Monday, August 17, 2009

The Reef, Turtles, and Salsa Dancing

Yesterday was like no other. Caleb's sister, Michaela is visiting us and we had waited until she arrived before going out snorkeling on the the Great Mayan Reef which is the second biggest coral reef in the world.

We we're in a small group of six as we headed out bouncing across the water in our little motor boat. The faster we went the more excited I got and loved every minute of salty wind and ocean spray. When we stopped the boat out on the reef and got ourselves ready to snorkel, my heart was racing... I'd never been out on open water like this before. I didn't know what creatures lived in the waters around me and everything just seemed so deep and mysterious. As soon as my mask was on and I'd gotten a bit used to the flippers, I looked below me into the coral. And that's all it took, that first look, and now I'm hooked.

We spent an hour and a half swimming and looking on our own. I swam into purple and soft green and brown gardens of seaweed and coral and lovely little fish. Yellow, red, blue, purple, orange... so many fishes so many colors. Some were bigger and some so small I didn't realize they were fish until I stared at the same spot for minutes. They dove in and out of the coral which looked like beautiful lace billowing in the current. I saw very sharp looking black sea urchins and florescent little spotted fish trying to hide. Michaela saw a sea turtle and Caleb saw a fairly large barracuda. Some of the other passengers saw calamari and a spotted stingray. It was a pretty amazing place. You may be imagining tranquil waters and floating gently around looking a sea life, however, the current was strong and waves were crashing above us. There were times where you really had to struggle not to get tossed about and knocked into the reef. I found it enthralling and quite the rush.

On our way back to shore we befriended a guy named Miguel who works for the marine reserve at Sian Kaan National Park. He had snorkeled for free since he had been a reef guide and knew all the guys. Miguel was full of useful information on local attractions. Since there is so much to see and do here, it is helpful to have someone guide you. He suggested we go see the turtles in Akumal, just a short drive north of Tulum. There are hawksbill, green, and loggerhead turtles in the area.

We had rented a car for a few days and wanted to make the most of it. On our way back toward town we saw Miguel hitchhiking and offered to give him a lift. He was and is such a nice guy that we invited him along on our sea turtle adventure. He blew off his plans to go rock climbing for the day and became our private tour guide. We stopped at a lovely little restaurant right on the beach in Akumal and had lunch. The food was great and the view spectacular. It's a good feeling to eat a tasty meal with your feet happily in the sand.

After lunch we meandered over to the public beach. It being Sunday, the beach was packed. Sunday is family day here (as it should be!) and the best place to be was the playa. We were a bit dubious as to the existence of sea turtles with so many people about, but having trust in Miguel's promise that we would indeed, see a turtle, we swam out to the seaweed beds, faces in the water searching for that big shadow or a slight movement.

Miguel was the first to spot her. She was huge and graceful and oh, so lovely! Munching on seaweed below us she seemed so serene and only mildly curious of our company. Then she swam up for air and we could see how wonderfully this creature moves through water. Her head was at the surface for just an instant, just long enough to gasp for air and then down again to feed. At one point she swam very near Miguel, staring at him, as he remained motionless waiting to see what she would do. She merely circled him and gave him a long look, then settled back into the sea grass. It's a surreal experience being that close to a prehistoric looking creature much older than yourself and on their turf.

We spent a long time searching for turtles and watching them feed. I believe we counted six. On the way back to shore I swam through a school of fish and nearly turned back to follow them. The beaches here all have sectioned off bits where the turtles have laid their eggs. It's nesting season until September. Each night, the turtles come ashore and lay their eggs. I heard that only about one in every thousand baby turtles makes it to adulthood. There are many natural predators, they've often been hunted for food, and their habitat is constantly being encroached upon. There are some strong efforts here to protect these animals.

On our drive back to Tulum we continued visiting with Miguel and found out he's a Christian. We were thrilled. He had been so generous in sharing his whole day with us and had such a kind and gentle spirit. In retrospect, it all made sense. Caleb and I plan on attending church with him one of these days.

Our day wasn't over yet, and we had promised Michaela salsa dancing on the beach. So, we rushed home, got cleaned up and drove over to La Zebra. On first glance the salsa class (prelude to the evening dancing) looked like the making of a bad aerobics instruction video shot on the beach. A small, odd mix of people were shuffling around on a little wooden platform to the instructor's enthusiastic directions which he yelled into his headset. Half English, half Spanish. The instructor (who, we were told had won many competitions) was twisting and turning and prancing around while the rest of us felt like a bunch of lost goslings. Micheala did the best of all of us - she can just dance. I fumbled around and when I got too confused just threw in a few extra twirls and foot taps. Caleb, oh, sweet, tall, lanky, awkward husband of mine! He was so funny, flapping around, very confused and head and shoulders above everyone else. That he was out there at all learning to dance with us was a testimony to his love.

La Zebra was recommended to me by my new friend, Faby. Faby is teaching me Spanish and I'm helping her with her English. It's not only a good trade, but I think we are becoming close friends as well. She is a great dancer. After the somewhat painful dance lessons, a good sized salsa band set up and we grabbed some very tasty Mojitos. It was the first time I had been on the beach at night and the stars were spectacular. It was like staring into the Milky Way.

As the night wore on more and more people showed up and the dancing began. There were many awkward dancers like us, but several outstanding dancers as well. Michaela was so pleased to dance with the best man out there. She looked like a pro following his strong lead and loving every minute of it. We dance the Salsa and the Merengue with the cool sea breeze swishing our skirts and giving us tousled, wild hair. The band was fantastic and we hated to leave. Next Sunday night we will be back at La Zebra for more lessons and fun.


Arianna Elizabeth said...

I wish I could see it all with you!

honest to mom said...

OH My!!! How amazing...It is so funny to read about your first days in Mexico as compared to hearing of your first months in RI. What a reward you are living now!! It just goes to show we have adversity and much joy. ..

shawna said...

Amazing. Just completely amazing.