When champion freedivers Eusebio and Christina Saenz de Santamaria aren’t trying to set records, they’re often exploring the underwater universe in more of a recreational manner.
But still with only one breath at a time.
The famous diving couple recently returned from the Yucatan peninsula, where they captured a series of stunning images of each other while probing the depths of the legendary and mysterious cenotes.
These ancient caves, or deep sinkholes in the limestone bedrock of a karst landscape, where seawater mixes with fresh water, were used centuries ago for sacrificial offerings by the Mayans.
Scuba divers like to explore the cenotes, too, and have described the feeling as mystical. But to freedive into this surreal mixture of hues and shades, without the cumber of tanks and the sound of breathing and bubbles, is to become more intimate with a setting that appears to be downright otherworldly.
“When freediving the blue ocean we are often surrounded by an abundance of marine life both small and large with wide, clear open waters extending in all directions,” Christina explains. “In comparison, when freediving the cenotes you are freediving deep within the submerged belly of the land and the intertwined mythic history—the beckoning depths cold and dark and the complex of caves and caverns both captivating and ominous.”
Only expert freedivers, also called breath-hold divers, can explore the cenotes in the manner by which Eusebio and Christina explored them. In training, he can hold his breath for 8 minutes, and she for 6 minutes. Both have set national records, for Spain and Australia, respectively.
While freediving recreationally, they typically do not stay under for more than 4 minutes, which is enough time to achieve the necessary depth and pose for the photos that accompany this post.
Most of the images were captured at “The Pit,” where stalactites and stalagmites “create a jagged underwater netherland where the cool crystalline waters are pierced by soaring arcs of cathedral light,” Christina says.
“The depth of these cenotes are elusive due to the swirling white halocline that hovers at 30 meters, a chemical reaction between layers of fresh and salt water through which the sunlight barely penetrates and the dark depths lie beneath.”
At the “La Laguna” cenote, a vertical pit that is 75 meters, or 245 feet deep, the couple found total darkness beyond the halocline, yet they kept going, downward, guided by glow sticks attached to a dive rope.
“We only discovered the bottom of ‘La Laguna’ at 75 meters when our feet touched the silty bottom,” Christina recalls. “Blindly freediving ‘La Laguna’ was an eerie and dark experience.”
Next up for the couple is a two-month trip to the Caribbean, which sounds both adventurous and challenging.
“Eusebio is now diving very comfortably to depths of 100 meters, and I am diving to depths of 80 meters,” Christina says. “However, we plan on breaking these depths during our adventure to the Caribbean.”
Asked what their limits are, she responds: “We never consider that we have limits, otherwise we would never have progressed as far as we have. Freediving is as much mental as it is physical, and we are continually striving to expand our freediving capabilities, within safe freediving practices of course.
“And to achieve this we cannot accept any mental or physical boundaries.”