April 12, 2011

The Yucatan's Cliff-diving Daredevils

Acapulco's cliff-divers are world famous, but how many people knew that this thrill-seeking sport exists on the Yucatan Peninsula too? With 6,400 cenotes dotting the landscape, it can often be a long way down.

Cave Diver

The latest round of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series took place, on the Yucatan, this weekend. The centerpoint was the Ik Kil Cenote (sinkhole), near to Chichen Itza. The greatest international cliff-divers gathered to discover who would take the title of the best amongst them. They took turns to launch themselves, from an especially erected diving board, into the wide, gaping mouth of the cenote. Then it was a 27 meter (90ft) free-fall plunge, through thin air, reaching speeds of 40mph before hitting the pool at the bottom.

Colombia's Orlando Duque emerged as the best of them. In second place was last year's winner, Britain's Gary Hunt. However, this is just one round in a global competition. The overall champion will not be crowned until another leg of the series takes them into Athens, Greece, later this year.

Cave Diver

Cenotes form all over the porous, limestone bedrock of the Yucatan. As surface water is drawn down, into the rock, it causes submerged pools and rivers. Sometimes this erosion opens up a hole above, allowing access to the wondrous subterranean landscape below. These holes are the cenotes.

Ik Kil translates as Sacred Blue. The Maya often used cenotes as subterranean shrines; with the tunnels leading away from them being part of the rite of passage into adulthood. Young men would have to survive the descent into them and arrive safely out the other side. It was a rebirthing into manhood.

Diving into them, from the surface level, is certainly not recommended for amateurs. It takes great skill and training to cliff-dive like a champion. However, many cenotes have been developed for tourists to visit. Swimming is allowed in them and diving boards have been set up from safe heights.

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