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Alex Eberspaecher photos
We were told to wait until there was no moon and the tide was high. The only guide we had was the sound of the gentle waves as they lapped along the sandy beach and disappeared again into a mysterious darkness that was so complete that only a few stars reminded us of reality. Had it not been for those twinkling eerie little specks of light along the surf, we could have walked into the Caribbean Sea and possibly from there into eternity. Then we saw her.
She was a little over four feet long and must have weighed four hundred pounds. In the darkness, it appeared as if she was just resting, but she was not. Her hind legs dug into the moist sand, flinging it first left, then right, until there was a perfectly round hole, deep enough in her judgment. Then she stopped.
For the first time we turned the light on and, although we were careful not to aim it at her, we could see that she was crying. There were tears rolling gently off her cheeks, perhaps in pain or simply because she knew that her life was fulfilled. Perhaps she even remembered that she had been there on this same beach 25 years ago as a newborn and now it was her turn to help assure the survival of the endangered giant sea turtles.
We stood in silence and then they came. First one and then another and by the time we left, well over an hour later, there were over one hundred round white eggs but the tears kept coming.
Less than two hours north from us, Cancun became alive. It was a different world. Instead of the gentle murmur of the waves along the beach, the discos and nightclubs were having a serious contest to see who could overpower the other. The booming music almost drowned out the laughter and singing of the tourists who had invaded the area in their quest for sun, clean white beaches, new found friends and lots of cheap booze.
After the darkness had replaced the brilliant day, the street outside the two hundred upscale hotels and bars had taken on a striking similarity to a fashion show, one with very little clothing and one in which young and the not-so-young competed equally. There could have been no greater contrast in one land, but then again Mexico is different from most others, it is a country full of contradictions and surprises.
The surprise was all mine when we arrived at Selvatica, a Mayan village about 20 km off the main road just south of Puerto Morelos, the native fishing village on the Riviera Maya. I had consented to do a canopy tour of the jungle. I had seen canopy tours in National Geographic and knew that the climb to the canopy would be difficult but the Mexicans had an entirely different approach. It was zip-lining, and if I had known what zip-lining was, I would have visited an aquarium instead.
So, when I climbed a huge tree to look out over the jungle, I was somewhat surprised when I had to stop near the top to be outfitted with a harness. Handing me a glove with the instructions to use it if I would like to slow down, he then clipped my harness onto a steel cable that presumably was tied to another tree somewhere out there among the dense jungle. He then pushed me off the platform and so I learned all about zip-lining.
On the first leg I managed to race toward a tree at breakneck speed and barely avoided a collision with a branch, but still managed to de-foliate most of it. By the time I had done the third stretch, I was over my heart attack and actually managed to avoid almost all trees that were growing within ten metres of the cable.
Judy was right behind me, ready, I presume, to peel me off any tree that was unlucky enough to have grown in my path. When we came to the end, over an hour later, we both agreed that it was the most stupid thing we ever did, but also one of the most exhilarating, and we were ready to do it again.
From Cancun, it is a pleasant boat ride, of course complete with complimentary drinks, to Gerrrafon Park and Dolphin Discovery for a swim with dolphins. We are not quite sure who was discovering whom, but there is no doubt that dolphins are definitely more graceful in the water than we are.
In spite of the fact that I managed to give the wrong hand signal and a dolphin gave me a big kiss instead. It was embarrassing, but it will remain in my mind forever. In this same park, I learned to snorkel over a Caribbean reef, teeming with the most beautifully coloured and sometimes weird creatures. These included a graceful school of five stingrays and a menacing barracuda.
Sian Ka’an, Mayan for “where the sun is born” is one of the largest protected areas in Mexico. Not far from Tulum, the Sian Ka’an UNESCO Biosphere with its 1.3 million acres of protected tropical ecosystem offers a truly unforgettable experience of Mexico’s nature and history.
A Mayan guide takes us through the dense jungle until we suddenly stop in front of some well preserved ancient ruins. We rest for a while and listen to his explanation of the spiritual sites and that of his ancestors. It had become apparent to us that he is still deeply submerged in his culture and similarly, we soon see the ruins in a spiritual way rather than merely as an attraction.
Then we are off on a hike through the steaming jungle to a hidden lake. From here, a boat taxis us over a lagoon of turquoise crystal clear waters until we stop at the thousand year old Xlapak ruins, a small mysterious Mayan building that probably was a customs stop along the Mayan trade route. Here we don our life vests and dive into the clear and warm waters.
The gentle current takes us another 12 km toward the sea. The only sound is our own breathing and occasionally an explanation by our guide as he shares his knowledge about the local flowers and wildlife that we surprised along the banks. After our floating expedition, we return to our starting point by boat, for an authentic Mayan lunch, complete with delicious corn tamales. We then realize that we too have become part of nature over the past few hours, and that we wouldn’t trade this for the best resort along the Mayan coast.
Not far south of Cancun, we are visiting Xcaret for the day. It is a park, but the theme is its natural environment and archeology combined with the history of the land. It is an incredible site for the whole family and a single day would not be enough. Between visiting ruins, an aquarium, butterfly garden, and natural ponds teeming with wildlife, we swim in the underground river.
Later in the evening, at the huge outdoor theatre, a live cast of hundreds takes us through the history of Mexico, from the early beginnings to the times of the conquistadores and beyond. Xcaret the Eco-Archeological park, despite its many family activities, is a place of discovery but also a place of calmness and I rest far too long in a hammock. Gently swinging between two palm trees by the most beautiful white beach and the turquoise water of the Caribbean, I have long ago given up looking for that line that separates the turquoise water from the sky. GL
A friendly but shy local hombre.
One of many Mayan ruins at Tulum where the jungle meets the sea.
A giant sea turtle sheds a tear as she lays the foundation for a new generation.
Delicious hot tamale for lunch by the Muyil lagoon.