I’m beyond nervous to go cave diving again and the idea of traveling without Abby and my van feels like I’m leaving my security blankets behind. Going on trips didn’t used to be this complicated. The van is practically a living entity. I have to reset her with a deep clean so that I don’t come back to a moldy house. The sink has to be cleaned and soaked, the toilet emptied and sterilized, the refrigerator wiped down, and all of my water jugs emptied and open so they can dry out while I’m gone.

My cave diving history

All of these chores helped with my pre-trip anxiety. I did my cave training in 2015 when I lived in Playa del Carmen. I did the course, not because I had an intense desire to dive caves, but to have more opportunities to work, specifically as a cavern guide. When I think back to that time, it makes me nervous. Although I never had an incident in the cenotes, I really wasn’t prepared to guide in the caverns. I wasn’t confident with cave diving and in Playa, recreational divers are allowed in the caverns, even freshly certified Open Water divers with 4 dives. The combination of me, an inexperienced cave diver guiding with new scuba divers makes my skin crawl. Please do your research before signing up for cenote dives in the Riviera Maya. Stay safe out there.

Packing for a diving trip

This is the first time I’ve ever packed all of my gear (sidemount, dry suit, camera gear) on a short trip and I have to say, I don’t have the luggage for this. Just about all of the things in my van serve multiple purposes and I just don’t have the room to store proper luggage. I have to schlep all this stuff on my back and it has to be about 40-50 pounds of stuff. I’m going to find a different solution for my trip to Indonesia because my back and shoulders can’t handle this.

Meeting up with a dear friend in Mexico City

Now, the goal of this trip is cave diving, but I had to include a special non-diving trip to Mexico City to see my dear friend Camila. And of course I’m doing all of this traveling on a budget, so I got to experience public transportation in Mexico City. Honestly, I love it. Buses and metros allow for the best people watching and snooping.

Camila and I worked together in Xcalak, a tiny 300-person fisherman town south of Playa del Carmen (sidemount footage), but now she has a fancy corporate job in the city, and it has been way too long since I saw her last. We did a lot of reminiscing about our Xcalak days and we recorded part of it for The Dive Table podcast. It’s one of our Surface Interval conversations, so go check that out, if you want to hear war stories including working with ex’s and getting stung by a scorpion while teaching an Open Water Course.

Who’s teaching the cave diving course?

I’ve already mentioned I was nervous to get back in the caves, that’s why I chose my friends Tavo and Laura at Darkside Divers for my cave refresher. They are a sweet couple I met when I lived in Playa before and have really made a name for themselves in the cave, tech, and recreational scuba diving world in Playa del Carmen. 

I have a lot to say about nerves and fear in scuba diving, so I’m going to save that for my next video. Just know that being nervous about doing new things is normal, but we all have to work on the self awareness of knowing the difference between manageable nerves and anxiety that could get us into an accident. 

What goes on during a cave course?

The full cave course is an intense and extensive experience, normally spanning about 9-10 days. It includes primary reel and spool usage for complex navigation in the caves, equipment failure protocols, and a variety of safety scenarios like blind exits, lost line, and lost teammate. Just in case you don’t know these terms, let me define them quickly. Complex navigation includes making navigational decisions away from the main cave line, but still on explored portions of the cave. You do this by using equipment like arrows, cookies, and spools to maintain a continuous line from you to your exit with personal markers for your teammates. A blind exit is when you encounter zero visibility in a cave due to sediment or have catastrophic light failure – although the chances of this actually happening are extremely rare since everyone carries so many extra lights. Finally, lost line is if you really mess up and need to find your cave line.

Dry suits and cave diving

I had no idea what to expect with wearing a dry suit in the caves. I took my proper DUI undergarments, thinking that maybe I would need them for long dives in the colder, freshwater caves. But, I found that they were excessive. By the end, I settled on wearing just the top, but if I could’ve repacked, I would’ve taken my thrifted wool sweater and leggings instead. It just wasn’t cold enough, especially in the deeper caves where we spent most of our dive in the warmer salt water. I did choose to keep my dry gloves installed in order to practice the skills with less dexterity. Blind exits, working with spools, and leaving navigational markers were funny endeavors.

Teammate mentality

Something that Tavo called me out on was my solo diver behavior. It’s funny, if I’m teaching, I have a different chip in because I know I’m taking care of my students. However, over the last few years I’ve spent a lot of time diving on my own. I’ve gotten used to solving problems by myself and he had to remind me: cave diving is a team sport. I need to communicate with everyone on the team. Of course, people do go solo cave diving, but absolutely not. I don’t plan on ever messing with that. 

Our final cave dive of the refresher training

This last dive of the refresher was all about dive planning and executing a dive as a duo. We took our SAC rates and the information from the cave maps to determine how far we could go into the cave. Our plan was to start on the cavern line and make two jumps to connect to Chinese Garden. We went over our plan, did our checks and got into the cave. This was the first time I felt comfort in the cave. The dive was stunning. 

The formations were so delicate and intricate. I could imagine how this cave must’ve been when it was dry and all the years it would’ve taken to create the stalagtites and stalagmites. Cave diving really is an exploration into history while building a deep connection to the Earth.

We swam through a beautiful halocline which is where fresh water meets the salt water and perfectly layers itself until us divers go in and mix it all up. 

A great checking of the ego

The whole experience was humbling. I felt like a mess those 3 days, but my nerves finally chilled out and I was able to enjoy myself… And I have to say, the caves really are spectacular. Just because I still prefer ocean dives and seeing animals doesn’t take away the truly breathtaking beauty of seeing history with your own eyes, diving deep into a cave.

As dive professionals, I think it’s important to get out of our comfort zone regularly in order to continue growing our skills. It’s especially wonderful if we can do that in a more controlled environment like a course where mistakes can be made with someone who knows what’s going on. 

Join me on upcoming Azul Unlimited dive expeditions

See what trips are coming up. I always give my community first dibs on spots, so you can sign up for Patreon (and get trip discounts) or my email list to be the first to know about new expeditions in the future.

scuba diving trip to los cabos
whale shark snorkel trip to la paz

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