Whether it's a dead-end or an endless passage, exploration answers questions. During this month we have responded to some but in the mean time created more queries. Punta Venado is proving a worthwhile challenge. To date we have entered five new cenotes and discovered another thirteen.
Hervé Gordon and myself spent the day testing a new, long-range DPV and poking around the southwestern side of Dreamland. A steady flow of fresh water strangely pushed at us from the southwest and as this area had been explored in back-mount configuration, I was curious to see what could be accomplished by side-mounting our tanks. We were able to poke into two new passages but both dead-ended. Upon returning, the 100 lb (45 kg) scooter decided the dive was not over and refused to switch off.
Hervé Gordon joined Christophe Le Maillot and myself in the first exploratory dives in this recently discovered cenote. Tanks needed to be lowered by rope and a tree was used to climb down. Rain made for a muddy entrance and had tainted the surface with tannin. The water cleared below 8 feet (2.4 m) and we began to lay line heading northwest. We quickly came upon another entrance and tried to push around the muddy breakdown. Later we concentrated on the eastern fortifications trying to find a downstream opening. Decorated walls pushed them north and to the same break-down hampering my efforts. A narrow fissure hinted to deeper cave being present but was too narrow, even in our side-mount configuration. After 40 minutes, we exited the water with 2,500 psi in our tanks. Although disappointing in size, this new cave is rich with beautiful columns, ancient waterfalls and by all three, was deemed worthy of the effort.
With still plenty of air in our tanks, we opted for another push from cenote Chan Pek (small dog). We poked the downstream area and proceeded to add more line. Sistema Carrillo presently holds over 7,000 ft (2,128 m) of line and the remains of an ancient sea turtle proves a former link with the ocean. A restriction near the Chan Pek entrance requires the use of side-mount equipment. We suspect that future accomplishments here will arrive slowly now that all obvious leads have been pursued.
Daniel Riordan and myself loaded up gear on horses and with the help of Fausto the ranch hand, were able to get ourselves and minimal equipment to make the first exploratory dive in this far off cenote near the sea. Back in August, when Yair and I had originally looked at this entrance we were startled to see a large Cubera Snapper guarding the entrance. We presumed there must be a passage to the sea. Now upon entering the water, this same snapper made a second greeting and a closer look suggested otherwise. Never in the ocean have I seen a fish so old and haggard looking and its milked-over eyes suggest it may be blind. Who knows how many years it has lived, trapped in this brackish cenote with no obvious escape to the sea.
Getting past the old Cubera the compass read Northwest. This direction generally denotes upstream, but this section of cave is littered with large tree trunks and scars on the cave floor tell of reverse tidal flows. Large crawfish scurried out of sight and light from the entrance disappeared. The floor started to drop, revealing a light halocline at 18ft (5.5 m) with brown tainted salt-water below.
There has been much speculation this year about similar brown water being seen in Sistema Ponderosa. Since it had never before been observed, initial speculation sided on human contamination and lead to water sampling and much publicity. Perhaps this second sighting being in a very remote area suggests more natural causes.
The passage continued deeper into a milky layer of hydrogen sulfide and the smell of rotten eggs permeated my skin. This area of cave was obviously stagnant. Large animal bones indicated an opening nearby but orange mangrove water blocked much of the light from the new Cenote Garafon. Pushing under the restricted collapse, revealed the welcome sight of a large lead to the west supplying clear water.
Flow oddly headed northeast and the improved visibility allowed string to quickly spool off the reel. Cenote Dobladillo was the end of the line and with 1,240 feet (377 m) of passage discovered, it was time to survey out.
Trails lead to another two nearby cenotes and indications suggest that Sistema Cubera will become larger on our next visit.
DIR México/ Pto. Aventuras
Quintana Roo, México 77733
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