Swimming in the Ik Kil Cenote, Mexico

Consider this question. If you came upon a natural well, called a Cenote, and you suspected that the remains of humans sacrificed by the Mayans 1,100 years ago lay 40 meters below you in the silt, would you swim in the water?

I don’t know if human sacrifices were offered to the Mayan gods in the Ik Kil Cenote, but they certainly were at the Cenote Sagrado nearby, in particular to the Mayan rain god, Chaac.

The Mayans sacrificed many things other than humans in Cenote Sagrado (also known as the Sacred Cenote, or The Well of Sacrifices), including jade carvings, gold, obsidian, rubber, pottery, cloth, and many other items. We know this because the sinkhole was dredged in the early 1900s.

So not knowing whether human remains lay below me, I dove into the well at Ik Kil.

And for a brief moment, I experienced the heebie-jeebies as I imagined ghosts clawing at me with their bony fingers.

The feeling passed quickly and I began to enjoy the feel of the cool fresh water. Light shone down through the top of the hole 26 meters above, and water splashed down from tiny waterfalls. Vines extended from the lip of the rim all the way into the water. Small black catfish darted about me.  It was pure bliss.

While swimming, my mind wandered back to the Sacred Cenote. It was the Mayan belief that if one was thrown into the Cenote and somehow survived, he would receive the gift of prophecy. In one ceremony in the 13th century, not a single person thrown into the Cenote survived. So a gentleman by the name of Hunac Ceel threw himself in the sacred well and lived, after which he prophesied that he would rise in power to be the ruler of Mayapan, the political and cultural capital of the Maya in what is now the state of Yucatan in Mexico.

And guess what. It really happened. Hunac Ceel actually became the ruler of Mayapan. Crazy bugger.

My visit to the Ik Kil Cenote was part of a larger tour I took of the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza. It was the final stop before heading home and we had an hour to enjoy a much-needed dip in cool water after spending the better part of the day in 30C heat.

I, a 54-year-old Canadian, had bonded with two people from my hostel, a 22-year-old woman from China named Jing, and a 29-year-old man from Amsterdam named Joey. We were all so different, and yet we were inseparable. Joey is a highly intelligent long-time traveller who seems to have completely grasped the Spanish language after only a five-day course. He is daring, but sensible. Jing is so full of life, laughter, and wonder that the term joie de vivre had to have been coined with her in mind.

We all went swimming together at the Ik Kil Cenote, and when someone suggested we all climb the stairs to the seven-meter jumping platform, none of us hesitated. We stood together on the rocky edge and, on the count of three, we threw ourselves over the edge and down into the water.

And then we did it again. And again. And again.

It was just that kind of a day. High fives all around.

That’s a long way down.


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