Top 5 Cocoa Powders To Beat The Winter Blues

For a long time, we truly believed that all cocoas were created equally, and therefore, stuck to the brand we’ve known since childhood. That was until we were offered a unique blend at a friends dinner and life was never the same! We’ve now discovered plenty of brands, and here are the top five!

Sur La Table Double Dark Hot Chocolate

This is a really decadent hot chocolate and it’s pretty expensive – but it’s worth every gram! You’ll find that adding either cream or milk (or both) really gives this cocoa an extra boost, but for the vegans out there – fret not, it’s just as good with nothing but hot water. Price: $22.

Jacques Torres Classic Hot Chocolate

Jacques Torres is a brand that is known for luxury. This amazing cocoa blend contains actual chunks of real, dark chocolate. This gives the cocoa a dramatically rich and creamy chocolate taste without even needing to add milk. Price $20.

Teuscher Chocolate

Teuscher Chocolate are well renowned Swiss chocolatiers and their products frequently fetch high prices because of their luxurious quality. This is really for those who are looking to splurge or really want to treat themselves this Christmas. Absolutely delicious and by far my favorite hot chocolate. Price (a staggering) $47.

Swiss Miss

Swiss Miss is a brand that the majority of us are probably familiar with and will invoke a great deal of nostalgia over the holidays. While it may be the simplest hot chocolate you’ll ever have – it’s also the cheapest. So you can keep your fix going for longer! Price $2.

Trader Joe’s Organic Hot Cocoa Mix

Most of us prefer to opt for the organic option when we can afford to. The problem? They’re often too expensive. Thankfully though, Trader Joe’s has the perfect solution with their old-fashioned and homely styled packaging and ethically sourced cocoa products. A great way to warm your heart this winter! Price $14.32.

When Divers Investigated Huge Underwater Caves, They Found Something Incredible

When a team of divers set out to explore the underwater caves of the Yucatan Peninsula, they came across much more than they bargained for. Their incredible discovery has shaken the world of archeology to its core.

Diving Into The Unknown

The divers first began their exploration in the flooded caverns near Tulum, Mexico. While they initially weren’t sure what they were searching for, the divers had an inkling that they’d uncover something huge. The secrets found within the cave, however, were so much more than anyone anticipated.

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Diving Into The Unknown

Persistence Pays Off

The divers’ groundbreaking discovery was not an easy find by any means. After well over nine months of intensive, round-the-clock underwater search efforts, the divers were pretty much ready to cut their losses and quit. Just when they were prepared to give up, they found what they were looking for, plus a whole lot more. Their persistent efforts paid off, but now they were faced with the even more difficult task of making sense of their discovery.

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Persistence Pays Off

An Incredible Discovery

In early 2018, after almost an entire year of searching and probing the underwater caves off the coast of Mexico, it was announced that a group of divers had made an incredible archeological discovery. It didn’t take long before the news made global headlines. Their exploration endeavor came as part of an effort to confirm suspicions about a vast network of underwater caverns. While the divers knew they were onto something from the beginning, they had no idea what their work would lead to.

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An Incredible Discovery

Underwater Explorers

The Gran Acuifero Maya (GAM) is a group of divers, modern scientists, and explorers dedicated to the protection, conservation, and research of the ocean waters and caves found beneath the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Led by underwater archaeologist Guillermo de Anda, the GAM has been exploring underwater caves along the Caribbean coastline for several decades. While they have certainly made some groundbreaking and revolutionary discoveries over the years, their most recent finding might just be the biggest one yet!

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Underwater Explorers

Needle In A Haystack

The region of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico contains 358 known freshwater flooded cave systems that span a whopping 870 miles. The GAM team has been investigating the area for about five years, but their latest discovery took ten months. Considering how big the network of underwater caverns is, the fact that the GAM divers were able to find what they were looking for in the first place is a massive accomplishment. The fact that they did it in under a year is even more impressive.

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Needle In A Haystack

An Unseen World

Even though underwater divers and explorers have already discovered so much off the Carribbean coast, there still exists an entire world of untouched caverns beneath the Yucatan Peninsula. Within these caves exist endless secrets and stories that are just waiting to be discovered and shared with the world. The Gran Acuifero Maya have taken the responsibility upon themselves to uncover this unseen world. It is by no means an easy or simple task, but the GAM team is up for the challenge!

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An Unseen World

Uncharted Territory

The Dos Ojos (two eyes) cave system is located just north of Tulum, a popular tourist site in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. The underwater caverns were discovered back in the late 1980s. The Dos Ojos cave stretches for over 50 miles, making it one of the top ten longest underwater cave systems in the world. Dos Ojos is characterized by its incredibly clear water, which comes as a result of the limestone that acts as a filter for rainwater.

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Uncharted Territory

“The Pit”

Since 1987, explorers have uncovered a total of 28 sinkhole entrances to the Dos Ojos underwater cave system. In Mexico, these sinkholes are known as cenotes. Even though researchers have known about the caves for well over three decades, they are still making discoveries on a regular basis. In 1996, several Quintana Roo cave explorers were diving at a place called “The Pit” when they came across a cave passage 391 feet deep, setting a record for the deepest known cave passage in the world.

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“The Pit”

Exploring The Depths

While the Dos Ojos cave system may be big, another underwater cave system in the vicinity of Tulum has always dominated the region. Discovered the same year as Dos Ojos, the Sac Actun system is found just northwest of Tulum. Back in May 2017, explorers and scientists announced that, at 161.2 miles long, the Sac Actun had become the second longest underwater cave system in the world, missing the mark set by the Ox Bel Ha cave system by just seven miles.

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Exploring The Depths

Now Or Never

If the Gran Acuifero Maya team wanted to confirm suspicions of a possible connecting point between the Dos Ojos and Sac Actun underwater cave systems, they needed to be as certain as possible that they would be able to find something. The search would require a lot of money, human resources, and time. The GAM divers needed to understand that they could potentially be searching for years and come up empty-handed. If they were going to commit, it was now or never.

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Now Or Never

Coming Up Empty

As the divers had predicted, finding the point where the two caves connected was difficult and painstaking work. The GAM divers spent months searching but came up empty over and over again. In an interview with Mexican newspaper El Pais, Robert Schmittner, GAM’s director of exploration, admitted that “We came really close a few times. On a couple of occasions, we were a meter from making a connection between the two large cave systems.” Despite their struggles, the divers refused to give up.

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Coming Up Empty

Navigating The Maze

As they searched for the suspected connection point between the two cave systems, the GAM divers knew that they needed to work in a clever and meticulous manner. They had a lot of area to cover, and the maze of underwater caves was full of twists and turns. “It was like trying to follow the veins within a body. It was a labyrinth of paths that sometimes came together and sometimes separated. We had to be very careful,” said Schmittner.

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Navigating The Maze

A Record-Breaking Find

It turns out that the Dos Ojos and Sac Actun underwater cave systems were in fact connected. After ten months of non-stop searching and mapping out new tunnels, the GAM team of divers found a subsurface connection point near Tulum. Once scientists learned of the discovery that the Dos Ojos and Sac Actun caves were one, they realized that the resulting super-cave stretches for 216 total miles, making it the world’s largest flooded cavern, surpassing the 168-mile Ox Bel Ha system. But this was just the beginning of their discoveries.

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A Record-Breaking Find

Taking The Crown

Prior to this groundbreaking discovery, the Ox Bel Ha cavern system was credited as being the world’s longest underwater cave system, followed by the former Sac Actun cave system, which was just over 160 miles. The Koal Baal system, which stretches for 57 miles, took third place, and the Dos Ojos system came in fourth. According to cave-naming protocols, however, the Dos Ojos no longer exists, as it was absorbed by the larger Sac Actun upon the discovery that the caves were connected.

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Taking The Crown

Beasts Before Our Time

Inside the massive cave network, archeologists uncovered a paradise for archeologists and paleontologists alike. Among the long list of discoveries were the 15,000-year-old fossil remains of giant sloths, along with fossil evidence of gomphotheres, a giant elephant-like species which existed in Mexico and Central America until the end of the Pleistocene period (about 11,700 years ago). The divers even found the remnants of bears! These findings were miraculous, but the divers would soon come across a whole lot more than animal fossils!

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Beasts Before Our Time

Human Evidence

In addition to the fossil evidence of animal species from the Pleistocene era, scientists also uncovered the remains of unknown plant species, ceramics, wall etchings, and even burnt human bones, indicating that there was, at one point, some sort of human presence in these underwater caves. Everything found within the cave is between 9,000 and 15,000 years old. These new findings were a goldmine for archeologists and provided them with an opportunity to research artifacts that haven’t seen sunlight in thousands of years.

Human Evidence

An Ancient Culture Revealed

The bones, artifacts, and etchings on the walls were actually remnants of ancient Mayan civilization. Before the caves filled with water, the Mayans, who lived in Mexico from 2600 BC until 1800 BC, believed that the caverns were sacred sites. Priests would often descend into the caves, where they would try to communicate with the gods. Because the Mayans didn’t actually reside in these caves, anthropologists believe that the human bones found inside the caverns are evidence that the Mayans took part in human sacrifice.

An Ancient Culture Revealed

A Whole New World

The unique fossil evidence and artifacts found in this massive cave network offered archeologists and historians a whole new world to explore, investigate, and research. “This immense cave represents the most important submerged archaeological site in the world, as it has more than a hundred archaeological contexts, among which are evidence of the first settlers of America, as well as extinct fauna and, of course, the Mayan culture,” said Guillermo de Anda, researcher for Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History.

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A Whole New World

A Time-Traveling Tunnel

In an interview, Guillermo de Anda stated that the caves discovered near Tulum could be considered a “tunnel of time that transports you to a place 10,000 to 12,000 years ago.” During a previous exploration of Sac Actun back in 2014, divers even discovered the oldest human skeleton ever found in the New World. While many people would probably find these discoveries creepy, unnerving, or even gross, the divers, researchers, and anthropologists who explore these caves find their work to be exciting and fascinating.

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A Time-Traveling Tunnel

Piecing Together History

De Anda stated that the GAM team’s discovery would further help in efforts to understand the history and cultural development of the Yucatan Peninsula region prior to the Spanish conquest. In an interview, he said that “It allows us to appreciate much more clearly how the rituals, the pilgrimage sites and, ultimately, the great pre-Hispanic settlements that we know emerged.” Archeologists are optimistic that the discovery of the 216-mile underwater cavern will lead to even more discoveries in the near future.

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Piecing Together History

Making Sense Of The Historical Puzzle

Archeologists look at these discoveries as small pieces of an enormous historical puzzle. They can use these findings to map out and trace the existence and extinction of entire civilizations which existed before written or recorded history. “It’s also very significant that this discovery enables us to see the possible patterns of past settlement,” said de Anda. “From the Pleistocene through to the ancient Mayans and up to the colonial era, they developed parallel to this enormous flooded fresh-water cave.”

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Making Sense Of The Historical Puzzle

Appeasing The Gods

In addition to animal and human fossil remains, artifacts, and wall etchings, explorers came across what they believed to be a shrine to the Mayan god of war and commerce. The Mayans believed that sinkholes, or cenotes, were much more than a geological phenomenon. According to the Mayans, the cenotes of the Yucatan Peninsula were seen as “sacred wells of sacrifice.” Mayans often threw both material and human sacrifices into the cenotes in an effort to appease Chaac, the rain god.

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Appeasing The Gods

Gateways To The Afterlife

The Mayans also believed that these sacred cenotes could be gateways to the afterlife. In addition to human sacrifices, they would often throw valuable items, many of which were made of gold, down the sinkholes as part of their religious rituals. The ancient Mayans saw the treasured artifacts and human sacrifices that were thrown down the wells as offerings to the Gods. This is why archeologists have found both human remains as well as objects such as pottery and jewelry in the caves.

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Gateways To The Afterlife

A Practical Purpose

In addition to their religious and spiritual significance, Cenotes also served a practical purpose for the Mayans. Because rivers and lakes are hard to come by on the Yucatan peninsula, sinkholes were used as the primary source of potable freshwater for the ancient civilization. As a result of the geological makeup and hydrology of the underwater cave system, rainwater is able to float on the surface while saline water, with a higher density and higher concentration of salt, lies beneath.

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A Practical Purpose

From Sacrifice To Scuba Diving

These days, the sacred Mayan cenotes are no longer seen as a ritual passageway to send offerings to the afterlife. Instead, these mysterious underwater caves have become a highly sought-after destination for thrill-seeking cavern and cave divers from all over the world looking to explore some uncharted territory. Some cenotes are even considered to be “National Natural Parks” and various preservation laws have been put in place in order to protect the fragile ecosystems that lie beneath the network of underwater caves.

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From Sacrifice To Scuba Diving

One Of A Kind

The discovery of the interconnected caves was amazing. Aside from the incredible size of the underwater cavity, the well-preserved evidence found within the caves provides proof of a world that existed before recorded history. “It is very unlikely that there is another site in the world with these characteristics,” stated de Anda. “There is an impressive amount of archaeological artifacts inside, and the level of preservation is also impressive.” How exactly did the artifacts and fossils last so many years?

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One Of A Kind

The Perfect Flood

The animal, plant, and human remains found in the caves were from the Pleistocene era, which began 2.6 million years ago and ended 11,700 years ago. How could it be that the remains were preserved for so long? According to the National Institute of Anthropology and History, the end of the Ice Age brought a rise in water levels of about 100 meters, flooding the cave system and providing “ideal conditions for the preservation of the remains of extinct megafauna from the Pleistocene.”

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The Perfect Flood

Historic Hypothesis

Since its discovery, the length of the Sac Actun underwater cave system has been updated a handful of times. This is because divers and explorers continue to search and find new corridors which connect the Sac Actun to nearby caves. When researchers noticed how close in proximity Sac Actun was to Dos Ojos, they began to wonder if there was any chance that the two cave systems were actually one. If their suspicions were right, the discovery would be historic.

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Historic Hypothesis

The Caves Tell A Story

When the news spread that the Sac Actun and Dos Ojos cave systems were actually connected, Archeologists knew that this discovery was huge. “I think it’s overwhelming. Without a doubt it’s the most important underwater archaeological site in the world,” said Guillermo de Anda, a researcher at Mexico’s National Anthropology and History Institute. The next step for researchers was to investigate everything found inside the caves and try to determine the historical, archeological, and anthropological significance.

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The Caves Tell A Story

Conservation And Protection

While you might think that researchers were satisfied with their discovery of one of the world’s largest underwater cave systems, their work is far from over. Next up, the team is planning on conducting research aimed at understanding and quantifying the water quality inside the Sac Actun caves. That way they will be able to do everything in their power to protect the underwater ecosystem and biodiversity within the caves. If we want to preserve this incredible discovery, conservation efforts are crucial.

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Conservation And Protection

A Back And Forth Battle

The ‘Sistema Sac Actun’ is Spanish for ‘White Cave System.’ Back in 2007, explorers discovered that a nearby cave system, the Sistema Nohoch Nah Chich, was actually connected to the Sac Actun cave system. According to protocol, after a discovery like this, the smaller cave is subsumed into the larger cave. Ever since 2007, similar discoveries of cave connections have been made, causing the Sac Actun and Ox Bel Ha systems to go back and forth, exchanging the title of world’s longest underwater cave system.

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A Back And Forth Battle

The Future Is In Our Hands

Not only because this discovery took such a long time to uncover, but also because the underwater caves possess such a fragile and rare ecosystem, conservation efforts will be crucial in the coming decades. Robert Schmittner, head of the GAM team, stated, “This is an effort of more than 20 years, to travel hundreds of kilometers of caves submerged in Quintana Roo mainly, of which I dedicated 14 years to explore this monstrous Sac Actun System; now everyone’s job is to keep it.”

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The Future Is In Our Hands

Further Exploration

Now that researchers have discovered the connecting point between the Dos Ojos and Sac Actun cave systems, their work is nowhere near complete. For their next step, GAM divers will continue to explore underwater caves in the Yucatan Peninsula region in search of evidence confirming a hypothesis that other underwater networks are intertwined. Continued exploration combined with conservation efforts promise a bright future for the Gran Acuifera Maya and their understanding of the Yucatan Peninsula’s subterranean waters and the preservation of ancient Mayan culture.

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Further Exploration