Las Tortugas No Es Necesario Su Selfies (How I learned to Live With Technology in the Yucatan)

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Cenote. It’s a Mayan word for “deep well.” It can also mean “sacred place,” and it truly is. There are as many as 8,000 of these natural sinkholes across Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, and getting to swim in one is magical. The water literally glows at the cave opening, where you can see the sky. You’ve got pool of shimmering water….maybe a couple of bats flying above….and once you jump in, you instantly get a calm, peaceful feeling.

As you swim further into the cave, your told those are stalagmites below your feet and stalactites above your head. They’ve been there for millions of years…and you, you’re just passing by…giving the cave it’s due…realizing how lucky you are to be a visitor.

….Unless you have an iPhone with a waterproof case. Then you realize how lucky you are to have one of those. They make plenty of them, but the guy from Texas on our tour had something called a “Lifeproof.” He put his iPhone 6 Plus in there…then was able to scooch around the water, taking pictures of the fishies swimming past…only you really couldn’t see the fishies swimming past, because it was so dark. Remember, it’s a cave? Regardless, he was able to take plenty of pictures of him and his wife in their wetsuits. The rest of us just had on swimsuits.

Our guides, Hector and Ferdinand, took us deep into the cenote. Back in the back…where our small group of about 12 of us gathered, floating in our blow-up life preservers. “What we’re going to do,” said Hector, “Is stop here…pause…and remember all those who have been here before us. Because this is where Mayan priests and kings used to come. And this is where we are going to simply turn off the flashlights and float….removing all our negativity and trying to become one with the cave.”

So slowly…letting all negativity drift upward to the crevasses of the cave and downward to the pockets of rock…we floated… was dark…and quiet…you couldn’t see a thing…the negativity was slowly lifting…when suddenly, “I DROPPED MY DANG IPHONE!” IT’S DOWN ON THE BOTTOM OF THE CAVE!”

“Well,” said Hector…”I think this is a sign from the gods. Your phone must have been carrying negative energy and we are going to offer it up as a sign that maybe there’s too much technology in our lives. Why don’t we drift for a while an all think about that?”

“I NEED MY I PHONE, I REALLY DO…IT’S GOT MY CAMERA IN THERE,” cried Texas. As the rest of us nervously treaded cave water, trying to think what this poor guy had done to piss off the gods so much..our other guide, Ferdinand, was quietly making his way to the bottom. Quick as that–he had the phone, handed it back, and we were floating again…sloughing off bad thoughts…and occasionally wondering how much one of those “Lifeproof” things cost…


Centones aren’t the only stunningly beautiful thing in the Yucatan, however. Obviously there are the beaches and the pyramids…but there are also turtles. The tiny beach town of Akumal is one of the few places in the world where several different species of giant sea turtles come to live, eat sea grass, and lay their eggs. As a non-endangered human, I felt incredibly privileged to get the chance to swim alongside them, even though my fellow humans far outnumbered them. The guides (Hector and Ferdinand again) give you a pair of flippers and a snorkeling mask, and let you paddle out past the regular beach….under a rope…to an area where the turtles are munching on sea grass. There are also fish, and even stingrays, but you know you’re there to see the turtles. They are the star of the show. Or not.

Under my steaming up mask (I’m not the greatest snorkeler)…I was curious about something I saw under water. It wasn’t wildlife, it was a person, like me. But this swimmer had more than just his fins, mask, and iPhone (“Lifeproof” again). Alongside he was struggling with something else. It looked like a large stick of some sort…was he trying to poke the turtles–totally uncool and not allowed? I swam closer….and there it was. This guy…experiencing the world in a protected marine life zone, swimming alongside some of the most beautiful creatures in the world….with a f*#@ing selfie stick. Because las tortugas weren’t enough. HE had to be the star of the show too.

(post script: In trying to figure out how to translate the title of this….I found a Buzzfeed article called “Selfies with Turtles in celebration of World Turtle Day.” I guess it’s a thing. Because everything’s a thing. Sigh)


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