Sunday 7/4/2005 - Flamingos in Celestun

We woke up at 6:30 am, and left the room at around 7. It was half an hour's walk to the bus station. This was our first weekday morning in Merida, and we saw a lot of people on their way to work. We paid 39 pesos apiece for a one way ticket on the 8 am bus to Celestun. We waited in the bus terminal, where "The Wild Thornberries" cartoon was playing on the TV. Nobody seemed to know what gate the bus would depart from. As 8 o'clock approached, we grew a little nervous, not wanting to accidentally miss our bus. We asked around and were told various gates. But it turned out that our bus was late and didn't even arrive until 8:15. We finally found the bus and hopped on. It was a second class bus with air conditioning and it was quite comfortable.

It took about half an hour just to get out of the city of Merida. We drove through the towns of Tetiz and Kinchil on our way to the coastal town of Celestun, which is famous for its flamingo preserve. We had heard that there are two places you can disembark for Celestun: the bridge and the town. Sightseeing boat trips depart from each. Julia had suggested getting the driver to stop at the bridge by yelling "baja". By the time we realized that we were in Celestun, we had already passed the bridge, so we continued into town with everyone else. A guy met the bus at the small station in town and led everyone on a short walk to the beach. The beach was quaint and lined with thatched-roof restaurants. It was very casual and not too built up. We paid 5 pesos to be able to use the bathroom at one of the restaurants.

The guy who had collected us at the bus station was gathering up people for a boat tour. It would cost 150 pesos each if he filled the boat with 8 people, or 200 pesos apiece if he only got 6 people. There were 8 people ready to go, so we paid the 150 pesos. Then the guy showed us a map of the route that the boat would take. He said that the fact that we were in the rainy season meant that there would be fewer flamingos. The river is high and they need shallower water. This was a little disappointing, as I had had a picture in my head of huge flocks of flamingos. Everything we had read had said that we were in prime flamingo season. There were quite a few small boats tied up on the shore. We boarded one and met its driver, Jose. It turned out that there wouldn't be an English speaking guide accompanying us. This was surprising, as the man who took our money said he was putting us all together because we all spoke English.

Our boat took off just before 11 o'clock. It was a gorgeous, hot, sunny day, and there was a nice breeze. We passed a flock of cormorants and pelicans. Then we turned a corner into a little inlet and saw a flock of flamingos in the distance. Jose kept a respectful distance, but we were still able to observe them quite well. Some were a pinkish-orange color, while others were more pale. They were standing in the water, squawking, and flapping their wings. There was a second flock a little ways away. We tried to get closer to them, but the water was too shallow and Jose ended up having to push the boat backwards into deeper water with a pole.

Next we continued to an area of petrified forest where there were tree trunks sticking up out of (and reflected in) the water. It was a surreal place. We got off the boat to have a closer look at the scenery and to take some pictures. Jose looked in the underbrush and pointed out some small crabs which were waving their claws. We then got back into the boat and drove through some serious mangroves. The vegetation was so thick that the light couldn't even penetrate it. It looked as though the boat wouldn't be able to make it through the dense mangroves in places. Next we docked at a small boardwalk. We immediately saw a couple of mosquitoes. This was the first time they had bothered us on the boat ride. Michael and Kay, the couple we had met at Luz who gave us lots of tips about Celestun, had recommended bug repellant, so we took this opportunity to douse ourselves in deet. If we had realized how short the boardwalk was, we wouldn't even have bothered. There was a short loop, and it only took about a minute to walk the entire thing. There was a fresh water spring bubbling up from beneath the surface of the water. We saw a pike-like fish swimming in the water in this area. After a short survey of the area, we got back onto the boat. This ended up being our last stop, and Jose turned the boat around. We hadn't even gotten to the main lagoon, where the largest flock of flamingos was supposed to be (according to the map they showed us at back on the beach). We soon passed under the bridge on our ride back. We realized now that the bridge was a lot closer to the main flamingo lagoon. If we had gotten off of the bus and hired a boat at the bridge, it would have been much closer to the main flamingo lagoon and maybe we would have been able to see them, if they were indeed there.

We got back to the beach at around 1:00, not having seen any additional flamingos. It was an anticlimax. If those two flocks were the only flamingos we would see, it seems they should have shown them to us more toward the end of the boat ride rather than at the very beginning. It had been a pleasant enough boat ride in gorgeous weather, and there's no way you can complain about a two hour boat ride for $15 US. However I had hoped to learn more about the flamingos and the area during the boat ride. As we didn't have a guide, this wasn't the case.

After disembarking from the boat, we walked down the beach to get a photo of a lighthouse and a leaning stone structure. Then we headed back up the beach and bought some flamingo refrigerator magnets from a woman selling trinkets and jewelry. Then we decided to eat at the thatched-roof Restaurant Celestun. We sat at a table in the sand and ordered drinks. Craig got a Modelo Especial beer and I got a Fanta. This restaurant exclusively served seafood, and with its location right on the beach, this seemed perfect. Craig got camarones al mojo de ajo (garlic shrimp) and I got croquetas de jaiba (blue crab cakes). Both were served with rice, tortillas, and a salad. The food was delicious and fresh. It was nice to eat on the beach, but there was the downside of having to look at other patrons who were wearing Speedos.

After lunch we walked around the town. Celestun is very small and sleepy, but with a surprising number of restaurants and hotels near the water. We went to the bus station to check the schedule. We bought tickets for the 3 pm bus to Merida and then wandered around the town in search of ice cream. We bought Nestle ice creams at a little bodega. Craig got a neopolitan sundae and I got something that was half ice cream sandwich and half Eskimo pie. We sat on a bench in the main square to eat the ice cream, and then boarded the bus when the time came. On the ride back, a man with a rifle boarded the bus. This made the man we saw hitchhiking with an axe in Chile earlier this year seem tame. At one point Craig wanted to lean his seat back. He asked me if there was a child or a normal-sized person sitting directly behind him. I looked and then said, "A normal-sized person. With a firearm." Craig left his seat as it was. We both slept on the ride back to Merida. This was nothing out of the ordinary for me, but it surprised Craig that he was able to sleep. We hit some heavy rain on the drive.

We arrived at the Merida bus terminal at around 5:15. On our walk back to Luz we passed by two of the "arcos", or arches, which surround the city. There are only three left in existence, out of an original thirteen. We had passed by the third on our bus ride. These two are about two blocks apart from one another. Traffic drives through them, each arch over an opposing one-way street. We also saw the tiles bearing names of animals and fruit which are used as street signs. These derived from the animal sculptures that used to be used as landmarks in the city. It was raining a little bit as we walked.

We arrived at Luz at around 6 o'clock. We looked for Madeline to settle up our bill, but she wasn't around. The woman who was on duty gave us our bill. We paid it and also ordered a taxi for 8:30 the next morning. We went to the room, showered, and washed the two mangos that Julia had given us last night with produce cleaner. We ate them and found them to be delicious and succulent. No wonder why Lorna Gail has a mango addiction! We headed out at around 7:30. We strayed from our usual route, looking for some place new to eat dinner. We were intrigued by the Restaurante Bar Amaro Vegetarian & Internacional. This was a busy restaurant which was set back from the street in a nice courtyard. It was rather dark (lit by candles) and a guy was playing an acoustic guitar and singing. It was a very relaxed atmosphere, and we got a table for two. Craig got the Yucatecan chicken breast marinated with achiote. It was served with fried beans, red onions, and rice. I had the chicken enchiladas with mole sauce. Craig ordered a chelada, which was a Sol beer served with lemon mixer and salt. It tasted rather like a margarita. I ordered a mojito (a drink that I had only heard of a week before on "Family Guy") just for the fun of it, but they were out. So I got sangria instead. The service was a little slow, but in all fairness the place was packed. Waiters kept bringing out more tables and every server was always busy. We weren't in a rush, though, and the slow pace befitted our final night of vacation. Craig got a Dos Equis beer. For dessert, Craig got queso napolitano, which was basically a flan. I got crepes with cajeta. Cajeta is a Mexican caramel which reminded me very much of manjar, which we had eaten in Chile. It was delicious.

After eating we wandered around the zocalo and took some night photographs. We sat in a funky white cement conversation bench and set up the camera on the timer to take a picture of the two of us. We got back to the room at 10:30. We packed and I wrote in the journal. Meanwhile, Craig had some Sol beer from the fridge. He was intrigued by the cartoon on the beer can, which depicted a woman and two men cavorting in a hot tub. That kind of alcohol advertising to minors would never fly in the United States. Craig became obsessed with getting a perfect photograph of the can. After I finished writing in the journal and Craig finished with his photo shoot, we sat on some chairs on the roof deck and looked through our digital photos. At 12:30, we went to bed.
Flamingos at Celestun

Petrified Forest, Celestun

Restaurant Celestun

Bougainvillea and church, Celestun

Merida arch

Guitar player at Restaurante Bar Amaro

Dinner at Restaurante Bar Amaro

Craig and Steph on the conversation bench at the zocalo

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