Memoirs of a Cenote, gurl.
It seemed as good of a time as any to start drinking shots of rum. We had missed the 9am tour bus headed for the Mayan ruins “Chichen Itza” because we made that last minute liquor run. My friend Adam sat on the edge of the fountain in front of our hotel and started his ritual of painting his ginger body with sunscreen. I hand off the handle of rum to Kendall, “This tastes like pure gasoline.” We stare into the sun for a few more swigs and head inside. There is something about The Ritz Carlton that inspires me to overuse the word “dahhhling”, and the chosen target of the day was the doorman. The poor guy had been unofficially designated as my morning chaperone. “Esscuse me miss? You left your bottle over there. Also, if you are going into downtown Cancun, make sure you don’t leave your bag open. If you are out late and drinking, make sure to arrange with the concierge for car service. Sorry you missed your shuttle…I tried calling you!” It was clear that we were the assholes who scored some sort of deal to stay in a place beyond our means. We had gotten very lucky on this particular trip as we had been upgraded to First Class and had a family discount at the Ritz. I couldn’t help but remember that I was still the same girl that at 10 years old, my grandmother would pay me to wear a dress for dinner at her country club and beg me not to wear shorts underneath or burp in front of her fancy friends. I march into the grand entrance and toss an over-the-shoulder Hollywood glance back at him, “muchas gracias, dahhhling.” We all instinctually start exaggerating the clicking sound our shoes make on the marble floor as we sashay up to the concierge. “We want to see the Chicken Pizza” I announce. “She means Chichen Itza. How do we get there?” Kendall always knows to remain locked and loaded with explanations when she is around Adam and me. The three of us operate best when utilizing each other’s strengths. I charm, Adam haggles and Kendall is the closer. Adam chimes in, “those tours are a bit much, are there any other ways to go there on a budget?” The concierge seemed to be running out of ideas and patience when my chaperone interrupted for the win. “Esscuse me miss? I will show you the way.”
We board a retired school bus heading for downtown Cancun and drop 50 cents into a plastic jar. Adam sits in the pleather seat in front of me and stifles a snort cackle. The same man who doesn’t flinch at buying Veuve Clicquot by the case wouldn’t be caught dead splurging on a frivolous taxicab. I adore this character trait, mostly because it marks him as an easy target for my shenanigans. Later on I went in for the kill, “Hey, I rented us a car! It was $300 a day plus tax and insurance! I hope you don’t mind, but I put it on your card!” I’m not a liar, but I like to lie to Adam. I enjoy timing the moment of impact to the moment his face matches his hair. With impeccable timing, the rental agent pulls around a clown car. “You paid that much…for this piece of shit? Ok…..” The car was really $45, but I live to exploit gullible Adam. “You would think they would have thrown in full sized tires” he says as he climbs into the driver’s seat. His anger is a slow burn which is just the way I like it. I hand him a paper placemat with a rudimentary outline of the country of Mexico. “What am I supposed to do with this?” he asks. “It’s our map…just follow the big black line to the little black line to the thing that looks like a pyramid.” In perfect succession, he discovers that we had no radio, air conditioning and torn up windshield wipers without fluid. Minutes into our drive to the interstate, Adam had to pull over to wipe down the windows with a towel as the brown dust that is omnipresent in Mexico created a delightful little film in front of his eyes and Adam took it as a personal insult. He sits behind the wheel about to blow up when Kendall and I reveal the real cost of the vehicle. His anger quickly turned to delight as he turned the car on with a smile and a “what a deal!”
Finding Chichen Itza was quite easy as all we needed to do was follow the busses full of Gringos. We had a nice enough time searching for virgins to sacrifice and taking inappropriate photographs. The one thing I wanted to do while in Mexico was to find this cave thing with magical blue waters inside that you could swim in. Although, I had no idea what it was called, where I could find it and I forgot to ask Google about it. At the time, all three of us had a basic handle of the Italian language and a sprinkle of Spanish terms. Our quest to find the glory hole was made all the more interesting when our questions translate to: to swim (in Spanish) rocks (in Italian) down in blue please thank you we need (in Spanish). We couldn’t understand why people kept insisting we needed a “la playa” so we instead started refocusing our efforts on finding our way back to Cancun.
We spent the next twenty minutes with me singing Mariah Carey songs with Scott Stapp’s voice as Adam harmonized with his impressive whistling skills. Kendall stared out the window looking for a place we could find some mixers for our rum when suddenly she saw it. “Katy, those are stalactites, right?” She was right to ask me after I had spent exactly two summers pointing at stalactites in a cave and I was clearly an expert. A small road sign did, in fact, resemble a cave. We decide to take our mission off map at the next exit. If Cancun is an Epcot parody of Mexico, then we suddenly found the part of Mexico where heads are found in coolers. We follow an emaciated dog down a dirt road through a village where the families in clay houses slept in hammocks. I stared out the window fantasizing, as I often do, about the news of my death traveling back to the states. “We had to identify her by her dental records” the medical examiner would say to my family. I was so distracted as I was making mental vows to floss better if I survived, that I didn’t realize we had pulled over in front of someone’s home. A picnic table on the front porch had a few coconuts and Kendall was offering to buy them. A heavyset woman flashed us a smile filled with gold teeth and disappeared inside her house. She returned with the same grin and a machete held high in her right hand. “We can outrun her!” I say as Kendall pulls out a camera to document our own death. Three coconuts were decapitated as their innards spilled out. Our mixer problems solved and our necks still attached to our bodies, we carry on. Several locals shook their heads as we kept asking for the magical swimming cave. We were about to give up all together, when we pulled over one last time to ask someone to point us in the direction of the highway. Adam found a small jewelry store and started talking Italian to the sweet couple that ran the joint. By some luck, the woman knew Italian. We asked her if she knew where we could find this cave and if no, how the hell we could find our way back. A crooked smirk came across her face as she pointed 50 yards away to a small wooden ticket booth being manned by a single small child.
We pay our pesos as a seven year old takes us through a gate heading underground. We meandered through the damp darkness which was occasionally lit by basic lanterns. Eventually, we find the ceiling opening to the sky. A tunnel of sunshine shone like a spotlight making the water below it glow an impossible blue. There was another Mexican couple on their way out, leaving us to play by ourselves. Most of the swimming hole was covered by a stalactite roof and hundreds of bats. We immediately change into our bathing suits and jump off a cliff into the water. The water was cool and effervescent as schools of goldfish tickled our toes. At some point a man came and said something to us in hurried Spanish, to which we replied with three thumbs up. We took to floating on our backs with our arms curled around our coconuts for an occasional sip of legit goodness. We watched as the sun started changing the sky from blue to orange to purple. We knew we had very few minutes before dark, so we thought it would be best to find out if our car actually had headlights. We make our way through the pitch black tunnels by memory and cell phone lights. Panic set in when we found a large steel door covering the entrance as it immediately dawned on us what that man was trying to say to us. “No one is around to hear our screams” I say dramatically to Kendall. Adam suggests we head back to the water hole to make a plan in the fading light.
We collectively agreed that our best option for survival was to scale the rocks up to the top of the cave where the skylight was. “We’re from Colorado, we got this” we all concluded. With our clothes wrapped up in our towels like satchels, our bathing suits and our cursed flip flops on, we start the climb. Boulder by boulder we get closer to the top, never once letting go of our precious coconuts. Our shins completely torn up, we finally get to a point where we could stand up straight and look out of the hole.
The most likely chance we had at a successful escape was over a tall wooden fence. We scramble across the slippery rocks and we decide that I had to go over first, being that I am the shortest. Kendall and Adam boost me up to the top and I fall over the edge with a flop. As I stand up to brush myself off, Kendall and Adam jump down gracefully. It was then that we were face to face with a mariachi band that was about to perform right on the patio of a crowded restaurant. Every single person froze in place to observe the three gringos wearing bathing suits and holding coconuts. We do our best to put on our “nothing to see here” attitude and we walk towards the door of the restaurant, stopping by the bathroom before exiting. Not a word was exchanged by anyone and we made it all the way to our car before unraveling in fits of hysterics.
Thunder announced the beginning of our flooded journey back to Cancun. “Goddamn windshield wipers, I can’t see anything” Adam curses. I stare for clues on our placemat map as I tend to the scrapes on my knees and Kendall optimistically declares “well, at least we have dim lights.” “Our vacation was almost ruined! Get it?” I jab Kendall in the ribs. This was a declaration of what ended up being an hour long pun war, which Kendall quickly shot back “yeah, it got pretty rocky there for a minute.”