2009 Mexican Eco-Blogging Green Adventure Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve
Posted Apr 04 2009 12:17am
It all started with butterflies. When our tour van pulled up to the beach in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve there were thousands of migratory butterflies flying near the Muyil lake. My daughter and I walked into the flying butterflies and stood dumbfounded for minutes while they flew around us. They were drinking ground water in a mass and you can see them above next to me in the photo on the ground. Less than one foot from where I was crouching was a deep area of quick sand the guide warned me about.
In 1986 Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve was established as a part of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Program and became a World Heritage Site for the United Nations. Visiting the 1.3 million acres of Sian Ka’an, the largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean, was an absolutely amazing experience.
There are over 100 known mammal species, 336 known bird species, and is the nesting site for two endangered sea turtle species. It has an amazing annual rainfall of over 44 inches and comprises almost one third of the Riviera Maya coast. "Sian Ka’an" is translated from Mayan as "where the sky is born" or "gift from the sky". The reserve is thought to have been inhabited in the pre-Classic and Classic periods as part of the chieftanships of Cohuah and Uaymil.
Our Mayan guide, Antonio, took us on a wonderful adventure through the reserve. Here you see him standing on a limestone outcropping in the jungle. He was a wonderful source of information and knew much about all of the plants we passed by, particularly their healing properties. Less than 20 years ago, the Mayan community who lived here only spoke Mayan. Now, because of the influx of tourists and the need to protect the biosphere, the Mayan’s have adapted. Antonio learned the additional languages required to be a guide in the last five years and now speaks English, Spanish, and Mayan fluently. In fact, the Mayan people are very resourceful and learn quickly. I found Antonio to be quite an inspiration. He says the knowledge he has about the jungle plants and area were passed down to him from his father and is extensive.
First our tour began with the Muyil archeological site. There are 23 known archeological sites with relics dating up to 2,300 years old on the property. To the left you see my eight year old daughter standing in front of the tallest of these ruins.
We had an incredible journey through the deep jungle. A jungle is cool and dark, but also deadly. All the plants and animals have special defense mechanisms they use to protect themselves from predators. Here you see a tree which defends itself with large spikes. This tree holds a large amount of water on its interior and must protect itself from thirsty animals.
Both my daughter and I were fascinated by the diversity of flora in the jungle – it was so thick once you stepped past the path, you would have to have a machete to cut your way through.
Sian Ka’an Bioreserve also has a lake system which was formed from cenotes. Although quite large, the lakes, Muyil and Chunyaxche, are linked to the ocean by ancient canals that were hand dredged and used as trade routes over 800 years ago by Mayan mariners. Antonio let us know we were going to cross these lakes with a motor boat, then swim on the canals. What an adventure.
As the boat pulled away from the wharf, I was shocked at how large the cenote lakes were. Up to 20 meters in the deepest part of the lakes, most areas were one meter or less – very shallow. Both lakes were quite large as you can see in the below photo of our boat trek.
Amazing canals stretch for miles and miles through the system of mangroves and wetlands. On one side of the canal system is mangroves, and on the other side of the canal system is wetland savannah which is quite beautiful. Mangroves are particularly important for the Yucatan Peninsula ecosystem as it protects the area from eroding during hurricanes and also serves as a nursery for many ocean fish and wildlife.
Floating down these canals was more amazing than I can possibly describe. If you were quiet while you floated, you could listen to the grasses on the savannah rustling and hear the birds in the mangroves hopping from branch to branch. There were hundreds of bromeliads and other flora growing all over the mangroves. While you could see small fish in the water, there were no signs of crocodiles or other predators as we floated. It was relaxing and wonderful and the experience of a lifetime. Below I made a short video of our float down the canal.
When it was time to climb out, both my daughter and I took our time as we so completely and totally enjoyed the experience. Here you see her holding a mangrove tree root during our floating journey.
It was soon time to journey back across the lakes and our guide zipped through the curvy canals quickly. One of the more exciting motor boat rides I have had as we flew through the canals to get to our destination on the other side of the lakes. Our guide ended the journey when we returned to the mainland with a traditional Mayan lunch. We had meat cooked in banana leaves. Delicious!
Although we just touched the surface of the gorgeous un-touched vistas of Sian Ka’an, I felt our experience at the Bioreserve was one of the more natural connections I have ever felt with nature. We were able to feel a mangrove jungle in a way I never expected – swimming through it – and it was truly beautiful.
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