Photo: Mexico City Sewer Diver
Julio Cesar Cu Camara has turned his diving hobby into an extreme job, keeping Mexico City’s vast sewerage system flowing for 29 years.
“I’m the only diver in the world who goes into black water,” Cu Camara, chief diver for the Federal District’s sewerage system, said in an interview with Efe that also featured a demonstration of his technique.
The sewers are Cu Camara’s workplace, a world of hundreds of kilometers of pipes and pumps that handle wastewater and must be maintained.
“Our job is the maintenance and recovery of motor parts that come loose. Sometimes the propellers (rotors) on the pumps get clogged and taking them out is a 15-day job that a diver can do in one or two (days),” Cu Camara said.
The 52-year-old Cu Camara has done an average of four dives a month in his 29-year career, totaling some 1,390 missions and making him a solid candidate for a Guinness record for diving into waters full of human waste, chemicals and solid waste.
Cu Camara began diving as a boy and developed a love for the occupation after completing several courses.
He has learned all about the waters under Mexico City, as well as getting experience in the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.
Cu Camara, who is the only diver left from the original team, is training two young men who he hopes to someday hand his special diving suit and unique workplace to.
“These are totally black waters, the waste from millions of people, from plants that dump their polluted water,” the diver said.
“These waters have everything: chemical, human, animal waste,” reducing visibility and making it hard to work, Cu Camara said.
It is nearly impossible to see in the sewers and divers must “take a course to learn how to work blindly” because not even the most powerful light in the world can penetrate the wastewater, Cu Camara said.
The job must be performed manually, exposing divers to the risk of cuts in polluted water, Cu Camara said, adding that he did not take his work home with him.
His wife and two sons know what he does for a living, Cu Camara said, but they have never watched him work because he prefers not to expose them to the “foul odors” at dive sites.
A “hermetically sealed” dive suit is used, preventing divers from smelling what is around them, Cu Camara said.
The sewers hold many surprises, such as human bodies and the remains of animals, Cu Camara said, adding that he had not created a museum of the horrors of the underground world.
“There is more death than life under there, there are dead animals. We’ve even found horses, pigs. We don’t know where they come from,” the diver said, noting that he had also found firearms in the wastewater.
Mexico City has an extensive and complex sewerage system that takes in wastewater from residential and industrial areas, as well as rainwater.
The system has 10,240 kilometers (6,362 miles) of secondary pipes and 2,087 kilometers (1,296 miles) of primary pipes, plus 144 kilometers (89 miles) of marginal pipes, allowing wastewater and rainwater to be moved out of the Valley of Mexico’s basin.