Eco Adventure in Punta Allen

June 23, 2006

Today is Friday, June 23rd and I am in the office at the hotel. As mentioned by Dustin, Olger and I have been in Punta Allen since Tuesday. I have never been in a place so remote or rustic. They only have two phones in the entire village which of course means no cell coverage (sorry about missing the conference call, Laura) or internet access (sorry for the lack of blogging Ann). They also don’t have electricity after midnight or before 6am.

Punta Allen - Main Street

We arrived back at the hotel last night after 7pm and our first order of business was a shower. We met up with Megan, Josh and Dustin for dinner around 9pm. It was good to get back together with the team to debrief on our respective experiences and thoughts so far. Olger and I have been working with Marco from CTSK to audit their current tour products (Muyil Forest & Lagoon Float in Muyil, Bird Watching in Muyil, Fly Fishing in Punta Allen, and an Eco-Tour in Punta Allen). Our assessment so far is very positive. The current product they offer is good and with a few tweaks could be exceptional. We have found the CTSK staff to be extremely open to suggestions. They also have great instincts and know what direction they should go in but they don’t know exactly how to get there and that’s where we come in. Based on my observations and speaking with some of my contacts at Best Day, the real problem here is awareness. The tours truly sell themselves once the customer understands the product. Based on feedback from CTSK we have discovered that they have a lot of repeat business and word of mouth business which is a very positive sign.

In Punta Allen during the second full day we were exposed to two new products that the community would like to promote: Fish Trolling and Kayaking. Both of these tours have great potential. The Fish Trolling requires passage beyond the barrier reef (which is the second largest in the world) to the open ocean. The boat is roughly 25 feet (maybe 30 feet) and is open to the sun and wind. This tour is not for the weak of spirit…or stomach as we soon found out. The beauty of this tour is that it is authentic, natural and truly a sport. The guides use century’s old traditions to find the fish rather than sonar equipment or other modern devices. To know where the fish are you must look for the water to change to a deep “sea” blue and then you need to watch for birds that follow the Mahi Mahi to eat the bits of fish left behind from their feeding. 

Sian Ka'an Fish Trolling

 Once we got past the reef the poles were put into the water. Almost instantaneously we hooked two fish and Olger and I had poles thrown in our hands and were told to reel, reel, reel. Olger landed his fish first (because mine was bigger and I had to work harder – ha ha ha). The color of the fish was amazing – sea green, with pink? There are pictures somewhere – I was too busy trying to keep the darn fish from leaping back out of the boat before the picture was taken. All fishing here is catch and release (except the Mahi Mahi as they are extremely plentiful but we threw them back anyway).

After the excitement of catching the fish, I realized that, well, I was sea sick. I rallied and did not throw up but they did have to take me back to shore. Thank goodness for Marco who applied acupressure to keep me from losing my breakfast (which was tasty – Irma was an amazing cook and we took all our meals at her resturant)

Punta Allen - Irma's Restaurant

After recovering on the shore for about an hour, the group picked me up again, we had lunch, discussed ideas for tweaking the morning’s product and then took off for our last adventure, kayaking. Our guide, Gerardo, was a national kayaking champion (and was also our fly fishing guide the day prior). It is something that hasn’t been done in P.A. before and it has great potential for eco-tourists. We took a boat across the bay to the mangroves surrounding “

Bird
Island” which also made up of mangroves. The kayaks were waiting for us. We had a quick kayak lesson, did some stretching and had a talk about safety. Once in the kayaks we headed for

Bird
Island. The island is a temporary home for many different types of birds that use it to nest and raise their young. The trees were covered in birds: Frigate birds, Pelicans and Boobies (who ever came up with that name?).

Bird Island Bird Island - Close Up

The kayak provides a unique experience where you feel that you are a part of the environment rather than simply observing from a distance. The tour continued through the waterways of the mangroves and even through some “tunnels” where motorboats can not go. The flora and fauna are simply incredible. Crabs, Needle fish, Barracuda, birds, etc. I was hoping to see a boa constrictor but no luck. However, on the way back from the tour we did see wild dolphins. An impressive aspect of all the CTSK tours that we’ve seen is their absolute dedication to conservation, respect for nature and adherence to safety. During each of the tours and at all of our meals we discussed the structure of the tours, the co-ops, the communities, etc. The social and business frame work down here is very complex. Simply trying to understand the business flow has been challenging. Olger, Dustin and I have made many attempts to nail down the cost structure for each tour and that has proven much more difficult than we had imagined. Now that we have a good sense of what CTSK has to offer, we need to help the group understand what the tours actually cost them to run. Dustin was able to get a bit more information from the folks at the office yesterday. Today we are going to attempt to get a sense for how the tours are currently sold to other tourists by hitting up tourist offices in Playa del Carmen and hearing their sales pitch. As far as we can tell, there are several groups that can offer tours in Sian Ka’an, not just the Mayan communities. There is no protection from the government and the Maya do not have the same protections that Native Americans have in the
US, which was my assumption before I came down. There is much work that needs to be done by UNESCO and other NGO’s to convince the Mexican government to tighten up regulations, the permitting process for biosphere access and protections for the folk who make their living here. The goal for these people is not to get rich. They simply want to maintain the natural beauty around them and continue their way of life. They see the out-of-control development surrounding them and know that they must be proactive to protect their environment and themselves.

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