Thursday, July 28, 2011

Reserva de la Biosfera Sian Ka'an.


We hadn't planned on going to Sian Ka'an. In fact today, we were suppose to have gone snorkeling with whale sharks but that got cancelled due to bad weather. So we started the day with no plan.


At breakfast, we were asking Marty for what we could do and he suggested going to Sian Ka'an. Why the heck not since we had nothing else planned. He made all the arrangements for us to go on a tour. We just had to make sure that we were back at Posada Luna del Sur at 12:15p because that's when our ride would be here to pick us up. The next question was what to do for the morning. Marty suggested we go for a bicycle ride to the beach and he would even loan us the bicycles! Of course, my brother is an avid cyclist so this was just up his alley. Me?  Not a cyclist. In fact, the last time I was on a bike was in Xi'an, China in 2009. But since he had willingly gone to the dance performance with me in Mexico City, I decided I should return the favor so cycle it was.  It would be about a 4 km ride....not much of a distance really.  By taxi, it's about a 5 minute ride.

Lance Armstrong, I will never be.  We finished breakfast and Marty handed us the keys to the bike locks so we could get going.

We took off and well, I'm not a cyclist so riding in the streets was a bit scary for me.  Luckily, there was an access road running alongside the main road so we rode on that.   We followed Marty's directions and rode to the main intersection.....not hard to figure out which one that is because it's the one with the one and only traffic signal in town.  From there, we turned right and rode along the bike path.  A couple of times, I had issues steering the bicycle....have no idea why really.  So, I took a few falls.  Nothing where I ended up on the ground but just some stumbling off the bike.

On the other hand, this was like a ride in the park for my brother.  He pedaled along with absolute ease.  

This is the Yucatán and it's sunny, hot and humid.  I don't do well in that kind of weather....especially the hot, humid part.  It wasn't long before I was starting to wilt.  A lot of water breaks for me.

The view I missed. It felt like we had been riding for an eternity and I was concerned about whether or not we would make it back in time.  Everyone we asked kept saying the beach was just up ahead.  Since I was the slower of the two cyclists in our pack, I decided at one point to give up on reaching the beach. I would turn around and let my brother continue on his own.


Sure enough, at the point where I decided to turn around, I was probably less than a 30 second ride away from the beach.  Oh well.  Bro took these pictures.  We're in the part of the Mayan Riviera that is sparsely populated compared to Cancun and Playa del Carmen which lie further to the north.  So much nicer in Tulum.

I slowly pedaled my way back and not surprisingly, my brother soon caught up with me.   I was still worried about getting back to the hotel in time but no worries for my brother.  He even found time to go to a roadside restaurant and pick up some tacos for lunch!

I found myself riding back on the same access road that we had come down.  To be honest, I was not comfortable riding against the traffic.  What I should have done was cross the main road and ride on the access road that was on the other side so I would be riding with traffic.  Instead I stuck it out and there were some scary moments for me.  About two blocks away from the hotel, I decided to walk the bicycle the rest of the way.  I wimped out :-(

On our way to Si'an Kaan. We arrived back to the hotel with barely a few minutes to spare.  After locking the bikes back up, bro headed back to the room to put away his tacos and get ready for the afternoon.  I have no idea what he was doing in the room but our ride soon showed up and I had to call him down.

A white, nine passenger van had pulled up out front and a scruffy looking guy dressed in shorts and a tee shirt was walking towards me.  We introduced ourselves.  Luis was going to be our guide for the day. I told him my brother was just on his way.

We piled into the van and as we made our way back down the same route that we had bicycled on, Luis told us that we had to pick up one other passenger.  Somewhere shy of reaching the beach, we turned off onto a small quiet street.  We put into the driveway of a small hotel and a tall, bald headed white guy climbed into the front row of seats.  We all introduced ourselves.  Ian is originally from the UK but took time off to work and live in Mexico City where he teaches English.

We double backed and headed down the narrow two lane road that runs parallel to the sea.  We were now in what is called the Beach Hotel Zone where the majority of Tulum's hotels are located.

Tulum is very ecologically minded so in the Beach Hotel Zone, all electricity that is used is either generated by wind power or by solar energy.  So, it's impossible to have large multistory buildings. Most hotels here are clusters of single story accommodations, tucked in between the beach and the road and surrounded by the flora of the Yucatán.  Many of the hotels do not provide electricity except for when the sun sets.  Often, power is shut off around midnight. There are no street lamps or even traffic signals.

In my opinion, Tulum is a special place that tries to have minimal impact on the environment - very eco-friendly.  As such it attracts a certain type of tourist, generally people who are looking for a much more low key beach versus the *creature comforts* that those who opt to stay in either Cancun or Playa del Carmen are looking for.



The entrance to the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve lies at the end of the road leading from the Beach Hotel Zone.  Marty had told us that though Sian Ka'an lies only a short distance from Tulum town, where Posada Luna del Sur is located, it would take an hour to get to the main lodge inside the reserve. The reason being that the road inside the reserve is not paved and it's a difficult drive.  He wasn't kidding!





First, a quick stop.  Before we arrived at the lodge, Luis decided we should go to a cenote.  We pulled over into a small parking lot, walked past the reception desk (read *small, palapa with wooden desk*) and the small palapas that were the *rooms* and down a path.


At the end was a cenote called Yax-chen which, according to Luis, is actually part of a larger system of cenotes that runs through this part of the Yucatán.  The walk way ended in a pontoon style platform that extended out over the water which was a intensely deep, dark shade of blue green.  Mangrove trees were all around.  If we wanted to swim we could but none of really didn't feel like it so we just walked about the platform and looked around.


There was huge umbrella, tilted on its side, standing near the platform.  I thought it was just a sun shade but according to Luis, it's an emergency alarm/"call for help" system.  I'm not sure why such as system was needed - should I have been worried being near the cenote?  There was a whistle and in case of emergency, as Luis was demonstrating to us, you would simply blow the whistle and I guess someone from the hotel would come to your rescue. Hmmmm.....I think I would just scream at the top of my lungs.






Back in the van, we continued on our bumpy way to the lodge.  I'm surprised I actually managed to take this photo of the beach with sea beyond.

All along our ride, Luis was giving us information about this part of the Yucatán.  He's a self taught biologist.





A lodge with a view to die for.  About an hour after we left Posada Luna del Sur, we arrived at the lodge that is communal building inside the reserve.  Of course, it overlooks the sea.


There were going to be other people joining us so we put everything, except for our cameras, away in the lockers and headed outside to check out the views.  While I stayed up on the bluff that the lodge sits on, bro went down to the beach to take in the hypnotic roar of the waves and to get his feet wet.  The sea has that inexplicable effect of drawing us in.



Where are we going? Just as I was starting to daydream, I heard Luis call my name.  It was time to start our tour.  I shouted down to my brother.

We headed to the rooftop of the lodge.  There, Luis gave us a geography and geology lesson on the reserve.  We would be going on a boat ride through some large lagoons, interconnected by natural canals.

We also learned that Sian Ka'an is a non profit and non governmental organization biosphere reserve formed by a group of conservationists  It has been a Mexican national park since 1986 and a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987.

Our lesson over, we headed back downstairs and met up with four other people who would be joining us.  There was a mother and daughter pair from Johannesburg, South Africa and a Mexican husband and wife who had left their three sons behind with their grandparents to take a short vacation.  Good for them!  Everyone was very friendly and we immediately got a long.

We followed Luis down a path that would eventually lead to a boat dock.  Everyone was chatting up a storm.  It was a nice walk.

Hang on! When we reached the dock, there was already a boat there waiting for us.  Woohoo!  I love boat rides.  Everyone boarded the boat.  I ended up on the bench seat near the front of the boat.  My brother claimed the spot next to me.




Our captain powered on the engines and we were off!  As soon as we hit open water, he accelerated the engines and we were speed boating our away across the lagoon, which was a larger body of water than I had expected it to be.   It was challenge to videotape while clinging on to the sides of the boat  Had to make sure I didn't fall overboard :-)



Through the canal we went.  It was at least a 10 minute before we made to entrance of the natural canal.

The shore line was covered by mangrove trees.  The water was shallow but very clear - you could see all the way to the bottom.  As we boated over the shallow parts, the captain would slow down the boat.  Otherwise, he kept up the speed!  He didn't even slow down for the curves. I'm such a speed freak that I loved it.  It's never fast enough for me!

As we boated along, Luis continued our education in the native flora and fauna.  You wouldn't know it by looking at him but this man knows a lot - he's definitely a nature lover!



Straight ahead, to the left, to the right we went, the boat captain never losing a beat.  The only time he slowed down was when we were approaching another dock.  Didn't look like much of anything.

As we pulled up to the dock, another group of tourists floated by us.  I didn't pay any attention to how they were floating but everyone of them had big smiles on their faces.  All of them were telling us what a great time they had.




 
A little windblown, we got off the boat and had to strip down to our swim suits.  We then got handed safety vests.  As I took my vest, I chuckled to myself.  No vest needed for the boat ride but I now need a vest to walk along a wooden walkway that is built a few inches above solid ground?  Does anyone else see the irony in this?





At the end of the walkway was a small Mayan ruin.  Seems a bit out of place here somehow.




Luis gave us a brief history of the ruins.  By now, I was "ruined" out, having visited a total of eight ruin sites on this trip!  I was more interested in the canal that was located nearby.  The color of the water was like a milky Coke bottle green.  The *milky* part is because of the sediment in the water....not because it's dirty.










On with our diapers! After he was done telling everyone about the Mayan ruins, Luis then proceeded to give us a very strange set of instructions.  He wanted us to take our vests off and flip them upside down.  With the front opening facing towards us, he told us to slip our legs into the armholes and pull the vest up and then clip the straps on.  Basically, we were wearing the vest like a pants as so nicely demonstrated by my brother :-)  Very Yucatán fashionable :-)

We couldn't help but laugh at ourselves!






Looking at my brother, I remembered back to that group of tourists who floated by us.  That's how they were floating down the water.  I couldn't wait to try it out myself!

We posed for a group photo....all in our *Mayan diapers*, as Luis referred to them as.  Pretty funny looking group we are :-)


Next, we had to take our shoes off and tie them, tightly, to the straps that are normally the vest straps that go between your legs.  Everyone, except for my brother whose camera is waterproof, handed our gear over to Luis. He put it all into a waterproof bag that he would be carrying with him.

It was awkward walking with the vests on.  We had to waddle slightly.  It was just all too funny and everyone was really enjoying themselves.

A gentle ride downstream.  We walked over to the dock and lowered ourselves into the water.  At first, none of us knew how to float with these *diapers* on.  Luis instructed us to just sit down and so we all did that.   The water flow of the canal gently carried us downstream, so-to-speak.  Such a change from the speeding boat we had taken to get to this spot.  Sitting on my vest to float downstream was one of  most unusual experience I've had in long time and it was so much fun and so relaxing! Big thumbs up!


It's true that time flies when you're having fun. Before we knew it, it was over :-(  We had returned to the dock where our our adventure began.  Out of the water, we took our vests off and boarded the boat for our return trip.  Luis had brought some bananas along so we munched on those and sipped on water as our captain boated us bad.

Between my brother and I, we managed to videotape our entire experience.  The link to our YouTube hosted video which is titled, "A Lagoon, A Waterway, A Mayan Diaper and a Canal" is posted up on the right navigation bar. 

We retraced our steps back to the lodge.  Before we would leave, we would have our dinner there.  I was getting hungry as I really had not eaten since breakfast.  By now it was late afternoon.




Hungry! Dinner was served in the dining hall in the lodge.  We all got served the same meal - the freshest grilled snapper I have ever had.  It was sooo good I could have easily devoured a second piece.






 
We were still enjoying each other's company so dinner chatter was very pleasant.  Of course, the baby turtles showing up distracted us all - got a bunch of adults oohing and aahing.







The end :-( After dinner, we lingered around for a bit longer but soon enough, it was time to leave. We said our goodbyes to our tour mates and wished them well on their journeys.  My brother, Ian and I got back into our van for the ride back to Tulum.

I had started the day feeling very disappointed that we weren't able to go snorkeling with the whale sharks.  I ended the day having thoroughly enjoyed myself doing something completely unplanned and unexpected.  Sometimes, it really is good to just live on the spur of the moment and enjoy what life brings you!