Yucatan, Mexico – that bit of Mexico that sticks out into the Gulf of Mexico. Famous for its Caribbean climate, the Mayan ruins of Chichen-Itza, the soulless sands of Cancun, and the geological phenomena of Cenotes—beautiful freshwater-filled limestone sink holes, found in the impact zone of the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs. But little is heard about the mangrove swamps and the wild flamingos near Celestún, on the northern coast.
My friends and I were working on a few voluntary projects in Merida—Cancun’s artsy, classier cousin—when we decided to check them out. Having spent a few too many pesos on drinks the night before, we opted for a second class bus from the local terminal. After a 90-minute trip, we arrived in a sleepy square in the town of Celestún. A local tourist guide, or escaped lunatic (we weren’t sure which), wildly gestured at us to follow him. He wobbled away on an ancient red bike, with each of us following at a pace dictated by our consumption the night before. Eventually we made it to a beach. It was disappointing compared to the bleached white sands and Azul Sea of the Caribbean coast, but the best was yet to come.
The old man gestured towards a small boat, and we squeezed ourselves inside. Soon we were joined by a small girl, her mom and grandma, and the Captain—dressed in a stained white vest and battered Captain’s hat. The old man pushed us off the sandbank, and we were off—leaping over the waves like a pebble skimming a lake—except with a hard landing onto a plastic seat that even my extra padding was finding hard to cope with. The bright sunshine and wind in my hair put pain to my hangover. Pelicans soared above our heads, occasionally diving for fish, and we even caught the shadow of dolphins bouncing along under the waves.
After a few minutes, we turned into an enormous lagoon bordered by thick mangroves, continuing inshore at an ever-decreasing speed for a good half-hour until the birds were in sight. Hundreds of baby-pink flamingos milled about, squawking at a deafening volume and paying no attention whatsoever to the small speedboat right next to them. What I had expected to be graceful were, in fact, gawky—legs so long they weren’t sure how to cope; odd beady black eyes… let’s not start on what they look like when they fly! After an obligatory photo taking session we left them to it, heading back towards the coast.
The captain said something that none of us understood (this being the start of my trip, my Spanish was on par with my Klingon), and a few minutes later he made an unexpected left turn, pulling up at a floating jetty. He gestured for us to disembark. We walked to the entrance of a small network of wooden walkways. An info board revealed we had come to visit some hot springs! We found the nicest looking one, stripped down to our bathers and jumped into the creamy blue water. It wasn’t the most relaxing swim I’ve had. I had one eye on the trees, expecting something sinister to come out of the shadows, and one on the Mexican kids splashing water right in my face. It seemed this was a popular day out for the locals.
Back on the boat, we wove through a network of channels, spying termite nests high in the trees—but, disappointingly, no crocs in the water—before making a final stop at a creepy petrified forest. Clearly there were some serious geological happenings around here. Back at shore, we walked back to the square. Whilst the boys stocked up on snacks at the tienda, I experienced Central America’s worst toilet facilities in the small bus waiting room. After a short wait, we hopped onto a bus. As the sun set, the boys nodded off, and I spent my time thinking of all the different ways to silence the screaming 3-year-old in front of me.