by Barb Eller
Patrick and I were walking along the Malecón one day and a couple from the cruise ship stopped to talk and asked, "What do you do when you spend the winter here?" For one of the few times in my life I was tactful, kept my mouth shut, and let Patrick answer, because in my head I was shouting. "What!!! You are kidding, right?" He told them of the great diving and snorkeling, that fishermen come from around the world to fish in Xcalak, that there were many Maya ruins in the area, birdwatchers loved coming here, and so on. Later, I considered that maybe the cruise ship personnel didn't tell them about the Costa Maya area. Before moving here I did a lot of research on the area, contacted people who had been here, and picked their brains about everything. So let me share with you the different things we have been doing throughout the winter.
I have already shared with you a world of beauty and wonder that I experience while diving and snorkeling. Since moving here I learned of a fish called "permit" that can get as large as four feet. Sport fishermen come from all over to catch and release them. If you live in the Florida area, these fish are similar to Florida pompano. Tarpon and bonefish are other popular fish here. Many fishing boats go out to deep water for the marlin, swordfish and barracuda among others. Many times as you walk along the beach you will see the local fishermen cleaning their daily catch. Once we saw a group of frigatebirds circling high above and then swooping down to the water; as we got closer we could see the cause of the show. A fisherman was cleaning about a dozen barracuda and tossing the unwanted parts for the birds to eat.
If you are an avid birdwatcher or want to become one, Mahahual is a great place to learn. Just walking along the road into town you can spot a number of different birds. Jacqueline from Villas Ecotucan, an eco hotel in Bacalar, will take you on an unforgettable bird walk. I was amazed; it was like listening to a talking encyclopedia of birds. She identified them by their song, where they nest, and so much more. Take the early morning bird walk, then in the late afternoon have her guide you on a jungle walk. She will point out rare trees and plants and how they were used by the Maya to treat snake bites and other illnesses and diseases.
I can't tell you the number of Maya ruins that are in this area and there are more being uncovered and opened for viewing every year. If you would like to do some reading before exploring, I'll suggest two books I have enjoyed reading: The Lost World of Quintana Roo by Michel Peissel and Incidents of Travel in Yucatan by John Lloyd Stephens (with many illustrations by Frederick Catherwood). Don't limit yourself to just the well-known sites such as Tulúm and Chichén Itzá; be sure to visit less known but just as awesome smaller archaeological sites—Kohunlich, Chacchoben, Balamkú, and Becán.
Who's ready to eat? Ceviche, pollo mole, pescado a la Veracruzana, chiles rellenos de picadillo, arrachera al carbon, ohhhhhh the tastes of Mexico! There is nothing like it—always fresh because it is made when you order it. I always look to see where the locals are eating, then I know I will be getting the real thing, not watered down for the tourists' taste buds. Don't be afraid to stop at one of the roadside restaurants; I like finding the different specialties of other towns. And always try something different; you may find a new favorite.
You can find museums everywhere. Chetumal has a wonderful museum telling the Maya history. You will learn how the Maya lived, communicated, their culture, and so much more. As you travel through some of the larger towns, look for a local museum.
I have told you about many things you can do here: diving, fishing, birdwatching, jungle walks, beachcombing, eating, museums, and don't forget about all the celebrations you can join in on. And you can also go to water parks, shopping, cenotes, and there is always just lying on the beach. How can anyone be bored here? The hard part is deciding what to do first.
Well, I am off to the beach to find some sea beans for my collection.
Until later …