Celestun – A trip to the Yucatan Outbacks

CelestunWe escaped the Carnaval craziness to go to Celestun, a little town about 90 km from Merida to the west on the Golf of Mexico. It’s famous for its flamingos and I guess for being at the beach and reasonably close to Merida. I had expected Mexican visitors – and there were some but mostly there were: Germans. What drives people from G├╝tersloh, Schwetzingen, and Wanne-Eickel to a little dirty village at the very edge of the Yucatean peninsula is sort of a mystery to me but then I shouldn’t talk. I was there too. It just felt somewhat unsettling to sit in a little breakfast place with five tables four of them occupied by Germans and one by a couple who could have been German but they never spoke a word so I couldn’t verify. There was that couple with a girl about Maxes age who were looking for diapers (are you kidding me, I thought Max was late in being potty-trained) who barely spoke English, let alone a single word of Spanish – we run into them like five times in 24 hours.

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Celestun in the evening light.

So Celestun – funny little place. Unfortunately sort of dirty and shabby. I don’t mind modest, but Coke bottles on the beach, dog poop on the street, trash bags everywhere, and dirty bathrooms is a bit much and I can’t help asking myself: why don’t thy just tidy up a bit and it would look so much better. Uli thought the same so it’s not a German thing. But on the bright side: nice beach with white sand and lots of shells, warm water even by my standards (that means mid-70s or higher), a few people selling jewlery made from shells and conch but unobtrusive and, compared to many a crowded beach I have been to and learned to hate, very few people, mainly families with small kids. The restaurants right by the beach are selling fresh fish and seafood and so hanging out there for a couple of days seems like a good idea. On the first evening we got treated to the Celstun version of the Carnaval parade consisting of a few pick-ups with kids in costumes in the back and a few cars, dad driving, mom sitting next to him and a little girl dressed like a princess, butterfly or fairy on the hood waving driving through the streets.

We found sort of a hotel five miles out of town. I think it is really a place were wealthy Meridians have their weekend places and a few of the bungalows get rented out. When we arrived on Saturday afternoon it was almost completely deserted. It was sort of unreal: a pool with a bridge over it, a main building with a big arch so one can see the ocean and the pier, palm trees, midafternoon heat and nobody but us. It felt like had just landed on one of those strange planets the Star Trek crew seems to get stuck on every other episode. The bungalow worked well for us and in the evening I realized something we city dwellers keep forgetting: how dark the night is with no or very little artifical light or at least the moon. It is pitch, can’t-see-a-thing, dark with a million stars.

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The petrified forest near Celestun

After idlying Sunday morning away and then taking a nap we did what every good tourist in Celestun is supposed to do, we hired a boat with two other families and set out for the flamingos. Those little dinky boats are equipped with strong motors and so we zipped along the coast at a surprising speed. Max, the adrenalin-junky, squeeled with joy. He wont go into the water more than knee deep because it is “too dangerous” but there seems nothing wrong in his mind with speeding along on that same water at break-neck speed. We saw the petrified forest, pelicans white and grey and finally after about an hour of driving a orange glow in the distance – the flamingos. It is one of these strange things that has struck me before: why do people claim that flamingos are pink when in fact they are bright orange, well maybe apricot, but not pink. The ones in the San Francisco zoo aren’t pink and nor where these. That doesn’t lessen their appeal, it was a beautiful sight in the perfect evening light: hundreds, maybe thousands of flamingos standing, eating, walking, coming and going. As usual on occasions like that I claimed the very tip of the boat for myself and the camera and fired away. Low light, long lense and shaky boat – just hope I got a few decent pictures. We only stayed for a few minutes – way to short for my taste but night fell fast and we started heading back in the last orange light of the day. We tucked Max into one of the towels we brought from the hotel and the girls from the vacationing Mexican family into the other and had a gorgeous trip back – albeit a bit “fresca” for me.

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Finally flamingos – and plenty of them

More beach and ocean today. We got Max to go into the water up to his hips (only took about 2 hours) but he loved every minute of it and then it was back to Merida. Tomorrow is the final big parade of Carnaval during the day, can’t miss that photo op.

Still loving it here. Sometimes, though, I can’t help but thinking like the biz school grad I am and start pondering and planning how one could improve this, change that, adjust something else to make this place more attractive to tourists and more profitable for the locals. But then I think: the Americans want big resorts and five-star everything, jet-skis, souvenir shops, all you can eat buffets including huge burritos with lots of cheese, a Starbucks and menus in English – not the kind of look and feel I like. The Germans/Europeans want eco-everything but then they come in troves and destroy by their sheer number the very thing they came for. Maybe the whole place is best left alone.

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