Riviera Maya Fly By Aerial tour by helicopter and small plane over the beach
Enrique the pilot searches the jungle looking for the target cenote.
In September 2003 we were offered a rare opportunity to do something very few have ever done —fly down the Riviera Maya coast by helicopter. This fantasy come true was offered by our close friends Sam Meacham, Bil Philips and Steve Bogaerts who are deeply involved in the exploration and mapping of Quintana Roo's underwater caves. In this case the helicopter was needed to airlift equipment and supplies into a remote jungle cenote where their exploration would begin.
What we didn't know at the time was that the helicopter had been spotted landing in our little jungle clearing and summarily reported to the authorities who then descend upon us like a SWAT team. In this neck of the woods law abiding citizens don't land helicopters in the jungle. First the police, then the Army and finally the Navy showed up, weapons locked and loaded. Even the press caught wind of it and wound up interviewing Sam about the project after they realized it wasn't a big drug bust. After 3 hours of hemming and hawing we were allowed to continue with the airlift.
(left) cave exploration supplies and equipment
Sam discusses the situation with Enrique (right photo)
A soldier writes the helicopter a traffic ticket
As it turned out the equipment was successfully lifted into the jungle by the end of the day. The following two weeks of cave exploration in the endless rain would reveal a massive cave. Thousands of feet of submerged passageways were mapped putting another piece of the underground puzzle into place. But every answer invariably leads to more questions in the quest to understand these cenote/cave systems. The top three largest underwater caves in the world are all located in Quintana Roo, no more than a few kilometers inland from the Riviera Maya's dazzling beaches. But the more important issue is not how big they are, but defining and protecting these fragile eco-systems and the life-giving freshwater that runs through them.
First time but not the last
So, on this initial flight down the beach I took a lot of aerial images plus the exploration project pictures above. By sheer luck our flight conditions had been near perfect and I realized afterward that the pictures would be an excellent way to show people key coastal areas and provide links to more info. The problem was that I didn't have enough. I was missing some important places and so I decided we had to make another flight. That wouldn't happen until January 2004. This time we chartered a 6 seater plane from Aero Saab in Playa del Carmen. I had been agonizing over the overcast weather we were having during some of the January cold snaps up in the US. Then one morning conditions cleared and we when for it. Jose, myself and a friend jumped in the truck and headed to the PDC airport. I wanted Kay to come but she was too busy. We took off and once again were blessed with near perfect conditions during our 1.5 hour flight from PDC to Sian Kaan, then back up the coast to Puerto Morelos and back to Playa. Everything went like clockwork and I got all I needed to round out the "map room" aerial tour that's now a part of LocoGringo.com.