Walking in the Footsteps
of Michel Peissel

by Mari Pintkowski

When I wrote and published the travel memoir "Embarking on the Mariposa Trail," I did not envision that I would be inspiring other adventurers and dreamers and one day have the opportunity to meet two such people: Richard Bailey and his daughter, Wendy Morrill, from Bangor, Maine. Wendy found our B&B's Web site, and ordered a copy of my book which was published in 2005. Similarities between the two of us began to unfold.

Wendy soon discovered that we both were enamored with the book "Lost World of Quintana Roo" by Michel Peissel and the amazing wonders of nature that are scattered about the Yucatán Peninsula and the state of Quintana Roo which borders the Caribbean Sea.

In 1958 a young graduate student, Michel Peissel, on his way to attend Harvard graduate school of business in the fall, embarked on an adventure that inspired both Wendy and me. Soon discarding his navy blazer and loafers for more practical tropical clothing and sandals, he set out on foot to explore the savage and mostly uninhabited Caribbean shore of the Yucatán, well before it became a tourist destination. He was led along the coast by local Maya from one coconut plantation to the next, while seeking out and describing for the first time many Maya ruins in his path. He ended his journey in what is now Belize.

The same year I published the book "Embarking on the Mariposa Trail" and was in the midst of making plans to open our B&B near Tulúm, Wendy and her family were preparing to visit the Riviera Maya. This vacation at Iberostar Lindo near Puerto Morelos would launch her dream of following in the footsteps of Michel Peissel along the Caribbean coast that the young explorer had walked over 50 years earlier. In 2005 we each had a dream that was beginning to unfold at exactly the same time.

Wendy and Richard and their family were not the usual "destination resort" tourists who just soak up sun and sip cool drinks in the shade of a convenient palm tree. Richard is close to retirement and Wendy is presently a lab manager for the Maine Institute for Human Genetics and Health in Bangor. She and her dad have hiked, kayaked, biked, skied and played volleyball together since she was a child. Richard is a member of the Senior Olympics Basketball team and holds some pretty impressive records. Wendy joined the U.S. Navy before attending college, and for seven years dove with a team stationed in the Chesapeake Bay, so "playing" by the water was already in her blood.

 Unlike Michel Peissel, who struggled to find transportation from Cozumel to Belize where he was to rendezvous with friends from the university, Wendy and her family had their feet planted in the sand at a destination resort north of Cozumel, when the idea of a "long" beach walk was suggested by Richard. Wendy and several family members had taken a stroll south along the beach the day before and discovered the ruins of a hotel that was destroyed by Hurricane Emily, where only the marine iguanas remained to enjoy the tropical sunshine. This scene was like an adventure dream to Wendy; she half expected to find a treasure chest of doubloons hidden behind an encroaching vine. The next day her father suggested a full day hike along the coast and Wendy jumped at the opportunity.

At the start of their "test hike," they hired a taxi to take them 20 km south on Highway 307, the road that stretches from Cancún to the southern border of Mexico, and drop them off. Since there was no "beach access" in this area of the Riviera Maya, they had to get permission from the owner of Los Piños to cross his property to the beach where 20 meters from the high tide line is deemed public in México. They had no topographical maps on this trek, and only the word of hotel staff that the beach was safe to walk with no major obstacles along the path. They set out along the miles of white sand bordering the multi-hued Caribbean to return north to the hotel. It did not take long to discover that the employees at the hotel did not know what lay ahead for the two sturdy hikers. They would soon come face to face with three rivers that would one day become part of an eco-park called Tres Rios.

"When we came upon the first river, there was no problem; it was shallow enough to walk across. But the second river was another thing altogether. It was deep and appeared to have a very strong current, and we did not know for sure if there were crocodiles swimming out of sight. I spotted a boat and hung onto the side until a young boy came running out and started yelling. I did not speak Spanish at the time and was not able to understand a word he was saying. We communicated by hand signals until I was able to cross successfully, but Dad lost one of his flip-flops in the crossing! Lucky for him, it appeared on the other side of the river floating beside the mangroves. When we turned around to say adios and muchas gracias, he had vanished as suddenly as he appeared. The third river offered another high adrenaline challenge that got my heart pumping. We managed to cross the river using a large log and rope."

Once back with the rest of the family at the resort, the excitement of the day ignited a fire in Wendy's heart to return to this country she had grown to love in such a short time.

"Mexico had everything I always dreamed about: tropics, beach, culture, great food, music, friendly and beautiful people, adventure, jungle, language, freedom, color, ruins, history and abundant nature."

The lure of the Caribbean coast and small rural Mexican pueblos were becoming part of a dream that she would not soon let go of. Many times during the long, cold winter in Maine, Wendy tried to figure out a plan to return to the Riviera Maya. The comfort and familiarity of the Iberostar resort did draw the family back the following May. "That year, my parents and I took a jeep tour deep into the Yucatán jungle and explored a cenote and a Maya ranch. Later that night, I discussed the possibility with my dad about walking the entire coastline from Puerto Morelos to San Pedro, Belize." Each year when Wendy and her dad return from México, she shares her adventures with school children in her home state of Maine, just as I share my Mexican experiences with the children at the schools in my home town of Vail, Colorado. Both Wendy and I believe that by telling stories and sharing images of our real life adventures we are inspiring children who are creating dreams of their own.

Following a dream begins with a vision in your mind, but if you want your dream to become a reality you must work to make this happen. For Wendy and her dad, this meant spending many hours pouring over topographical maps and researching on the Internet the path they would follow in the upcoming year.

Wendy and Richard, now in the last year of their "walk-about" along the Mexican Caribbean coast, will cross the border of México into Belize on May 25, 2010. For them a new dream is emerging as they add "purpose" to their passion for adventure. They would like to donate the last 50 miles to cancer research. Wendy's Web site, www.foundworldofquintanaroo.blogspot.com, tells how you can be part of their mission to donate money to the Maine Institute for Human Genetics and Health. The Web site also includes regular updates and a slide show.

Follow the blog to see how the last piece of the puzzle is put in place, or read Part 2 of their story in next month's Sac-Be.com newsletter.

Mari Pintkowski and her husband, Lou, own and operate an elegant jungle B&B near Tulúm, www.laselvamariposa.com. To read more of Mari's stories about the Riviera Maya, go to www.sac-be.com or purchase her travel memoir, "Embarking on the Mariposa Trail."