June 29, 2016 Dos Pisos: A long traverse done as a circuit.
Perhaps the best long dive that Zsolt and I have done on this trip was a circuit at Dos Pisos from the south entrance to the north entrance. We did the dive using a single stage.
Drive south of Tulum on 307. Watch for the mile markers on the left side of the road (yes this is awkward since they face away from you). After you pass mile marker 220 slow down and begin watching on the right for a sign that reads: Dos Pisos. There are two signs. The one by the road is worn and hard to read. Another sign, closer to the tree-bush line, is clearly written. Turn right here.
Proceed into Rancho Campensino following the road to the right past houses and buildings. We paid 200 pesos per person at the houses–a guy was there that came out to the car.
Continue on road that trends left past black, rubber water pools and past several intersections. Watch for the signs (signs at every intersection) but I think we always turned left. Eventually you will come to the end of the road. On the left there is junk: mattresses, pole structures, kitchen stuff, etc.
On the right are tables for dive gear. Park here. The trail starts between the tables and goes about 200 feet down to the cenote. The water is clear and the entry is easy. The cave line starts left of center, and back, in sort of an alcove and is above the water line.
The passage starts in a tube-like structure that extends maybe 100-200 feet with a flat bottom passable by back mount or sidemount-stage and then opens into large, diverse passages–this is a great stage dive.
The main line has many jumps and a few T intersections so bring a lot of cookies. We surfaced in clear water on in the north cenote under broken boulders and could see the jungle beyond the rocks. The traverse is upstream and there is a flow that reminds me of the north Florida cave, Peacock.
The passages have white formations and walls in contrast to a brown bottom and constantly change from one section to the next. In the shallow parts, there were massive root sections dropping from the ceiling.
The dive was over two hours and one of the best dives we’ve had in the Yucatan.
After weeks of humping tanks in and out of holes, enduring bug ridden walks, this cenote offered fairly plush access to the water.
Travel north on 307 watching for the sign (right side of fourlane) for Labnaha Expeditions-Caracol, etc. Move to the left lane in anticipation of the “retorno” for the U-turn. On the left side of the highway you will see the sign for Caracol. Make the U-turn and then turn right down the dirt track marked by the Caracol sign. You will eventually come to a right hand turn marked by a sign that reads: Rancho Felipe (Nohoch Nah Chich). Follow the driveway to a compound with buildings and covered parking. You will see a table on the left for dive gear. The stairs to the water are on the right. Pay the attendant 200 pesos per diver.
There are lots of tourists here. They have a zip line and snorkeling so you will be sharing the nice wooden deck at the base of the stairs with the throngs–this is not an issue. The wooden deck is large and the owners have dedicated the closest set of stairs into the water for the divers.
Gear up and swim along the platform keeping the deck on your right to its end. Continue with a left-wise direction for about 75 feet. Move on a diagonal left again to the main line. Finding the line was tricky, but the depths are shallow, and we didn’t use much gas. We did use a reel and put in a primary line.
The main line takes you through massive rooms and chambers with formations that are magnitudes bigger than any cave we’ve been in. The cave is shallow so the dives are long. Our dive was a 100 minutes. Pay attention because you will pass through ‘Heavens Gate’–see photos by #MauroBordignon on facebook.
We had a great dive here and it was refreshing to have such an easy entry to the water. The rooms and formations were magnificent, the spaces vast. Sometimes it felt like we had no lights, because there was just water and a thin, white line before reaching another set of structures.
I open the door to our house and step into the bright sun under a sky full of white clouds rimmed in grey. It rained last night and the air is heavy with the afterthought of the storms; a scrim of moisture beads on my neck and behind my ears and puddles are in the streets. I advance to the car and pop the trunk so I can store my undergarments, dive computer, and water bottles. Behind me I can hear Zsolt locking the door to the house.
I slide into the drivers seat, start the car, blast the air conditioner. Zsolt joins me and we motor onto the main road and head for #ProTecTulum, to collect the rest of our gear and the tanks.
#ProTecTulum is quiet and we move in a well rehearsed rhythm testing gasses and confirming tank pressures, packing dry suits, and testing the cave lights. Zsolt and I are dripping sweat as we load the tanks into the trunk of our mid-size rental car. We use another fifteen minutes to load the rest of the essentials for the day: Fins, helmets, regulators, reels, etc., into the car.
A few minutes later we’re navigating the streets of #Tulum to 307. Bicycles and scooters, pedestrians and dump trucks, taxis and shuttle buses–#Tulum is bustling on this Monday morning. Heading north on 307 we watch for the sign to #Labnaha-Cenote Caracol and spot it 9 km from the city. Then, the sign for #Caracol appears on the left-hand side of the highway and we throw a U-turn at the next “retorno” in order to back track to the turn-off for the cenote.
Unlike many of the dirt roads that we have traveled on, this one is maintained to some extent and we can actually drive at a reasonable speed winding around numerous potholes. After fifteen or twenty minutes we arrive at a ninety degree turn to the left and a white, limestone wall with an open gateway and find another sign to #Caracol.
As we drive into the cenote and park we can see the attendant standing near a short stairway leading into a large palapa. We shake hands and pay 200 pesos per diver and sign into the log book. The attendant is friendly and gives us a tour of the grounds.
The trail to the opening of the Cenote is perhaps 50 yards, and as we walk, I think about the amount of work that it will take to transport our tanks to the opening of the cenote. But just as we come to the hole I am thunderstruck by the sight of it.
The opening is shaped like a funnel. The top might have diameter that is twenty feet but the structure crimps down into an opening that might be five feet at the bottom of the funnel. And shooting through the middle of the opening, and I mean literally straight down the middle of a the hole, is a narrow staircase–each step might be three feet in width. I would call it a spiral staircase except for the fact that it only makes three-quarters of a turn to the wooden platform at the bottom.
As I ponder manhandling two sets of tanks along the trail and up and down the stairs the attendant mentions that they have a wheelbarrow for us to use to transport the tanks as far as the stairwell–good news because my shoulders are already aching.
But then I think about the cave divers that I know who are active explorers of this region and I remind myself that we got it easy. At least we don’t have to carry our tanks two miles through the jungle using a machete to cut the trail. And they would most likely rappel into the cenote and use a rope to lower and raise the tanks, and jug up the rappel line after the dive was complete. Just getting the gear to the water is epic for them, let alone the exploration beyond the light zone.
We grabbed the wheelbarrow and humped loads to the stairs and then down to the cenote. We are soaked with sweat inside our dry suits as we enter the cool water and finished racking our tanks onto our harnesses. We drop to twenty feet and swim together to find the mainline at the edge of the cavern zone.
Zsolt leads and I follow him up the line for 45 minutes until I’ve reached one-third of my gas supply and then we turn the dive. My gas consumption is always worse than Zsolt’s which makes our calculations easy. Basically, we always turn on my pressure.
The cave is smallish with occasional restrictions and there are twists and turns-it’s hard work to manage trim. Near the end of the dive I am fighting to keep the arch in my back. Every time I look away from the line at a formation or signal Zsolt at a cookie my body starts to slump and I reprimand myself. “Extend you arms, arch your back, c’mon man!“ This is our third day, of two dives a day, and my bodies feeling it. The ironic thing is that we are just finishing dive number one and still have our second dive to go.
I lead the second dive to a jump which is eight minutes up the main line where we make a right-hand turn. The cave immediately compresses down into another order of smallness. Here trim is paramount. Adding to the challenge there are numerous intersections and other lines some of which come very close and parallel the line we’re on. It would be very easy to make a blind jump onto another line and not realize it. I mark and confirm every tie-off, every junction, and every T.
After about twenty-minutes on the line we come to a restriction where the line makes a ninety degree turn across an opening that is barely the width of the diver. However, the line is tied off on both sides of the hole so sideways motion is limited and in essence, the line has been made part of the restriction. There is no way to pass through the hole and avoid the line.
I ease my body forward slowly penetrating the space above the line and between the stalactites. I am sandwiched between limestone and line. Carefully, I use my left hand to guide the line along my torso. The key is to drift through at a snails pace–there is no rush in a situation like this one. After clearing the line from my harness buckle I am through to the next tunnel.
More ninety degree turns through narrow passages appear one after another and then we come to a descending worm hole encased in clay. This type of passage is hard because as you descend your buoyancy changes (you become heavy) and you can end up shooting down the passage like a torpedo wrecking the visibility and crashing into the floor of the cave on the other side of the restriction.
I turn sideways and twist into the hole and move down a few feet and then add some gas to my wing and then slide forward again. I extended my legs and hold my fins still. Each time the passage opens up enough for me to reach my inflator I punch in some gas until I am gently squirted into the next passage. Moving forward, away from the exit, I turn so I can watch Zsolt emerge from the tube. A second later he squeezes in next to me. I was pleased to see very little silt behind us.
We pushed on for another twenty minutes before turning the dive. After we surfaced back at the cenote we spent another hour hauling tanks to the car and packing the gear. Another day was done.
All-in-all we’d spent three hours underwater which is a lot for us but not so much for other divers that we know. We have mutual friends that have completed multi-stage dives that require over ten hours in the water at one time. Maybe bigger dives are in our future?
No doubt we’ll be back to Caracol though for more of its amazing passages.
One of the coolest dives in Xulo is to make the third double arrow jump to the left toward Caterpillar. The passage is smallish through low bedding planes punctuated by highly stalactited swim throughs. After about 40 minutes on this line the diver will arrive at a T. If you make a left turn eventually you will reach Caterpillar at a jump within 8 minutes of the cavern zone.
Zsolt, Mark, and I had made dives from both cenotes in the classic style leaving cookies at our thirds which overlapped perhaps ten minutes beyond the left hand turn at the Xulo T. The natural thing to do was to link up the dives into a traverse or circuit.
When we asked about the line that connects the two cenotes we were told about a restriction that used to be blocked by a large stalactite which has since been broken. I am bringing this up because initially when Zsolt and I made a dive from Caterpillar we had actually passed through this restriction and didn’t realize it because we were expecting something smaller. We were expecting a hole that would require the removal of one tank which we never encountered on the dive. This actually led us to believe we were on the wrong line for a while which turned out not to be true.
This traverse is a must do and here is the beta: I staged the Xulo side and dropped the tank 30 minutes after making the Caterpillar jump (third double arrow on Xulo side) because I intended to do the traverse as a circuit. Swim to the T and go left. The passages are low and broken with fissures that eventually squeeze you into a canyon that drops to approximately 30 feet for some distance.
It is in here that you will pass through two side-ways restrictions that require some finesse not to damage cave. I believe that the second restriction is the one spoken about on some blogs where “two divers could shake hands.” This is the tight spot where the stalactite was broken and the passage is now passable without removing a tank.
After this restriction the route opens up more though the passages are still low. The line zig-zags and makes 90 degree turns eventually spitting you out at the Caterpillar jump which is at the base of a very steep slope approximately 8 minutes (less even) from the cavern zone.
Gas-wise the circuit was easily done on thirds using a stage though others with better gas consumption may not need the stage (The day before my dive we encountered a pair of divers who did the Cenote circuit without a stage).
On the map shown above, ignore the notes about making a right at the T. Going right ends in a highly decorated restriction that required the removal of at least one tank and may be no-mount–there is no way through it without breaking cave so we never passed through.
To find this Cenote completely ignore the directions in Steve Gerrard’s book, The Centotes of the…
Instead, drive south on 307 to Muyil. At the entrance to the ruins reset your odometer and proceed slowly for .7 to .8 km. Turn right onto a limestone road that borders a rancho on the left (road parallels the fence line) and follow it past a left fork. Continue for perhaps ¼ mile where you will come to a 90 degree turn to the left. There is a gated rancho directly on the right. The wooden gate is painted brown and locked.
Follow the road left for another 100 yards and the Cenote is at the end of the road gated and sealed off by a chain link fence. You have paid 200 pesos and obtained the key from ProTec. There is a large Palapa left of the trail that leads to the hole. Pool is down and right with line starting on the back right side above the water line.
We were warned about break-ins so we were careful not to bring any valuables with us. We left the car open, with the glove box open, and did not experience any problems.
Doggi is amazingly beautiful. The dives are highly complex in a smallish setting where the diver will be crossing over the line often in spaces where it is difficult to turn and communicate with your partner. The cave is fresh so you will be following knotted line with jumps that are very close to the main line and T’s that are acute so you could jump without knowing it if you are careless. Carry a lot of cookies and mind your navigation.
Dive 1: We followed the main line through a labyrinth of stalactite studded rooms. You will come to the first T in about 8 min. T right and continue to a second T (acute)–the continuous line does right–so we T’d right. We continued until 46 minutes before we turned.
Dive 2: We jumped left at the first T and followed this line until it ended at about 30 minutes.