by Lydia Linton Pontius
Sian Ka'an is a truly special placeónature at its finest. I have traveled to the biosphere on several occasions, from the highway and from the road south of Tulum Beach. From every angle it is splendid. There are so few places left that are as pristine and peaceful. One day I look forward to approaching it from the south, from Mahahual.
The last time I visited was Christmas Eve. We chose a sunset trip with a Maya community tour outfit and it lived up to all of our expectations. We drove to the lagoon and boarded two panga boats which took our group across the lake, through the man-made canal across the second lake, and to the natural canal. I have done this several times but never cease to be amazed at how they can find the tiny canal in this vast space of water, mangroves and marsh. I asked our guide and he said he is the third generation in his family to fish and travel this vast area and he could find it in the pitch dark. On our way home as the sun was setting fast I was reassured by this fact.
The second thing that amazes me is how a canal dug out in ancient times is still navigable. That mystery will be left unsolved and will continue to impress me.
Once we got to the ruin along the canal that was once an important stopping point for traders, we climbed out of the boats and proceeded to jump in the canal and float down it. I love this every time I do itómangroves and marsh all around, crystal-clear water and a gentle current. But what I think I like the best is watching people experience this for their very first time. No matter how young or how old you are, this magical water ride makes a child out of everyone. Some start off seriously but by the time they round the first curve, they are giddy.
December was a little cooler than what I have experienced in the past, and we were glad to have warm towels and cover-ups when we got out. Once we were all settled, we continued farther into the biosphere toward the open ocean, following narrow, winding canals which opened up into vast wetlands. We finally ended up at Bird Island.
I have visited another bird island in Chetumal Bay which was very similar to this oneóa small island amid large, open water and wetlands, a safe haven for migrating and indigenous birds. What was wonderful about this island was the time of day. As the sun lowered in the sky, casting shades of yellow, orange and red, the birds returned to roost and stake out their spots for the night. Seeing all the pelicans, frigatebirds, herons, egrets, and even spoonbills painted by the setting sun was spectacular.
I think we would have all been happy if somehow we could have managed to raft up and stay with the birds all night but, with the sun setting fast, we knew we had a long boat ride back to where we began. The only thing that would have made this even more perfect is if we could have begun the tour at the lagoon and ended it at the sea and had transportation waiting at both spots.
But then we would have missed what we called "Christmas Tree Island" on the way back. As we returned, we passed a small island decorated with oodles of roosting white egrets, their snowy shapes glowing in the gathering dusk like lights on a Christmas tree. How timely!
Following the tour we were taken to the new palapa across the highway from the entrance to the lagoon where we enjoyed wine, cheese and bread. It was a perfect ending to a dazzling day.