Once upon a time in paradise a Mexican bloke was walking along the sugar soft white sands of the most perfect beach imaginable toking on a large Cuban cigar. The smell of salt was in the air, and the skies were an unforgiving kind of brutal. Since he had been awake for more than half an hour the amigo felt it was time for a siesta and so relaxed under a coconut tree and watched the maya blue waters gently lick at the shore.
The Caribbean Sea was too inviting to resist and soon the amigo was in his skiddies and stepping curiously into the warm waters, he flicked his cohiba with an over practiced skill and let himself fall into euphoric waters. As he floated on his back with his sombrero providing him desperate shade he could not have know that he was about to discover an ecosystem that would change the landscape, that would bring people from all the corners of the globe to this small bay.
Indulged in day dreams of a señorita he smiled, life was perfect for a moment, it was almost heaven. Some time later the amigo had drifted about fifty metres from shore, but it was not a concern, and so he gently rolled over and made a small, almost effortless splash in the process, an insignificant ripple in a vast utopia. But the disturbance of water continued rather than disperse immediately as one would expect, the ripple carried on longer that time should have allowed and something was clearly amiss. Something not quite right. The amigo dipped his eyes briefly beneath the skin of the surface and saw before him something so unexpected it was surreal. An unforced smile of curiosity and amazement filled his podgy face which stretched his white handle bar mustache to record breaking lengths, and he remained transfixed on the creature before him as long as the oxygen in his lungs allowed. The creature was docile and with an air of elegance continued its forage in the grass of the sea bed.
Once back at shore the amigo looked around at the baron and empty bay, his smile of curiosity became one of enchantment, one of a sealed future of success.
He set about work almost instantly, bringing wood, paints and various other needs of construction to the small beach. Within a fortnight he had built the first shack on Akumal beach and he set about spreading the word of turtle bay, a place where you could come and swim with turtles in their natural habitat and for free.
Now Akumal is not the secret it used to be, and with a little bit of research, you can get the jist of what is going down, pay 35 pesos from Playa, bring your own snorkel gear and thanks to Mexico’s beach laws (every beach is available for public use, for free) you can be in the shallow waters of Akumal bay and amongst some of the most gentle, beautiful and tragically endangered animals on earth – The sea turtle.
We had planned to go to Akumal since our arrival in Playa, it was high on our hit list and so the day previous we set about getting together snorkels, goggles and face masks. I had hoped to get a water proof casing for my camera but it wasn’t happening. So, the inventor inside me set about inventing a waterproof camera case.
What you need:
– Zip Loc bags
– Brown tape
– Someone else’s camera
What you do
Put someone else’s camera in the zip loc bag and fasten it. Fold down the top and then brown tape it to the bag.
The finished item looks like this.
Armed with a water proof camera and our snorkeling gear we headed the 25km to Akumal.
When the collectivo ditches you, he will do so at the foot bridge. Cross over and keep walking in the same direction until you come to a few dudes who will tell you that the beach is tour only. Laugh, smile, be nice and keep walking.
After a few minutes you come to a mini supermarket, car parking is just 50 pesos if you need it. Keep going down to the beach and if you are early enough (as we were) you will find a prime spot under a coconut tree offering shade and the possibility of a seriously funny moment if indeed a coconut should fall from the tree. With the fact that coconuts are hard you should sit your least favourite child in that spot. Or, if like me you find it hard to decide – Sit them all under it 😉
You can rent snorkeling gear for $5 US complete with germs and there are lockers etc. I decided we would buddy up and there would always be one of us watching our gear whilst the others swam. In practice it was just too deep to take Abi and Jack together so I took one at a time into the water. Now, people ask how far out the turtles are. Stand and face the water and you will notice that close to shore it is turquoise, but dotted around slightly further out are darker patches. These are areas of sea grass and prime turtle habitat.
As we sat under the coconut tree, we donned sun lotion. It was so hot and there were no clouds at all so I made Charlie and Jack keep their t.shirts on. I then gave them the safety speech.
It is illegal to touch turtles in the sea and this is I am told (and thankfully so) taken extremely seriously with harsh penalties. Additionally there are also barracudas roaming the waters, I explained that how along with sting rays they are like bees and will not attack unless they feel threatened. If you see a barracuda it is best to just keep swimming and hope the javelin shaped muncher keeps swimming too, which they usually do. But in the case of a sting ray, you should exercise a small bit of caution. It is extremely rare that they attack a human and the vast majority of cases are from people standing on them as they lay camouflaged in the sand. Even then the sting ray rarely responds, but when it does it injects a sharp barb into the leg which causes painful muscle cramps. I explained to the kids that if we see one, we should try not to swim over it and to not block its front, Abi became slightly cautious, but she soon got over it.
Jack was up first and we were about 20 metres out, the sea was maybe 12ft deep and we swam slowly forward when I saw a head come out from the sea for breath. Looking under water we were less than a metre from a turtle that was at least a metre in length. Jack put his hand on my shoulder and trembled with excitement. I could hear him shouting excitedly through his snorkel, the turtle didn’t respond to us being there and continued swimming effortlessly slowly as we swam along with it. We followed it for what must have been twenty minutes or more before I remembered there were two other anxious kids on the shore.
Getting out of the water Jack became weightless as he jumped around shouting with an uncontrolled excitement at the fact he had just swam with a gentle giant the size of him. he was mesmerised,” thats the best time of my life dad” he said with a smile which stretched his red cheeks as he swing his arms around me.
Charlie was next and this time we went much further out, perhaps a hundred metres. We saw sting ray that were bigger than I had ever thought they would be. One was about the size of a standard kitchen table, but that paled in comparison to the six or so turtles we saw. Charlie is a very able swimmer and so free dived down towards the turtles, they couldn’t have cared less if they tried. Tears filled my goggles as I looked at the expression on Charlie’s face. Here was my son in the Caribbean Sea less than a foot from one of the most magnificent animals you could find in the water.
By the time it was Abi’s turn various parts of my body were stinging from the sea water so I was hoping to hurry things along.
Once back in the water Abi put her hand on my shoulder and we swam back out fifty or so metres. After a while she tapped my shoulder quite excitedly, I looked in her direction and there were two turtles swimming up towards us. We watched in awe as just a foot from our faces they came up for water and then swam between us. we spun around to follow them and instantly came face to face with a pissed off looking fish with fangs. I heard a bubbled scream of ‘shark’, but it was a barracuda and it was staring me out. Not in the mood for uppercutting a fish we turned around and swam off, Abi’s grip on my shoulder genuinely has marked me. She soon forgot though as we came across the largest turtle I had seen of the day, it was huge. So large that it cast a shadow on the sea bed and we could feel the energy from it as it swam.
The kids have all confirmed to me that the single best thirty minutes of their life was those moments spent underwater with some of the most amazingly genteel animals any of us have ever seen. The excitement in their faces is something I will never forget as they shared their own special moments with each other.
I sat back smiling, proud of myself for being a part of their moments, happy that I shared something they will cherish for the rest of their lives, and wondering just how I was going to tell Abi that my water proof camera case had failed.