Here some interesting facts about the Genesis of the Cenotes.
The genesis of the Cenotes starts way before the Mayans. But the origin of the word “Cenote” is the maya word “Dzonot” which means “waterhole”.
Approximately 65 million years ago the peninsula of Yucatan didn’t exist – it used to be a beautiful coral reef below the surface. Different kinds of corals grow towards the surface but die towards the bottom at the same time (e.g madrepores).
That’s how underwater scenery such as barrier reefs, fringing reefs or atolls are being shaped. Over a long period of time a 1 mi thick limestone slab had developed. When a meteorite of 118 mi diameter named “Chicxulub” hit Mexico between the Gulf of Mexico and Merida, the earth plates of Central America were moved. That was when the peninsula of Yucatan and parts of the Bahamas loomed out of the water for the first time.
Many glacial periods made the sea level rise and sink consistently. So every time the peninsula loomed out of the water, the rain merged with the ambient carbon dioxide. When acid rain meets limestone, a chemical reaction transforms rain into carbonic acid.
The acid slowly “melted” the stone and soaked the softest rocks first. And because inshore waters always flow to the lowest point, the sea, tunnels up to 600 mi were formed here in Mexico. In times where the water level was low and the caves almost dry, the remaining carbon acid still releases calcium carbonate.
The drops hung off the ceiling for about 10-15 minutes as they were formed like tiny straws. When more calcium carbonate was released, it blocked the straws and transformed them into stalactites. Through the remaining mineral that dropped on the ground, stalagmites were formed. Stalactites grow only about 0,4 inches every 1000 years. Thats probably the most interesting fact about the Genesis of the Cenotes.
And this was not everything
The sea level rose again radically and flooded Yucatan several times so it was covered by corals and limestone again. Since about 18.000 years the sea leveled off and the caves are filled with rain water. Parts of the ceilings collapsed as the jungle got heavier over the years. The rain water needs 3-4 days to percolate through the stone which allows us a visibility range of more than 300 ft until today.
The capillary effect of the water running inbound offers us a natural spectacle we call “halocline“. A surreal experience where salt water is separated from fresh water because of different temperatures and density. When you’re diving in the fresh water looking down on the salt water, it is as if you were looking at a slightly reflective surface. Sometimes you might almost forget you’re underwater.
There’s no lakes or rivers in Yucatan, therefor the Cenotes were of great importance for the Mayas. They believed they were the home of the god Chac Mool who watched over Xibalba, the place of fear. They say Chac Mool reincarnated as a jaguar by the time of dawn and spread fear among everyone. In order to calm him down the Mayas made many offerings – from pots and jade up to living sacrifices.
Another god was Kukulkaan who was responsible for the fertility of the country. In the highest evolution of Chichen Itza the Mayas unfortunately cleared way too much forest so the ecosystem got out of balance. They blamed Kukulkaan for it. The result was a long period of drought, after that they only cultivated monocultures. The long drought was the beginning of the end of maya culture.
The so-called Alux, the spirits of light, served the gods and goddesses. According to legend, they swooshed through the Cenotes at 5 p.m everyday and turned off all lights. And because most of the Cenotes are still private property of devout mexican families, most of them still close at 04.59 in the afternoon.
Until today the Cenotes offer a magical and extraordinary beautiful wildlife in and outside the water. Different kinds of plants and other beings live in and around them. Due to the fact all inhabitants of the jungle need access to the only fresh water resource of the environment we intend to keep the naturalness of these places.
With this knowledge about the Genesis of the Cenotes we are acting in line with the divers’ motto: “leave only bubbles” we treat the mysterious sacred sites of the Mayas with great respect.