Embracing the ‘M’ Word

On our recent trip to Mexico, we had a Mayan guide, Murux.


I was worn out with the extreme heat and sun, after walking around Chichen Itza, a huge complex of Mayan ruins.

  In between visits to Mayan ruins, Murux took us to Cenote Sagrado Azul.  A cenote is a sinkhole or cave providing access to the extensive system of underground and underwater caves beneath the Yucatan Peninsula.  Of the estimated 30, 000 cenotes, a few are open to the public for swimming.  Murux says the Mayans regarded them as sacred entrances to the Underworld.  I was a little skeptical when I saw this sign. I mentioned once that I only swim in the warm waters off the Hawaiian Islands.  I don’t like being cold.  Nor do I like public showers, public pools, or making public appearances in my swimsuit.  But my husband Thom gave me a gentle nudge (with a sharp stick), and somehow I found myself suited up, reluctantly stepping into the open outdoor shower outside the entrance to Cenote Sagrado Azul.  Dripping wet, I walked past the security guard through the archway, and looked down from the rim into the cenote.  In that instant, I was transported from the oppressive heat of a dusty dry world into another world entirely.  With its hanging vines, watery echoes, and tiny streams dripping down stone walls into a jade pool, it was like a scene from a Tarzan or an Indiana Jones movie.

I descended slippery stone steps through a tunnel into the actual cave, along with a swarm of tourists who had just arrived by bus. We all stepped into an underground chamber, open to the sky, with sunlight filtering down through the vines.

  Stairs hugged the wall, leading up to a ledge where swimmers took turns making flying leaps into the water.  No fear of hitting the bottom—this was the entrance to the Underworld, and it was bottomless. Thom marched into line and took the plunge.  I’d already embraced my familiar and comfortable role as photographer and journalist, and I clung to it like a life raft.  I did touch my toe to the water, and it was cold.  I didn’t want to leave my camera hanging unguarded on a post.  And there were all those velvety black catfish-like creatures swimming around in there… Like a mahout with a stubborn elephant,Thom backed me down the first couple rungs of a small wooden ladder.  I was in up to my waist before I balked.  A woman, already in the water, said something in Spanish, and she started to peel my fingers away from the ladder.  I was shocked at this breach of personal space, and held on even tighter.  The woman laughed, and slapped at my hands.  It was clear that she wasn’t going to go away, and she wasn’t going to give up.  Some part of me really wanted to let go, and I knew I would probably regret it if I did not take that plunge.  I released my grip, and splashed backwards into the cool clear water. The word ‘magic,’ is overused.  But the ‘M’ word is the only one I can think of to describe that moment, that magic, that Mexico, that me.  I surfaced, the woman smiled, and melted into the crowd, like an angel who had come down to earth, completed her mission, and moved on.   The tour bus must’ve recalled its passengers, because when I swam out to the center of the pool and looked back, I felt like the only person in a world where time did not exist.  It was like learning to breathe again.  It was a baptism.  It was letting go of the heat, the shyness, the fear.  It was a little like falling in love.

I am now a believer.  And not only in spirit guides.  I now know it’s possible to step through the entrance to the Underworld, and exist in that sacred place where kings and princesses bathe and are renewed.

All words and images c2013 Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Roy G. Biv

Here is a link for more interpretations of Jake’s Sunday Post: Entrances.


  1. Beautiful! Reminds me of a spot in Jamaica with a similar colloquial name, the “blue hole”. This one was not in a cave however, it was just in this stretch of river, at the base of a waterfall, the most brilliant blue water, and completely bottomless as far as any one has been able to determine.

    On a hot day, it was paradise!

  2. These photos are magical too. What a trip! Believe it or not, I have goose bumps reading this post. You’re so right about the Indiana Jones or Tarzan parallel. I imagine this experience as life changing. W.o.W.

    1. Thank you, Tess. It really was a life changing experience. But it seems to be a change that I must experience again and again and again, as I learn to be more open and braver to the many experiences the world has to offer.
      I so appreciate your visit, and your taking the time to comment.

  3. OH what an experience. I would have felt the same way in all respects. These are gorgeous photos of a magical place. M is for magical for sure. Magic needs to be reserved for places that look and feel the way you have described them here. I hope one day you will have the pleasure of prodding your hubby 🙂

  4. Dear Lesley,
    You make me smile! My poor dear long-suffering husband is especially good natured when I prod him into dressing up for this costume party, or taking a trip to a place that might stretch him a little. He and I seem to take turns prodding and nudging each other out of our comfort zones. It is out of our comfort zones that we probably learn the most and live more deeply.

    Thank you so much for your visit, and your wonderful comments.

  5. These photos are absolutely stunning- and your story – pure magic. I would stay there forever! Glad you took the plunge! May it be the first of many 🙂 (and we have a HOT tub that is almost as wondrous that’s got an invitation with your name on it!)

    1. Hi Sue,
      So glad I took the plunge too. It turned out to be one of the highlights of the whole trip for me–an important life lesson The hardest things to do are often the most rewarding.
      I still don’t like making public appearances in my swimsuit, but I hope I have learned my lesson, and I know I would be in good company.

  6. Completely entrancing, Naomi! I was worrying about your camera as you edged backwards but Thom had obviously taken it from your hands.

    (Does anyone know what’s happened to Jake this week? No Sunday Post)

    1. Thank you, Jo. A laptop and a good camera are very real consideration, and often turn into burdens when taken traveling. It was after the cenote that I decided to invest in a small but decent waterproof camera.

      I hope Jake is okay. I think once before he might have missed a week. Have you heard anything yet?

  7. What a beautiful post. I agree with you, that magic is overused… but it is amazing, that sometimes we find ourselves forced against our will to enjoy an experience that we wouldn’t have chosen on our own. I know exactly what you feel, when you describe your reasons for not going into the pool. I might have felt the same way. And probably, the only thing that would have made me release the ladder would have been to slap that lady. But how wonderful that it was so good. You’ve given me inspiration. And I love the pictures.

    1. Dear Shimon,
      You made me laugh out loud when I read your comment about slapping the lady who was slapping at my hands in that silly wordless exchange. I might have been more defensive, if I hadn’t sensed that I’d forever regret not taking that plunge. That it turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences on that trip was an important lesson to keep stretching beyond my comfort level.
      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and making me smile!

  8. You described it all perfectly (and I know because I was there too)! Not at the same time though – years ago – too long ago. Thank you for bringing back those memories. It was so wonderful to jump into that water after visiting Chichen Itza. I loved the birds that were flying around and singing in the vines above. I’ve heard there might be skeletons at the bottom, so it’s better to think of it as bottomless. 🙂 But then, maybe it’s the spirits that help with the renewal part of it.

    1. Hi Sheila,
      Wow! I read that underneath the cenotes they have found temples, crystalized statues of teenage virgins, camel skeletons, and sacrifical artifacts, but it does make you think. The birds are still there. My most vivid memory was of lying on my back in the water, looking straight up from the center of that pool, with a perfect circle of light up above, framed by a ring of hanging vines. It was a high point, and one of the most memorable experiences of all the places I have been. I am glad to have been able to share that with you, and grateful to you for sharing your experience with me.

    1. Hi Maggie,
      The unearthly beauty, and the stark contrast between the surface and the Underworld, and that feeling of relief and calm was one I will never forget. Thank you for your visit, and for sharing your thoughts.

  9. Spectacular! Wow, what an experience and what awesome photos! I’m glad you let go of your fear and took the plunge, you would have regretted not taking part.

    1. Hi Darla,

      I know I would have been sorry if I hadn’t. It seems to be a lesson I have to keep learning over and over. I enjoyed reading your response to Marsha Lee about writing history. Thanks for visiting, and for taking the time to comment.

      1. You are very welcome. I really have loved the new friends I’m making through blogging! I almost have more interaction with my online friends than real. I have a weekly card group that I go to that is awesome, but I’ve been sick and missed the last three weeks. 😦

      2. Dear Darla,
        I really appreciate my blogging buddies too. I am so sorry to hear that you have been sick. Three weeks is a long time to be under the weather. Is it bronchial? I do hope you get well soon.

      3. Thanks Naomi,
        I got bronchitis, but it is some weird virus that has given me a rash, blisters on my arms and hands, laryngitis, an orange tongue (kind of like Black Hairy tongue) and now blisters on my tongue and throat.
        Docs not sure what it is or how to get rid of it. I’ve had the sore orange tongue thing going on since March 12. Really annoying.

      4. Oh, Darla,
        That sounds just horrible. I never heard of such a thing! I am so sorry to hear it. My brother once got a virus that made painful blisters on his tongue and caused swelling, but it didn’t affect him anywhere else. Could it be some sort of allergic reaction? Do you sense any change or improvement in all that time? I wish you the swiftest possible recovery.

      5. I think I’m getting better. I still have some discoloration on my tongue and some blisters and my mouth still stings, but either I’m feeling better or I’m getting used to it all! LOL
        My last doc visit, he suggested it might me from my RA. I’m hoping to get back into an RA doc in the next month and may have a lead on getting my meds for a reduced cost. I was on Enbrel before I lost my insurance, but it is $2,800 a month!

  10. Beautiful post! I was just reading Pema Chodron this morning…about how we experience these little deaths without realizing that each one is just the doorway to a birth. How appropriate to read your illustration this afternoon!

  11. Some awesome pool and that last photo is brilliant … with rainbow. Never been to Mexico … and I don’t really have it on my bucket list neither, don’t really know why. It’s a magical post. Thanks for sharing your magical moments.

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I never had a burning desire to go to Mexico, either. It turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. That last photo is probably one of my favorites from the whole trip. I was flying high emotionally, and on my way back up into the real world, reluctant to leave. When I turned back and saw that rainbow, it was a breathtaking moment that I was able to capture on camera.

      1. You take very good photos .. and that photo is brilliant.
        The whole post.
        I don’t know why Mexico never been on my radar – but there is so many places to see … so little time and not enough money to do everything neither.

    1. Dear Mrs. B,
      That is one of the nicest comments I have ever gotten as a blogger. It is what I would always aspire to. I hope that the rest of your day was better. Thank you so much for making my day too.

      1. hi Naomi, thank you for your kindness. i always speak from the heart … and i am glad that i helped return the blessing — APRIL aka, Mrs. B 😉

  12. Wow. What a wonderful experience. I hope someday to go there. I hope that same lady-angel is there for me to peel my fingers off the ladder. What a great post, Naomi. No wonder why you and your blog are award-winning. 🙂

    1. Dear Susan,
      You are so kind! I think you must have a lady-angel watching over you, if not peeling your fingers off the ladder, then guiding your fingers over your keyboard to help you create all your award-winning books!

  13. Okay, you’re just taunting us with these gorgeous pics! That last one with the sun shining on the water is amazing. I’m just curious what kind of camera you use that survives these adventures. It’s great to see parts of Mexico I haven’t visited through your lens.

    1. Dear Laurel Leigh,
      I have a Canon Power Shot. I know nothing about all the settings, and almost always shoot on automatic. People like me don’t deserve really good technology, because we only master the minimum functions that we need to get by. But it serves the purpose and I LOVE my camera! Thank you for your visit.

      1. Wow, those auto settings are working pretty well then, not that I make any claims to technical prowess of my own. Keep the cool pics coming!

      2. Thinking more about your answer, there’s the guy or gal who has the ability to build the camera but then also the guy or gal who has the artistic eye to use that camera, which you certainly do. As well as the luck to come upon a tail-regenerating iguana now and then. Go figure.

      3. Well, that’s true too. Seeing the potential in a photo is useful. The photos I take could be much more professional in their quality. But as a storyteller, I will always say, “The story’s the thing.” I was struck by the surprising beauty of blue sky reflected in all those motorcycle rear view mirrors (which you saw in my next post, Colores Locales). I didn’t know exactly what the heck I would do with it, or when I might actually have the opportunity to use it, but I knew that one day I would find the right story, and paint my bullseye around that photo. Thank you for a very thoughtful and thought-provoking conversation!

      4. Thank you as well! You an interesting writer in the way you mix images and words. It’s great to have your voice out there. I just read Making Correct Change and loved seeing the pictures of Manhattan as well as what you had to say about it.

  14. OMG! what a wonderful experience and accounting! i loved it! the magic of your trip is rubbing off on me!

  15. I do think that there are ‘magical’ places in the world a well as ‘magical’ times, and it’s rare to experience both at the same time. Sounds as though you did though!

    Also – learned a new word – ‘cenote’ !

    1. Oh, my gosh! For a minute I felt like I had just stepped into an “I Love Lucy” episode. I’m glad no one was taking pictures of the look on my face at that moment!

  16. Wow, so cool! I’m glad you had your “angel” there to pry your fingers from the ladder. If only they followed us more often, to remind us to let go of our crutches and leap! I’m so glad you took the plunge.

  17. Naomi! Those pictures are beautiful! I love the last one, and what a wonderful place! OH MY! I can only imagine how scary, and wonderful that was, all at the same time! I probably would have felt the same as you about going in to the pool – I applaud you for actually taking the plunge! 🙂

  18. I am so happy for you. Nothing like a good dose of magic! And it’s so easy to forget when we are not in that moment. Lucky for you to get a nudge from Thom and prying from an angel. Great photos. Is heaven the same as the underworld?

    1. Dear Lee,
      I don’t know for sure, but according to several sources,there were many different levels of “heaven” and “hell”. The Mayan Underworld, known as “The Place of Fear,” was inhabited by gods of death. The Mayans believed that Heaven was on Earth, hidden by a mythical mountain. The manner of one’s death determined where one ended up. In this amazing expansive underground system of caves beneath the entire Yucatan Peninsula, evidence of ancient temples and sacrifices have been found, perhaps to appease the gods of death. This is just what I have read–I wish I knew more.

    1. Hi Jamie,
      This was new to me. I am glad that my husband gave me a nudge too. It makes me curious about the other 30, 000 Cenotes that give entrance to the Underworld. A few are open to the public for swimming, and some can only be reached by scuba divers.
      Thanks for stopping by, Jamie.

  19. I’ve had those moments where I didn’t want to venture forward. So glad you were prodded along and that it turned out well! What a gorgeous place.

  20. Dear Kourtney,
    I have been to many places, but I don’t think I was ever in a place like that. It had to be exceptional for me to be willing to get into the water, even with a stranger slapping at my fingers!

  21. I like your ” I felt like the only person in a world where time did not exist. It was like learning to breathe again. It was a baptism. It was letting go of the heat, the shyness, the fear. It was a little like falling in love…”

  22. Hi Naomi – my plunge into a cenote was not quite so dramatic, but it was an experience, one I’m glad I took part in. Such beautiful images you were able to capture too.

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