Chapter 9.  Quintana Roo

Day 35 – February 17 – Chetumal, Quintana Roo

(Bert) One of our longest driving days, but on some of the best of roads, the first half is entertaining since it includes so many birds in the Usumacinta marshes, the rest stops and our lunch break near the lake at El Centario. In fact, I tally 56 species in route and later hear of many I missed that others saw. Twice, at mile 82 and 150, a Tayra (a large weasel) crosses the road in front of us. Each year we see improvements in the highway. Nine years ago much of the section through southeastern Campeche was like driving through a narrow tunnel, with trees tight on each side and arching over the road. Now only a few remnants of the old road exist, replaced with a paved highway 1-1/2 lanes on each side of the center line if, in fact, the lanes are marked, and 75 ft. of cleared forest on each side.

When Pod 1 arrives at the campsite, built on the shores of the Caribbean, we are confronted with RV’s everywhere. Talking to the manager, I find enough sites are still left, but parking is a zoo especially when we hear a police report that Pod 2 is lost. I head out in the car but see them coming immediately and must quickly double back. Police lead in Pod 3, which was not lost either, and everyone has a different idea of which of the two entrances to use and how to turn in and out of the already parked RV’s. Nothing seems to be going smoothly. Milo plugs into a 220V outlet – why do they have one with a 15-amp outlet? – Shari discovers the margarita maker no longer chops ice and after everyone is parked I am told I have to move R-Pup-Tent because it is blocking someone that wants to leave tomorrow morning at 7 AM. The margarita party is popular as usual and I leave early to resituate our RV.

(Shari) Knowing that today is a long day, the first pod departs at 6:30. I think the group has now realized that the road will be good if we do a lot of miles so they do not complain. The road is indeed good and much improved from other years. I know our Costa Rica group would have traveled the distance in less than 8 hr. However this trip we have bigger rigs, many pulling cars and therefore they drive slower. We arrive at 4 PM. Much to our dismay, a French Canadian caravan is already here and has taken all the good spots. We are left with the task of parking wherever we can find space. This will take some time and we are glad that the second pod is a good 40 min. behind us. Bert directs parking and seems to think his way is the only way. Jill and Mike want to back into their spot. Bert seems to think they should go around the circle and just does not want to let it alone. I tell Bert to let them do it the way they want. Well, it goes downhill from here between Bert and me and the next hour we are at loggerheads with each other. Either he does not tell me what he wants or does not tell the customers. Then I tell the customers and I tell them “wrong” according to Bert. I am reduced to tears by the time I make margaritas. The last straw happens when the margarita maker breaks and the mechanism will not turn. Today, (1) our battery was dead when we dried to start the engine, (2) three kitchen drawers fell out, (3) we lost part of our CB antenna and now (4) the margarita maker broke. I decide to make margaritas on the rocks and am very happy to have the ability to be the official “taster”. By the time the group gathers, I have calmed down somewhat. We all sit by the palapa and enjoy the sea breeze, the view of the Caribbean, the snacks and each others’ company as we unfrazzle our nerves. Jane gives Tom the avoidance award. It seems some furniture fell off a truck in front of him and he safely swerved to miss it. Milo tested 2 out of 3 electrical sockets. He plugged into the one he did not test and it turned out to be 220 volts. He reports smoke came out of the sockets and he does not know what has fried. So it is no surprise that the last ones enjoying the breeze are Milo, Tom, Charlu and Shari. It is well past 7:30 before I go inside.

Day 36 – February 18 – Oxtankah and Chetumal, Quintana Roo

(Bert) Undoubtedly the Mayas were attracted to the blue Caribbean just as we are today. The calm waters of Chetumal Bay connect to inland rivers Rio Hondo and New River and formed transportation for trade routes at this borderland between what is now Mexico and Belize. Oxtankah, a minor Maya site, is part of a much larger population that was nearly continuous along this part of the coast.

The last time I visited Oxtankah was March 2007. Since then the eye of a hurricane passed very close to this spot and now two years later I can easily see the evidence. What once was a dense canopy of tall trees arching over all but the tallest temples is now mostly absent, affording a spurt in growth of the smaller, less arching Cecropia. Light now penetrates to the forest floor and is no longer acceptable to the Gray-headed Doves and White-tipped Doves we previously found easily here. We do not find motmots or trogons or the more reclusive flycatchers such as Eye-ringed Flatbill. In 2005, I wrote, “Trogons and motmots are numerous. We see at least five Blue-crowned Motmots and most of these we encounter several times, first posing on one branch and then gliding gracefully to another, posing again.”

Yet birdlife is still present and our most entertaining is the Red-throated Ant-Tanagers that are following an ant swarm. Gordon and Maxine first noticed the tanagers and a woodcreeper in close proximity and called the rest of us over, suspecting the ant swarm. We are studying the birds, finding also a Wood Thrush and Hooded Warbler when we recognize we are standing in the path of the swarm. I direct everyone to back off 30 ft. so that we can observe the action without pushing away the birds. Perhaps it is the fewer forest birds that limits the participants to the ant-tanagers. The swarm runs up and down thin trees and over every exposed surface and we can see spiders hopping and running to escape. The ant-tanagers continue their pursuit of insects and we have a front row seat to the drama.

Leaving the swarm, we visit the ruins and see few birds. A Roadside Hawk camera.GIF (1399 bytes) continues to agitate the numerous Brown Jays that seem to accompany us all morning. The resident Crane Hawk makes a brief stop in the canopy, long enough for Gordon and me to view the banded tail and Betty to see the arch of white spots at the base of the primaries. I see the first Yucatan Flycatcher of the trip and we also add Cinnamon Hummingbird to the list. Later while Dee and I are studying a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl directly above us and I’m getting good photos, the rest of the group find Gray-collared Becards and Yellow-billed Caciques. I wish I had seen the becard, but it is gone by the time I reach them. Mike shows me his digital photo instead. We leave at 11 AM, I am sure leaving other species behind, but we also want to enjoy the leisure of palm trees swaying before the blue sea at our campground. At 4:30 I present a brief history of Belize, the last 15 000 years, using material from my book as a reference for dates.

(Shari) Every year I threaten to stay here. I love this spot and think it would be fine for the caravan to go on without me and pick me up 17 days later on their way out. The blue-green sea glistens all day long, the breeze is cooling and the air is clean. Marlene and I go off in search of another campground but do not find it. Bert talks about the history of Belize before I give border procedures, fielding lots of questions. After our travel meeting, Ken, John, Milo and Larry bring out their grills and we all bring meat to put on them. Hopefully we can use up the last of our meat and fruits and veggies that may or may not be taken tomorrow at the border. The palapa this year has three TV’s and the bartender puts on a tape with the Bee Gees in concert at Las Vegas. Heather always has happy feet and cannot keep them still whenever music is played, always wanting to dance. I get up to dance with her and tell her she can lead but I don’t want her to dip me. I think the manager and the bartender get a kick out of us ladies dancing. Later Dee and Milo really show us how to dance. They are very good as they twist and twirl on the small open area without tables and chairs. I do not want to go inside yet and sit alone under the palapa just soaking in the cool sea air.

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