Los Cenotes

There are, all over the place here, these things called ‘cenotes.’ They are underground fresh water sources, caverns and small rivers created by a meteor strike at some moment in the distant past. They were handy in an area where there were no lakes or above-ground rivers. The Maya sought them out and built their cities over them or very close to them. At Chichén Itzá there are two cenotes. One was for drinking water and the other — appropriately named the “Well of Souls” — was for human sacrifices.

A lot of cenotes have become tourist attractions for swimming and snorkeling. I’ve seen photos of the interiors, and they are really cool-looking, very beautiful in an other-world, watery way.

On the way back from Chichén, we stopped at one. I can’t recall the name, something starting with ‘S.’ We stopped so people could swim, and I thought I’d go. For those people who know me and know how totally claustrophobic I am, this must sound crazy, but I’d seen the drinking cenote at Chichén and it had a section that wasn’t underground, so I figured I’d be ok. I changed into my swimsuit and trekked over to the entrance … only to find a LONG staircase leading down to a black hole cave. Right. And the people coming up told me that wasn’t the end of it. I’d have to go down some more once I got into the cave. Right. As if.

(My claustrophobia is like the monster under your bed when you’re five: huge, blood-thirsty, able to utterly petrify. Let’s not talk about the two times (mercifully, only two) that I’ve been stuck in elevators!)

I looked down the stairs into the dark, yawning maw of the cenote. I’m sure it was gorgeous in there: cold, dark, clear water … novel rock formations … whatever. There was just no way. I stared down the stairway a while, watched people emerge out of seeming nothingness into the light. And then I backed away. Just not ready to handle the demon under the bed quite yet.

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