Monday, March 16, 2015


Here we are, all ready for our first Riviera Maya excursion.

Up until now, I have avoided posting personal photos on As Seen By Susan. That's because I want my Facebook post and Blog to be about the photos themselves and the unique, artistic, and sometimes quirky way I see things as I travel. But for every rule, there is an exception, and this is one of those because this day was too much fun not to share.

Picture this: seven women gather in Cancun, Mexico to celebrate their 65/66 revolution around the sun. Two of us have been friends since second grade, and the rest since junior high school. Growing up in Birmingham, Michigan we are now from disparate corners of the country--the Bay area of California, upstate New York, the Jersey shore, the Mile High City of Colorado, the foothills of Virginia, and Walla Walla, Washington, the town so nice they named it twice. (That's where I live.)

While we look eager and excited, none of us really had any idea what we were in for. Yes, we all had donned swim suits under our clothes, and those who had them brought along masks, snorkels and fins as there purported to be snorkeling involved, along with zip-lining, rappelling and kayaking. Sounds like fun, right? But where? How? And just what is a cenote?

This is an example of an ancient cenote.
This is an example of a semi-open cenote.
Cenotes are fresh water sink holes or pits resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock. They create an underground river system that the Maya considered to be sacred and an entrance to the underworld. In addition they were an incredibly important source of fresh water. ( 

Strapped into life jackets, with sunglasses and shoes tightly secured, our first activity was the zip line. Now, I've zip-lined years ago on the ropes course at home, and more recently in Hawaii, where zipping from tree to tree made me feel like a monkey. But each of those times I was carefully and safely strapped in so that I could wave and cry out--Look Ma. No hands! Not here. Instead, we were instructed to hold on to the bar as long as we could and then drop into the green water of the cenote below us. The first photo is of one of Sue who had no problem (or fear). While I was not outright scared, I did worry about my grip strength to hang on long enough to be able drop into the "drop zone." An early drop would have been perfectly safe as the water is very deep; it's just my ego that would have been bruised. But as you can see, with grit and determination, I hung on and dropped flawlessly into the water. YES!

From the drop zone we swam along the river of cool water in this first cenote. Along the way we spotted a turtle and marveled at the limestone walls and jungle vegetation. We also re-enacted our water ballet skills first learned in the early 1960s from Miss Jeanne, our PE teacher at Derby Junior High. Decidedly, trying to do a proper ballet leg while wearing a flotation device was next to impossible. So we reverted to fewer underwater ballet moves and more synchronized swimming maneuvers on the surface of the water. It was also disclosed that Andi is part of a women's synchronized swimming group where she lives, so she became our new leader and mentor.

Lynn and Kathy jump from 12 feet into the water. Before we exited this cenote, we all made our first cliff jumps where life vests made for splashy and buoyant water landings.

The location of the second cenote required a 45-minute drive down dirt roads past small Mayan villages. Our guide Erik told us we were experiencing a 'Mayan Massage' as we bounced along the washboard and pothole-filled surface. All at no extra charge! This cenote is semi-open and connects to the aquifer through tunnels and caves.The flow of water is horizontal and the time the water stays put is usually short. Being semi-closed means it is considered a young cenote. As such, it also meant that we had to rappel into it, so we donned harnesses and helmets along with flotation vests.

Heretofore, my experience at rappelling was limited to a ropes course and a climbing wall, so this seemed less like a rappel and more like a controlled zip line. The operator at the top had full control of the brake as he slowly lowered each of us down into the cenote. While it was a safe and unexciting drop, inside the cenote was a magnificent wonder-world of blue water and hanging tree roots.

As an added bonus to the rappel, we had the chance to jump off two 16 foot ledges--one more like a stone diving board and the other a cliff. I did both. Yippee!

A group shot in the semi-open cenote.

The third and fourth cenotes, while pretty to look at, were rather tame as far as the adventure factor. We snorkeled in a cavern cenote where there was little to see underwater although the ceiling of the cavern itself was worth the swim. Then we kayaked in a open cenote which is described in the brochure as a wonder of "vertical walls and exceptional landscape."Yes! to the landscape. Meh! to the thrill. But wait, there's one more cenote.

The fifth and final cenote is an advanced age cenote, known as an ancient cenote. This type naturally presents a limited flow of water to the aquifer due to a collapsed roof or walls along with sediments, which make the exchange with underground currents restricted and the flow of water a lot slower. As such, it was the prefect setting for a double zip line from two sides--basically over and back. This time we also had a choice as to the method of zipping--hand-held bar or sling/swing. Kathy shows both strength and style points in her bar zip, while Donna and I make perfect water landings in the sling. 10 points for everyone!

The final thrill was a cliff jump of 20 feet into this last cenote. Here Marlis and I were caught in transit, but to be fair, Kathy jumped too!

The Birmingham Babes after a fun day in the cenotes.

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