Tulum did have at least one rough edge for me: on our last night there we went to a well-known (as in on the internet) cheap Mexican food place to procure tortas for our ride through the bio-reserve the next day. As we were walking and waiting for the tortas to be made (al pastor for Melissa sin mayonesa, carne asada for me) we observed a "trash buddy," a street dog that was digging through the trash and aggressively begging for scraps from people. We waved hi to him as we do with all dogs and he ignored us completely...until we were walking back to our Airbnb with a bag of tortas and uno empanada. At this point he became very interested and started following me.
Me, thinking he's like any well-fed house dog, tried to shoo him away with my hand holding the bag of food. I'm not sure if it's because it was the bag hand or just because I tried to scare him off, but he got really aggressive and basically followed us for a quarter mile growling and nearly nipping at my heels non-stop.
I've never had to deal with dogs like this so it was quite surprising. I didn't want to hurt the little fellow but I really got the impression that if I ignored him for too long I'd end up with a puncture wound in my calf. So I had to check backwards every few seconds to keep him away, growling and snarling the entire time. Melissa was ready to go into a closed store to see if we could wait him out. Fortunately we came across someone walking a big (well behaved, normal) dog that captured trash buddy's attention for a bit. They weren't fighting just checking each other out, and long enough that he seemed to forget about me and my sandwiches and we were able to escape.
I'm really not sure what I would have done if he followed us all the way back to the Airbnb. I've never kicked or in anyway hurt a dog before, but at a certain point if they're a threat and won't drop the chase, we'd have to take care of business. Lesson learned about street dogs here, and although there are MANY, this is the only one we've had an issue with.
Although most are "nice" (non-aggressive), they have a lot of qualities that make sense but were still surprising. Spaying and neutering dogs here isn't a thing that people care about doing (it costs money) and I guess Mexico (Jamaica was 0% better though, and neither was Thailand) doesn't have Bob Barker urging people to spay and neuter their pets on a popular common daytime TV show. The effect is simply that all of the street dogs have balls and nursing nipples and are clearly spawning more street dogs all the time. As someone growing up in the 80's and 90's in Iowa, I never quite got why Bob Barker would remind people to do that; traveling in a country with this makes it abundantly clear why it's a public service announcement.
Other than the aggressive trash buddy, our stay in Tulum was great and we were sad to leave without having a chance to check out many more of the restaurants, coffee shops, bars and artsy places. But a hostel reservation waits for no one, so we hit the road down the Yucatan coast on the way to the Siaan Kaan Bioreserve, tortas in hand.
There seem to be several bioreserves in the Yucatan, and Sian Kaan may be one of the more popular ones. This is basically like a state park in the US - I'm not even sure if I could say there's a difference between the two.
|The entrance to the Muyil part of the park|
We've found a really helpful blog from people who did a similar journey to what we have planned, which helped immensely with the planning. A lot of the information we'd like to know before heading into an excursion like this isn't readily available from official (or any) sources online other than blog posts like this.
So we learned that there are two routes to Sian Kaan: one that is 4-5 hours of rough driving on a really bad road to end up at the end of a long peninsula where you stay in a fishing town for a while (I'm not even sure how this is part of the bioreserve, there didn't seem to be a bridge where I expected one), or drive down a state highway to Muyil, park and step into the bioreserve a bit to sight see. We elected to take the latter route in the interest of saving time & agony.
|One of the paths near the entrance|
|Melissa with two of her favorite colors!|
So about an hour down the road from Tulum we arrive at Muyil. There may be a town called Muyil, but for our purposes it was a bus stop and a jumping off point for several sites in the bioreserve. There's a state park type simple entrance, bathroom and parking lot where we park (free parking!). There are very few cars or people here, one of the draws of a bioreserve out of the way like this, and three women exiting the park spoke excellent English and informed us that the guy who sells you tickets is on break.
This kind of place is jungly enough that bug spray is highly recommended, so we layer on that and sun screen, someone tells us to just pay on the way out and we enter the park.
At this point it's worth pausing to say that one thing many people don't realize about Mexico, the Yucatan especially, is how colorful it can be. Orange blossoming trees, purple spiky bushes, yellow and black butter flies and tons of green everywhere. The first part of this park is some old ruins and well maintained jungle grounds with amazing colors.
|One of the ubiquitous orange flowered trees. Need to find out what they're called.|
|Old stump in a clearing|
|One of the ruins, probably called El Castillo.|
I think every archaeological site has an El Castillo
Note the mix of no-longer-mortared stones and probably restored mortared sections.
After meandering through the first part, the park narrows to a small path and the jungle grows immediately denser. You follow that for a bit and end up at another entrance of sorts: for another 50 pesos you can go through the gate and onto a raised boardwalk that will take you by "the watchtower" and to the lagoon.
|It narrows, approaching the jungler part|
|Jungle selfie, and I managed to kind of look at the camera!|
Having read some things in advance, we pay the 50 pesos and walk onto the boardwalk where the jungle gets... denser. It's not Nature Channel level dense yet, but there is a raised wooden plank path there for a reason.
We walk by some large puddles of still water that are shockingly free of mosquito larva (somehow) and actually have fish in them. Like a shallow pool of water maybe 15 feet across, in the jungle, supporting dozens of fish. My theory is that the weird hole in the middle was actually connected to an underground river and possibly eventually to some cenotes or just the lagoon up ahead; otherwise, how could it support fish like that?
Ducking under massive tree roots and going deeper into the jungle
A bit past halfway to the lagoon and end of the jungle is "the watchtower." It is a tower version of the Cyclone ride from Coney Island: old, wooden, rickety but holds together. It went up four levels, probably totaling 30-40 feet vertically. One of us made it all the way up (no judgement, it was freaky with very steep ladder steps) for the view.
|The watchtower from the base. It comes through how steep the ladders were.|
|View from the top. It's enough to be over all of the trees and see the lagoon in one direction.|
Every other direction is green trees as far as you can see.
It was pretty cool but other than an adventurous climb and some good views of one lagoon and lots of trees, there's little going on here. We proceeded through the jungle boardwalk path, trying to figure out what the signs with Mayan numbering along the way were trying to tell us (badger den, the names of different trees?) and exited the jungle at the clearing by the lagoon.
We knew several things from reading traveler blogs in advance. First, everyone seems to agree that paying for a boat ride through the lagoon is an amazing experience and totally worth it. Second, this is one of the few completely non-negotiable and more expensive services in the Yucatan: a strict $600 MXN per person to charter a small flat bottomed boat and its captain to take you around the lagoon. Third, at some point you jump in and float/swim through a mangrove forest in the lagoon, and everyone also agrees that this is the best part.
|Reasonable panorama of the launching point into the lagoon|
A lot of butterflies massing on the ground
Sadly we didn't do this for a few reasons, although we were glad we knew the facts going in. It's kind of pricey for Mexico but that alone wouldn't stop us. The jungle is hot as shit and we had 2 more hours in the car before we'd reach Bacalar, and our arrival time was after 4pm as it was before we got to Muyil. So although it was probably a missed opportunity, we both agreed that the hassle of changing into swim suits and dealing with them wet for the rest of the ride wasn't worth it. There's also the factor that with our car keys, wallet, phones, etc in a backpack, either we'd have to entrust those important possessions to the boat captain (probably fine but adds some anxiety) or only one of us could float at a time.
So we confirmed the price of the boats (still $600) and took some pictures of the insane butterfly gathering at the lagoon clearing. I think it's easy to see more butterflies in the Yucatan in an hour than a lifetime in the US.
|Find the Melissa in this cool jungle clearing|
|A cave we saw|
|Jungle tree roots are crazy. They have a lot above ground, they can |
wind and snake around a ton, and some of them are very tall.
|A ruin at the second part of our visit|
|A little room hidden in the ruins. Not sure what it was for, seemed small and hot to sleep in.|
Having crossed off most of the stops on the list for a small excursion into the bioreserve, we headed back to the car for a parked sandwich and Stax lunch before continuing to Bacalar. Overall there were some really cool things in the bioreserve and we're glad we ventured out a bit to visit them, however briefly. Personally, I was hoping for a 3 hour drive through dense jungle (from the safety of our car and a well maintained road) seeing at least one jaguar and several of every other species in the forest, but that's not the case. Perhaps another excursion.