Mérida to Calakmul to Bacalar
March 26th, 2010 by robert

One of my goals for the eleven days in Yucatan with the boys was adventure beyond sitting on beaches. I had read about an enormous Mayan ruin site deep in the tropical forest, Calakmul, which had only been discovered in the 1980s. It did not diminish the allure to also read about the incredible bird diversity in the huge biosphere reserve encompassing the site. Including a visit to Calakmul was a logistical challenge for our budget travel, since no buses go there. So we rented a car for a week, a totally affordable thing to do here, apart from the expensive insurance (which I would decline next time).

We left Mérida midday and drove hundreds of kilometers, and as it was getting dark we reached the private campground that lies seven kilometers down the sixty-kilometer road to the ruin site. It is a rustic place, off the grid and a bit run down. We quickly threw up our tents, and took advantage of the offer of some basic food cooked on a woodstove. As we ate howler monkeys just outside the screened walls started howling; it was immediate and deafening, and we enjoyed it immensely along with a nice German couple who were also staying there. A ferruginous pygmy-owl chimed in with less gusto.

It got surprising cold in the night, and the ground was hard. We felt all of it because traveling light, we only had one pad and two fleece blankets to supplement our silk travel sheets. It was an uncomfortable, fitful night, and I was happy to get up before five as first light appeared and birds began to sing. I took my coffee gear and drove ten kilometers to a clearing alongside the road. I started boiling water and the birds exploded. Species moved across the clearing and along the forest edge in such numbers that I could not focus my binoculars, much less identify everything. Yet over two hours of slowly drunk coffee let me enjoy the toucans and motmots, puzzle out a couple of flycatchers and hummingbirds, and find a collared forest falcon. It was great. Eventually I drove back to wake the boys, and after eating breakfast we drove to the ruin site with hardly any stops for birds.

History emerging from the jungle.

We hiked the extensive trails all day, the boys pulling me along when I tarried too long for birds. We climbed many of the tall structures, amazed at the massive work used to create them and gratified by the view of unbroken forest. The boys sat waiting in the car, but I had to drag them out to see a ferruginous pygmy-owl singing from a hole in a tree. As we watched, a bat falcon landed on a branch, bringing a sweet close to our visit.

I could have stayed for a week, and I talked to the park ranger, who said that yes, it is possible to camp there for free, just outside the entrance. Next time! We did not want to stay where we had the night before, so we drove several hours to Bacalar, a cool little town on the coast of Laguna Bacalar. We went to Villas Ecotucan, a compound of enclosed palapas powered completely by solar. We ended up spending two nights there because it was so nice, the first camping on a lawn by the lake, the second in a palapa. The camping was less than $4/day, including a continental breakfast. If I were in need of a place to stay for awhile, totally pleasant and birdy, I´d consider going there again.


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