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Business Observer Friday, Jan. 13, 2017 1 year ago

Diving in

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When lawyer and executive Geoff Young gets away, he really gets away.
by: Traci McMillan Correspondent

Executive: Geoff Young, senior counsel at Trenam Law. Young, 67, has concentrated most of his practice in representing national, regional and community lenders in bank workouts and foreclosures. He is also working on some environmental business projects, including one in sustainable energy and another in sustainable seafood. Young is on the board of American Marine University, which is expected to open next year.

Diversion: Archaeological diving. Young and his wife enjoy diving cenotes, underground water-filled sinkhole caves in the Mayan Yucatán. The couple has gone on more than 30 diving trips with Guillermo “Memo” de Anda, an archaeologist in Mexico they met in 1997. They also sponsor De Anda, who works on the board of Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History, is a professor at a local university and is frequently featured on National Geographic.

Crystal skull: Young says his wife was always interested in the spirit world, so when they saw a Discovery Channel special on the “Cult of the Crystal Skull,” they were instantly hooked. “We started because she wanted to find a crystal skull,” Young says. “We've been diving like crazy ever since.” Though they haven't found the crystal skull, they have seen carved crystal in one cave, and they've seen many skulls.

Training: The couple started the adventure by taking two years of specialized training in cave diving. They finished their advanced diving certification in the Yucatán, Mexico. They started exploring caves alone along the Yucatán coast, but after meeting De Anda, they enjoyed exploring cenotes beneath the Peninsula even more. They're hoping to get back for another dive in early 2017.

Indiana Jones: Cenotes are difficult to find, and are inaccessible to anybody but a skilled driver. The Mayans saw the small openings in the earth as a well and a pathway to the god of rain, so gifts and sacrifices were often made near the cenotes. Though it sometimes feels like Indiana Jones, “unlike Indy, we don't take anything,” Young says. They often find ornate ancient Mayan pots, human and animal remains and other artifacts. “It's all museum stuff, but it's so much better left there. ... You leave nothing behind but your bubbles.”

Discovering history: In one dive, Young says they discovered a crucifix with a body that was part of a sacrifice described in Spanish Bishop Diego de Landa's journal 600 to 700 years ago. De Landa is known for destroying Mayan literature and culture.
In another dive, at the famous Mayan ruins Chichen Itzá, the group found a royal burial site, with a ceremonial bowl, and two bodies adorned with jade beads. Chichen Itzá is only 7-8% excavated, and the cenote was at the back of the site, miles away in a farmer's cornfield. “Being involved in the first dive there was very neat,” Young says.

The adventure: Some cenotes are an adventure to get to in itself. You oftentimes find a guide, hire four to six local Mayans to lift equipment and find the village elder to get permission to access it. The villagers bring you to the back of the jungle, and you must clear away rocks and climb through trees to discover the cenote. “You spend 12 hours in the jungle and then you have one dive,” Young says. The dives are usually 10 to 20 feet under the Yucatán peninsula, but to get there sometimes you need to repel down a well in full dive gear, Young says. When you get to the water, “it's not dark, it's black.”

Dark waters: The spookiest dive the Youngs went on was to Sabakja, a surf lake named for its dark waters. The top is covered in green algae. When you first go down, you can't see anything. Then, all of a sudden, you can see 300 feet in front of you. The algae at the top make for an ambient green-orange light, Young says. He says everyone came out of the water with their hair standing on end.

Three skulls: Young says the time that shocked him the most was when they went on an incredibly deep dive, into a cenote with at least 70 skulls. When they were decompressing on the way up, the entire wall was covered with hundreds of bones. Then all of a sudden, there were three skulls facing him in the ledge. Says Young: “That spooked the s--t out of me; they had to have been placed there.”

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