Of termites and raccoons and birds and memories

Just as our disgruntled fellow passenger was really getting tuned up, we entered the reserve. I don’t think anybody ever said exactly where we were. I’ve looked since we got home and the only place we could have been was the Reserva de la Biosfera La Encrucijada. Biosphere Reserve Crossroads.

We pulled up right near the water. As we offloaded, a lot of us took time to tell the guides how much we’d enjoyed the drive and the information they’d given us on the way out. I was glad to see that (yes, we did too), because the one person who’d been complaining had really made her feelings crystal clear.

We loaded into the boats after a biffy break (in which we discovered that toilet paper was in plentiful supply) were off into the swamp, which isn’t really a swamp as we understand that term here in Canada. It’s one of the names for a mangrove biome. Al and I ended up in the boat our principal guide, Luis, was in charge of.

Luis our guideNice guy and very knowlegable – and what he didn’t know, he wasn’t afraid to ask of the boat’s pilot, who lives and works in the reserve, and knew a whole lot more – but didn’t (or couldn’t, I’m not sure which) speak English, so Luis had to translate for us.


In this reserve there are three kinds of mangroves – red, black and white (or grey). All of what you see in the photos is red mangrove, which according to our guide has the greatest tolerance for salty water – the black mangrove needs fresher water than is found in the areas we were in, and the grey, or white needs even less saline than the black. We did see black mangroves, but because we were moving quickly at that point, I didn’t get any photos of them.


Mangroves don’t have roots the way we understand most trees have roots.

P1010646Mangrove roots. And no, the water hasn’t receded – this is the way they grow.

The roots of the mangrove – the part that absorbs nutrients and feeds the tree, grow down from the branches of the mangrove, into the water, which is what gives the mangrove biome its distinctive (and somewhat spooky) appearance:

P1010648The “branches” at the top of the photo are actually the roots growing down from branches above us.

 The mangrove reserve here isn’t set up primarily for the trees. A huge variety of birds make their homes here, and rest here on migrations, and in conjunction with Canada and the US, Mexico has agreed to set areas aside to provide a sanctuary for the birds. This is one of them. And we lucked out big time!

The first part of the ride was in a shaded tunnel and there were no birds. Lots of red mangroves and termite mounds.

temite mound

This termite mound is a mid-size one. There were many which were much larger than this. The dark lines you see on the trunk in the foreground are actually covered trails the termites build to reach food supplies. The other fascinating bit of information Luis gave us about the mounds is that parrots (not sure what kind) will lay eggs in the mound, and the termites will care for the eggs until they hatch. The baby parrots then eat the first things they see (or sense), and that, obviously, are the nurse termites. At some point, they break out of the mound, but I’m not sure exactly what happens after that.

Raccoons were also in plentiful supply. Same kind as at home, but thinner, and more overall brown. Ours are a browny-grey with black paws and a noticeable ringed tail (and the mask) and are more heavily built than the ones we saw (not just fatter – these were overall smaller, sleeker and less densly furred than Canadian raccoons). Their markings were muted, and the fur was a much more homogenous brown, to blend into the bark of the trees. And it worked – because it was daytime, the coons were sleeping, and until they moved, they blended in so well that it was hard to see them. I wasn’t able to focus quickly enough to get a photo of any of them. They live mostly on the tiny crabs that cling to the mangrove roots. I tried to get a photo, but they also move too quickly, are very well camoflaged and the camera took too long to focus on the zoom. By the time it got focused, we’d moved further along. (And the photos I did get were too blurry to use).

In the mangrove “tunnel” it smelled like rich, dark mud and fresh water (which was odd, because it wasn’t fresh – brackish at best) and the particular gas/oil mix I remembered from my childhood, up at the cottage.

Then the water way widened, the canopy opened up and we began to see egrets.



P1010649Click on the photo to see 10 egrets.

First one, then as the boat moved further away from the narrows, more and more and more. At first all we saw were the egrets, but as we got closer to the ocean, herons and eagles


and pelicans (looking kind of pterodactyl-like)


and all kinds of other birds that I couldn’t identify and don’t remember the names of (Luis told us, but I wasn’t in recording mode – I was too busy looking and enjoying).

We were passed by boats with supplies and people in them – all busy going the way we were, but very obviously not tourists, either Mexican or from the ship. When the land was set aside as a reserve, people lived and worked here – they hunted, fished,



scavenged and generally did what people do wherever they live. The government didn’t insist they leave, but they had to refrain from hunting – they could fish and shrimp, make and sell food and artwork, guide and earn their livings however else they wanted, without having to leave their villages.


And their only means of transportation is boat – there are very few roads in the reserve, simply because it’s a swamp – kinda hard to lay asphalt or gravel when it tends to sink as you lay it down, or don’t have any real land on which to grade a road.


They also have schools in the reserves. One of the other guides told us that in here, before the schools here were built, the kids would have to get up at 3 and 4 am in order to get to a 7  or 8 am starting time on the mainland. (High school starts an hour earlier than elementary school). They’d have to boat into the shore, then take buses to the closest elementary or high schools, which wasn’t all that great for them, and then do it all in reverse at the end of the day. That makes for a very long day for little kids. Now they have a school in the reserve, it’s much easier for them.

The wide channel eventually opened up into an enormous lagoon that was linked to the ocean. The water was clear blue (in the waterways, it was very brown), and very salty.










From the maps I saw later, this is the only open connection to the sea in the entire reserve – but that doesn’t mean it always will be the only one or that this won’t eventually close up.

That’s all sand, between the ocean and the lagoon, and even though things are growing on it, one good hurricane could wipe it out. And that’s apparantly, another function of the mangrove biome – the mangrove forests stand up to hurricanes amazingly well, and can mitigate the winds to an significant degree – there was very little damage in the last hurricane in the reserve and in the areas on the land edge of the biome because of trees.

That was as far out as we went, and we turned around and headed back to the bus.

The boat trip felt partly like a trip back in time – the smells, the distant foliage and the water reminded me strongly of the channels and boat routes where I spent my summers. We too had to use boats, since there weren’t any roads to our area of Georgian Bay near Beausoliel Island. I reveled in the feelings and memories. The cottage was always a special place for me, and it was amazing to see such similarities amid the differences.

When we returned to the landing site, the mainland, we noticed that the tide had risen – there were four steps we climbed down to get into the boats, and when we returned, two of them were underwater. Three quarters of an hour travel away from the ocean, and the water is almost fresh, but it’s still experiencing tides.

We got back on the bus and while the guides did give us a bit more information about the area and the reserve, most of the trip back was quiet. We were tired! But it was a wonderful excursion, and to see the trees, water and native life was amazing.

Another at sea day tomorrow – with a port and chocolate tasting. And then Puerto Caldera, in Costa Rica. And the clocks go back one hour – I am assuming that’s because Costa Rica isn’t on daylight savings time, since it’s in the same time zone as Mexico.


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