Saturday, September 22, 2007

Cenote X'keken

Cenote X'keken, more commonly known as Dzitnup.

Sunlight enters through a small hole in the ceiling.

Dakota looks like an evil sea creature from the underworld.

Me, Dakota, and Nate enjoying a swim in the cenote.

On the way to bring Nate to Valladolid, we stopped at Cenote X'keken, also known as Cenote Dzitnup. This natural wonder deserves some explanation. I quote the following from Yucatan Today:

The natural wonders of the state of Yucatan are innumerable and some of the most important and unusual are the cenotes (say-NOH-tays) or sink holes. In the Yucatan there are over 3000 cenotes, with only 1400 actually studied and registered.

The Maya called them dzonot (ZO-note), which the conquering Spaniards translated as cenote (say– NO–tay.) Giraldo Diaz Alpuche, was a military commander in the 16th Century who was greatly impressed with these underground caverns and pools, and he tried to explain the meaning of the word cenote in the Spanish language as meaning "deep thing". The Motul dictionary, a dictionary of Mayan hieroglyphics, defines dzonot as "abysmal and deep".

Cenotes are magical, enigmatic and unique in the world and were once the only resource for fresh, sweet water in the local Yucatecan jungle. They were the sacred places of the Maya for that reason, but also because they represented the entrance to the underworld.

The Yucatan Peninsula is a porous limestone shelf with no visible rivers; all the fresh water rivers are underground. Being porous, caverns and caves formed where the fresh water collects – hence the cenotes or water sink holes. The water that gathers in these subterranean cenotes is a crystal clear turquoise color with a very pleasant temperature of 78°.

When we arrived on site, at least a dozen young children immediately approached us and demanded we purchase guides, post cards, or commemorative handkerchiefs. We negotiated a path through the sea of vendors as tactfully as possible, and then descended into the earth through a narrow passage. A single rope provided our only guide down the steep, winding stairs cut into the stone.

Quite suddenly, we emerged into a large cavern illuminated by electric lights. A small hole in the ceiling also allowed a column of natural sunlight to pierce the darkness, causing the water to glow bright blue. Bats flew overhead, screeching occasionally as they passed. Stalactites and long tree roots hung like ropes from the cavernous roof.

Once inside, I became intoxicated by the beauty and mystery of that place. Nate, Dakota, and I stripped down to our shorts and dove into the cool dark water. Black fish swam nearby, but I really didn't mind. The experience was magical!

Only once I swam toward the back side of the pool where the bottom suddenly dropped off into complete blackness. I'm not sure how to explain what I felt, but I started to get panicky. Water rarely frightens me, but maybe not knowing the depth scared me on some level; or maybe I had subconscious visions of the Mayan underworld and sacrificial victims thrown into the depths. Whatever the reason, I felt myself suddenly struggling to return to the shallows. When I returned all out of breath, Nate laughed and said he felt the same thing while swimming over that spot.

As we left, I thought swimming in the cenote was actually one of the greatest highlights of our trip. I'm especially proud of Dakota for braving the dark water to enjoy this experience with me. He'll remember this for many years to come.


Chelle said...

That looks really cool. I want to go in a cave someday. As long as there is no big spiders.

Chelle said...

Or little ones either...

Barry Moses (Sulustu) said...

I didn't see any spiders, but I did see bats - really cute ones.


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