SUNDAY FEB. 7, 2016 – Of all the things I’ve seen underwater, sea turtles are my favourite and today we hit the motherlode. We embarked on our turtle odyssey yesterday, making the three and a half hour drive from our rental house in Chicxulub on the Gulf of Mexico to Akumal on the Caribbean side.
We made a pit stop in the lovely city of Vallodolid to admire some of the pastel-hued architecture, stroll through its central square, eat a Yucateco lunch at a charming little restaurant called Las Campanas, and visit the Zaci Cenote (a cenote is a big limestone sinkhole filled with fresh water).
By the time we’d arrived at our bed and breakfast accommodation, Villa Tortugas (of course, we had to stay at a place with the Spanish name for turtles), set in the jungle 3 kilometres from Akumal Bay, we’d burned daylight so we repaired to our charming tiny bungalow. Our host Denis told us the best plan was to arrive at the bay between 8 and 8:30 a.m. to avoid the turtle gawking hordes.
Akumal means place of the turtles in the Mayan language and the endangered turtles live in the wild in the clear shallow waters of Akumal Bay.
So we rose early and not only was it cloudy but about 65 degrees F. If there weren’t turtles in the mix, there is no way you’d coax me to take the plunge on such a cool day. Thank goodness my guy gifted me with a wetsuit before we left Canada. At the bay, we donned our snorkel gear and swam to where we saw a couple of other snorkelers floating motionless a couple of hundred feet away in the turtle area designated by lines of buoys – the snorkelers had either drowned or had found some reptiles. The lifeguard didn’t seem concerned so we decided it was the latter case. Sure enough, we came across a trio of our shelled friends snacking on sea grass and we quickly swung into action with underwater camera and GoPro.
As we swam our way around the bay, we saw even larger turtles, some with hitchhiking fish on their backs, munching away and ignoring the gawking snorkelers. Occasionally, they’d gracefully flap their flippers and glide to the surface to gulp a breath of air. These were green sea turtles, with rather sweet Franklin the Turtle-type faces and beautifully mottled fins and heads. The bay is also home to loggerheads that have a sharper hooked profile but we didn’t see any of those.
It was a good day for turtle spotting even if the cloudy skies didn’t create perfect visibility. We figured we saw close to a dozen of the creatures before the cold got the better of us and we called it a morning.
We returned the next morning to slightly better conditions – at least there was sun – but we decided to go at 9 a.m. instead of 8 and there were already large groups of snorkelers heading for the bay. They had hired guides but we had read before our trip that it wasn’t necessary to do so and we had no trouble finding turtles on our own. We also had a good day and spotted another dozen or so grazing on their seabed pasture. We had two bonus sightings. A school of colourful small squid swam by, transparent fins fluttering like a flimsy skirt on a windy day. Then just as we decided to head to shore, we spotted a stingray on the ocean floor that hung around for a minute before darting off.