Into Sian Ka’an, or A Sky Is Born (JDW)

June 19, 2006

Since we've traveled towards 2 hours closer to GMT, I expected waking up at a productive hour here to be a challenge, but I was already an hour out of bed before CTSK's van arrival at 8am. Today was the Muyil trip, the only trip we were scheduled to do as a group, so the 5 Expedians, the 2 United Nationals, and this one Hotwire-guy (what's a good derivation for Hotwire?) all piled into the van together. Props to CTSK for operating with a clean, spacious and (most importantly) air-conditioned van. The heat here hasn't been nearly as bad I expected, but I think we're all going to be trying to view our experiences through the eyes of CTSK's customers, and their customers will definitely appreciate A/C.

The ride out to Muyil took us along the same highway that brought us from Cancun airport to Maya Tankah; two lanes with a wide shoulder that slower drivers bare to when impatient drivers want to pass. We didn't drive long, maybe 30 minutes? When we turned off the highway I was expecting the ride to continue down a more remote road, but the park entrance was right there off the highway.

 

Our guide, Pastor, advised us to put on bug spray before moving on, so for the next few minutes we made ourselves exceptionally slick and smelly with various brands of bug repellant. Good thing, too, because the mosquitoes we later found (or that found us) were big bullies, some of which couldn't have cared less about our repellant and bit us anyway.

  

The first part of the tour took included the jungle, cenotes (holes in the ground sometimes filled with water, sometimes dry), and ruins; Pastor said it would run about 2hrs, which seemed like a very long time, and I pictured us at the end of the day, exhausted and weary from hacking our way through jungle with machetes. Actually, the walk could probably have been completed in 30 minutes if one were to walk straight through, but we were strolling, stopping frequently when Pastor would draw our attention to the tree used to harvest resin for chewing gum, or a berry with natural bug repelling properties, or to invite us up the stairs of a temple ruin.

We were heading east, towards a lagoon, and as we got closer the jungle floor turned swampy, and the dirt path was replaced by a raised wood walkway that snaked around vines, ficus trees and ojos de agua ("eyes of water", great places for young mosquitoes to grow up). We walked a little faster at this point; another tour group had caught up to us at the temple ruins, and stayed on our heels until we got to the observation tower.

 

We stepped out from under the jungle canopy next to a wide, freshwater lagoon, and we took a break at picnic tables where CTSK had set out some snacks and a cooler of drinks.

 

After, it was time for bathing suits and sunscreen. The group of us divided into the two small boats, and we crossed the lagoon, navigating to the entrance of the narrow canal, man-made, we were told, by the Mayans for commerce. Canals connect a series of lagoons and eventually touching the sea, and the steady current ensures that the canals are not overgrown by the mangroves and saw grass that line them.

 

The first canal let out into another lagoon of brackish, darker water, and again we crossed. And in the middle of the next canal we docked at small clearing to get a closer look at the ruins of a Mayan trading post and toll both.

The toll booth marked the beginning of my favorite part of the trip. Floating. Standing on the dock, Pastor first demonstrated how to properly wear a life jacket, then demonstrated a variety of improper methods including The Diaper-vest, The Lounge Chair-vest, The Swing, and another whose name I will censor (but with one of the arm openings placed under the tush, it looked a bit like sitting on the toilet). We grabbed our vests, adopted our preferred method of flotation (I'm all about The Lounge Chair), and relaxed into 80-ish degree bathwater for about 45 minutes ("Five Mexican minutes," said Pastor). When I get back, I'm supposed to go on a float down the Russian River for the 4th of July, and I'm sure that the whole way down I'll go on about how magical the Muyil float is, until someone pops has to sink my raft.

After the float, we boated to the end of the canals, where they meet the sea. It might've been a more inspiring sight without all the trash that littered the beach. Art (from the UN) told me that the pollution didn't come from the local communities; a study had determined that the garbage from cities above and below the area, and garbage from cruise ships gets picked up in currents and carried to the Sian Ka'an coast.

We boated back along the maze of canals and lagoons, docking for the last time at the visitor center for my 2nd favorite activity of the day–lunch. We ate Mayan chicken tamales and salsa, freshly made by women in the co-op for each tour group. Lunch was followed by a food coma. When we came to, Fernando from CTSK gave a more detailed description of the history of the local communities, and told us how, by working together on guidelines for sustainable growth and commerce, they hoped to protect this World Heritage site from the sort of unchecked development that could eventually ruin it.

At this point, I was expecting the tour to be over. It was only early afternoon, but it had already been a long day. But we had one more stop on our itinerary. We rode in the van to the edge of the Sian Ka'an reserve, grabbed our masks and snorkels, and when for a swim in dark, quiet cenote–a big hole filled with water from an underground stream. Before we jumped in, Olger's sunglasses slipped off his neck and disappeared into the water. A few of us tried diving for them, but the water was pretty deep, maybe 18 feet, and the warm layer near the surface the water was turned cold. I think Olger had pretty much written them off, but then Marco, a guide with rescue diving experience, came up with them right before it was time to go.

Then it really was the end of the tour. It was all fantastic, but it was a little longer than I think most people would have patience for, especially if they have kids in tow, and it seems like they could consider 1/2 day tours with shorter walks through the jungle and a float. Olger and Janice will be talking all about that in their entries, though, no doubt.

Tomorrow's agenda includes a half-day orientation with members of CTSK and the co-ops it supports, followed by breakouts with the 3 teams.

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