ADM Foundation team members fly the Explorers Club Flag. Left to Right: Jon Van Waardhuizen, Jim Culter, Walter Pickel, and Idee Belau


In the Yucatan, it is common knowledge that if you want a dog to leave you alone or you simply want to walk past a bull unharmed, all one has to do is simply pick up a rock.  That’s it; pick up a rock, no throwing is required.  The mere threat that you would dare throw the rock is more than enough to sway a normal dog or bull in a different direction.  This practice is so tried and true, that the most often traversed cow pens have stacks of rocks at the entrance and exit.  So what happens when the mere threat doesn’t work on a very large, very pissed off bull?

In October 2014, Curt Bowen and I were invited to SEDMUA’s 10th Cave Diving Conference in Merida, Yucatan.  Driving from Cancun to Merida would take us through areas of the Yucatan we had not previously explored.  After making some stops, scouting a few caves, churches, ranchos, haciendas and cenotes we decided that we should focus our next expedition east of Merida and west of Tizimin.  It is in the middle of the area that we found a town with a church built in 1616 – Temax.  We agreed that the church and its five wells would be a great place to base the next ADM Exploration Foundation Yucatan Cave Expedition. 

In February 2015, Myself, Curt Bowen, Idee Belau, Jim Culter, James Barker Smith III (Monkey), and Jon Van Waardhuizen represented the ADM Foundation on the 2015 ADM Exploration Foundation Yucatan Cave Expedition.  This expedition carried with it the distinct honor of being a flagged Explorers Club expedition.  Carrying the Explorers Club flag on an expedition is of great importance and is intended to further the cause of exploration and field science. The flag has been carried on hundreds of expeditions since 1918: to both poles, to the highest peaks of the greatest mountain ranges, to the depths of the ocean, and to outer space.  On this expedition, we had the privilege of taking Explorers Club flag #208 on its maiden expedition.  Explorers Club members participating in this expedition were Idee Belau MN’10, Curt Bowen FN’10, Jim Culter FN’97 and Walter Pickel MN’12.  This was to be the ADM Exploration Foundation’s second Explorers Club flagged expedition as the 2011 ADM Exploration Foundation Yucatan Cave Expedition carried Explorers Club flag #80.


For four nights during Carnival, the Temax municipal and the locals throws a town party including native dressed dancers and music.

The 2015 expedition started fairly consistent with many previous expeditions.  A group of explorers meeting in Cancun, all arriving on different flights, none very fluent in Spanish and all eager to leave the urban chaos and head directly to the tranquil Yucatan jungle with one common mission - explore caves!

Arriving in Temax, we found ourselves no longer sleeping in hammocks in a burned out church with dirt floors or in a Rancho built in 1500s with hundreds of cows but in a humble and modest home very close to the town center of Temax – hammocks were still required though.  The fact that we were close to the center of town would be a boon for us as we soon realized that we had scheduled our expedition for the closing weekend of Carnival!  After returning from the jungle, all of the team would walk the 2 blocks back and forth from our house to one of the town’s bars save Monkey. Leave it to Monkey to find the only limo in Temax.

The first few days of expedition found us with a similar problem we have encountered on almost every expedition – communication or better stated the lack thereof.  Although the local townspeople, ranchers, cowboys and Maya are proud of the beauty, culture and mystique of their great jungle cenotes, we have found much more success with very small openings such as wells or cracks in the jungle floor.  Sadly, it just takes time for us to adequately communicate that fact. 


Team members Walter Pickel and Jon Van Waardhuizen explore an old forgotten ranch, in search of its natural water source.


The first few days of expedition we explored some beautiful GIANT jungle cenotes – average distance to the water was 35 feet with maximum water depths ranging from 100 feet to 210 feet and as always, the water was crystal blue.  Of course, these beautiful cenotes are almost always going to usually be choked with hundreds of years of trees and debris.  However, Monkey did get the pleasure of exploring a “new” cenote called Jumjum Piti (Maya for “just a little too much”).  Jumjum Piti was created by a quarry excavator hitting a limestone void and creating an entrance to an amazing cenote – bath water clear water and absolutely no trash – natural or otherwise.  Monkey said it was like diving in a 150 foot deep swimming pool.

Most of what the team found while carrying gear back and forth through the jungle were bees -- lots of bees, lots of angry bees, lots of angry bees that like to sting.  Never have I nor any other team member for that matter, been hit so many times by bees.  It became almost normal to see a team member running from the jungle clutching their face in agony from the pain of being “lit up”.  Especially poignant for me was having frightened bats dosing my face with urine.  It seemed to make my face, still swollen and stinging from the bees all the more swollen and all the more painful.  But seeing Idee’s hand swollen to the size of a grapefruit made me actually appreciate my not being allergic to bee stings (not now at least).

We were very privileged to stumble across a very small rancho with our kind of cave – a small entrance to a dry cave terminating in a pool of water.  For me, the exploration of this cave was one of the most profound since our discovery of a cache of Mayan pots and skeletons found in 2010.  Never had I seen so many bats as were in this cave.  I felt positive that this cave would lead to some amazing discoveries.  I had “that” feeling. 


Millions of bats cling to the cave as the team searches ever deeper into the air choked passages.

After swimming the 500 foot distance of the guano filled water section of the cave, we came upon a 30 foot wide tunnel with amazing columns, a few potsherds of Mayan pottery and tens of thousands of bats.  This tunnel led to a small terminal breakdown room.  Hidden on the side of the breakdown room was a path carefully lined with rocks outlining a crawl path out of the terminal room and around the breakdown.  Crawling along the path (that could only have been lined by humans in my opinion) we found ourselves in a beautifully decorated 20 foot by 100 foot section cave.  In this section we now fully experienced the dank, hot conditions created by the roosting bats, lack of air flow and a constantly decaying floor.  With my face only inches from the cave floor I was amazed to watch the subtle movement – the movement of decaying guano.  At this point Monkey and I decided to turn back; it was hard to breath and the heat was stifling and almost unbearable.

We weren’t quite done with Aktun Zotz (we decided to call the cave Bat Cave – original don’t you think?).  With only a couple thousand feet of cave explored and nothing really to show for it, we decided to try to push the cave again.  I, Idee, Jim, Jon set out through the barrage of bats and beautiful passages.  Jon was able to add a few hundred feet to the cave terminating in a crystal clear pool. He explored the heavily decorated cenote to a maximum depth of 156 feet.

Since caves like Aktun Zotz are happened across very rarely, we were put back into exploration mode.  We worked with our SEDUMA partners, local ranchers and landowners to find more target for our team to explore.  Armed with a list or targets, we were off again.  One picturesque rancho we explored made me rethink my ability to traverse cow pens using only the ancient art of rock threatening. 


Walter, If your going to throw rocks at Bulls, don’t hit them between the eyes, unless your on the safe side of the fence!

While hauling Jim’s gear to a rancher’s cenote, I had the eerie feeling of being watched.  I wasn’t too worried. Why should I be?  I was doing as I was taught years ago; I had my rock ready to throw and I was looking ahead. When it comes to bulls, the “no touch, no talk, no eye contact” perfectly complements the rock or at least I thought it did.  Curiosity got the best of me though; I made solid eye contact with a red bull almost as big as Curt!  The angry bull just looked at me – a look filled with hate.  His head slowly tracking me, his feet ready to propel him to trampling speed.  I stopped and uttered some words that I had heard the Maya ranchers use but that did nothing.  I was at my last resort; I decided I was going to scare him by throwing the rock near him.  I was committed; I was not going to back down.  I hurled the apple-sized rock directly at the bull’s feet.  As the rock left my hand, my mind traced the projected path of the rock.  It would be a perfect throw; it would absolutely land right in front of his feet. 

In that brief instant, I felt as though I had conquered the angry bull.  That is until the rock did indeed land perfectly in front of his feet.  Unfortunately, it took an odd bounce and it struck the bull square between the eyes! The bull appeared angrier than before.  He stared at me snorting and tossing his horn laden head. I was quite simply, without words. 

With Monkey and Curt uncontrollably laughing, all I could utter was “what the fuck do I do now”.  Doing what I could not, the Maya rancher was able to alter the attitude of the bull (he used a stick) and Jim had a great dive into yet another swimming pool clear cenote with a maximum depth of 150 feet and only one alligator.  I know, I can’t explain how the alligator rappelled the 40 to the water either. He didn’t look too concerned though, he was swimming with a 4 foot long iguana in his jaws.


Jon Van Waardhuizen

When the expedition was completed, we had discovered and/or explored 56 cenotes, caves, cracks and wells.  Not bad for such a small expedition team and the fact that we experienced 3 nights of carnival (in 2 different towns – Colonia Yucatan and Temax) as well as our first bull fight in Tekal de Venegas.  The bull fight was not as I expected; the bulls were not harmed but several locals were almost crippled.

The problem of always losing the first few days of expedition to not being able to communicate exactly what we are looking for will hopefully be avoided in the future.  Until then, it is just the price we must pay for not becoming fluent in Spanish.  I often joke that I have learned more Maya than Spanish.  As funny as that may be, I am afraid it is almost the truth.

Only the flutter of bat wings and the dripping of water can be heard deep into the bat cave. With the use of time laps photography, Curt Bowen captures the natural beauty of this light forgotten realm.   


It goes without saying that the success of the ADM Exploration Foundation expeditions would not be possible if it weren’t for sponsors.  This year, RailRiders provided each team member with expedition clothing.  Their pants absolutely are the best I have ever worn on expedition!  They survived guano, ticks, bees, limestone quarries, ranches, manure pits, angry bulls and most importantly Curt’s guano festival at Aktun Zotz.  Shearwater dive computers are an absolute must on expedition; they exemplify the term “expedition grade”.  I can never thank Light Monkey enough for their rugged, bullet-proof and otherwise amazing lights – being able to find your way home in the dark is paramount. 

Logistics for the Yucatan expeditions have become much more efficient by our close affiliation with SEDUMA (Secretaría de Desarrollo Urbano y Medio Ambiente -- Ministry of Urban Development and Environment).  Without the approval and permitting from Director Eduardo Adolfo Batllori Sampedro and Head of Karst Management Systems Jose Antonio Ruiz Silva (Chepo) we would be unable to explore the amazing karst of Yucatan.  Without the assistance and friendship of Elsi Domínguez Giménez (SEDUMA Analyst) and Ileana Lopez (SEDUMA Accountant) most of our efforts in communication, securing accommodations and purchasing stores would be in vain.  The field assistance provided by Ms. Giménez is a major contributor to our team and is a primary reason for our continued success in exploring the Yucatan jungle!  Her caring demeanor, interest in the local people and knowledge of karst and cave systems is to be commended and most importantly emulated.

A special thanks to the wonderful people of Temax for putting up with the gringos gordos for a couple of weeks and making us feel like we were part of the community.

The first human ever to venture below the surface, Jon Van Waardhuizen discovers a pit of 40 foot long cave formations.  

  James Barker Smith III

Explorer Jim Culter flies the Explorers Club flag.



Covered in Bat Guano, Team coordinator Curt Bowen wear the Toughest Clothes on the Planet! RailRiders...