By Christophe Le Maillot

We knew from their big smile that on this rainy November day, Daniel Riordan and Bernie Birnbach had just 'kicked ass.' It took them slightly more than two hours to add 1,700 feet of knotted line to the 400 feet already existing from a previous Franco-Portuguese expedition.


Sistema Minotoro, as it is now known, is situated 5 kilometers South of Puerto Aventuras on the land of Don Inocencio. It is nestled between Sistema Taj Mahal to the south and Sistema Actun Koh to the north.


Three new cenotes


The following day, a team consisting of Bernie Birnbach, Kate Lewis and myself bounced along the rough road in hopes of further exploration. The steep collapse and an unfinished ladder made our entry slow and precarious. The 15 minutes following our immersion were spent battling the numerous restrictions, which form the beginning of the main upstream passage. Fine silt was pushed quickly behind us by the flow of water contracting through this smaller part of the cave. From a shallow 10 ft, the passage dropped levels to 34 feet and opened widely from side to side. With Kate and Bernie up front, we quickly found what we were looking for - A colorful clothespin left the previous day, indicating the first lead. Heading southwest through virgin cave, the tunnel now opened slightly. The small decorated room seemed grander just knowing it was being unveiled for the first time.


This larger passage ended and once again we found ourselves inching through restrictions. Bellies rubbing, we were careful not to damage the ceiling of fragile formations. We continued in our thrill of exploration with the compass reading Northwest when we found another opening, later being named Cenote Estrella (Star). Hitting two-thirds, we began surveying the 1,500 ft of newly laid line.


Huge room


One week later, in continuing the exploration, Bernie and myself headed due North down another promising passage. We reached 42 ft, swimming now in a well-defined halocline and were able to see fresh water moving steadily on a heavier layer of salt. White walls of limestone emphasized the visual effect. This section ended in a room measuring over a hundred feet across! (A northeast passage originates here and on a later dive, was connected to the main upstream line, forming what is now a popular 75-minute circuit dive named La Vuelta (The Turn). We picked up our passage on the other side of the room and continued North. Six hundred feet farther brought us to a large ceiling collapse now known as Cenote Escalera (Stairway). Numerous attempts have failed to find a way through this mass of unstable rock. Our 1,600 feet secured, we carefully noted prospective goals on our slate and surveyed out.


Still Growing


After nine month of exploration, Sistema Minotoro still gives up new passages. Most of the downstream part is severely restricted and only side mount configuration will allow passage. 2,000 feet were added to Cenote Escondido (Hide and Seek), situated barely 150 yards from Minotoro's main entrance but fell 200 feet short of a connection. At the time of writing, Sistema Minotoro along with Escondido comprises of 6 cenotes and 12, 500 feet of surveyed passage.


Connection to Taj Mahal?


Sistema Minotoro's proximity to Taj Mahal, made us wonder about a possible connection. After an arduous land survey we decided to investigate from the Taj Mahal side. Bernie Birnbach and I during our second dive connected both siphon parts of this System adding 600 feet of line. We made 8 consecutive attempts to move SE towards Escondido and Minotoro but the tiny leads and loose rocks never seemed to give way. We fell short by 300 feet but discovered with joy and pride, another new section of Sistema Taj Mahal.


2/9/00-Sistema Minotoro is now accessible to visiting cave divers and the road to get there has been greatly improved.. -Ed.



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Quintana Roo, México 77733

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