Beauty Exists Even in a Darkened Cave
When Michael and I first arrived and saw tour buses in the parking lot, we’d worried that Rio Secreto might be just another amusement park, and we were hoping for a decidedly more natural adventure.
All across the Yucatán Peninsula, we’ve repeatedly detoured to swim in cenotes, gorgeous sinkholes filled with clear water in every shade of blue. At first, Río Secreto feels like a similar experience. Wearing neoprene wetsuits and water shoes, we hike a short distance through a jungle to a gaping pit camouflaged by verdant brush. But when I peer down into it, I don’t see the turquoise water I’ve become accustomed to. It’s not until my feet are firmly on the rocky floor and my headlamp is pointed toward the river that I see crystal-clear water lapping at the edges of cave walls.
On our underground adventure, we walk through knee- to chest-high water in a labyrinth of tunnels. During the roughly 90-minute cave tour, I constantly swivel my head to survey the cascading formations, each more impressive than the last.
So many cave tours end the same way, and this one is no exception. Our guide instructs the 10 of us to extinguish our headlamps, and then she turns off hers. Suddenly, there are no more glistening formations to look at — there’s nothing at all. I reach up and poke myself in the face. I blink once, and then again, more forcefully, but it makes no difference. Not one fragment of natural light from above filters down into the cave.
What makes this cave tour different, of course, is that we’re in about 5 feet of water, deep enough to bob gently in my life jacket as my toes barely scrape the cave floor. Our moment of darkness lasts no longer than a minute, but with no visuals to mark the passing seconds, it feels like an instant and an eternity at the same time.
If there is no light, is there beauty? I am certain the answer is yes.