Costa Maya is sunny and hot. We tied up at the pier early this morning and our bike storage area was used as a second gangway. Thus, our bikes weren’t at the usual place when we were ready to depart but the crew found them within a minute or two and brought them to the gangway.
I should say something about the NCL operations here. They have really made everything easy. We’ve been writing this blog on their network and they have been very helpful explaining about how to use their system and to complete email and printing operations,. They have consoles in one area of the ship and have several wifi hotspots. They even lent us a network cable so we can use our laptop in the room. There have been several operator errors on our parts, but the effort has gone extremely well overall. I’ve found all of the crew aboard the NCL Jewel to be helpful, courteous, and competent. The gangway crew seems anxious to get us our bikes, to help get them off the ship, and to learn what we did during the ride when we get back. The restaurant servers know how we like our meals and also ask about our rides. We also brought our own French Press coffee makers and coffee aboard and the servers are both fascinated and anxious to get us the required hot water. Many are also coffee “snobs” like we are and ask about our coffee varieties as well as our grinding methods. I’m very pleased with the room layout, the furnishings, and the ship location. The entire operation so far has been entirely enjoyable. We have had to live with the boarding rules affecting the elevator and stairwell usage since our room abuts the main gangway. This also means we can hear the gangway preparation evolutions each morning as the gangway doors bang and the ramps clang against the ship but this is a small price to pay. We walked off the ship with the bikes and started to ride off the pier until three uniformed soldiers pointed out “No riding” signs and we dismounted for the walk off the pier.
The port area was very colorfully painted and filled with dozens of shops ranging from Mexican curio stores to bars, diamond and gem stores, real estate offices, and stores fronted by toucans, monkeys, Mayan dancers, etc. We ran the gauntlet and entered the road fronting the harbor accompanied by an occasional tourist bus and taxi. We passed a number of blocks obviously laid out to hold a planned community. Workers and prospective workers ambled about ready to begin the five year or so effort to turn this empty quarter of Mexico into a thriving tourist community. They aren’t there yet.
I have thought about the native use of this land area and come up with more questions than answers. I don’t see evidence of Mayan use of the coastal area. Most of the beaches throughout Yucatan are rocky rather than sandy. I don’t see that many gulls which would indicate availability of clams or other crustaceans for food. They say that the tiny city of Mahahuel nearby was traditionally a small fishing village, but I don’t see many small fishing boats anywhere in the area. The entire area seems very sparsely populated. Oh, the Mayan ruins are nearby, perhaps 30 miles away, mostly inland. But the habitat nearby doesn’t seem well served to provide most of the foods humans eat. Not much fish, not many small animals, too swampy for most grain and vegetable growth, and no fruit trees, neither bananas nor coconut palms nor citrus. It appears the national planners are trying to set up vacation communities, but I fear the local weather may eventually discourage that. It is clear that hurricanes ravage this area more than occasionally. The tops are blown off most of the trees and even bushes over 6 feet tall. The saltwater inundation seems to be killing large blocks of vegetation, likely over the past 5 or so years. The planners will have to ensure that the buildings are built to withstand annual 100mph and higher windstorms and that evacuation or some other defenses against hurricanes. Not impossible, but not easy or inexpensive either.
After a 2 km ride on streets paved with special patterned tiles, we entered the main highway and turned to the northeast to see how far we could get toward a hotel I hoped might provide us a turnaround point and a stuffed pineapple lunch. Marilyn and I discussed the possible stuffings for the pineapple as we passed occasional gas stations and construction material stores scattered among the low mangrove swamp habitat lining the highway. Occasional larger tree clumps dotting the horizon on both sides of the highway revealed high grounds capable of supporting trees not susceptible to salt water damage to the roots. Although Roatan and Belize City sprouted topical plants, Costa Maya were more swamp-like. The difference is likely because the hurricanes killed plants that stick up too high. A few birds circled 30-300 feet above, mostly vultures or hawks. We could hear only the occasional chirps of either a sparse smaller bird population or ones taking to roosts early to avoid the heat. The seashore was not visible, but dark brown stained water could be seen on both sides of the street in ditches from which the highway fill had been taken and also peeking through the low brush off into the distance. We passed some bushes familiar to us from Hawaii like the ones we call Halekoa.
The highway marker read 56km as we turned onto the road to Cancun. Trucks, buses and taxis passed only occasionally as we began to understand the loneliness of this sparsely populated area. The diving beaches were behind us and the Mayan ruins lay out of reach today, so we realized we would be lucky if this ride didn’t turn out to be only a four or five hour exercise period. We stopped about seven km along the road for water and to demonstrate to you all that this was another “Marilyn route”, flat and smooth as far as the eye can see. The ride was sunny the whole way, leaving tired earlier than we usually would have been. So what distance should we choose next week?
We did see occasional large white egrets, two pencil thin six foot long snakes slithering in the road, and a few butterflies, but the late morning heat began to get to us and I started to worry that we would outride our water supply. The wind was blowing gently behind us to keep us from overheating immediately, but we decided to make a go/no go decision at a white feature way off in the distance on the right side of the road. When we got there after two hours of riding, it turned out to be an “oasis” store whose owner was just opening the store for three customers. We pulled over, welcomed the sight of sodas in two refrigerators, and settled for two Coke Lights. Marilyn settled in a chair on the porch in the shade while I struck up a conversation with the owner, beginning with a question about the hotel we were heading toward. In Spanish, he indicated there was no hotel within 20 km ahead, sealing my decision to make this our turn around point. He began trying out his English while I began trying out my Spanish—nonexistent in both cases. Nevertheless, we developed a liking for one another. I asked about hurricanes in the recent past which I believe had devastated the area recently. He verified my belief by indicating he had hunkered down in his blockhouse style cement house behind while nearly everything else was blown away. That was the reason for the absence of trees taller than 5-8 feet.
He then mentioned alligators and showed us around the side of the store, revealing a circular walled area filled with brown water and a one tree island in the center. Near the side, he showed us a six feet long board barely floating just below the surface and a one foot diameter turtle swimming lazily alongside. He looked around and indicated the alligator was probably lazing in a channel beneath the path alongside the pond. Meanwhile, Marilyn discovered a small dog stuck underneath the porch alongside the store and she and the owner spent a few minutes releasing it. It turned out to be a three month old boxer whose leash had been stuck on a stick. Upon his release, Marilyn and the owner played with him while I searched the pond for the alligator. Eventually, I discovered the alligator on the island in the pond center. About 4 feet long, it was brown and barely moved. The owner came over and pointed to the carcasses of three or four chickens which he had fed to the alligator over the past month or so. I tried to tell the owner how much this area reminded me of Louisiana. He indicated the alligators do live in the swamps all over the area. By now, I had finished my soda and began to nag Marilyn to drink her entire bottle of soda because I was worried about dehydration. She did a pretty good job but then handed me the bottle with a few swigs left in the bottom. I finished it and we remounted for the return trip.
Still not many cars or trucks. Still not many clouds. Still the swamps on this side of the street. But I did notice the wind was now blowing in our face. My bottom began to feel numb as I thought about the two hour ride back. Marilyn was not any better. She slowed down in the slight wind. But she was still riding nicely so I began to concentrate on the birdlife. I saw the occasional vultures and egrets and began to notice a few yellow butterflies. But Marilyn was really slowing down and I began to work on her to make sure she forced down a whole bottle of water the next time we stopped. That occurred at the nine km point as I noticed motion behind a bush on the side of the road and spied a very large brown bird take flight, floating eight feet off the ground for 100 yards before settling in a grassy, watery area. I stopped and handed Marilyn the water bottle while I tried to get a good photo of this bird. I took ten shots, eventually getting one, but noticing how hard it was to find the bird in the viewfinder after zooming in to max zoom.
The last nine km wasn’t easy, but Marilyn sped up with the end in sight and we rolled back into Puerto Casa Maya and through the gate into the tourist traps again. Almost five hours without shade. But the lunch on the ship really hit the spot after I drank six glasses of water and iced tea. Next week, we’ll try the other direction. The other direction is fine, but not quite so far—unless there is shade!