Ohh, we love turtles

Green sea turtle in Akumal
Green sea turtle in Akumal

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.

Diving sea turtle in Akumal Bay
Diving sea turtle in Akumal Bay

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.

 

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West Bay day

Fish were everywhere at West Bay
Fish were everywhere at West Bay

It’s Groundhog Day and Wiarton Willie would have no trouble seeing his shadow on Roatan today on this hot, blue sky day.

I understand there’s a snowstorm going on at home in Ontario. So in unity with our Canadian comrades, we seek out the most reasonable facsimile we can find and that’s the white sand of West Bay Beach.

Water taxi is the only way to travel on such a beautiful day and our driver Omar zips us across for the quick ride to West Bay Beach, considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It’s busy but not overly crowded today – tomorrow when several mega cruise ships will be in port, it will be packed with cruisers determined to make the most of their day in the sun. We make a beeline for the far end of the beach by the Infinity Bay Resort where we’ve been told the snorkeling is superb.

It is no idle boast. As soon as we don our fins and are in water barely above our knees, fish are everywhere, including sergeant majors, angelfish and some other fairly large ones whose identity is beyond my piscine recognition skills.

Spotted on the reef near Infinity Bay resort
Spotted on the reef near Infinity Bay resort

The reef is a little tricky to negotiate where the coral is high and the water shallow but we manage to navigate our way through its channels into deeper water and can tell from the hue of the ‘deep blue’ in the near distance that we have come close to the wall, where the reef suddenly gives way to a huge drop to seemingly endless depths.

We stick close to the reef and spend an enjoyable couple of hours watching its colourful inhabitants swim and feed. (Awesome video to come once we get home).

Sometimes I wonder how low I will go (60 feet deep apparently based on yesterday’s dive) and to what heights for my significant other who tends to be the instigator of these adventures. Today it was 800 feet in the sky as we got strapped into harnesses and made like a tandem human kite behind a speed boat. Or as it’s more commonly know, parasailing.

Up, up and away
Up, up and away

It was like sitting in a big, gently rocking swing high above the water and I had not the slightest trepidation about being so lofty. Our perch afforded an incredible view of the ocean and Roatan’s green, hilly landscape and it ended far too soon.

With so many adventures packed into one day, we headed back to West End in Omar’s water taxi, stopping briefly to tow a stranded boater to shore enroute, then went to The Landing for a bite to eat.

There we ran into the crew from Ruthless Roatan – Tim, Michelle and Blue – who took us on our most memorable Roatan adventure last year: a boat trip to Cayos Cochinos where we snorkeled in the most pristine water we’d ever seen and spent a few fascinating hours with the Garifuna tribe, who live without electricity or running water.

Seeing the Ruthless gang twigged our memory of our fantastic time last year and now we have a dilemma: Should we book a Ruthless repeat? Cayos might not be in the cards but the sunset cruise sounds tempting. Stay tuned! So much to do, so little time.