance.
I knew that this needed to be part of the world culture, regardless of its importance.
Finally after all the excitement we walk back to the camp and had more beans, a jungle shower and some sleep, the next day finally I started to feel afraid of what could happen if I don't manage this properly nevertheless the journey has led me to be in contact with great people that are helping to proper identify it and study.
All of this information has been reported to the proper authorities. Nothing has been moved or touched. As of now, this amazing discovery is waiting for experts to come to study it properly. However, as it seems from the first observations by the experts, it is indeed “incredibly significant” and “absolutely extraordinary” (Blaine Schubert, Paleontologist).
I will be always grateful for support of the families and the community who are the greatest guardians of our history.
Explorer: Daniel Sanchez
Editor: Cheri Dreier