Steve's Library of Articles
The House of Ancestors
"The Labna Ha Exploration Project"
February 12 - 19, 2005
It is always an inspiring adventure hiking through the dense Mayan jungle seeking new discoveries and witnessing ancient remnants of a highly sophisticated society that once dominated the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan peninsula hundreds of years ago. Sergio Granucci and Pepe Lanare took me on a very unique jungle tour of a 200 hectare of land they have leased from the gigantic Ejido Jacinto Pat. This ejido is an old form of government where a group of Mayan families each own their own parcel of land and work together in managing the natural resources from the terrain.
Sergio and Pepe have been working for over a year in developing an unspoiled part of the jungle into an ecological jungle adventure/snorkeling site. With thousands of tourists flocking to the Riviera Maya each week and indulging into the multiple all-inclusive resorts that have sprouted during the past eight years, they are confident that their investment and hard work will attract many in enjoying a very beautiful and exceptional piece of property. It is distinctive for one main reason. It has an abundance of cenotes, dry caves, and underwater streams meandering underground through the porous limestone. I was intrigued because I was very familiar with the rich history of cave diving exploration on the huge Ejido Jacinto Pat property. With three of the four longest underwater cave systems in the world within its borders and numerous other spectacular cave systems included, any cave diver who wishes to pursue new explorations can easily figure this special area was very ripe for more outstanding investigation. With the Sistema Nohoch Nah Chich underwater cave system directly on the north side of Sergio's and Pepe's acquisition, who would not be interested?
It was during March of 2004 that Sergio performed a solo cave exploration dive in a cenote that the Mayans had shown him and Pepe months earlier that was within 2 kilometers of their central jungle adventure site. This cenote was named UXDEN NAH ILLOB which in Maya means the House of Ancestors. On that one dive, Sergio laid an astonishing amount of 5,684 feet/1,733 meters of line in a cave that was getting bigger and better the further you swam in. Sergio was convinced by the cave characteristics, the immense size of the main passageway and the numerous potential leads jutting off to the sides that this underwater cave would be giving away real estate at an astounding rate of laying line. This, of course, is theory until proven otherwise.
Located directly at their main camp site was a unique cenote this is basically a small hole at the land surface with a 15 feet/4.6 meter shaft that immediately bells out into a very large chamber with another 20 feet/6 meter drop to a crystal clear pool of water. The only way into this cenote is by rope. However, with Sergio and Pepe's vision for their new business was to construct a quality stairway down through the shaft and build a huge deck platform. This would be their staging area for their snorkeling tours and cave diving. The task was completed and access to the underwater cave system was available. Sergio and Pepe immediately began to have success exploring, laying line and surveying the cave system. Sergio named it Sistema Caracol, which means snail or sea conch. As the exploration continued, the size of Sistema Caracol grew. It currently has over 20,000 feet/6,098 meters of surveyed passages documented.
It was March, 2004 when Sergio invited me on a few exploration dives. I was very impressed by the immense decorations and beauty, shallow water and, as you swam further into the cave system the great magnitude of cave passageways in several areas. On one of our dives using side mount configuration and our Silent Submersion long range DPVs, Sergio and I were over 7,000 feet/2,134 meters upstream trying to find a route around a collapsed cenote area. From GPS readings and land surveys, the upstream furthest points of exploration were within a 1000 feet/308 meters of Sistema Nohoch Nah Chich near the Far Point station. That will be a future story in itself.
It was June, 2004 when Sergio expressed interest in offering an exploration project to any qualified, experienced cave diver. It is not often for most cave divers to have the opportunity to explore a quality virgin underwater cave. He asked me to organize an expedition. With my busy schedule and life style, it had been quite awhile since I was involved in an exploration team project. However, with what I now knew about Sistema Caracol, the other cenotes that Sergio and Pepe have found on their leased land and being familiar with the surrounding topography I figured this would be a great opportunity for excellent exploration.
Therefore, I organized a base plan and began sending out letters, emails and posting a few announcements on the Internet cave/technical diving chat sites. Sergio and Pepe were adamant about what the expedition would cost per participating diver and we negotiated a price that would cover all expenses and logistics for such a project. I set the limit for no more than six cave divers to be involved because I had much experience in previous projects with larger numbers. It would be too much work and difficult logistics if more were involved plus the main priority was safety. Interest from cave divers began to appear and it not take long to find six eager, qualified cave divers for the February, 2005 week of exploration.
As the exploration project quickly moving closer, I sent out six information reports over three months informing our team of everything to expect, what would be provided and what they needed to bring to further insure success and comfort. We provided a portable Bauer compressor that could be moved. We had two sets of doubles for each diver and enough single tanks for stage bottles. We required each person to have enough battery capacity for their primary lights to last a potential of six hours of diving per day. Everyone brought two stage regulators and stage bottle hardware.
For the base camp, Sergio and Pepe constructed a kitchen, a huge grill and a twenty-foot length dining table. Needless to say, we had plenty of room to accommodate the divers and the Mayan workers for all our meals. Sergio and I bought enough groceries and supplies to feed an army. We spared no expense for quality and plentiful food. We had a theme for each evening meal such as pollo night, pasta night, fish night and our last night - rib-eye steak night. We had sandwiches made and brought to the dive site cenotes daily and plenty for everyone. Breakfast each morning was a personal choice of cereal, eggs, toast, meat, juices, coffee, etc. We had three cooks with our main chef Karin Buechel. Everyone was delighted with Karin's skill and extra personal touch to the evening meal preparations.
Sleeping accommodations were a choice of a hammock or a full size quality air mattress with your own personal sleeping bag and pillow. Sergio and Pepe had constructed a huge palapa with cement floor and a loft. Where you chose to sleep was a personal decision. In addition, three quality Mayan style elevated toilets were available with a sink area for brushing teeth and personal hygiene care. The only failure was the completion of the shower area for the project; however the Cenote Caracol served that purpose with no soap or shampoo used.
Our team members were Ken Bosko, Traverse City, Michigan; Jason Brauhn of Tampa, Florida; Simon Pedersen of Denmark, Bob Thorpe of Traverse City, Michigan and Charles Toth of Vienna, Austria. We lost our sixth team member from a tragic accidental death two months earlier. Our original goal was 3 two-person exploration teams, however as it was proven during our exploration week that having an odd number of explorers would handicap our management of the project.
The results of the seven days of exploration are the following. The total length of SISTEMA UXDEN NAH ILLOB established was 15,847 feet/ 4,831 meters. The total amount of 'new" line installed into the cave system was 7,661 feet/2,336 meters. Jason Brauhn was our scoop booty king as he was involved with laying 3,576 feet/ 1,090 meters of line. Ken Bosko and Bob Thorpe were able to install 2,398 feet/731 meters. Simon was responsible for 2, 286 feet/ 697 meters. Charlie Toth was able to lay 128 feet/34 meters of new line as he was more involved in resurveying line from lost data.
Four new cenotes were discovered. On the first day, Sunday, February 13th - Cenote Broken Neck or Hacata in Maya was established and 300 feet/91 meters further Cenote Ceramica (Pottery) was placed on the survey. Two days later, all our gear including the compressor was moved to Cenote Broken Neck and served as our main entry into the cave system. On Wednesday, February 16th Ken Bosko and Bob Thorpe discovered Cenote Nahoch Hoo, which means "big alligator" in Maya. On Thursday, February 17th, Sergio Granucci and Pepe Lanare discovered Cenote Pelananosco that has no translation.
On Monday, February 14th Simon Pedersen and Charlie Toth successfully connected Sistema Uxden Nah Illob into a smaller cave system called Sistema Tacamuba, it means a "hidden cenote" in Maya. This smaller cave system had to be resurveyed as the original data was lost because of a crashed computer drive. It had been explored by Sergio and Pepe six months earlier. Charlie Toth and Steve Gerrard resurveyed 2, 260 feet/689 meters of line. This made a total of six cenotes within the cave system.
There is another small cave system located very near Cenote Uxden Nah IIlob that has close to 2500 feet/762 meters of line. It is named Sistema Tucha Ha. It means monkey water. However, during the seven days of exploration, Sergio connected it on the last day but we never had the chance to survey it, therefore it cannot be included in the total length. It is shame on us for not completing that responsibility. That task will be completed soon.
Significant passageways discovered was JASON'S SIPHON explored on Sunday, February 13th by Jason Brauhn and Steve Gerrard. The initial data stated 1,107 feet/338 meters of new line laid that ended at a place where no scuba could go however by pointing light through a wall of columns the passage continues and heads southeast and towards the Cenote Nohoch Kiin area of Sistema Sac Aktun. Jason Brauhn and Simon Pedersen discovered BRIANNA's BALLROOM with 578 feet/176 meters of new line on Thursday, February 17th. The next day this same team installed 1,708 feet/521 meters of new line in the continuation of the upstream passage. Jason and Simon named it ALICIA's ALLEY.
As a useful review of our seven diving days of exploration, the project was a big success. Our first night at the Caracol Village Resort located north of Playa Del Carmen on Saturday, February 12th worked out extremely where we conducted our orientation for the coming week of exploration. Our last night of Saturday, February 19th everyone stayed at Villas DeRosa in Aventuras Akumal, thanks to the excellent cooperation and help of Wayne Nefzger. We celebrated our successful exploration project with a great banquet dinner at the enjoyable Medeteraneo Restaurant owned by my friend Frabisio located in Puerto Aventuras.
Our main objective for the diving was no incidents or stupid things carried out. That goal was accomplished as every dive was performed safely and comfortably. Everyone agreed the food was excellent and plenty of it. Special thanks to Karin Buechel. The home base camp proved to be a great triumph and served its purpose. The ambiance of the camp was smooth and pleasant. The air compressor worked as a true champion and the air quality was terrific. The Mayan sherpas and workers proved consistently each day to be hard working and dedicated to the tasks required. Without them, there would be no diving exploration expedition. The weather was awesome as it was cool at night and very comfortable during the day with very little insects to torment us. We had NO rain and that made Bob and Ken very happy.
We regret the incompletion of the shower facility. We failed to maintain a daily map of the exploration because logistical problems because of lack of time and energy as both Sergio and Steve served as the sixth explorer. And the biggest lesson learned from the exploration project was the incomplete use of a dive site manager whose job was strictly to coordinate the continuing progress and the necessary communication amongst all the explorers, workers and the gear used each day. However, everyone realized that any exploration project cannot perform in a perfect manner. We delivered what was promised and the cave cooperated by yielding her virgin passageways.
All survey data will be presented by Sergio Granucci to the Quintana Roo Speleological Survey association and our map is near completion. From the survey information the main trunk passage of Sistema Uxden Nah Illob is heading straight for Sistema Caracol. Once these two cave systems are connected you will have cave system over 40,000 feet/12,195 meters with the potential to connect into Sistema Nohoch Nah Chich to the north and Sistema Sac Aktun to the southeast. Who knows what is sandwiched between these beautiful underwater cave systems. From there you could have the true possibility of a goliath of all underwater cave systems exceeding 500,000 feet/152,439 meters of explored passageways.
Steve Gerrard lives in the Puerto Aventuras marina resort. He has been safely teaching cave diving for twenty five years. His favorite activity is underwater cave photography using the NIKON 100 digital camera with a Light & Motion Titan Housing using Ikelite strobes. He is the author of the famous guidebook titled - THE CENOTES OF THE RIVIERIA MAYA and soon to be published CENOTE DIVING - SAFE & FUN. You can contact Steve at:
firstname.lastname@example.org or www.steve-gerrard.com