The Rediscovery, Resurvey And Exploration Of Cenote Chuup Ich aka Corazon Del Paraiso

Reopening The Cenote For Divers

In late 2017 Kim Davidsson was contacted by Don Victor, owner of Cenote Jailhouse, who had opened up a road to another cenote on land he owned south of Tulum.  Kim dived the site and quickly realised it had not been ‘cleaned up’ after being explored – there was a succession of T intersections, many reach jumps, and a whole lot of percolation.  Concerned that when the site became open divers could get into trouble, Kim contacted original explorer Bil Phillips and they planned to return and make the cave safer for when there would be more diver traffic. However, as many people know, sadly Bil Phillips passed away at the end of 2017.  Kim has been very busy, on top of his normal teaching and guiding schedule, running ProTec; he had also been setting up ProRec. Consequently, nothing happened.

 

 

Historical Explorations

Bil Phillips and Steve Bogaerts originally explored this cenote in 2001-2003. Many of their original markers can be seen on the main lines of the cenote. They connected it with a section of Ox Bel Ha.  Back in 2001, there was no road into the cenote, so explorers and their helpers (“sherpas”) carried in everything needed for their dives from the 307. The original explorations were part of an official Explorers Club Flag Expedition. In 2015-2016 Bil Phillips returned and conducted further explorations with Dan Lins in the upstream section.

The Cave

The cave is part of Sistema Ox Bel Ha, second-longest underwater cave in the world. Due to tannic water entering the system from the surrounding marshland, the cave is stained black, similar to Cristal and Mayan Blue. Beautiful galleries of speleothems abound throughout the cave. In Corazon there is a halocline sitting at 16 M / 52 feet, below in the saltwater passages the cave is a brilliant white. The salt-water passages are not nearly as large or prolific as in Mayan Blue. In this section of Ox Bel Ha the flow is noticeable, especially on the downstream lines. As it has not been dived often there is still a considerable amount of percolation that will drift down from the ceiling as divers’ bubbles hit. After rains, the visibility drops inside the cave due to the tannic waters running into the cave system. As it has been dived very little there are still many blind cavefish living close to the main lines.

Resurvey work

Much of the cave line was left as ‘exploration line’ after the most recent explorations in 2016. Many of the jumps started very close to the mainline as reach jumps and there were many T intersections remaining. To get a better idea of the set up of the lines I systematically resurveyed all of the upstream lines, and much of the downstream lines. Downstream continues and is where the Ox Bel Ha connection was made so as a result, I limited my resurvey to the first thousand meters / three thousand feet. Also, a team from the Mexico Cave Exploration Project (MCEP) had added some lines in the downstream section. This resurveying was done with a number of different dive buddies, and I used a mix of the traditional survey slate and Mnemo. Given the crumbly and small nature of some of the lines, the Mnemo dramatically increased the efficiency and safety of this project. As it was by the end of 2018 I had resurveyed over fifteen thousand feet of line.

 

 

Cleaning Up Lines

Once the majority of the resurvey was complete I could begin work on cleaning up the lines. Over a number of dives, jumps were cut further back, where they had been left as reach jumps and T intersections were taken out. This is to help keep divers safe, making it less likely for divers to inadvertently make a visual jump or swim over a T intersection in low visibility due to percolation or halocline. The intention of this was not to change existing lines but to create a situation where divers must make a clear navigational decision to put in their own jump line rather than navigate a T intersection.

Further Explorations

Having completed resurveying much of the historic lines I noticed that there were many leads or blank spaces on my map. Knowing where the lines went meant that I could effectively target my exploration efforts where I knew there were no other lines.  By the end of 2018, I had added over three thousand feet of line in new cave passages. Some of these continue or have revealed more leads, so this will be an ongoing project! The resurvey data, and new exploration data was reported to the Quintana Roo Speleological Survey. This was to allow for comparison with the old data, and to inform future exploration.

 

 

Around The Cenote

The landowners have been busy making the cenote more comfortable for swimmers and divers. There is dedicated parking for divers closer to the water than other people are able to use. They have put in proper bathroom facilities, which are kept clean (very important, have you ever dived at Angelita or Calavera?).  There are also ample tables, chairs and sun lounges making it a great place to hang out and have a post-dive relax and beverage.

This has been an amazing project to have, as it is a cave that grows your skills as a diver. I used a mix of the traditional manual survey and the Mnemo survey device, both to keep my skills sharp, but some sections of the cave lent themselves to each. The big main passages were easy enough to survey with my trusty slate, while the halocline and smaller sections were nice to have the Mnemo for. I did pretty much all the dives there with my X-Deep Stealth Rec wing; even doing double stage dives this was the perfect tool. As the distances grew it was also nice to be able to borrow scooters from ProTec to move on to the further away sections. During 2018 I did 27 dives with more than 42 hours in water.

Many thanks to Don Victor and family, dive buddies Roxanne Rodriguez, Jean-Charles Erba, Gosia Mateja, Pete Delannoy, Rob Bartlet, Jaime de la Puerta, and Kim Davidson. Many, many other dives I completed on my own, diving solo in the smaller sections. Also thanks to Alison Perkins and Cameron Russo for contributing some of their data for the project.

 

Article written by Skanda Coffield

skanda@protecdivecenters.com

 

August 14, 2019   No Comments

To Anakao…and Beyond!!

In February of 2019, Jake Bulman and I received the news that we were going to be sent to Madagascar for a cartography project and the trip of a lifetime. We had been selected to go and create a map of the cavern zone of Aven cave. Having seen the videos and heard first hand from our colleges how cool this cave actually is, we were eager to get going and see the wonders of the Madagascar caves for ourselves.

Our trusted comrade and all-round great guy Nelson dropped us off at Cancun International Airport at 4am on Wednesday 22nd May and we began our long journey to Madagascar. We had a nice short flight to Atlanta, where I got my first taste of southern hospitality. We spent 5 hours in Atlanta waiting for our connecting flight to Paris and met Zachary Klukkert, one of the scientists on the expedition. After a smooth flight to Europe and a short layover, we found ourselves on Air France. Next destination – Madagascar!

Arrival in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar

We arrived in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar just after midnight. The immigration process was way smoother than I expected and the lady at the immigration desk was such help she gave me a great first impression of the Malagasy people – one which would stay we me for the rest of the trip. The taxi ride to our hostel, Madagascar Underground, was a little under half an hour. Squinting as hard as I could whilst looking out the window I could still not make out much of the landscape. A lot of the roads have very limited street lights and many of the locals live without electricity so to get a good view of your surroundings in the dead of night is a lot to ask for. After a couple of hours of sleep in the hostel, we were up at the crack of dawn to head back to the Airport and catch a plane to Toloari. Once we arrived in Toloari we had one more leg of the journey to complete. A picturesque 1.5-hour boat ride along the coast to our final destination. Complete we Zebu cart transfer to the boat waiting in the shallows, this was one of the most memorable boat journeys in my life!

Arrival at Ocean Lodge in Anakao, Madagascar

Arriving at Ocean Lodge Resort in Anakao I was blown away by the sheer luxury of the place. We stepped of the boat onto pristine white sand and were greeted with a fresh pineapple juice which went down a treat. After settling in we would spend the rest of the evening getting to know our colleges for the next 2 weeks.

Each day after we found ourselves in a wonderful routine, one of which has been immortalised on many divers t shirts and coffee mugs – Eat, Dive, Sleep, Repeat. Every morning we would wake up at 6am to be ready for breakfast at 7am sharp. After a breakfast of fruits, eggs, pastries and lots of coffee we would go and analyse our tanks and load up the trucks for a 1.5 hour drive to the park. The first day we went to the park I spent the whole drive with my face glued to the window, taking in as much of my surroundings and possible and getting a glimpse into how some of the locals in Anakao lived. We would pass through several villages on our way to the National Park and I would get a small glimpse into their day to day lives. You would see young boys working together herding goats and zebu. Women and children would be collecting wood or preparing fish for an early lunch. There always seemed to be something to do in the villages, unless there was rain. The rain was the only thing that seemed to stop the Malagasy in their tracks.

Tsimanampetsotse National Park

Just before we entered the park we would collect the porters from the neighbouring village. Each day we would meet new people, see new faces, and they were some of the happiest most helpful people I have ever seen. Always a smile on their faces, never a job too big or small. It was a real pleasure to meet them. Depending on the site we were diving on the day we would drive 20-30 minutes into the national park. Some days we would split up, some days we would dive together depending on the job in hand. The only certain thing was that no matter what we would be doing some of the best dives of our lives!!

As each working day went by we found ourselves becoming more and more acclimatised to our routine, I was even enjoying being without my beloved Coca Cola, and for anyone that knows me will understand how huge that is!!

We did manage to get a couple of non-working dives in. One of which has gone directly into the top 3 dives of my life. Malazmanga is by far the biggest cave I have ever seen. I have never felt so small and insignificant in a cave in my life. The sheer size of some of the passages is unthinkable. You could literally fly an airplane through some of them. It was breath-taking.

Mixed Emotions

As the project came to an end we experienced a lot of mixed feelings. We were extremely proud and excited as to how well the whole project went, but at the same time saddened knowing that we were about to leave this amazing place. We were able to spend a day in the capital, checking out the local markets and I finally got to see Antananarivo in all its glory before the long trip back to Cancun.

This truly was the trip of a lifetime (although I hope it’s not 1 per lifetime!) and it was a pleasure to work with such an amazing group of people. Special thanks goes to Laurie Godfrey, Zachary Klukkert and Ryan Dart for all their help and guidance during the project, and Patrick Widmann for helping us get this amazing opportunity.

 

Learning to Create Beautiful Cave Maps is A Course Away

ProTec Dive Centers has been teaching cave exploration and cave cartography for more than a decade.  If you want to learn how to survey cave and draw beautiful maps, visit us at ProTecDiveCenters.com.

July 28, 2019   1 Comment