Should we venture up to the Yucatan Peninsula? we debated. It was distant and remote. Our days left in Mexico were numbered and already we were very close to the Guatemala border. Because we don't usually decide our next destination until a few days (or less) prior, we left this decision up in the air for a while. We enjoyed several days of relaxation at Palenque and then we knew we needed to make a move. Fortunately the Yucatan is very flat, so we knew we could maximize our travel time by doing most of it in one stretch- unlike some of the insane switch-back mountain roads we took thru the Huasteca. By nightfall, we had reached the Gulf. And if we were still in doubt, this sunset changed our minds! How we love the ocean, the sand, the seashells, and the sunset!
One experience we were really looking forward to was swimming in a cenote. A cenote is a limestone sinkhole that is filled with crystal clear freshwater. There are literally thousands of them in the Yucatan. The Mayans used them to perform sacred rites and rituals and believed that they were the gateway to the underworld. Some are open on top, but many are partially or completely covered by earth. We descended down down down into our first cenote- completely unveiled beneath the earth's surface except for a small hole, filling the cavern with light.
Into the depths of this dark, ancient cave to swim in these mythical azure pools, crystal clear and cool to the touch. Above us, several cave swallows were circling the bright opening and, although we were completely alone in this hidden, underground oasis, the woooshing sound of the birds in flight echoed hauntingly on the cave walls. There were large stalactites and other oozing, bubbling formations of limestone like a melting sand castle. Slippery black catfish wiggled to the surface to greet us. This was a very mysterious place. The depth of the water was ominously deep, and I wondered what enigmatic rites had taken place in this very pool. I felt like a mermaid swimming through the pristine turquoise waters, and though it was a refreshing respite from the humid sweat of the afternoon, the sound of every splash bounced off the cave walls and I couldn't help but feel I was disturbing something.
One of the many rewards of being in the Yucatan is being graced with diverse wildlife and abundant natural beauty all around. We were in awe of all the different animals we saw. Rio Lagartos is the main area to view flamingos but we were lucky enough to see them near Celestun as well, where we were camped on the edge of a nature preserve. Raptors are a family favorite of ours and quite plentiful throughout the peninsula, where both the common black hawk and the common gray hawk can be seen perched high in the trees overlooking open fields. The Mexican osprey species has slightly different markings than the ones we were used to seeing in the States, but these are just as striking and always entertaining to watch them fish. We also identified vast array of water birds, like herons, egrets, terns, pelicans, and many types of gulls. We are still in question as to what these funny black birds with the brilliant blue wings are, but we do know that they have a lot of personality. Hopefully we will be able to find a new birding field guide to help us identify new species in Central America. Iguanas of course can be seen everywhere- these are Joey's favorite!
Re-fueling! Hot days on the beach definitely call for a refreshing, fruity snack! On days like this, I am very grateful for our solar setup and low-wattage blender so we can take advantage of the delicious selection of fresh tropical fruits available. We have been enjoying smoothie bowls with all the fresh pineapple, mango, guava, passion fruit, bananas, and strawberries we can eat. Topped with homemade granola, almonds, pecans, raisins, and pumpkin seeds, a sprinkle of chia, and little dust of bee pollen- makes this a power-packed snack for long days in the sun. We have been making good use of our machete to crack open the coconuts that we see just about everywhere!
The beaches were quite idyllic and we were all obsessed with this delightfully cool color scheme of the bluest sapphire sea illuminated with the brightest white sand. We traveled on a heavily pot-holed dirt road to the remote end of Punta Allen, where we had delicious seafood and a tranquil night on the beach, and then we returned to Tulum to see the ruins.
Tulum was gorgeous. Undoubtedly one of the prettiest locations of any archaelogical site. It may have been crowded with tourists but we didn't mind. I actually really like the small eco-resorts that surround Tulum and Palenque in that even luxury accomodations are a lot more rustic and in balance with nature, compared to Cancun that sort of feels like Las Vegas. I would return to Tulum in a heartbeat just to see the pristine ocean views from atop the highest fort.
Our last stop in our beloved Mexico was Bacalar, a scenic sweetwater lagoon with endless views of where heavenly clouds and crystalline lake meet at the horizon. We stayed at the shallow end of the lagoon where Joey spent all day splashing in the lovely clear water. Our last days were a bit nostalgic as we reflected on our time in this amazing country. New friends, special places, full bellies, and memories we will recall fondly. Thank you all for following us through our adventure south of the border. Next stop, Belize!