Mexico City

The Underworld

The sewer diver of Mexico City

by Stranger’s Guide

Whereas the Greek underworld included five rivers, Mexico City’s underworld is a bit more complex—roughly 7,500 miles of pipes make up a intricate sewer system (that includes masses of trash and refuse). But there is one man who knows his way around the vast tunnels of dark water. Julio Cu Camara has spent the last 30 years as a sewer diver for the city, swimming in opaque waters to unblock pipes and trying to keep a leaking, ever-clogging drainage system working.

Originally part of a team, Julio is one of the last of the sewer divers. His work is critical, as the city relies on Julio to unblock pumps, maintain and fix motor parts and generally keep water flowing. Flooding in the city is frequent—dammed up wastewater can impact thousands when it backs up into city streets.

His is not a job for the faint-of-heart. Three or four times most months, Julio dons a 90 lb suit, sealed to give him both protection and reprieve from the noxious smells. A cut from one of the many sharp objects would almost certainly lead to infection.

Divers have to perform blind—no light waves can break through the black, polluted waters. Instead, he relies on instructions from above ground, delivered through a microphone and headset in his helmet.

Down below, he’s encountered animal carcasses, cars and trucks, as well as human bodies. The police are only called when the bodies are brought to the surface. “We find all of it in the sewers,” Julio told Radio Netherlands in 2010. “You’ve got to ask yourself how it got there? But there it is—it’s crazy.”

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