Sunday, September 20, 2009

I love the Sian Ka'an

The Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve is one of the most amazing places I have ever been. If you follow the spit of land south out of Tulum along the beach road eventually you will be on the Reserve. On one side of the dirt road is the turquoise Caribbean and on the other side tangled mangroves and the jade green lagoons of the Sian Ka'an. The Reserve is enormous, covering over 1.3 million acres. Sian Ka'an means "where the sky is born" in Mayan. After spending a day in the lagoons I understand why. The sky does appear greater here. Perhaps it is the vast amount of crystal clear water reflecting the sky, perhaps it is that when you stand up in the boat taking you through the canals in the mangroves, you can see for miles.

My first in depth experience with the Reserve was through Cesiak. This organization runs a small ecotourism center and runs conservation and education programs about the Sain Ka'an. All the money from their tours goes straight back to the local community and protecting the Reserve.

My friend Elisa and I had been anticipating the Cesiak tour for weeks. Since this is the slow season for tourism we were the only ones on the tour. We were picked up in town in a bus along with our tour guide, Antonio, and a bird specialist that most refer to as "La Pirata" - the Pirate. Imagine Jack Sparrow from "Pirates of the Caribbean" if he was Mayan, tan, and had small boar's tusks as nipple piercings. You get the idea. These two men were our educators for the day, though most of our time was spent with Antonio - who's our age and passionate and knowledgeable about the Reserve. We spent spent about equal time learning about the Sian Ka'an as we did counseling him about his relationship troubles. Needless to say we enjoyed ourselves and felt very comfortable with him!

The van dropped us off at the arched entrance to the Sian Ka'an. We immediately followed a short path through the jungle to a cenote. Cenotes are fresh water caverns that supply all the water here in the Yucatan Peninsula. When it rains the water is filtered through the limestone foundation of this peninsula and collected in a vast underground system of tunnels and caverns. Eventually this water if further filtered by the mangroves and mixes with the Caribbean sea. The nutrient that this fresh water collects on it's passage to the sea is essential for the health of the Mesoamerican Reef. It is so amazing to learn about the interconnectedness of the ecosystem. I've never fully appreciated it until now.

We refreshed ourselves with a swim in the cool waters of the cenote for ten minutes or so before heading to our small motor boat docked on the lagoon. Elisa and I and our guide Antonio, along with our very capable boat driver began our tour of the canals of the Sian Ka'an. These canals that wind through the mangroves, frequently not much wider than our boat, were the ancient trading routes of the Mayans. These canals lead from the jungle to the sea and many a boatful of jade, obsidian, cocoa beans and salt made it's way through these waters to far off worlds.

With that in mind and our boat precariously navigating the snakelike channels surrounded by mangroves as far as the eye can see, we searched the treetops for birds. There are over 336 known bird species in this area and the air is full of their sounds. It was tremendously peaceful to feel the warm breeze in our faces and rest our eyes on the beauty around us. Nearly halfway though our tour, we stopped at an ancient Mayan ruin. After a bit of exploration we jumped into the clear water of our canal and sitting on life vests we began to gently float down the current. Our motor boat had preceded us and was waiting much further down. This was my favorite part of the whole experience. Imagine being at water level with the twisted roots of the mangroves, seeing the life all around you, the delicate birds nests, the yellow leaves in the jade colored water, the rich mineral smell of the air, the cacti and flowers growing out of their host plants, the mangroves. It was quiet.

We floated like this for at least half an hour. I didn't want it to end. When we reached our boat we still had about an hour left of touring the lagoon. We headed out to the wide open waters, the waters that meet with the sea. The blues and greens that converge at the tip of this estuary are breath taking. Since being in Mexico my appreciation of color has intensified. It's as if I've always had a foggy lens and now I can actually see.

On our way back to the Cesiak base we saw a crocodile! Antonio had been talking about crocodiles a lot, which was not much of a comfort considering Elisa had dreamt the night before about a bloody croc attack and we had just been leisurely floating in that water! Granted, the canal that we had floated down had been used by Cesiak for the past ten years with no crocodile incidents, but still.... I was glad that I had been in the water before I saw that croc, not after! He was big.

At the Cesiak center we were treated to a delicious dinner of fresh fish with garlic, rice, beans, and tortillas. It was so delicious. After dinner a quick swim in the sea and then we climbed to the top terrace of the building for a spectacular sunset. Cesiak is on the narrow strip of land between the lagoon and the sea. The view is magnificent. It is surreal watching the sun set over the lagoon and the Caribbean behind you painted pink with it's refection.

Full, content, and rosy from an amazing day, we headed back to town. I am now deeply in awe and in love with this place. I hope to be volunteering with Cesiak soon and helping the Pirata with turtle conservation and the native plant nursery.

1 comment:

Kate Larsen said...

What an AMAZING experience! ..and the croc..just exactly where did you see his smiling face?