Xcalak and the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef

Dec. 31, 2011    Resuming our drive south on the Mexican Highway the following morning, we noticed a number of runners at various intervals.  The runners, carrying a lighted torch, were accompanied by an open-bed truck full of similarly clad young people.   Signage on the trucks referred to the Lady of Guadalupe.  As it turns out this was part of a country wide religious celebration, which culminates with the arrival of around 5 million people making the pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City on Dec. 12.  Many of the people travel for days on foot or cycle along the highways as a sacrifice.  The Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to a peasant on Dec. 12, 1531.

View from our balcony
Arriving at the Hotel Tierra Maya in Xcalak, we were greeted by the owners, Kim and Dave and their two canines.  The eco resort offers a wonderful setting for unplugging.  With electricity provided by solar power, the owners are treading lightly on the environment but also the infrastructure for this nicety is non-existent in the area.  Phone and television are not available, but surprisingly they offer Wi-Fi from the office and dining room area. 

Our goal was to experience some snorkeling in the Xcalak National Reef Park, which surrounds the resort.  Luckily, Gloria loaned me her extra wet suit.  Otherwise, I would have been looking at the water from the shore.  Water temperature was probably around 72—which I guess is fine if you are used to it—but it wouldn’t have worked for me. 

An extensive dock in front of the hotel juts out over the turtle grasses along the shore.  Our first snorkel started at the end of the dock and along the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System.    A myriad of sea life awaited us.  Small brightly colored tropicals, small grouper, parrot fish, poisonous lionfish, even a few turtles, a moray eel and a string ray thrown in for good measure.  The ocean floor almost seemed littered with conch, there were so many of them.  (We later learned there is a stiff fine for taking conch inside the National Marine Park.)   All of this beauty was just at the end of the dock and a short swim out.

Mexico on the left/Belize on your right
The following day, we booked a 3-hour snorkel trip with the nearby XTC Dive Center.  Our captain, Gallo, was bilingual, so he provided us with a narrative as the boat traveled along the coast into Chetumal Bay and then back to the open water through the Bacalar Chico Channel/River.  In this narrow waterway, you can literally touch mangroves in Mexico and Belize at the same time.  Moving the boat to just inside of the reef, we jumped into the water to discover new treasures.  Gallo accompanied us in the water to help us spot and identify the coral and sea life.   Once again, we saw brain and fan coral, but we also saw fire coral, which I had experienced in Belize 10 years ago.  I can still remember the burning.  Needless to say, I steered clear of that.   Just on the outside edge of the reef, we spotted large stands of elkhorn coral.  The coral was teaming with colorful tropical fish and a few of the invasive lionfish.   It was an exhausting but fantastic day on and in the water. 

Rich reeling in a big one
Alan with a Barracuda
The following day, Alan and Rich scheduled a private fishing charter.  Their captain and first mate arrived at 8 A.M.  Five hours later, they returned with a dozen, or more, yellowtail, red and mangrove snapper, which provided dinner for us the next couple of evenings.  They had also caught barracuda and mackerel.  Quite a successful day!  Their captain, with 24 years of guiding experience, obviously knew exactly what he was doing.  He moved around from inside Chetumal Bay to inside the reef and then trolling outside the reef to maximize the fishing excitement.

Rest and exploration was the order of the day now.  But, the tiny town of Xcalak doesn’t offer much for the tourist and after a short trip around town, the resort provided the beach chairs with a lovely, restful view overlooking the ocean.  Rich and Gloria headed to Cancun the next day to fly back to Florida to prepare for Gloria’s first public photo exhibit. (Congratulations!)

Alan and I were now in serious relax mode.  The following day, our trip to Xcalak coming to an end, we packed our bags and readied ourselves for the 1½ hours boat trip to San Pedro, Belize.

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