Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cañón del Sumidero.


Sometimes, you have fun when you least expect it.  Today, we had moments that qualify to be in that category.

On today's travel itinerary was a visit to the Sumidero Canyon on our way to San Cristóbal de las Casas. The Sumidero Canyon is a narrow and deep canyon surrounded by the Sumidero Canyon National Park located just north of the city of Tuxtla Gutiérrez in the state of Chiapas. The canyon was created centuries ago by a crack in the area’s crust and erosion by the Grijalva River, which still runs through it. The canyon has vertical walls which reach as high as 1000 meters, with the river turning up to ninety degrees during the thirteen kilometers that the narrow passage runs. At the north end of the canyon is the Chicoasén Dam, one of several on the Grijalva River and important for water storage and the generation of hydroelectricity.


We left Veracruz bright and early this morning. It was going to be all day's drive to San Cristóbal de las Casas. By the time we reached the outskirts of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, it was early afternoon and it had just started to rain.

As we drove towards Sumidero Canyon park, Francisco told us we would be going on a boat ride up the river that runs through the canyon.  Woohoo!  Forgetting for a moment that it was raining.

Juan Jose deposited us next to a couple of souvenir shops and what looked like public bathrooms.  Where the heck were we?  We clamored out of the van.  The rain had picked up, no longer a drizzle, bit drops!

With no instruction on where to go, I wandered over to the stores to check out the goods. Nothing interesting.  By the time I was done, everyone else had gone somewhere but I had no idea where.  Luckily, Juan Jose was still standing by the van and he pointed me in the direction I needed to go.....down a ramp towards the boat dock.


Francisco, my brother and Ayşe were already down by the dock area. They were getting ready to put on their day glow orange safety vests.

The guy took one look at me and handed me a small sized vest.  So kind of him to think I'm an "S" person but I knew the vest would not wrap around my chest so I asked for the "M".  Why did he look back at me like I was crazy?  The "M" vest fit.  Hah!









Vests on, we followed Francisco down the ramp to the awaiting boat.








And away we go!! With all that we had to do to prep ourselves for the ride, we completely forgot about the rain. That is, until we got ready to step aboard the boat.  Oh yeah, it was raining.

There was already another group on board the boat so we had to take the seats in the back.  I was disappointed because I wanted a seat up front so I would have a good view.  Later on, I was so, so happy that I was in the back of the boat.

The three of us took up one row of seats, with Ayşe in the middle.  Francisco sat in the row in front of us.

Before she sat down in her seat, Ayşe wiped it off.  That was such a funny moment for me that we broke out laughing.  Let me get it straight.  It's raining and you want to wipe the seat to dry it??

Hang on!!  With everyone in their seats, the boat captain powered up the outboard engine and we were underway, heading up the river towards the canyon. 

As the boat picked up speed, we started to feel the rain.  We were quickly getting wet but it was still all okay.  









Hoods went up to keep our heads dry.








 










We were slowly getting soaked but the ride was enjoyable and even in the dreary daylight, the canyon landscape was interesting to look at.  Reminded me of a mini version of the canyon that the Yangtze River runs through.



 


The rain was gradually picking up pace.  We were all chatting and enjoying our rid when all of a sudden the boat captain put the engine in full throttle and we were speeding up the river like there was no tomorrow.   Time for chat was over. I was hanging on to the seat in front of me to brace myself.  We were riding into the wind so we were getting pelted by the rain.  It felt like getting pummeled by pebbles so everyone was trying to shield their faces.  Ayşe and I started to laugh at the situation we were in.  What else can you do but try to make the best of it?  Besides, it was actually kind of fun.

I managed to use my camcorder to record.  About 30 seconds into the snippet of video, you'll see just how windy and rainy it was!  *smile*



Taking a breather.  After a short distance, the boat captain steered us over to an area where we could take shelter under a rocky overhang.  Before he took off for the next stretch, he asked if we wanted to put up the tarp to cover ourselves, everyone said "no".  We were on a boat with a group that was as equally crazy as we were.  We loved it!  The boat captain revved up the engines and we were off!!  Oh yeah.  We were going at breakneck speed.  It was getting to keep the camcorder going. The laughter continued and the hoods got pulled down lower.  I think Ayşe had her hood pulled down to her chin :-)









Canyon views.  As we boated along, we got to see some famous formations in the Sumidero Canyon like the stalactite called Caballito de Mar (Seahorse) after its shape.










There was the Cueva de Colores (Cave of Colors) which gets its name from the filtration of magnesium, potassium and other minerals which form colors on the walls, especially shades of pink. Tucked into a nook, high up on the cave wall, was an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe along with fresh flowers and burning candles left by visitors who climb the ladder to leave their offering.





Last but not least, there was the most famous of the formations - the Árbol de Navidad (Christmas Tree) which is a waterfall. The “branches” of the Árbol are made by deposits from the waterfall which have are then covered in moss. During the rainy season, when the waterfall is active, the water and the light changes the colors of the “branches” and makes the formation stand out more.


At one point, our boat captain maneuvered the boat so we were directly underneath the waterfall.  We could see the water hitting and splashing off the moss covered rock formation.










As we made our way up river, we came across a chasm in the canyon. Our boat captain stopped the boat to tell us that the view before us is the image that is immortalized on the state seal of Chiapas.













Along the way, we encountered sections of the river that were polluted by trash that had washed down from nearby villages.  According to Francisco, park officials do remove the trash but there's just so much that they can't keep up.










 

We traveled up river until we came to a dam; we couldn't go any further.  By now the rain had subsided. The boat turned the boat around and we headed back down river. Without the rain pelting down on us, we could finally truly enjoy the ride and take a better look at the landscape of the canyon.  Before, the only thing I saw was the inside of my hood.  Too funny.








Crocodile!!!  Our sharp eyed captain spotted something on shore and swerved the boat towards it so we could take a closer look.  Someone cried out "crocodilla" and pointed at the shoreline.  You don't have to speak Spanish to know what that word means.  I strained to see the crocodile which is the same mud color as the dirt.  I used my zoom lens and after a few seconds of scanning and searching, I saw it!!

We were pretty close to it and at first, it wasn't moving.  The boat captain had throttled down the engine so we were basically just drifting.





After what was probably less than minute, the crocodile moved.....slinking into the water.  Mouth was open.  I could see teeth.  Big teeth.  Time for us to get going!  Our boat captain revved up the engine and we were back on our way.





By the time we made it back to the dock, I was partially dry as was  my brother.  The two of us were lucky because we were seated behind people.  Poor Ayşe though.  She was seated in the middle with no seat in front of her to block the rain.  She was drenched!

We turned in our vests and headed back up the ramp to meet up with Juan Jose.

While Ayşe went to change into dry clothes, my brother and I made our way over to a vendor who was selling rambutans.



 











A kilo only cost 15 pesos which is so cheap that I knew my brother would walk away with at least a bag or two.  Turned out to be two.

With fruit in hand and dry clothes on, we piled back into the van.  It was late afternoon by now and we still had some driving to do before we would arrive into San Cristóbal de las Casas.

In retrospect, there wasn't all that much to see in the canyon.  It was the experience of riding a speed boat in the pelting rain that made this a memorable day!  We laughed a lot!!

Next destination.  San Cristóbal de las Casas.