Updated: Sep 7, 2020
Cenote Ik Kil is 150 feet deep, or so they say. It is one of the thousands of entrances to the vast underwater cave system that covers the Yucatan Peninsula. Its waters, though crystal clear, are dark as night because of its depth. This past week, I chose not to swim in its cool waters. I have been swimming there before, but I admit with some fear. Now, I may have my answer as to why I am afraid.
My friend, Maria, and I ventured deep into the Yucatan to go story hunting. There are legends of elemental beings all through the jungles and the best way to find first-hand accounts of encounters with these creatures of earth, air, fire, and water is to visit the remote villages and talk to the Maya people there. So, we drove four hours into the heart of the territory and stayed in an unassuming hotel across the street from Ik Kil, the fabulous and mystical cenote.
Early the next morning, after our visit to the sacred waters and Maria's swim (and my observation of her swim), we went to check out of the hotel. We paid for our room and chatted a bit with the man behind the desk. He had lived in the area all his life and had a few stories to tell. I asked him if he had any stories about the cenotes and he told me only this;
"There is a cenote not far from here that the tourists never visit. I was working near there for a while and sometimes, late a night, we could hear water rushing inside the cave. We would run and look down into the cenote, but the water was completely still."
He had no more information than that. But he did have information about an encounter a man in a nearby village had with the evil goddess Xtabay. So, we thanked him and went to see if we could find the man.
An hour later, we were sitting in plastic chairs on a broad porch with an almost blind, older gentleman named Sebriano. He was uncle to the man we were looking for. He said his nephew was working, but he had stories of his own to share with us. He talked of Xtabay and the aluxob (plural for alux--a small, childlike and unpredictable leprechaun). And then he told us a story he said he'd never told anyone. He even questioned why he was telling us. For forty years he'd held it's secret.
Sebriano leaned forward in his seat, his dark and clouded eyes sparkling despite his limited vision, "I have seen the serpent in the centoes," he began. "It's huge. Its head is the size of a queen-sized bed. It looks like a dragon, black as night. One night, about one o'clock in the morning, I was out near the cenote and I heard the sound of rushing water. I looked down into the cave and the water was swirling like a whirlpool. Then, suddenly, a dragon-creature with an enormous head flew up toward me and then turned around and dove back into the blackness. It disappeared and, almost instantly, the water was still again."
I was stunned. Sebriano did not know what the creature was called. He never saw it again and kept the encounter to himself. But, I had read a similar story of a dragon-like creature with the body of a snake and the head of a horse that lived in the extensive cave system under the Yucatan and only came out at night.
"I am sure other people must know about the creature," my new Maya friend continued. "That is why they use the nets."
"Nets?" I wasn't sure if I heard him correctly. Maria, whose Spanish is excellent, confirmed the translation. Yes, nets.
He continued. "The cenotes where the tourists go all have nets very deep down under the water. They are nailed into the walls of the caves so nothing can get past them. The cenotes that are out in the country where no tourists go don't have nets."
I wracked my brain to think of any reason "they" would take the time and effort to nail huge nets across the caves deep under water. It would not be an easy job and so, by rights, would only be done if it were very important. Installing a net 100 feet down would require scuba divers and repeated dives since the work would be difficult and would mean a lot of air consumption at a depth where divers can only stay a few minutes before needing to decompress. And anyway, a net 100 feet beneath the surface would not be any help at all to a tourist, unless of course they were to keep something from coming UP.
Maria and I thanked Sebriano for his time and his stories. He said to come back and visit. We said we would. His countenance was so bright and shiny, he was a true treasure to spend time with. And his fabulous story about the cenote dragon had me wondering about other mystical stories of entrances to the Maya Underworld and what treasures a cenote dragon might be guarding in the labyrinthine cave system where Heaven and Hell meet.
COOL-A-RAMA: Here is a link to a story written by someone who visited some secret and private cenotes. There are a couple VERY STRANGE photos including one that has something in the water that looks a bit like the Loch Ness Monster https://earthvagabonds.com/2015/12/22/secret-and-private-cenotes-near-tulum/
Off to see what more I can discover about the "nets"