10 Days in Paradise

Travel is risky these days, but I was fortunate to find myself in one of the safest places on the planet, southern Quintana Roo, Mexico, with two of my oldest and dearest friends.

Laguna Bacalar

After masking up for the six hour flight from Portland to Cancun, I spent the night and was met at the airport hotel by Polly and Jim, who live 300 km south in the lovely town of Bacalar. Phoebe flew in from Costa Rica. We have known each other since high school and we’ve been missing our annual reunion trips the last few years, so it was wonderful to see them again.

On the drive from Cancun to Bacalar you notice immediately the enterprising nature of the local folks. Here Phoebe and Jim are buying sweet coconut drinks from a roadside stand. This highway is full of serious speed bumps (called topes in Spanish), and every tope has at least one fruit or souvenir stand, to attract the business of drivers who have to slow way down.

Casa Arcos, Bacalar

All my friends have been sending me messages from the CDC and State Dept. saying not to go to Mexico, and I appreciate the concern, but Bacalar is not like anywhere else in Mexico. It’s off the beaten path, they have almost no covid cases, and they seem determined to keep it that way. I was amazed at how seriously they take their safety measures. Every store and restaurant had us disinfect our shoes, then took our temperature, and gave us hand sanitizer, before letting us in.

Here’s El Manati’ restaurant where I enjoyed a Mayan Omelette for breakfast. In the background you can see a bunch of potted plants in front of the counter, to keep you distanced from the cashier. Besides the great menu they sold local products and beautiful crafts.

Here Phoebe and I are exploring El Mercado, Bacalar’s downtown farmers market. Lots of wonderful fresh fruits and vegetables as well as clothing and a lot of other locally made items.

Bacalar has a lot of interesting architecture. This area is still pretty rural; Quintana Roo, in the eastern part of the Yucatan peninsula, has only been a state for around 50 years. It still has lots of wild areas and several Mayan ruins. The big attraction is the lake, Laguna Bacalar, known for its clear blue waters. Now that tourists are starting to arrive, a popular spot is Cenote Azul. A cenote is a sinkhole where the water is deep and very clear. Popular swimming holes.

We ate in several great restaurants. Here at Enamora, a local bakery, we had breakfast and listened to some music by Polly’s friend Willy. Besides being a talented musician, Willy takes care of Casa Arcos when Polly and Jim are in the US. Bacalar is a very friendly community!

We spent one morning in Chetumal, the capital of QRoo, about 20 miles south of Bacalar on the Belize border. Driving into town we saw this monument next to Chetumal Bay, celebrating the local legend of a shipwrecked Spanish sailor who married an indigenous woman.

Chetumal has about 200,000 people and lots of places to shop for things you can’t get in Bacalar. While Phoebe ran some errands for things she can’t get in Costa Rica, Polly and I visited the Museum of Mayan Culture.

Sadly the museum itself was closed, but we were able to visit the central gardens and galleries of works by local artists.

Below is a typical Mayan house, next to the type of palm tree that is used to thatch the roof.

Here are some more works by local artists:

Last stop in Chetumal was Chedraui, a giant supermarket chain that sells not only food but clothing, toys, office supplies, and just about everything else you can imagine. There was even a display of motorcycles in the front! Here’s part of their selection of chili peppers.

Don’t let the $19 price fool you, that’s in pesos, not USD. Right around $1.

Wednesday morning we went on a guided bird walk with guide Jacqueline of Ecotucan resort a little further north on the lake shore. We saw lots of the local residents and winter visitors like toucans, chachalacas, and Yucatan jays. Here are some ducks enjoying the sunrise on the lake.

Next morning Jim took us on a guided boat tour around the lake. He has a small electric motor that took us through the Pirates Channel and around the mangrove swamps at a leisurely pace, and without the obnoxious noise of a normal gas motor.

We headed out just as the sun was rising. The Pirates Channel connects two sections of the lake by which pirates brought out their cargoes of valuables such as exotic woods and bird feathers.

Mangrove swamps are common in tropical waters. There are lots of explanations for the name but I prefer to think the bushes themselves, with their long stems, look like they have legs and can walk around like a man.

There are lots of birds that make their home on the lake, like this Great Egret. This structure near the Pirates Channel was intended to be a restaurant but was never quite finished.

After our boat ride we had a spa day, then stopped on the way home at a Bacalar landmark, the San Felipe Fort.

In between all these adventures we prepared some fabulous meals and enjoyed many hours of conversation and catching up with dear old friends. I hated to leave and have to go back to the real world. At least I got a nice view of the Cascade peaks that always welcome us home to the Pacific Northwest. These are Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier.


9 thoughts on “10 Days in Paradise”

  1. Andre, you never stop to amaze. You were so brave to fly. I have been to Mexico many times but never ventured that far south. It seems like such a peaceful place. Thank you so much for sharing. Hope your holidays are pleasant.


  2. I have been wondering how you have been doing since your travelling wings had been clipped. But I shouldn’t have worried. You sneaked out! You are fortunate to have Polly and Jim as guides to show you the sites. And by the way, Yeah, Biden and Kamala! JoAnn

    Liked by 1 person

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