Crocodiles and little foxes. There was a chance we would see these two animals while we were on the boat or swimming in the water. Our boat driver, El Capitan, rattled off a few other animals that lived in this particular habitat however, I didn’t understand. But I understood cocodrilos and zorritos. I also understood I would be swimming in the same water as cocodrilos and that unnerved me just a tad. My what big jaws you have…
Oddly enough, I happen to be reading Zorro by Isabel Allende right now and learned from the book that fox in Spanish is zorro. Zorritos means little foxes and a quick look on a Spanish/English dictionary told me that zorritas means “little bitch fox.” You can take that however you’d like. I couldn’t help but smirk when I read that.
I had tagged along with my friend, Nimi, for the day knowing he was joining friends on a surprise adventure. That’s basically what we were told. Bring a swimsuit, it’s a surprise. There were seven of us, two Americans, four British, and one Israeli. Several different accents with a few things in common- a love of adventure, seeing new sights and quoting Monty Python. We drove about ten minutes south of Tulum and turned off on a dirt road riddled with potholes. I would think if someone were driving behind us we collectively looked like bobble heads. Thick jungle encompassed either side of the road for about a half mile and then you happen upon the shore of a beautiful and huge lagoon. You could see the other side, but it sure would take you all morning to swim to it. The water was hues of aqua green and dark blue (much like the ocean I described in my first post). It was slightly windy out and the mid-afternoon heat had dissipated a bit. One of the gals who organized this little trip haggled with a boat driver and for about $25 per person we hired a boat to take us across two lagoons and through two mangrove canals. The boats were lined up one behind the other like dominos. Because a dock was being built, we had to climb over two boats to get to the one we hired. You can’t walk into the shallow part of the water because the sand is actually quick sand. You’d be hard pressed to save your flip flops.
We set off on a boat similar to a row boat with two bench seats perpendicular to the bow and a motor. The sky was bright blue and the water bounced us along it’s waves. Across the expanse of open water was a tiny opening in the mangrove swamps. It was a channel just wide enough for the boat to maneuver through the clear and shallow water. Mayans built it 700 years ago as a trade route. This is were El Capitan told us what wildlife resided here. He said that the crocodiles were nocturnal and I don’t know if that’s actually true or he just says that to assuage apprehension. We were going to be swimming in this water eventually. Well not so much swimming as floating. With life vests on. In a sumo wrestler diaper style. We exited the first canal with no sightings of cocodrilos or zorritos. The second lagoon we motored through was much bigger. You could barely see the trees on the horizon line. On both lagoons, we were the only moving object above the aquatic line. It was pristine, open water, blue sky and not another boat in sight.
I should mention we were in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. Sian Ka’an is Mayan for “where the sky is born.” It’s a 1.3 million acre protected area on the Mexican Caribbean. Of what I’ve seen so far, it’s gloriously resplendent in hues of blue and green. Onto the second channel there was a dock and on the shore was an old Mayan building that was used for trade and tax reasons. You could still see some of the red and blue paint that they used. I neglected to ask how old the building was but I’d venture to say if the first channel was forged and made 700 years ago this building could be around the same age. There were three doors shorter than me, probably four and a half feet high. There was a chamber and then another three doors leading to a parallel chamber, each about four feet wide and 20 feet long but the ceilings arced and were around 15 feet. All I could wonder was, if the door ways were no more than four and a half feet high then why were the ceilings almost quadruple that? Just how short were these ancient fellows? Or is it a farce? Were they actually really tall?
We spent a few minutes poking around the building and then it was time to don our life vest diapers and hit the road, err, the channel. We were like little penguins plunging into the water one after another bobbing up and down in the cool water. The sun had just begun it’s descent so everything was a bit more soft and golden hued. The hardest work you had to do was jump in. The rest was up to the current, which surprisingly was quite strong. Nothing to do but to let the water gently carry you along. It wasn’t as though there were rapids, think of the lazy river at an waterpark and then take it down even a few more notches. Mangroves were on either side of us with their octopus arms reaching down into the water. They are such interesting trees to look at. Their barked limbs interlacing into the clear, light teal water. It’s a maze of tree limbs, some straight, some akimbo and some twisting around others. The channel was clear to the bottom and there were parts that were only two or three feet deep. The bottom was rough, it was made of what I perceived to be white, crushed up rocks. I kept looking to the bottom hoping to find an ancient Mayan artifact and get rich from my discovery but no such luck.
Orchids do grow in these mangroves however their season starts in March so no blooming beauties to marvel at this time of year. There were plenty of those awesome air plants nestled in many trees. Huge termite nests as well. I had high hopes maybe they were nests that monkeys made but I don’t even think monkeys reside in this part of Mexico, nor do I know if they actually make nests. We did see a blue heron though. It immediately took me back to driving by the Montezuma Wildlife Refuge (not to be confused with Montezuma’s Revenge which is not a refuge at all) on I-90 in upstate New York where my mom, in sheer excitement, would tell us, “Look for blue herons!” As we rounded a bend, down the channel a ways there it stood in all of it’s silent, still and primordial glory. One member of the group joked if it was even real. Perhaps it was put there like a decoy for tourists. Something to brag about when we returned. But it was real, it turned its head towards us slowly and then flew off. A fleeting image against the cerulean sky. I could have drifted along this channel for much longer than the 45 minutes it took. I was a bit cold with the sun going down but how many times in your life do you get to have such a relaxing and memorable experience? In life vests diaper style? Not often enough.
The pace of Tulum is like the pace of the water on that channel. Things happen slower here. It’s taken me some time to get used to. Slowing down, enjoying the moment. I have felt heavy pangs of homesickness for the northeast, for Rochester. I see photos of the all the snow and I want to be there. I want to get bundled up and go sledding and snowshoeing. I was lucky enough to even experience a blizzard via skype one night. My friend, Erinn, took me “outside” with her iPad so I could see it and hear that muffled, quiet harmony that snow makes when it’s plummeting. And this homesickness baffles me considering my excitement before I left to be so close to the ocean and swim in it as often as I can. Basically to be in permanent summer. There is nothing more healing for your mind and heart than salt air and salt water. I am trying to learn to ol’ “be here now” mentality. Yes, it’s ok to be homesick and miss snow (especially when we got gypped last year) but I can’t wallow in it every day (as I allowed myself to do on Christmas). There is a reason we leave, there is a reason we explore, there is a reason we try new things. There is also a reason why we stay, there is a reason why we gain comfort in certain things and fall into habits. Staying and leaving, both are the angel and devil on your shoulders. Both can have incredibly positive and negative effects on your being. Let’s face it, it’s scary to leave your life behind, to take a leap of faith. But as my friend, Katie, emailed me a few months ago, you must “feel the fear and do it always.” For many years, I dreamed of moving to various Latin American countries, learning Spanish and getting a job teaching English. I’m actually doing all of that right now (well the TEFL certification will happen in March or April). In my darkest moments, I remind myself of that. I am living my dream. I answered my calling. I’m lucky, I’m damn lucky to be able to do this, and I thank the universe every day that I was able to make it happen.
We got back onto our little boat and El Capitan took us back the way we came. To our left the sun was hitting the horizon marking a cloudless dusk. Like plumage on a bird, ruffles of pink, orange and yellow nestled around the golden sun. To our right, the sky was darkening in feathers of navy blue. We approached the first channel, the one built by Mayans, and far off a stark white egret was soaring low over the wetlands. Such a contrasting bright white color to the rest of the dimming landscape. We managed to boat and float without a cocodrilo or zorrito sighting, which I was pretty much ok with. The whole afternoon, reflecting on my homesickness versus my desire to travel, to experience life in different places, made me think of my favorite essay by Annie Dillard, “Weasels.”
“We can live any way we want. People take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience–even of silence–by choice. The thing is to stalk your calling in a certain skilled and supple way, to locate the most tender and live spot and plug into that pulse. This is yielding, not fighting…. I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you. Then even death, where you’re going no matter how you live, cannot you part. Seize it and let it seize you up aloft…”
My necessity and my calling these days is to live abroad, write and learn Spanish. What’s yours?
If you want to read the entire Annie Dillard essay (and you really, really should, it’s simply mahh-velous):
Disclaimer: El Capitan in Spanish has an accent mark over the second letter “a” however, I can’t figure out how to type that on my computer so pardon me please!
Second Disclaimer: I regret to say I have no photos from this day as I neglected to bring my camera. I’m hoping to get some from other friends who were there but I was eager to post this tonight despite no photos. So check back, there may be photos later!