Chapter 8. Quintana Roo
© Bert & Shari Frenz, 2001 All rights reserved.
(Shari) Sailing along at 60 mph, we make good time on the cuota road until our rest stop. Bert finds the birding to be good so extends the break from 10 minutes to 45 minutes. Whine, whine, whine! Too hot in the sun for a non-birder like me, I travel from shade tree to shade tree, thankful when the time is up. After we get settled into our spaces, Glorian and Scotty take us to the hotel zone in their open-air jeep. Tourists visiting only Cancun do not really see Mexico. It is little USA. You name it, any store, any restaurant, any hotel that you find at home, it is here. We pass one magnificent hotel resort after another, built on the shores of the sparkling Caribbean. Eighteen miles of shore line filled with ritzy glitzy places, all manicured and landscaped to perfection. No, this is not Mexico, but it is nice. After perusing a mall, we find a restaurant advertised in my book. We refuse to eat at anything we can find at home so pass up The Outback, Tony Romas, Houlihans, etc. The Cove has two locations, one at each end of the "Gold Zone". I choose the stuffed grouper for my entrée and Bert has the Mayan grouper wrapped in banana leaf. Both are excellent.
(Bert) Straight, wide, smooth, the 4-lane cuota road is the best we've driven in the past 1600 miles. With cruise control set at 60 mph, well below the speed limit, we glide effortlessly through the dry scrub forest, almost alone since locals are unwilling to pay the hefty toll - for us, 495 pesos for RV and tow car. A stopover at an uncompleted wayside proves to be a good birding spot and we quickly record two dozen species, including Tropical Pewee, Yellow-throated Euphonia and a flock of Orchard Orioles. After parking our RV's in a campsite across the street from the Caribbean Sea, Scotty, Glorian, Shari and I take off to explore the hotel zone of Cancun. The transition from the rural Mexico of the Yucatan to the cosmopolitan Mexico of Cancun is like a time machine jump forward one or two centuries. Beachside Cancun is a 21st century rendition of the 8th or 10th century Mayas at their peak. Prestine fairways, sandtraps and ponds surround sky-reaching hotels, architecturally overwhelming. Shops are filled with enticing clothes, souvenirs and crafts. Every imaginable choice of restaurants, mostly imports from the U.S., lines the streets. The glittering parade of wealth continues for miles, rivaling Las Vegas, L.A., and San Diego. To the west, the strip sports a blue lagoon, and to the east the incomparable turquoise water of the Caribbean rolling over the clean white sandy beaches.
(Bert) South of Cancun is a botanical garden with a long name: Jardin Botanico Dr. Alfredo Barrera M. We arrive shortly after 7 AM when it is still refreshingly cool under the dense shade. Partially native, partially introduced plants, they are amply identified and classified with metal labels. But our attention is mostly drawn to the birds that take advantage of this oasis in the midst of miles of cleared and developed land surrounding Cancun. Some birds - Brown Jay, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Golden-fronted Woodpecker - which we've seen earlier in the trip, now appear as a different, clearly identifiable, subspecies. Deep in the thick forest, heavily blocked from clear view, finding birds depends on seeing movement or hearing noises. Almost completely missed, Worm-eating Warblers take concentrated effort to distinguish in the impenetrable undergrowth. A flurry of activity catches my interest: Red-throated Ant-Tanagers are feeding on an ant colony. Then raucous sounds, high in the canopy, get my attention and I track down a family of three Black-headed Trogons, patient enough for photographs. Another new species, Yucatan Vireo, makes several appearances in the under story, its very plain appearance all but disappearing against the leaves.
(Shari) I am sorry for you northern readers to always hear me talk about how hot we are. But that is all we talk about. None of us anticipated that we would be so hot. I am resigned to being sweaty all the time. Pat and I take the car to the hotel zone this morning and walk around the shops, have some ice cream, and go to Walmart all before our 4 PM Valentine's Party. Walmart has almost as many Americans shopping as Mexicans. One little girl says to her father that she wants just plain bologna. Picking up a package she asks if it is bologna. Her father looks at it, and says he does not know but it is Oscar Mayer and it looks like bologna. Another young couple puzzles over the method of obtaining bakery items. I conduct conversation - using the vocabulary of a 2-year-old - with a clerk asking about fans. He speaks no English, so I ask "Donde es una (wave my arms like a fan over my face) and say, "fan?" He says "Ventilador?" I say, "Si." Off we go to cross the store to the ceiling fan section. I have to say, "No, mas poquito por una mesa." We head off in another direction and bingo, there on the shelf are fans just the right size for me. "Perfecto." By 4 PM the sun is low enough to create some shade by R-TENT and everyone gathers with their chairs and glasses. I serve margaritas again as each person picks one of those candy hearts with sayings on them. They have to look around and find someone that has the same saying on their heart. When finding their partner, they take a guess as to how many candy hearts are in a jar. Then Pat has the women line up on one side and the men on the other. It is time to play "The Oldy Wed Game." She asks questions of the women and later the men and awards points to matching answers. Bert and I only get one of the questions right. I guess we have not been married long enough. Carmen and Larry are the winners and only miss one question. They get to pick their prizes first from the table laden with sundry gifts. Finally it is time for the snacks that Carmen, Mona and Dusty provided for our enjoyment. The mosquitoes chase us inside before we are really ready to call it a night. I know the area was sprayed last night at least two times. I wonder how bad the bugs would be if no one sprayed.
(Shari) The ferry is prompt, running every half hour to Isla Mujeres, Island of Women. Gene, Sandy, Anne and Jim are accompanying us on our outing. Arriving before 8 AM, we find only one moped / golf cart rental place open. The six of us rent two golf carts and take off racing down the road at 10 mph. As the scenery whizzes by, we notice a small town, a hacienda built for love, a turtle farm, an airport, and wonderful expensive homes built overlooking the Caribbean. The island is only 5 miles long and 1 mile wide; so it does not take us long to reach our destination. Parking on the shoulder next to a small hut, we are 15 minutes early to purchase tickets to enter Garrafón Natural Park, a resort on the sea. High on the cliff we can see roped areas for snorkeling, manicured grounds, hammocks strung between palm trees and a sea sparkling of turquoise and blue. No post card scene is prettier than this. We are the first to enter the park and make our way to the lockers and change rooms. We find a place to sit under a thatched palapa and put on our snorkel gear. The waves are pretty high so Sandy and I wait until we see how the others take to it. I hope Bert comes back for me after he has had his fill and takes me out. He never does, so Sandy and I go to the pool. I try out my mask there and find I must make a small adjustment to stop it from leaking. I have put an old pair of glasses inside the mask, so I can see the fish when they pass me by. Jim says, "No wonder it leaks." Time just flies and soon it is noon. We partake of the buffet in the open-air restaurant and a view to die for. After eating our fill, we head to the hammocks for a little siesta. Soon it is 3 PM and we decide we had better head home. Stopping at the turtle farm, we learn about the efforts to save them and see turtles of varying sizes in tanks. They are so cute that I just want to pick one up, but heed the signs warning me not to do that. Back in the golf cart we race to the ferry and arrive home just in time for sunset.
(Bert) A free day for the caravan, each of us heads in a different direction. Six of us choose the express ferry to Isla Mujeres (pronounced "ees la moo hare es"). Once on the island, we rent golf carts and drive to El Garrafón, the Underwater National Park, now a commercial resort. It doesn't take me long to put on my swim fins and mask and get into the warm clear Caribbean waters. Ropes define the area we can swim, keeping us off the coral reef, but close enough to see the colorful fish reflect brilliant splashes of yellow, blue and red. At one point I am completely surrounded by a school of fish, hundreds within inches of me, but none ever touching. The waves are strong, but I ignored them as I drifted with the current. Now when I turn back, my progress is slow and I feel like I've had a hard workout by the time I return to the pier and ladder. A swim in the freshwater pool refreshingly washes off the salt. We spend the day resting in the shade of the palm trees, feeling the intoxicating sea breeze and eating a leisurely lunch buffet, all the while enjoying a panoramic view of the turquoise sea. On our way back to the ferry dock, we stop at the turtle farm where we tour the ponds holding sea turtles. Many of these species endangered or threatened, the farm raises 15,000 to 40,000 turtles per year for release into the sea. We get a close up view, almost nose to nose, of the graceful and artfully patterned sea turtles. It is almost dark when we return to the campground and hear the news of what others did on this day.
(Shari) Incense is heavy in the air, the drums beat faster and faster, the tension mounts as the 14 men, covered from head to foot in an intricate design of war paint, face off for the Mayan Ball Game. We are at Xcaret for the evening show, sitting in shaded bleachers watching seven men on each side move a ball a little smaller than a basketball from one end of the dirt field to the other. They do this with only their hips and legs. Soon the ball gets high enough to play on the slanted stone sides. One man, I presume the captain, since his facial war paint is red, tries to maneuver the ball through a small round stone hoop from setups placed by his teammates. It is hard work, but when he is successful, the crowd cheers. Rooting for the deer team or the jaguar team does not matter to us. We are happy that he made the hoop. As far as I can tell, the game ends in a draw. Good thing, since traditionally the captains could be sacrificed to the gods. When we toured the ruins at Uxmal and Chichén Itzá, we heard so much about the Ball Games. Watching this game brings history alive. After the game, we join an English-speaking guide as he scuffles us thorough the Mayan Village and into a cave where we watch two men perform the Owl Dance. This part is a little hooky. The crowd is thick, the cave is still and stifling and the dance is only a bunch of foot stomping and running around while a drum beats. We are herded along a river's edge and see more dancers doing the same thing. Soon we reach the open-air theater and are royally entertained for the next 75 minutes. This is the best ballet folkloric I have ever seen. Each performance is professional quality, and the audience is captivated and appreciative. The colorful costumes augment the dancers, the Old Man's Dance is funny and the horseman with lasso steals the show. It ends too soon. Fortunately, our tickets get us in again tomorrow all day.
(Bert) Xcaret (pronounced "esh ka ret" or "ish ka ret"), a combination of ecological site, archeological ruins and tourist entertainment extraordinaire, is this evening and tomorrow's attraction. I am most drawn to the ball game. At the various Mayan ruins we've seen the ballparks, but the description of the game has been inadequate. Played for centuries in over a 1000 ball parks, the game was discouraged by the Catholic Church when the Spanish came, but it continued in some areas and is played still today. Likely, the rules vary and even as we watch now, it is not always clear what they are. There also appear to be several variations on the game. Six or eight players to a team, the consistent rule is that the rubber ball - about the size of kid's toy basketball - is only hit from the hips. For low bouncing balls, this means the players often dive to the ground to get their hips inches above the dirt. Feathers, animal headdresses and ornate body paintings adorn the players. Leather animal skins protect their hips, but their feet are bare. The most interesting game is played on the sloped stone sides of the rectangular court. The object is to bounce the ball through a vertical stone hoop, only inches wider than the ball. The task of two players on each side of the hoop is to keep the ball from falling back onto the dirt center court and, simultaneously, to give it the right sort of bounce off the sidewall so that a third player can score a goal. Action continues until one team puts the ball through the hoop; then the other team takes over on the opposite side of the court, with an identical hoop. Thus, the action switches from one side to the other. Since each team has an indeterminate length of time to score, it would seem that all games end in a tie. I can only surmise that if a team did not keep the ball on their sloped side of the court - something they never failed to do - that they would lose.
(Shari) Before we can enjoy the pleasures of Xcaret, we drive to Playa del Carmen to inquire about ferry times and van rentals in Cozumel. I want to shop and the birders want to watch birds. We wander around the block circulating the ferry dock until we realize that we must park in a lot and walk to the ferry. It is hot already at 9 AM. Vendors are hawking their wares from tables in the street or on the square and men, wanting to sell us something for a special price just for us, constantly accost us. All we want is information. The first ferry leaves the dock at 5 AM; however, the rental car agency does not open until 8 AM. Looks like the birders will get a late start. Finally we get all the information we can, and take off to enjoy the water at Xcaret. We head for the snorkeling area. It is perfect for me, protected in a bay and shallow. The cool water feels great and my new mask does not leak. I swim to the edge of the reef where the depth drops off suddenly from 4 feet to around 15-20 feet. That is a bit threatening and I return. Thousands of fish come so close, I can almost touch them. The prettier ones are out further. Brilliant yellow with blue patches, black and yellow, pink and yellow, a rainbow of colors swims just out of reach. Xcaret is a wonderland of natural beauty. Besides the snorkeling, other water activities abound from a cenote - natural well - with ropes, a sandy beach, and two rivers to float through. If you do not like the water, the butterfly house, the bird aviary, the mushroom or orchid farm, the small zoo or the Mayan museum ought to keep you occupied. Just sitting on the wooden lawn chairs under the thatched palapas, watching the waves or the people is entertainment enough. We eat our lunch at one of the seven restaurants and have an excellent meal, spoiled only by the waiter who tries to extract two tips from us: one which he hid in the amount we owed and another we had left on the table. Only when we ask for a receipt do we notice the discrepancy. Funny how his good English suddenly escapes him. We return to the water and take the river float through the cave. I do not especially like it and hold onto Bert's hand most of the way. At one point it is so dark, that ropes are strung along the sides of the cave for people to grab and follow. The float seems to take forever, it is close to 1/3 of a mile so I know it takes over 30 minutes. I suppose kids would really enjoy it and Pat, Dusty and Bob loved it, so it must just be me. I must admit after the float, I am cooled off. Bert heads for the aviary and I head for the gift shop. Things are too pricey for my wallet and I wait for Bert while chatting with Ben and Willie. Ben is such a sweetheart, that he even gets an extra spoon for me, to share his banana split with him. Soon Bert joins us and we share our own split. The day has just sped along and we are too pooped to watch the show again this evening. We head home and enjoy a beer with Walt and Karla, sitting outside in the cool tropical breeze.
(Bert) Today is part two of Xcaret. We arrive early and head to the coastal inlet for snorkeling. Coarse volcanic rocks line the shore and the bottom of the swallow inlet. Like pet cats, iguanas prowl among the exposed rocks and rest atop some, soaking up the morning sunlight. Below the warm water, myriad fish swim past us. The water is clear, allowing me to see long distances toward the reef and its inhabitants. Refreshed, we snooze or talk with the others in our group until lunch. After a delicious Mexican meal at one of the restaurants at the park, we climb down stone steps to enter an underground cave, half-filled with water. For three-quarter hour we swim the length of the dark cave, led by the dim light ahead coming from shafts to the surface. Another nap at the oceanfront, followed by a quick look at the aviary and then sharing a Banana Split, we have a most relaxing day.
(Bert) Most tourists to Isla Cozumel are quite content to visit the beach, restaurants and countless shops that line the shore of San Miguel, rarely venturing to see the rest of the island. Not so for birders. Taking the 7 AM passenger ferry from Playa del Carmen, we are whisked to the island in 40 minutes - seeing dozens of flying fish in route - and then rent two Suburbans. Heading cross-island, the flat scrubland is dense in short trees and snarled undergrowth, so much so that we overshoot our first stop and park in the wrong spot. Our mistake turns to serendipity when we find a clearing in the woods with a small open-air house, pretty yard and many hummingbird feeders. The gracious lady who lives there welcomes us to see the birds in her yard. To everyone's delight we watch several Green-breasted Mangos - a curious name for a hummingbird - sparkle green and purple as they feed on the nectar. Then in a nearby tree we get our first view of Cozumel Bananaquits , chubby, almost comical, yellow and black birds that allow close approach. From the highway, we try two other paths into the dense woods, but by 10 AM the intense sun has already made the day hot and the birds secretive. Nevertheless, we add Black Catbird and Yellow-faced Grassquit to the list. Back in San Miguel we stop for much needed cool drinks and head north. Just beyond the tight knit line of seaside hotels and houses, we stop at a marvelous tree that attracts Cozumel Vireo, Stripe-headed Tanager, Golden Warbler and a persistent Black Catbird. Further down the dirt road, we reach the sewage treatment plant, a facility that certainly would not meet U.S. standards. In spite of the strong odor, we bird the area for a couple hours. A few birders see an Ani that Walt later identifies as Smooth-billed. For me the best bird is the Ruddy Crake, a bird that announces its presence with a loud, long call that Howell aptly describes as "a rising and falling, churring or purring trill." You could spell "trill" as "thrill" and still have this call correctly described. But seeing the owner is another matter. The little 5½-in. rufous ball on legs gives us only a few fleeting views, even though it is only eight feet in front of us. After a relaxing and delicious meal at Palmeras in the heart of downtown, we bird one more spot, south of town. Here, a row of flowering trees attracts numerous Bananaquits and Cozumel Emeralds. Emerald couldn't be a better name for these spectacular hummingbirds. Catching the setting sun, the hummers flash green light like the facets of a precious jewel.
(Shari) I hear them leave for their outing to Cozumel this morning, but I am too groggy to say goodbye. Karla and I have a fun day of shopping and beaches today. After I hang out a load of wash, we get into her jeep "Sammy" and head for Playa del Carmen. It is a neat little town, but seems to exist for the tourist. This is where the ferry to Cozumel departs every hour and many shops line the streets to the dock selling a large variety of items. Surrounding the square, venders have loads of peeled fruit arranged in paper cones like a bouquet of flowers. The pineapples, cantaloupe, watermelon, bananas and papayas all look refreshing. I buy a big blanket-rug to cover our carpet, hopefully to keep it cleaner. We find a blouse in a nice air-conditioned clothing store and another blouse from a vendor on the street. We walk the beach and stop at a fancy hotel, sitting at their bar to sip a pina colada. We drive to Akumal to check out a cenote for snorkeling, stopping at a roadside place that sells wonderful hand loomed wool rugs. Too expensive for me and I pass them up, but they are beautiful. We drive another road and find a beautiful deserted beach. It is a lovely day, but hot, and evening brings a nice cool breeze as we sit under Sid's awning awaiting the birders' return.
(Bert) A light tap on the door interrupts my computer data entry. It's Dorothy and she asks if I want to see a Gray-necked Wood-Rail. Since Day 24, February 5, the caravan group has taken countless opportunities to let me know that Shari has seen a life bird that I have not. I expected I'd have to take this ribbing for the rest of the trip. Now Dorothy has offered me a reprieve. I quickly follow her to the entrance of the RV park. There, right beside the road, hidden under thick forest is a wet spot. After my eyes adjust to the darkness I can see the two large birds moving in and around the puddle: the gray neck is obvious, but so is the rufous breast, black belly, bright red legs and bold yellow bill. I am surprised how large and how colorful is this rail. Seven of us watch the rails, the rest of the caravan has scattered in other directions on this free day. Later in the morning, Shari and I head south to Akumal to an estuary for snorkeling. The beauty of this spot is overwhelming. Coarse limestone rock is everywhere: large slabs and broken boulders, creating shelves, tables, chairs where we dump our gear. Short palm trees and bushes push out through crevices in the rock, but there is no soil or sand covering the rock. But the real beauty is the way these rocks continue into the clear water. From underwater we can see the roughness of the rocks, creating underwater caves, overhangs and pedestals. Colorful fish swim in and out of the rock formations. Here again the water is turquoise blue, warm and refreshing. I venture further out toward the sea to where I can see the waves break. Here the bottom is sandy and I see a sea turtle, perhaps two feet across, swimming gracefully ahead of me. I follow it for a while, watching it "fly" through the water, forefeet propelling it forward, hind feet dragging as a rudder.
(Shari) The snorkel is attached to my mask. My glasses are inside the mask. My beach shoes are on my feet. My feet are inside my flippers. I am ready to slide off the slippery moss covered rock into the Cenote Yal-Ku near the end of the road at Akumal. A cenote is a fresh water spring that bubbles up from the ground. This one has an inlet to the sea, so salt and fresh waters mix, as do the fish. A perfect place to snorkel or swim, the water is clear and calm and hordes of people do not know about its location. The guard at the gate said before a charge of 50 pesos per person was initiated, the place would get trashed. Now fewer people come and the place stays neat. Ed, Carlyn, Sandy, Gene, Bert and I decide to try it out. No facilities are provided except a bathroom, so we take our own drinks and chairs, finding a place under the shade of some palm trees next to the water. The brightly colored fish like to stay close to the many rocks located on the sandy bottom. Getting out of the cenote is harder than getting in. I am finished snorkeling before Bert is, but need to wait for him to help me out. He finds a place he thinks I can negotiate and swims off. I sit on the rock, and take off my fins and mask. Without glasses, my depth perception is poor and the going is slow over the rocky shore until I reach the path. We sit in the shade watching the people and a very precocious iguana that comes within 2 feet of us as he scampers from the rocks up a tree and later back again. I am told they are harmless but anything that looks that ugly just MUST have a terrible bite.
(Bert) South along the coast to Tulum, then inland across the coastal plain for 40 minutes, along a straight and narrow paved road, takes us to the little village of Cobá, built on a pretty lake and adjacent to the Maya ruins. This morning goes too quickly, leaving many opportunities to see ruins and birds that we missed. Cobá features the biggest ruin in the Yucatán, some 12 stories high. But it takes us much of the morning to hike the mile to the ruin, interrupted by sightings of Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Eye-ringed Flatbill, Yellow-bellied Cacique, Red-throated and Red-crowned Ant-Tanagers, and many more. At one spot we stop to watch a White-browed Wren and then notice birds piling up so thickly that everyone is scrambling to identify them. Dusty exclaims, "Forget the trogon! What's that bird?" Passing the opportunity to watch a gorgeous Violaceous Trogon, we identify a Gray-colored Becard side-by-side with a Masked Tityra, a Barred Antshike and a half-dozen other species. Our return hike goes much faster, as we close our eyes and ears to our surroundings and concentrate on fast walking. Back at the parking lot with a little time to spare, we search the marshland along the shore of the lake and add a pair of Gray-crowned Yellowthroats to the list. Our time schedule is rushed since Dusty and I agreed to meet Bob and Shari at the entrance to the Tulum ruins. Once there, we head toward the beach and find a secluded spot to park the vehicles. Miles long, still only partially developed, the sand sparkles against the shallow warm sea. We wade into the water and are bombarded by rolling waves. After a swim, we eat our packed lunches on the beach and stretch out in the sun, carefully laden with ample sunscreen lotion.
(Shari) Bob picks me up in the jeep and we drive the 30 miles to meet Dusty and Bert at the Tulum ruin entrance. From here eight of us find a beach, eat our packed lunch and spend the afternoon playing in the surf. It is the only way to survive the heat. This whole area for miles is called the Mayan Riviera, as one beautiful beach after another dots the coast. Crystalline water in shades of blue and turquoise lapping the edges of sparkling fine white sand is what people come to see. Unfortunately, one by one, each beach is being bought up by big resort chains. I hear the Hilton has bought Playa Chemuyil, dubbed the most beautiful beach in the world. Soon the area will look like Miami, all manicured hotels with no public places. Already a good chunk of real estate is fenced off from use. We then go to the Internet place in Akumal to try for e-mail. I hate to use the word successful since it is like pulling teeth to get it all to work right, but we do get and send e-mail. Using their computer and the program Eudora, a diskette and our settings, we negotiate the connection. Forty-five minutes later and 130 pesos poorer we have a diskette with our mail on it. Hurrying home, we shower and change before meeting the gang for Pizza at Leo's in Chemuyil. The pizza is good, the company is better and we return with full happy stomachs.
(Shari) Blissful cooling rain falls most of the afternoon, which is very conducive to napping. At 3:30, I clean the borrowed palapa that Carla got us for our Happy Hour. Sweeping the floors and wiping the tile counters, readies it for the gang. Soon the chairs, people and snacks arrive and the buzz of laughter and a blender mixing margaritas is the dominant sound of the camp. Eating so many delicious dips, crackers and smoked oysters, fruit, peanuts and corn puffs, we skip supper. This is the first night we are both not exhausted and we play a game of Up-wards with our score neck and neck until the last two plays.
(Bert) Another lazy day with no scheduled activities until the 4 PM Happy Hour, I spend a few early morning hours birding around the woods surrounding the campground. One of the most productive spots is the garbage dump. Like most of Mexico, this campground puts all of its refuse in a pile that is periodically burned. Litter is scattered everywhere and the air often has the acrid smell of smoke. But this morning, there are no fires and the garbage attracts vultures, while a lot of other species hang around the periphery. The most amazing is to see three Blue-crowned Motmots in one tree and two Turquoise-browed Motmots in another on the opposite side of the dump. In another area, I find a Black Catbird and a Gray Catbird in the same tree. I'm attracted to the alarm notes of several small birds when out of the brush pops a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl that promptly perches a dozen feet in front of me. Nearby, a few minutes later I get ample views of a stunning male Blue Bunting, deeply dark blue overall, but sporting even more intensely blue "hotspots" on the head and wing. Amazingly, in three hours I've tallied 44 species just in the area around the campground. Later in the day I catch up on computer work, including e-mail. Yesterday, I was able to collect e-mail for only the fourth time since leaving the U.S. This time the procedure was particularly awkward since I couldn't get a phone jack and had to transfer all of the e-mail files from my computer to theirs and back again. At Happy Hour today I get the birding notes from others. Our collective trip total now stands at 313 species, plus 7 additional subspecies.
(Shari) Instead of traveling in a convoy, always trying to stay together, we start out at the same time and have the group not worry if we get separated. No gas station or rest area along this jungle path is big enough for all 14 of us and this way a few at a time can stop when they want. I only ask that they have a buddy traveling with them. We arrive at our appointed lunch stop only 15 minutes before the last of the group arrives. I think doing it this way is faster also. We meet near a lake for lunch and then stay tight as a group as we negotiate through the town and to the RV Park. Wow! What a view! We traveled close to 200 miles today and are parked near the Mexican/Belize border in a town named Chetumal. Each and every one of us has a water view. R-TENT is facing frontward to capture the scene. The turquoise water of the Caribbean beckons the eye. The park is a little worse for wear since the hurricane ravaged this shore last fall. The electricity and water is gone but, with this view, who cares. The day is either cooler or the breeze off the sea cools us. Almost, I say almost, I am too cold. A restaurant right next to where Mona and Neil are parked serves wonderful looking fish meals for only 50 to 60 pesos with 9-peso beer. I know where we will be tomorrow night.
(Bert) After nearly a week at one campsite, we are on the road again. A straight, smooth highway heads south along the coast, but out of sight of water. Instead, only a wall of trees surrounds us on both sides for almost the entire trip. We encounter few villages and few people in this part of Quintana Roo. The caravan travels in scatter mode - everyone on their own - but when we regroup at Cenote Azul for lunch, we find only about 15 minutes separated Wagonmaster and Tailgunner. Our campsite in Chetumal is right on the beach of a bay on the Caribbean Sea. Within minutes of setting up camp, we rest on lawn chairs, enjoy the cooling breeze and sip drinks while watching the magical blue water.
(Shari) The day is pleasant all around with no work to do but watch the incredible scenery or relax under a shade tree. Today the clouds above the horizon have a purplish cast. The water changes color with the sun and the breeze is delicious. After lunch Jim and Ann take Carmen, Larry and me to the San Francisco grocery store. We saw one of these stores in Playa del Carmen also. Few cars are parked in the lot, but the ever-present older gentleman that you find in all lots, helps to park our car in a space that is obvious. We give him a tip. I look for ammonia and Pine Sol to make a mixture of 2 tablespoons to ½ cup in a gallon of hot water that works wonders in the black tank. Carmen is needed by all of us for translation of Spanish words on the products. Gwen wants to know if the container she holds is sour cream. I want to know if they have flour tortillas. Later in the day, Bert and I have dinner at the restaurant next door. For the two of us, $7.50 covers three beers, chips and bean dip, rice, beans, grated carrots, French fried potatoes and a huge whole fish. The fish must have been cleaned and then put in hot oil since it is served nice and hot with a crispy skin. Oh, so delicious! We enjoy the company of Ralph and Dorothy and Don and Gail as we wait for dinner to be served. I tell them that next year I am going to eat out all the time and just fill my freezer with cans of limeade concentrate for margaritas and forget bringing any meat. I still have beef and hamburger in there from Texas.
(Bert) Because of a change in campsites, our planned birding trip for today is over 200 miles, round trip. Consequently, everyone except Lee and me opt to find something else to do (bird locally, visit Mayan museum, sit at seashore, etc.). Lee joins me in the dark as we leave Chetumal at 5 AM. Darkness and fog slow the first hour's travel, but we make up for it the second hour and arrive at the Vigia Chico Road outside of Felipe Carrillo Puerto shortly after 7 AM. Bird activity is high and we add species quickly, starting with a Golden-olive Woodpecker and flocks of Olive-throated Parakeets and White-fronted Parrots. Only a few local trucks and tricycles travel the hardened gravel road. Ahead of us we notice one young man on bicycle, carrying binoculars and Peterson's Field Guide to Mexican Birds. We strike up a conversation with Fausto Chirivas and learn that he is a budding bird guide, recently trained by Americans at a school in Chiapas. We bird with him for a few hours, pointing out a few species that we know better (Yellow-bellied Sapsucker), but mostly him helping us with spotting and identification (Black-crowned Tityra, Bright-rumped Attila, Rose-throated Tanager). Fausto finds an ant swarm and for a half-hour we watch the flurry of activity as ant-tanagers, anis, woodcreepers and a Common Yellowthroat eat their fill of ants. By noon, the birds are far and few between along Vigia Chico Road, so we head south to check out an alternate campsite for next year. Driving along the entrance road we stumble upon an orange orchard buzzing with bird activity. Colors fly by from tree to tree, giving us tantalizing hints to the birds' identities, but they disappear into the foliage and it becomes a real challenge to see them. But in just a half-hour's time we identify 25 species, including a brilliantly blue male and two strikingly green female Red-legged Honeycreepers. On the drive back to Chetumal we are surprised to see a Collared Forest-Falcon perched in plain view on a utility wire. Including species seen in route, I end the day with an amazing list of 79 species.
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