I was looking forward to today as we were planning to visit Celestun which is famous for its pink flamingoes. We had another sumptuous breakfast in the hostel and then sat in the reception to await our trip. Time dragged on but a smiling member of staff said not to worry they're always late and proceed to sit and tell us about Celestun... and how someone was sick on the trip. I felt my stomach lurch instinctively because I'd been picturing a nice calm lake, not something I might be seasick on. I raced to the pharmacy to get travel sickness pills just in case thinking that my south African experience may have scarred me for life!!! I arrived back in time to catch the mini bus and we clambered in. After a while I realised the guide was only speaking spanish and seemed to be giving no hint of slowing down and repeating himeself in English. I translated as best I could for my boyfriend at which point the guide seemed to realise we spoke English and repeated himself, making no effort to hide his displeasure at having to do so. We set off and I soon noticed the vast
difference between how he treated the Mexican tourists and us foreign interlopers. He seemed to have no patience with having us on board and kept his English explanations to a bare minimum which meant I was still struggling to get the gist of the spanish lectures for extra information. We stopped at an Hacienda famous for making uh, something, from, some kind of plant. Apparently all the Mexican tourists were keen to see whatever it was we were seeing so we went along with it, hoping there wasn't going to be an extra charge for it. The workers turned out to be making rope for hammocks from the plant fibres and we saw them operating the machinery, which was relatively interetsing.
We finally made it to Celestun and I was delighted to see a beautiful, calm, still lake... but I took the seasickness tablets anyway just in case (told you - scarred!) We sat on the deck in the sunshine while waiting for our boats to be made ready. The boat left and I sat back to relax, enjoying being on the water with a cool breeze and trees fringing the waters while birds flew overhead or dropped to the
water to catch fish.
Decreed a wildlife refuge in 1979 and a biosphere reserve 10 years later, the Celestún Biosphere Reserve is the cradle of ecotourism and in 1983 it inspired Hector Ceballos-Lascurain to coin the word 'ecotourism'. The reserve is a wintering zone for migratory birds and more than 400 species have been identified in the biosphere reserve, many of which are permanent residents. The American Flamingo is Celestun's signature bird and the main tourist attraction for the area.
My first sighting of the flamingoes was a tiny waving strip of pink along the horizon. As we drew closer it became apparent there were hundreds of birds in the water. The boats keep about 80 metres away with the motors on and 50 metres away while pooling so as not to distress the birds or disturb their feeding. It was more than close enough to view the birds, although not for the first time I found myself wishing for a camera better suited to wildlife photography. Still, just being that close to the birds was amazing.
The American Flamingo is the biggest and most brilliantly coloured of the six species worldwide. Their colour is acquired from their diet. The
small crustaceans and algae that the flamingoes eat contain carotinoid and other natural pigments that are processed in the body and deposited in the growing feathers, and without this the feathers would merely be white. The American Flamingo bears plumage of deep scarlet on the head, neck, breast and wings with lighter shades of scarlet and pink on the back and under the tail. The Primary and Secondary feathers are jet black and make a striking contrast to the vivid colors of the rest of the bird.
American flamingos are waders and good swimmers. They congregate in large flocks. Its method of feeding involves the food being taken in along with water and then the water being expelled through a comb-like structure (lamallae) leaving the food behind. Their unique bill distinguishes the American flamingo from many other birds. This bent bill is an adaptation for feeding, and designed so that the bent portion is parallel with the bottom of the pond, lake or flats in which they are feeding. American flamingos reach sexual maturity several years after birth. They begin to breed at about 6 years of age. Breeding can occur in any season, and a flamingo may breed twice
in a year. Young flamingos leave the nest after five days and form groups, but will return to the nest to feed on fluid produced in the digestive system of the parents. The adult dribbles this fluid from its mouth into the youngster's bill. After about two weeks, the young start to find their own food. Flamingos live fifteen to twenty years in the wild.
We spent a fair amount of time drifting around the large flock of birds. I was dissapointed we couldn't stay longer. I would have been happy to stay observing the birds and taking pictures for far longer but the tour leader seemed keen to move on. I was glad to see the birds flying before we left. A group of birds suddenly took off, appearing to run along the surface of the water before taking off, stretching their wings to their full 150cm wingspan.
The boat turned us and we quickly left the flock. I spied a few flamingoes flying overhead and a small group of white pelicans over on a beach. Suddenly the boat picked up speed, turning suddenly into the waterways between the roots of the mangrove trees. We sped along the twisting
trails through the mangrove swamps, the long roots of the trees growing directly in the water, then abruptly came to a halt and proceeded slowly. We saw a large termite nest the fork of a branch and kept our eyes peeled for crocdiles as one grop before us had apparently seen one. We moved on. The trees formed wicker tunnels for the boat to travel. The sun shone dimly through the tangled branches and light snakes formed on the crests of the ripples our passing made.
Eventually we stopped at a dock, where boardwalks have been erected through the swamp and around a fresh water pool where people can swim. We didn't have enough time for swimming, and by all accounts the water was COLD, but we enjoyed walking around. The water is incredibly blue and clear and we could se hundreds of fish swimming around. We walked a circuit through the trees and then returned to our boat. We were soon on our way back to shore, enjoying the last views of the peaceful lake and th pink smudge cross the horizon which stated the flamingoes were still enjoying their lazy feeding en mass.
We hopped back in our
car and drove into town where we were supposed to have lunch. We found ourselves in a rather average looking restaurant whoose only appeal was it backed out onto the beach, the tables at the back actually being on the sand. I was a little taken aback to find our food was a seafood cocktail and grilled fish.
'Uh, I'm vegetarian - I told the hostel when I booked the trip.'
'No problem, no problem. They can give you a vegetable dish, salad, tomato..ok?'
I thanked the guide and while the others tucked into seafood cocktails I was presented with a plate of salad. Then the fish was brought. I asked where my food was and the tour guide looked confused and said I'd already had it. I pointed out that I said I was vegetarian when I booked the trip, and lunch was supposed to be included, and to my mind, lettuce and tomato was not a main course! The response was 'yes, lunch is included. Lunch is fish, fresh local fish, prepared in any way you want, and if you want it I will fetch it for you. If you don't want it, I can't help you.'
and determining to write a really stinky review of the tour I grudgingly accepted a second helping of salad and then marched along the beach. The beach was quite pleasant. It was warm and I watched the fishing boats with interest. One boat obviously had a catch as birds were swooping around the fishermen's heads, and a group of brown pelicans bobbed on the waves beside the boat. Deciding the sight of the pelicans was enough to make up for my empty stomach I stood at the shore taking photos and listening to the screech of seabirds and the gentle sloshing of the waves against the side of the boat. We stopped briefly at a table and sunshade but the wind was blowing the shade around too much and when I noticed a skinny boy slip out of a nearby hotel and watch us warily I guessed that the table was reserved for guests and we were about to be moved on anyway. We found a warm patch of sand to sit on until ready for the return trip.
Back in Merida we asked about getting our bus tickets and found we could buy them across the plaza which saved
us a bit of a walk. We also bought a phone card and surprised family back home by calling from the streets of Merida. We sat in the plaza again, watching the street performers and artists. One group of enthusiastic drummers pounded a rythmn behind us which we sat and star watched until it grew chily and we returned to the hostel.
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