Thursday, February 24, 2005

Where I Went On Holiday - Playa Del Carmen, Part 11

[Originally posted on]

I think it was Monday

We had booked a tour of Sian Ka'an out of the Weary Traveler -- not the Cesiak tour, but the other group -- Amigos de Sian Ka'an? Anyways, they picked us up at our hotel, which was nice, as it was well out of the way. One of the tours goes down the Boca Paila road into Sian Ka'an, and reaches the lagoons that way, but our tour went down 307 from Tulum to Muyil, for more ruins first.

Muyil is a small site, but has some great architecture -- a little of both styles, the Classical and the Peten. I'm probably scrambling this all up, because I don't have my book in front of me, but one style has rounded corners on the pyramids, almost like cones, of perfectly concentric rows of steps, while the other has sharp corners and steep sloping sides, with ranks of steps going up the middle (like Chichen Itza).

(BTW, I had a dream once where I opened up a chain of really nasty KFC-style fast-food restaurants in Mexico called "Itsa Chicken Itza", and woke up in a sweat just as I was about to be understandably murdered by Zapatistas).

At the edge of Muyil, there is a nature hike that begins here and meanders down toward the lagoon. Our guide, Pepe, took us through and showed us all the interesting plants, including the tree sap that eats away your flesh in great wounds "like a cheese pizza", and the antidote to same that is usually found nearby. We climbed an observation tower, which rippled and swayed under our weight and caused at least one girly man to blanch and clamber right back down again -- nah, I wasn't scared, I just, uh, didn't want to spoil the view for the others, yeah, that's it.

The trail comes out at the first of three lagoons; the first two fresh water and the last mixed fresh and salt, as it opens to the sea at the Boca Paila (Mouth of the Paila, I can figure, but I don't know what "paila" means). There's a Maya-built canal between the first two, over a thousand years old, cut right into the limestone bed, and a much longer natural canal between two and three. We took a boat out, stopping briefly at another temple in the Muyil complex on an island, or more properly a hummock of red mangrove, which still bore traces of the red paint it was once plastered with.

Then, in the long canal, we learned how to put our lifevests on upside down, what the Maya guides call "diaper style", which seems weird but works extremely well as a floating seat. In these we floated down about a kilometer of the canal, past red mangrove, huge bromeliads ("air plants", that grow without roots or soil in the crotches of trees, supported by them but not parasitic), and many many tiny flourescent aqua fishes, hard to see in the flourescent aqua water. An amazing journey and a remarkable place. So nice to see such a gorgeous wetlands without hundreds of jetskis and waterskiers all over it, just pristine bird and wildlife habitat. Alas, being midday the only wildlife we actually saw in the flesh were a green heron and a beautiful great egret.

The tour concluded with a snorkel in the Emerald Cenote, which, you will be shocked to hear, is green, and very lovely.

By this time, I was starting to glow. What a magical trip. That night, at Tierras del Sol, Jose, the Maya gentleman who works for Carlos, dragged a bunch of branches out of the jungle, burned them down to coals, raked them out flat, and cooked foil-wrapped whole fish on a grill laid over a couple of concrete blocks. Boquinete, or hogfish: a red fish, very bony, with delicious firm white meat. It felt like a privilege to be allowed to share this meal with our hosts, Carlos and his wife Natalie, who are originally from Argentina, and Jose and his daughter Carolina, or "Caro-LEEEENA" as one calls her if one wants to see the broadest, shyest, happiest grin in the world.

This hotel was more like a B&B than a "hotel", and whereas sometimes B&Bs kind of give me the creeps, with the lonely lady living her peculiar faux-English fantasy out in her ghostly house somewhere, desperately wanting you to come share scones and tea in her drawing room or something, but this was quite different. An international crowd, with people from Spain, Germany, Britain, Venezuela, New York, and LA passing through at one time or another (there are only four or five units in the whole place) and there really isn't any place to go after dark unless you want to drive up into the "busy" stretch of the strip, by Zamas and the convenience store, so we'd sit around and watch the pretty mobile made of thorns cast shadows of dancers on the wall.

And then we'd sit and read in bed by the dim light, and I'd have my cigar and a glass of rum on the deck, or we'd run out onto the sand and watch the stars. The first nights there there was no moon so there were a million stars -- I've seen a lot of stars up in the Cascade Mountains near home but nothing like this, with nothing to block the horizon and the stars went right down to the edge, the whole Milky Way, and the Big Dipper's in the wrong place, and Orion's belt is brighter than any of Liberace's, and the stars make the sand glow like snow. Mmm. I'm getting misty eyed just thinking about it.

After a few nights we started seeing the new moon, which was upside down -- a cup instead of a letter c -- and the sand got brighter at night, and we could see to walk up the beach to some of the other restaurants. A mixed bag, some were fancy, some were good, some were just OK. I will mention that Ana y Jose was the most beautiful; if I could swing the bucks I'd stay there next time. A lot of the really posh places suffered from the need of Europeans to have a constant disco music accompaniment, even at breakfast. I gather that some of the places get pretty hoppin' at night, but we're old and tired and are much happier with quiet nights of quiet stars, ("Corcovado", Joao Gilberto).

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