When you come to Mexico: hire a guide.
I don't care if it's me.
I mean, I'd certainly like the work and I do love showing off cool cave, but that isn't really my point. There are a lot of very groovy local guides in the area to choose from and whether it's going to be me or any one of them you're going to have a far richer and safer experience in the Mexican caves with one of us.
This is a no-brainer for folks who dive infrequently who can use an extra set of experienced eyes within their team. This is not to say they're crap divers or that they need a DM to hold their hand. Simply that when one dives a spare handful of times a year, besides everything that's to follow, it's nice to have a pro around to grease the wheels of a rusty routine.
It's the more frequent and experienced divers (even instructors) from elsewhere on whom I'm really musing.
Years ago I started to recognize that cave diving in Mexico and cave diving in, say, Florida are almost different sports.
"But it's a cave!" You cry, "I was trained to cave dive!"
Yeah? Where? By whom? Even if they have done a bunch of diving here, remember: no one can be an expert on everything. There are even a couple of instructors I absolutely trust to shape super-squared-away cave divers who have never been diving in Mexico.
Did your instructor know and discuss how different from "home" navigational marking is here? How are you with a dozen navigational decisions when the arrows switch directions as many times and you've passed as many cenotes? Ever seen a T with 12 cookies on it?
How is your kit configured (I'm looking at you sidemounters with a butt-plate)? Do you practice using Aluminum 80s frequently? Do you know how much weight you need to deal with two of them, nearly empty, in saltwater? Do you know which caves are best for backmount, sidemount, CCR, stages, DPVs, or whatever combination of those things you'd like to do?
Now even if you were trained here, but are just visiting:
Are there certain things that you want to see? Yeah... half the time, good luck finding them. Hell... half the time good luck finding the main line... or even the right hole in the ground.
And this is to say nothing of how to get access to some of these places. Where to get a key, or who to pay; how not to wind up having to pay several different people who just randomly show up and insist you paid the wrong person. Which sites are open to what types of diving.
Which landowners are friendly to divers and which need... shall we say... more deferential treatment. Which sites might have tenuous relationships with divers and might just be looking for an excuse to shut their site off from the community completely? All of this, of course, changing on a sometimes day-to-day basis.
Do you know which sites you might inadvertently get closed? Which, naturally, won't matter much to you when you go home, but you will have left a lasting scar on the community here, including a sense that visiting divers are site-closing jerk-offs.
Were you somehow trained on what the local community is like? Do you know what sort of behavior in the parking lot, at the surface, or in the cave is considered polite and what is considered rude? Where do you stage tanks? Where do you get in and out of the water? Do you know the prefered routes of running main lines* and jumps; or do you figure the way you've been trained will just be accepted and respected by the locals... even if it may be totally different from the norm? Do you know which local guides or instructors are going to be chill or get super-pissed about your following or not following local mores?
Now I don't mean to sound accusative, but how is your absolute precision in absurdly shallow water? When you're used to it, swimming against flow can hide a lot of buoyancy sins. Suddenly you're in 6 feet of water tightly surrounded by thousands of years old decorations and you can't hold steady... well... there are a lot of places where the evidence of "that guy" having been there is pretty obvious. Maybe "that guy's" guide would have brought him somewhere else that day instead and, in so doing, would have preserved those formations for everyone else to see.
Hiring a guide doesn't mean you suck. What it does mean is that the very different geology and hydrology creates an environment different enough that it really is almost a different sport. One for which you're mostly trained, but which you might benefit from some suggestions or some tweaking or fine-tuning. The type of guidance and input a local guide is uniquely suited to give.
And safety-wise: I could do another entire rant twice as long as this one. Suffice it to say that having someone who does this all the time watching your back is going to mitigate risk some.
I think it was the PADI OW Knowledge Review for chapter 3? "When diving in a new environment you should get a proper orientation: True or False?" You learned this in your Open Water class.
There are a lot of question marks in the paragraphs above. And we both know you don't know the answers to all of them.
We all know you're a big, bad-ass cave diver now... but the sooner we all accept that there are still things that we don't know, that there are still things to learn, and that there are people out there from whom we can learn them then we all get to grow as individuals and as a community.
I have heard an assortment of arguments against it. Which I disagree with in varying degrees of intensity and can present a counter-argument to each and every one of.
Hire a guide.
I don't care if it's me. If it isn't, I'll probably take the day to go fun diving, to find different caves and passages where I can bring the people who do.
----------------- *Yeah, a footnote on lines. The other day I actually saw a primary reel run across the ceiling of the cavern to a point where that reel had jammed, or something? Another reel was tied to that one, dangling midwater, and continued along some of the worst tie-offs possible from start to finish, cutting off other approaches to the main line.
And this is not the worst line work I have seen.
And I know you're saying, "Well my line work isn't THAT bad." But I'll bet you any amount of money the person who ran that doesn't think so either.