A trip to Akumal: Where turtles go to graze and tourists go to be tourists
Our Pez Maya volunteers took a trip to Akumal over the weekend to get up close and personal with green turtles. Angus would like to share his experience through this blog:
I’d like to say we awoke, on the Saturday morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed. We’d had a lie in, after all. The reality is, of course, that party night has a considerable effect upon our wakefulness, and we crawl up to the communal area in various states of disrepair. Breakfast is scrounged from the cereals available, before the collectivo arrives on base, far too soon for my liking. Getting up at 6.30am every weekday is all well and good, but weekends are rarely viewed from this side of midday, if I’ve got any say in the matter. It’s now 8am. Why am I doing this again? Oh, yeah, the turtles!!
So, off we go, 12 of us slouched in our seats as we bounce along the road (Hah! Road? Yeah, right). At least it’s not too hot yet. By this I mean it’s already topped the peak of British summer. Thank god for air-con in the van. My head is definitely still fuzzy from the night before.
“Coati!!” someone calls.
I just about raise my head in time to catch a glimpse of the raccoon-like animal before it disappears back into the jungle. That’s another one to add to the list of things I’ve caught a tantalising glimpse of. I just wish they’d come a little bit closer, dammit!
So we finally make it to Akumal, and we’re more or less awake by now. Piling off the collectivo, the first point of call is the OXXO (much like any 7-11 store). Next, the beach. It’s a glorious day. Whatever you do, DO NOT forget the sunscreen, and it’s only just gone 9.30am. Why am I doing this again? Oh, yeah……. The heat definitely does things to my mental alacrity.
The beach is busy, but not too bad. There’s still plenty of space for us to dump our bags in a shady area, and pull out masks and snorkels. No fins though. Fins are bad here. They damage the beds of seagrass. And off we go into the water, cameras and GoPros at the ready.
Deciding where to head for is the next challenge. There is no shortage of tours already in the water, their participants encased in life jackets. Have they spotted a turtle? Should we head that direction, or just go for somewhere that no-one else is at. It’s an easy choice for me, and I make a beeline for a tourist free zone. It’s odd how I don’t consider myself a tourist…..
Fish flit past. I think that’s a needlefish, but don’t quote me on that, I’m Corals! That’s a Sergeant Major! Blimey, some of the information overload of being on base is actually sticking.
There! A Green Turtle glides into my field of view! Not quite my first sighting, but definitely the closest I’ve been to these stunning creatures. I stop, transfixed as it glides by, seemingly unconcerned at the humans littering its feeding grounds. A couple of flicks of its flippers and it’s gone. I raise my head out of the water to see if any of my fellow volunteers are around, but there’s no-one within 30 foot of me. I grin happily. That one was all mine! Then I remember that I’ve got a GoPro in my hand, and I totally forgot to turn it on
Time to catch up with the group. Up ahead, a group of Cuttlefish comes into view, as some of us rest briefly on a mooring rope. More swimming gets us to an area of reef. It’s patchy, and not in particularly good condition. Hardly surprising considering the numbers of people that come here every day. I can’t help myself. I start identifying the corals as they slide past. What the hell have they done to me on base?!? There’re fish here, all glittery and eye-catching, but I’m more interested in the Montastraea faveolata, or the Agaricia agaricites, or the long-spined urchin (because it feeds on the algae that otherwise compete with the corals)………. Seriously?
Head under the water, I don’t really notice that I’ve separated from everyone else. I’m off in my own little world of corallites, polyps and septa. The fish are pretty and all, but……
There’s another small Green Turtle! This one passes by me within an arm’s length! I fumble for the camera, and somehow get it recording. This is just amazing! At least until the finned git charges towards the turtle, camera held out before him like a lance. The turtle veers away, unsurprisingly, and disappears into the distance at speed. I hope those photos turn out blurred.
Time to head back in, so that those guarding the bags can get into the water. My head comes out of the water for the first time in 30 minutes or so. Wow, have I really gone that far?! It’s going to be a slog getting back if I have to think about it, so it’s head back in the water time. Fish flit past. Grunts, Damselfish, Angelfish, Blue Head Wrasse, initial phase Stoplight Parrotfish, terminal phase Stoplight Parrotfish….. Yeah, ok, I admit it. Some (most) of this stuff I’ve looked up after the fact!
The best thing is I see two more Green Turtles on the way back in, happily munching away on the sea grass. And there’s no-one else around. I can just float there, a few feet away from these beautiful animals, and get some really great footage of them feeding. One of them is big too. About 110cm or so. He (or she) even stops browsing momentarily to take a lazy look at me. I just can’t stop grinning. Leaving the turtles behind, I’m almost at the shore now. One last patch of seagrass to cross before I can put my feet on the sand for the first time in about an hour. But there’s still time for one final surprise as a large shoal of fish appear before me, and I swim through them as they dart around me. This is fantastic!!
Back on the beach, the number of people is rising as we get closer to midday. So’s the temperature. You really, really need the sunscreen here. It’s time we made our escape. Off to Playa for another night of fun and revelry.
I’m going to remember this time in Akumal for a very long time.
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