Never before have I considered using an iguana´s perspective to view life, but today I did. Staring off the top of a rock at the waves crushing in on the shoreline, and at the crystal blue sea beyond, this iguana´s view would be a king´s envy. The ruins of Tulum — an ancient Mayan city on the sea — lay to the east. Below them lay a beach as smooth as confectioner´s sugar, and just as white. The wild palms and crags of cacti grew to the west. The sea lay before him, and the warm morning sun shone down upon him. For a moment, all was right in that iguana´s world.
The ruins of Tulum were on my Must See list because they were on the cover of The Lonely Planet which I´ve been using. Furthermore, they were recommended by that great sum of recommenders, whose names need to be mentioned here. Many thanks go out to Enrique Castillo-Sosa for the long, detailed, and informative emails; to Monica Flores for her recommendations about Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Merida, Campeche, and Cancun; to Parley Valdez and to Brenda Bernaldez for making the connections with Monica and Enrique; to Jose Villafuerte for his comments on places to go, things to see; to Valeria Bove for her sound advice; and to my brother, Paul, for his medical advice about traveling.
Sian Ka´an (pronounced Seen Kahn) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site about 15 kilometers away from the Tulum ruins, and its name in Mayan means, Where the sky was born. It is a biosphere with a great lagoon stretched through its midst, inhabited by all manner of flora and fauna: cormorants, pelicans, roseate spoonbills, ibises, crocodiles, mangroves, great blue herons, egrets, red winged blackbirds, jaguars, needlenose fish, sawgrass, manatees, and many more. For people from Louisiana and Florida, many of these names will register as common to those regions too.
The guide was a Mexican from the city of Puerto Morelos, in the state of Quintana Roo, in his mid-forties, with a salt and pepper goatee, black hair, dancing eyes, and a personality that was quick to laughter. He was also incredibly competent. In addition to knowing every single bird by sight, he also knew their Latin names and classification, “There´s the turkey vulture, family Cathartidae!” Indeed. He guided myself and an English couple, George and Katy, through the mangroves of the place where the sky was born. The water, he explained, is brackish, and the salty water from the Gulf is funneled through undersea channels beneath the peninsula where it mixes with the fresh water of the lagoon.
The mangroves, Luis said, serve as a retaining wall and barrier against the hurricanes. And they serve as the focal point for life in the marsh. Each of the mangrove stands has taken roughly 400 years to develop into its current shape and size. The termite mounds that you see — he pointed out the enormous black mounds amidst the branches of the mangrove — are critical in the cycle of life because they chew up the dead mangrove branches and facilitate decomposition. The black lines that you see, Luis mentioned, on the mangrove branches are in fact tunnels for those termites to move through the branches, like blood running through veins.