Seven years ago, I made my first journey into the cenotes of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. It was for an episode of season one of Digging for the Truth called “Passage to the Maya Underworld.” At the beginning of that episode, I was asked by the show’s producers if I’d be comfortable SCUBA diving in a cenote, those gorgeous sinkholes of azure blue water that are promoted throughout so much of Eastern Mexico. “Of course!” I said, and after a few days of training (some on camera, some off), I was Cavern certified. A few days after that, there was discussion whether or not it was okay for me to go past the cenote’s sunlit walls and into the caves beyond—where darkness, rock, and water make for a deadly combination. There was honest debate about the needs of TV vs. the risks of diving in potentially hazardous conditions without adequate training (some of this also on camera) and, in the end, as some may recall, I didn’t go into the cave. Too dangerous. But the seed was planted, for sure, as I learned more and more about the Maya and how sacred their caves were and how the Underworld known as Xibalba was accessed through those cenotes.
Two years ago, I returned to Mexico – without a film crew – to get my cave diving certification. First, there was the Intro Cave course, then Full Cave. For those unfamiliar with the training involved for cave diving, it’s much more strict than what you get in a recreational Open Water SCUBA class. The analogy isn’t 100% accurate, but I like to say the difference in training between OW diving and Cave Diving is like the difference in training between a standard airplane pilot’s license and a jet fighter pilot’s license. Of course I’m no jet pilot, so I may be completely wrong about that, but cave diving requires a much higher level of training, competency and cool-headedness than Open Water diving. You can’t freak out on a cave dive. If you do, you’ll probably die – and many have. So there’s a certain type of person who willingly and enthusiastically goes into a dark, ever-changing, airless and potentially lethal environment, and that person is called a Cave Diver. I have to say, I’m proud to be one (although a newbie).
In February, 2010, I got an email from Walter Pickel (pronounced like pickle). Walter wrote that he was an avid cave diver who dove with a bunch of guys who lived to search for, explore and then document unknown cave systems worldwide. They were called the ADM Exploration Team (ADM stands for Advanced Diver Magazine, published by one of the team members, Curt Bowen) and they were curious if I’d like to join them in the field. For the next 7 months, Walter and I discussed a number of potential dives we could do together, but it wasn’t until we met at DEMA in November that the idea for a trip to the Yucatán Peninsula came together.
In order to do the kind of cave diving that the ADM Exploration Team members do, I needed more than just a Full Cave cert. I needed to be comfortable with side-mount diving – where you attach the SCUBA tanks at your sides, under your armpits. So I went down to Florida in December 2010 for a few days to dive with Walter and Curt in Ginnie Springs and learn how to side-mount cave dive (see my Dec 18 blog entry below for details). Then came Mexico.
The ADM Exploration Team to Mexico was comprised of eight people: Curt Bowen, Walter Pickel, Jeff Toorish, Jon Bojar, Jitka Hyniova, Brendan Nappier, Robert Atwater and me. For 10 days, the team lived in a small ranch house outside Colonia, Mexico in Yucatán. Each day, they hiked into the jungle to jump in random holes in the ground, or they drove to remote villages and asked if they could rig a rope to go down into the town well. I tagged along with them, diving when able and filming the activities for the TODAY show. I’ll leave the (exciting) results of the expedition for both the TODAY show segment and the feature article that will be published in Advanced Diver Magazine. But I will say I had a fantastic time, saw some truly spectacular Maya artifacts, and made some new friends. Oh, and I finally got to dive the caves of Mexico.
My sincerest thanks to the ADM Exploration Team members for allowing me to join them on their expedition. Also, thanks to Waterproof for their fantastic wetsuits and to Petzl for their great climbing/descending gear.
Posted by ExplorerJosh on 03/30 at 05:35 PM
"JoshBernstein: @epmasia "PNG Mummies" was my favorite episode of Into The Unknown. Thanks for working on it!"
17 May 2013 | 7:11 am
"JoshBernstein: @apriledmonds Thanks, April, for listening and the tweet!"
17 May 2013 | 7:10 am