JIM CONRAD'S
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
Issued from Rancho Regenesis
in the woods near Ek Balam Ruins north of Valladolid in
Yucatán, MÉXICO

October 9, 2016

*****

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 4, 2016
The dogs this morning looked surprised when after breakfast instead of going to pull weeds to feed the burros, I put on clean clothes, draped a bag across my shoulder, and left through the big gate. I wondered if they'd sleep outside the hut door the way they usually do, when that night they'd understand that I wasn't there.

But, my visa for Mexico was expiring and I needed to go to the border to get a new one, so that morning I walked to the highway to wait for the next bus heading south. A chest-high paspalum grass flowered along the roadside and it was good seeing its yellow anthers dangling from flowers neatly lined up on one side of narrow, widely spaced, horizontally spreading spikes -- especially in the context of that roadside's rampant, undisciplined growth. It was so humid that though the sun had been shining on that spot for a couple of hours, silvery water droplets from the previous afternoon's rain beaded on the Macals' broad, arrowhead-shaped leaves.

The highway was a straight line of grayness cutting through an utterly ragged, dark-green landscape, shimmering in wet, morning heat. The blue sky was cloudless, and the sun powerful. The big Oriente bus with its odor of diesel and disinfectant rolled to a stop, and my journey began.

In Valladolid I bought a hot bean tamale wrapped in Hoja Santa leaves, Hoja Santa being Piper auritum, a small tree in the Black Pepper Family, with spicy, good smelling leaves. The leaf melts into the tamale when it's steamed, imparting ia rich, spicy flavor. Our Hoja Santa page is at http://www.backyardnature.net//mexnat/piper-au.htm

In Mérida it was hot, but a little park not far from the bus station was nicely shaded, so I killed time until my 10PM bus sitting there, reading from my Kindle. At first I sat beneath a strangler fig tree loaded with pea-sized, spherical figs and busy with fig-eating birds. It wasn't long before I understood why all the benches in the park had been occupied, except those beneath the strangler.

On the bus that night I quickly found sleep, glad that I'd thought to bring a heavy pullover and hat against the bus's powerful air conditioning.

*****

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 5, 2016
As dawn's first light glowed in the eastern sky, the bus pulled into the ADO station in Palenque, Chiapas. After changing back into shorts and light shirt, it didn't take three minutes to hike downslope from the ADO station to the compound from which vans leave for farther south. Soon I was streaking down a rough paved road paralleling the Usumacinta River, which in this area separates Mexico from Guatemala. It was good seeing hills again. I described the landscape and cultural setting here the last time I made this same trip, in the Newsletter of http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/160417.htm

To my great relief, once again at the immigration station in Frontera Corozal I was granted a new visa with no problems at all. Frontera Corozal sits right on the Usumacinta River where travelers between Chiapas and Guatemala's Petén region cross the river in motorboats. Much of the traffic consists of international tourists traveling between the Maya ruins of Palenque and the equally impressive Tikal Ruins in the Petén. The vast majority of those come in small, white vans, as part of packaged tours, not as independent travelers.

It was noon and I was tired, hot, a little woozy from all the curves in the road, and a bit at odds with my body from all the hard road bumps that had catapulted me from my seat again and again. Not far from the Immigration office I found a surprisingly large, well maintained hotel/tourist-compound. In an attractive, shady spot. I erected my tent for about US$3/night, took a siesta, and read the rest of the afternoon. You can see my tent in its peaceful little spot at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/161009tt.jpg

During the afternoon I was interrupted only once, when around 4PM I thought a bad dogfight was breaking out right next to the tent. It wasn't dogs, though, but rather a Howler Monkey calling from the next tree. I'd forgotten how bloodcurdling and loud these calls can be. A little later three monkeys passed right over my tent, and one tarried awhile to look at me. You can see him at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/161009hm.jpg

But, this isn't a Howler. This is a Geoffroy's Spider Monkey, a possibly aroused male, judging from the appearance of things. His expression there is one of frank curiosity, but eventually he broke into the "grin" shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/161009hn.jpg

In the evening, many Howlers called, including some across the river in Guatemala. This place must be monkey heaven.

*****

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 6, 2016
I'd been in this area back in the mid 1970s when Frontera Corozal was just a scattering of houses along the river with no road to it, only foot trails. Today the town has one paved road running through, with several cobblestone-and-sand streets diffusing away from the pavement. The town is spread out in an informal manner so that it's hard to find el centro. You can see a view down the paved road, with the end of the road at the river's edge in the picture's center, the Immigration Office behind the white fence on the right, and the billboard pointing to the place I stayed, Nueva Alianza, on the left, at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/161009fd.jpg

On my last visit I didn't check out the town, so this morning when I walked down to the river I was surprised to find good looking hotels and restaurants, a well kept community museum and a shaded, spacious park along the river, with numerous motorboats lined up along shore. You can see the boats, with Mexico on the left and Guatemala on the right, at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/161009fc.jpg

As I sat on a park bench watching spider monkeys -- they're all over the place -- a young woman wearing a park guard uniform stopped to talk. She confirmed my suspicion that most international travelers pass through town leaving little or no money for the locals, despite the town's excellent tourist infrastructure. It was the same way at Pisté and Chichén Itzá. More and more, people seem to be traveling in packages, afraid to strike off on their own.

During my first hour at the park I'd been the only visitor but eventually a couple of young men appeared and sat not far from me, as if waiting. The guard said that probably they wanted to take a boat to the nearby ruin of Yaxchilán, but when she left one of the men struck up a conversation with me, saying that he'd been traveling for five days, from a little town in Honduras, down several rivers and along trails through large forests, headed for Coatzacoalcos, a big oil-refining town on the Mexican Gulf Coast, hoping to find work.

This man was on his own packaged tour, one where he'd paid up front to someone to get him from one place to another, and here in Frontera Corozal where he'd spent the night he was receiving his promised services. When I gave him the day-old tortillas in my backback he seemed very appreciative. I could see on his face that he was having a hard trip, and I suspected it might get harder the closer he got to Coatzacoalcos.

I went to buy more tortillas, sold from a low shed attached to a cinderblock house set off the road. You take a narrow footpath among weeds to get there. There's no indication at all that anyone there sells anything. Someone just has to tell you.

Two Chol-speaking ladies peeked from their shed and I ordered my half kilo of tortillas. I needed to wait a little for the tortillas to be made up, and was invited to sit in the chair net to an old man beside the house, but I shouldn't try to talk to grandfather because he was deaf. I took a seat and began wondering what it was like being the old man seated there day after day with the same view always before him. He didn't seem depressed at all, but rather contented with his lot. I noted what he was seeing:

* a small chicken pen immediately in front of him
* the featherless-necked chickens busy picking at the ground
* ants busy here and there on the ground
* two big shade trees, a Mango and a Coconut Palm
* a pink-flowered Coralvine prettily at home on the chicken pen fence
* a large pen with a single turkey nervously pacing back and forth
* a shiny, robust Castor plant
* odors of woodsmoke and ashes, baking tortillas and chicken poop

The old man couldn't hear other things that might have pleased him:

* the women busily patting my tortillas into existence
* a neighbor's pig squealing
* the calls of a Great Kiskadee and a Great-tailed Grackle.

Having my tortillas, I headed to an informal restaurant and ordered Mexican eggs with beans. Against one wall of the restaurant they were drying corn freshly harvested from a nearby milpa. It was a pretty sight, as you can see at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/161009mz.jpg

*****

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 7, 2016
My tent is one of those with most of its top consisting of netting that keeps out the bugs but lets you see things, particularly the sky an night. Thursday evening the sky had been so clear that I hadn't put my rain fly on. At 5AM this morning I awoke to rain pouring through the netting. It was a heavy rain, too. I got the fly on fast, but still I got soaked. However, the rain was warm, so it didn't feel bad lying in the tent letting my body heat dry me off.

I like Frontera Corozal and had thought about spending a third day there, but after this dawn rain it looked like another was coming, so I packed up and left. Heading back north we passed through more rain, sometimes coming down as if dumped from larges buckets. In the afternoon as I sat in Palenque's ADO station reading and waiting for the 9PM bus to Mérida, one of the best rains I've seen in years dumped on us. I'll never forget one lady who got off a bus wearing something like a slinky evening gown. When the rain hit her, within three seconds she looked like she was plastered with wet, pink tissue paper and her hair collapsed like a poked dishpan of nicely fermented sourdough. That night we passed through more good rains on our way back north.

*****

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 8, 2016
At dawn we arrive in Mérida. In 15 minutes I'm on a bus to Valladolid, and then from there -- after buying another Hoja-Santa-wrapped bean tamale -- I take an Oriente bus to the little woodland trail leading from the main road to the Rancho. The dogs are glad to see me.

*****

Best wishes to all Newsletter readers,

Jim

All previous Newsletters are archived at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/.