Swimming with crocodiles
Machito, a local fisherman, met me at the little thatch-roofed visitors hut in San Crisanto – a ramshackle itty bitty village on the long sandspit between the lagoon and the wide Gulf of Mexico. He rolled up on his bike, with a second bike in tow for me. I droppedmy beach bag and water bottle into his basket and we bounced down the sandy path to the boat launch, followed by two mexican women in a car who were also along for the 50-peso tour of los manglares.
Machito ferried us through the mangrove forest’s clear streams, pointing out trees and termite nests and giant ferns and fishes. After a dreamy half hour we docked at the cenote and I climbed down into the cool clear water, to swim with the giant tarpon fish that washed into the cenote during the hurricane of 2004, and got trapped there and bred. I asked Machito if it was OK to swim into the mangrove stream and he said sure, just try not to touch bottom and stir up the silt. I drifted through the clear shallow stream through schools of pretty little fish. No hay cocodrillos? I called. He laughed.
When we got on the rattly old bikes for the return trip, Machito asked, would you like to see the alligators that live behind my house? Well hell yeah! We rode the few minutes to his place and through the sandy coconut-strewn yard that backs onto the lagoon. I was kind of expecting cute little gators like the stuffed ones at the visitor centre, but when these two twelve-foot muthas swam up quickly and roared, I think i made a little girly scream.
I don’t think the crocs go to the cenote. I guess they just hang out in the lagoon. Machito called them alligators but my extensive Wikipedia research indicates that are actually American crocodiles, which are less aggressive than those Florida gators (less gang affiliation), but bigger – they get to 20 feet. One of them was missing a foreleg but Machito assured me that was the result of if an internal disagreement.
Machito also tipped me off to come back to the lagoon at 2:30, when the flamingos come. Yeah really I’m not drunk – there was a flock of pink flamingos and i have feathers to prove it.
The hurricane surely did a number on the coast, pretty much wiped out the villages. There are still lots of busted up breakwalls and stuff. But seriously, compared to the grinding poverty I’ve seen in Jalisco and other places in Mexico, Yucatan in general seems quite middle-class – in the better sense of the word. There are well maintained bicycle roads in the outlying burbs and villages, and I see way more desperados and panhandlers in Vancouver than here on any given day. Even the peanut vendors and souvenir sellers have dignity about them. I’m sure there is crime, as everywhere. People lock their doors and you don’t want to be an idiot. But i have felt safer here than anywhere I’ve been in Mexico. I’m a fan. And the crocs are way cool.