Lessons in Nature Along the Mariposa Trail

By Mari Pintkowski

My husband, Lou, and I have had a lifetime of learning from nature during the four years we have lived in the village of Macario Gomez in the Yucatan. We moved to our jungle hidaway, La Selva Mariposa, from Vail, Colorado, in June 2005 to resettle near Tulum on the fashionable Mayan Riviera. When I wrote a book about our early adventures, Embarking on the Mariposa Trail, I described our early impressions:

“Our house was surrounded by natural wonders and our daily discoveries were rich and interesting. Among the tall trees that surround our house, we discovered that we had a few of the poisonous chechen that we had been warned to stay away from, especially in the rain. The wood is very toxic and the sap causes burning to the skin. The amazing thing about nature is that when there is a chechen tree in the jungle there is also a chacah tree near by. This is an easily identified tree with red shiny trunk that acts an antidote to the other…..”

Today, I look down at my feet and notice that I am stepping on hundreds of little berries that have fallen from this towering tree. I wonder what happens if birds eat the berries? I do know that my three Mexican dogs have no interest in these, but delight in the zapote fruit that is also lying on the ground. They bring these honey-sweet treasures to their beds and savor each bite, leaving the seeds for me to clean up.

Julio, our Mayan helper, told me this morning that immature oranges and avocados are falling from his trees and rotting on the ground because of the lack of water. We have had several very hot, dry months and are all waiting for the rainy season to bring a quenching shower to perk up the wilting foliage. Beginning in April and May we start to see an increase in the amount and type of mariposas (butterflies) spotted along the road and in our yard. Their presence signals the approach of the rainy season, and their migratory process continues over the summer. I wrote with delight in my book: “These fascinating creatures are so prolific along the coast because of the abundance of anona, a local fruit tree, which is the host plant of the Protesilaus. The interesting thing is that they seem to be in no hurry to reach their southern destination before the rainy season is over. Many detour inland to play among the up-drafts of wind. No one knows where they are going as no one has been able to follow their migratory process…They thrive on that hot humid weather that is not always comfortable for we humans.”

We have learned the names of many of the jungle trees that share this rich canopy, and realize as we once suspected, some names are Mayan and some are of Spanish origin. Our collection of (Epifitario) air plants and orchids has grown and they are firmly attached to the trees we originally bound them to with wire or twine. Delicate flowers in rainbow hues reach out and beckon us to come closer and admire their beauty. Have these exquisite wonders of nature been here for years? And were we just too caught up in building projects to notice until we finally “stopped to smell the flowers,” or perhaps this abundance of fruits and flowers is another factor of this year’s dry winter season.

There are still so many unanswered questions. We rely on our Mayan gardener, Jose, to tell us when it is time to prune, transplant, and fertilize our over three hundred species of plants and palms we have given a home to. We have brought in tons of dirt, “black gold,” that we purchase by the bag. It is delivered in recycled burlap grain bags and is dug by hand in some secret location by our gardener and his family.

My husband, Lou, who has become quite the agriculturalist, installed many meters of PVC irrigation pipes with shut-off valves, and water is supplied to our plants from one of our two wells. The drilling through solid limestone rock was no easy feat, but once water was reached at fifty-six feet, we have been blessed with plenty of fresh water from the underground river that flows under the Yucatan Peninsula to the sea.

In the beginning, we planted mostly ornamental plants, flowers, palms, and a few fruit trees and hung a strings of shells and glass beads from some of their branches to attract light and create a whimsical feeling as one wanders along the paths. We have delighted in increasing the plant diversity over the past four years. There is never a shortage of oxygen here at La Selva Mariposa, thanks to all the trees that tower above the palapa roofs on down to the vines that trail along the ground and wind around and up anything in their path.

The original two banana trees we planted have given birth to over twenty babies that are producing a hardy crop of tasty fruit to enjoy fresh with breakfast. The aroma of fresh baked banana muffins, cookies, and bread is becoming a familiar scent radiating from our kitchen.

When we purchased the adjoining piece of property, we discovered over three dozen healthy pineapple plants hidden in the brush. We enjoyed our first crop last summer, and we are eagerly waiting for the day when we can once again take our guests out for a walk to cut their own pineapple for breakfast, or to use it to make a liquado mixed with a few sprigs of chaya (Mexican spinach).

Some time ago, we discovered that an animal was eating our baby pineapples, so we asked for a few suggestions from our workers. One suggested we set a trap and catch the fox, and the other mentioned making a scare crow out of odds and ends. We made three scare crows and placed them near our biggest pineapple patches. We painted faces on old saw blades, made the body out of unwanted PVC pipe, and dressed our guards in colorful shirts and straw hats. This did the trick and has kept the foxes or birds away and brings a smile to your face when you are unexpectedly greeted by one of these friendly looking fellows in the midst of a jungle.

I recently heard someone say that if we humans are to survive we have to grow crops. With this in mind, we built the roof on one of our casitas and the car port flat and very strong. Next we added a simple watering system, ordered Heritage Seeds, and began to plant our kitchen gardens. We are now experimenting with which crops grow best in which location, and even our gardener was impressed with our first harvest of sweet corn. We do know that our plants have plenty of rich soil, water, and a bit too much sunshine. Perhaps one day, we will have plenty of our own organic fruits and vegetables to enjoy and serve to our guests. Just for the record, we are not planning on getting chickens and roosters to produce our own egg supply!

Each Saturday, a rancher from Tizimin visits and we buy his fresh yogurt, cheese, butter and sometimes even freshly baked bread. A new neighbor from New York has a vision that one day Macario Gomez will have a Saturday Farmer’s Market. We await the development of this exciting idea, and welcome this kind of growth in our little community.

One of the survival techniques we have incorporated to deal with the intense heat, as well as neighborhood noises is to create waterfalls and pools in strategic locations around the property. Our dogs can’t resist dipping in to cool off, nor can our guests. Other animals visit the ponds in the wee morning hours or late at night and contribute to the ecosystem that we are helping to preserve and enhance. We are looking for better ways to balance the need for energy vs. protection of the environment by finding cleaner sources to power the amenities that will attract guests who want and expect comfort while vacationing in the jungle.

Guests at La Selva Mariposa, our boutique bed and breakfast, seem to be fascinated by our efforts to work hand-in-hand with Mother Nature. Ecotourism, which respects the land and its people, also has the responsibility to consider the welfare of the local population as well as their surroundings. This is why we are continually looking for ways to support our Mayan neighbors and never forget that we are on the same path even though we speak different languages.

Chapter twenty-five of Embarking on the Mariposa Trail ends with the words: “Each day is an adventure, and we marvel at how far we have come along the Mariposa Trail since we began our journey.” We will tread lightly on this fragile ecosystem leaving only footprints for those who follow in our path.

Mari Pintkowski lives with her husband Lou at La Selva Mariposa where they operate their boutique hotel/B&B, in Macario Gomez at km. 20 on the Coba road. Her book, Embarking on the Mariposa Trail can be purchased at local book stores in the Riviera Maya and on www.amazon.com.

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