Tuesday, March 3, 2015


Rick was still on his back shackled to the bed and tethered to the bathroom. Montezuma had claimed his revenge. It had been this way for most of the vacation. The saving grace to this was the hotel we selected. Rick's ideal vacation was being able to lay back in a warm place with a good book. That part of the dream came true, although I feel he would have been happier if it had been his decision, not Montezuma's. I did my best to dress the part of nursemaid but after seven days of that little outfit I tired of the role.
With Rick's permission and blessing I asked the front desk to make a reservation for me to Celestun.
At nine the next morning the tour minibus pulled up outside the Casa Italia and I boarded with seventeen other voyagers: an Australia mother and her young son on a ten month tour of the world, a ex-Ukrainian piano professor teaching at a Canadian University, and fourteen non-English speaking retired women on holiday from Mexico City. Ay Caramba! We had two tour guides: the bus driver whose charge was to wrangle the Mexican ladies and a young girl on her maiden voyage who was to guide us English speakers through the tour. She tried her best to parrot the info our driver was desperately trying to shout over the high decibel cackling of the ladies but her English was no match to his rapid-fire Spanish soliloquy. She got about every third or fourth word. For us it was like listening to a call on our iPhones when you're out of reach and all you hear is static. After the first half hour of travel the Aussies and I gave up but the Ukrainian professor persisted in questioning her as if she might have the answers to his all his technical inquiries.
The ride to Celestun from Merida is a little longer than I expected and there's not much to see. It was almost noon by the time we pulled into the parking lot at the entrance to the Celestun Biosphere Reserve. It's where the fresh water estuary meets the salty Gulf of Mexico.
The water of the estuary has a red tinge to it that obscures the bottom leaving a false impression of its depth. It's only when you see the flocks of flamingos standing like so many lawn ornaments that you begin to do the math. Calculating the approximate length of a flamingo's leg you realize the estuary is at most a couple feet deep.
Not nearly enough to drown in nor deep enough to hide an alligator. We were warned of their appearance but the flamingos didn't seem to be bothered. All the tour boats made an obligatory stop near the shore where an alligator appeared to be sleeping half submerged in the water. It looked more like a Disney trick of a plastic replica than the real thing.
The season for viewing the flamingos is from November to May. The flocks seem to grow exponentially over those months. Seeing them at the end of February meant we weren't seeing them at full force but still their numbers were pretty impressive. My only regret is that I didn't bring anything but my iPhone. So as not to disturb the flocks the boats can only come so close to them. I wish I had had a more powerful lens.
There is actually a lot more to see in the estuary and mangrove fields that just the flamingos. The assortment of birds that gather there is remarkable. There is a relatively unending supply of food swimming around below the water's surface for all these aviary fowls. The pelicans are especially adept at scooping down a mouthful of delicacies produced here.
The birds are not the only attraction in the Biosphere Reserve. Just prior to the end of the boat tour the driver took a dramatic full speed left into the mangrove field. I think his purpose was to give himself a little giggle as the rest of us held onto our hats and maybe peed a little at the abruptness of his boatmanship.
Once inside the grove the boats all slowed down to a crawl as they pulled up to a wooden dock. From here we all walked into the jungle of soupy water through the tangle of horror story invoking mangrove roots.
The wooden path led us to an open cenote. It was as if some unseen barrier stopped the murky water from continuing and in its stead was a pool of crystal clear water, water that had been filtered through layers of limestone rock  over centuries and left pristine and pure.
Several adventuresome soles doffed their cover-ups and jumped into the pool. It was a brief spasm of modesty that kept me from making the leap. It did make me regret that I didn't seek out more cenotes but from what I've heard the more well-known are also the most visited and I prefer a smaller crowd when I'm disrobing down to what looks more like underwear than swimwear.
Once back on the tour bus with the animated Senoras and my English-speaking friends we were off to the beaches and restaurants of Celestun. We were given two hours to dine and dip our toes into the Gulf before we headed back to Merida. With Rick and my eating history and only one day left before it was back on a plane to winter I decided to not chance my culinary luck. I opted out of lunch and instead prowled the beach.
There were plenty of trinket vendors selling everything from conch shells and starfish
to the obligatory plastic pink flamingos.
But the main attraction was the returning fisherman who docked their boats on shore and then worked on gutting their catches to the delight of tourists and the hovering crowd of gulls and pelicans.
It was a trip I don't regret making. I would have enjoyed it more if I had had a companion to sit along side me and joke about the Senoras and all the loot they carried back to Merida.
My Ukrainian buddy wasn't an ideal choice and the Aussies were reliving a memory that didn't need someone like me in it.
Still, the beauty of thousands of pink birds gathered in one place was pretty spectacular. Seeing them fly was another thing, their long necks, tiny bodies and drinking straw thin legs all balanced and shot like arrows through the Mexican sky.

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