Published: January 25th 2012January 24th 2012
Not me by the way!
Just before leaving Tulum I visited the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, not far from where I am staying. The Reserve covers 1.5 million acres and is a protected UNESCO World Heritage site. I went with an organisation called Cesiak who do eco-tourism and environmental education, for the afternoon canal tour
. We went through the mangroves, floated down the canals looking at bird life and flora and fauna, and enjoyed a delicious dinner afterwards. My birdwatching days from Ecuador came back! I loved it.
It was highly educational, and sadly not all that I've learned is good news. Our guide, Hugo, is passionate about people and the environment learning to live together in a sustainable way, and he was scathing about the all-inclusive resorts in Cancun and Playa del Carmen and how they are impacting the environment. The barrier reef along the Riviera Maya is the second largest in the world, after Australia's Great Barrier Reef, and extends down to Honduras. Unfortunately however it is slowly being killed off. Hugo told us that already in Cancun and some of Playa del Carmen the beaches are now man-made and need to be refilled every 3-6 months, which is simply not
sustainable. Hugo estimates that there are only 10 years left of the beauty that is currently here, unless something changes.
It's sad how quickly the developments are taking over - Hugo told us that in 2008 the permanent population of Tulum was only 10,000 while now it is 40,000 and growing fast, plus there's talk of an international airport. If it goes ahead, it will be located between two biospheres. After talking to Hugo I felt quite good about my rustic little hut.
The real difficulty for this part of Mexico in making tourism sustainable, is that it is the biggest source of income for the region, and it has made Quintana Roo the richest part of Mexico. Corruption, greed and dirty politics are really not helping.
Anyhow, the tour itself was great, and very informative, as well as seeing a lot of what nature has on offer. I must admit to being concerned about floating down the canal when Hugo told us that both freshwater and saltwater crocodiles were among its residents. I've seen Crocodile Dundee! I've also seen the saltwater crocs at Butterfly Creek and I know that people are a rare treat which they
are quite partial to. I was only slightly mollified by Hugo's response which was that they had plenty of other food and they wouldn't be interested in us. I was more relieved to hear that it wasn't really their season to be here. However we did see one small one, although happily we were in the boat at the time.
It turns out my fears about snakes while on my nightly walks to restaurants are not entirely unfounded. After dinner as the van was taking us back to our hotels we had to stop and wait while a rather large boa constrictor crossed the road. I had an inappropriate desire to squish the snake under the van's wheels, but given we were still within the Biosphere Reserve and with Hugo's lecture about people and the environment coexisting in harmony still fresh in my mind I wisely kept quiet. However I was extra vigilant on my last night's walk to the restaurant. I'm pleased to say that no snakes crossed my path but I did come across a lost crab. It's a busy road, I hope he made it home.
On my final day I met some lovely Argentinians
selling jewellery on the beach. One of them has been travelling for five years. Just cruising, selling jewellery on the beach to get by. Not for the first time I thought that this wouldn't be a bad life and was briefly tempted to join them.
However all good things must come to an end, and I am now in the hotel in Cancun (the hub of all environmental evil) enjoying one final night in Mexico before my flight tomorrow to San Fransisco. It leaves at the ungodly hour of 6.00 am so I'd better get some sleep.
There are more photos below