Day Three: Crashing and Burning
Jim, Patrick, and James say goodbye to the team and head off to Uxmal while the rest of us begin Day Three of our expedition with a trip to the local tire repair shop. We ran over something disagreeable last night on the cattle ranch and have to swap out the spare before heading out of Merída. Memo provides the tire repair guys with steady business.
Everything's fixed and we're back on the road when we pass this. The team is divided on whether it's a bad omen or just a spectacularly colorful wreck. (Melisa French)
Dionisio's buddy Chucho has a few cenotes on his property that have never been explored. We start with a watering hole a little bit off the road outside of Chucho's village. At least, it's supposed to be a watering hole. The hole itself is so tiny it's unclear whether our ladder can even fit down it. We figure we'll give it a try.
Across the road and down a ways, someone is fire-clearing an old cornfield. It starts off as a bit of smoke in the distance, but the wind picks up and before we know it there's an uncontrolled brush fire directly across the road, sending flaming crisps of vegetation into the air and toward our van, packed full of compressed air tanks. We scratch our plans and get out and away as quickly as possible.
Speeding away from the fire, we pass Chucho on his bike. Dionisio explains our predicament, and Chucho offers up another cenote, maybe ten minutes down the road.
While Memo takes a single tank down for an initial look, the rest of us sit around topside, trying to find some respite from the sun. He comes back up and shakes his head: another strike out. Just a small, shallow basin in a 20-foot-high chamber. We take a quick snorkel around, find no artifacts, and head back to Chucho's watering hole with the hope that the fire has gone out.
The fire has gone out, and the ladder just fits. Memo, our fearless leader, heads down first. Since it's such a tight squeeze, he doesn't bother to carry any equipment except for a flashlight. There's a shuffling sound, then a long silence.
"Hey Memo--you alright?"
"What, is there water down there?"
Pause. "Come down. It's...interesting."
Turns out, Chucho hasn't drank from this hole recently. It's not a cenote; it's more of a small dry cave with a muddy pool in the far back, and here we are crawling around in it like idiots in bathing suits and scuba booties. There are some cool rock formations, but we realize we're not properly equipped for spelunking and get out after quickly documenting the spectacle.
|We decide we aren't quite equipped to explore this cave. (Photos by Melisa French, left, and Kristin Romey, right)
To top off our day, once everyone is safely out of the "watering hole," Memo asks who saw the coral snake. When it turns out that we all missed our highly poisonous cavemate lingering by the top rung of the ladder, he offers to go back in and take a picture. According to Dionisio, coral snakes are known in the Yucatán as the "devil's keys." If you're bitten by a coral snake on a Wednesday or Friday, they'll burrow into the rock and descend directly to hell.