Wednesday, January 18, 2012

In a Crocodile Nest

Last week we went on an outing from Isla Mujeres—to CrocoCun, a reptile reserve a half-hour south of Cancun. We’ve passed it several times on our travels in the Maya Riviera, but never thought of stopping. Luckily, Erick Lara, who works in our Nautibeach Condos office, and his girlfriend Ana used to be guides at CrocoCun, and Erick invited us for a complimentary private tour. We’re glad we took him up on the offer!

CrocoCun is set in a lush jungle, with walking paths laid out among the animals’ enclosures. After Erick and Ana were greeted warmly by the staff, a gorgeous Green Military Macaw seemed to recognize them too. After kissing Becky, she accepted a peanut from Erick, cracked the shell, delicately tongued out the nut, rolled it around in her mouth to remove the papery covering, spit out the skin, and finally swallowed the meat!

Nearby, a stunning Mexican Yellow-headed Parrot watched the peanut maneuver, called out his name, “Lorenzo!” and received his own peanut. Erick told us that the Yellow-headed Parrot can learn 50-60 words, more than any other species except for the African Gray Parrot. Because it is so prized as a pet, poachers cut down the jungle to reach the nests, and this beautiful parrot is on the verge of extinction.
Crocodiles, on the other hand, are plentiful both in the wild and at CrocoCun, from small, limber 3 or 4-year olds to huge lumbering adults. We were allowed to hold one of the youngsters and were surprised at its soft belly. Nothing attacks a croc from under the water, only from above, and its boney, spiny back provides ample protection. Ana had no such protection 3 years ago when, distracted by a school boy in her tour group, she didn’t notice the crocodile reach for her hand. While she went off for 17 stiches and staples, the sobbing child was consoled by his teacher and classmates.

We walked through an enclosed area with about 30 crocodiles behind a foot-high stone wall. This may be the only place in the world where people can walk among crocodiles, which, when provoked, move with the speed of a horse! Erick pointed out the alpha crocodile, alone in the pond. The others stay on land. One male was lounging on the shore with his tail and back legs in the water. We guessed he could scamper away if her highness became displeased by his semi-trespassing in her pond. [Photo by Eric Lara -- he was INSIDE the little wall]

Erick’s favorite reptile is the snake. He cares for 14 snakes in the Cancun home he shares with his mom and sister. Cancun in Maya means snake (Can) nest (Cun). The Yucatan is second in the Americas in its number of snakes, with Costa Rica and Belize sharing the number one spot. Erick handed us a native boa constrictor, which gripped our hands and arm is a strong hug. Its skin was shiny and very soft. After holding the small boa, we were shocked to encounter a rare 12-foot yellow albino python with pinkish eyes . . . thankfully in a cage.

Occasionally a spider monkey would come close for a visit or peer curiously down from the trees. The name comes from the ability to use its prehensile tail to hang from trees while keeping its arms and legs free. Several females had babies clinging to their backs or stomachs. While the babies scampered up the tree trunk, the adults came down for the chunks of grapes we held out, prying open our fingers to reach the fruit.

The oddest animal we saw was not the albino python nor a strange-looking soft-shelled turtle, but Xoloitzcuintle, a rare hairless dog that has been in Mexico for 3,000 years. CrocoCun’s two xolos greeted Erick and Ana like long-lost friends and freely let us stroke their silky bodies. They radiated heat, as their natural body temperature is several degrees higher than other dogs. In ancient times, Xolos were considered sacred . . and also popular in chilly regions of Mexico, not only because of their gentle disposition, but because they helped keep the family warm at night. Eric says that today one Xolo dog can cost $4000.

Thank you to Erick and Ana for a fun and educational morning! For more information, visit

Becky and Nancy

A Very Maya Christmas

Not being Christians, Nancy and I don’t celebrate Christmas. This season, though, we were invited to attend a Mayan celebration on Christmas Day at a little community on the edge of Puerto Morelos sponsored by the Jungle Spa (a great place for a traditional Mayan massage).
The celebration started with the arrival of Joseph, with a penciled-beard, a beautiful teen-aged Mary riding a burro, and an entourage of local adults and children singing Christmas carols. It was sweet to see them moving slowly along the dirt road through the jungle.
Upon the arrival of the holy family, and after much recitation, little baby Jesus was placed in Mary’s arms—a local infant of about 3 months with a head of black hair and a patient disposition as the spa dog, dressed up for the holiday, sniffed his head, and visitors from Denmark, Sweden, Canada, and the States snapped photos of the happy family.

The three robed wise men arrived with their gifts, and then it was time for fun and food. The massage therapists performed several traditional dances, including one with a tray of full water glasses and a bottle of beer balanced on their heads.

Local artisans displayed their wares, and there was delicious Mayan food. The panuchos (pictured right) were excellent, but the pork tamales were so extraordinary that we ordered four to go (85 cents each) for our next two dinners.

We caught a taxi back into Puerto Morelos and stopped at a vegetable and fruit store for pineapple, mangoes, and veggies. We were surprised to see so many stores open on Christmas —perhaps the holiday isn’t quite so revered among the Maya merchants as one would think. We like supporting local businesses—especially when so many all-inclusive resorts don’t give much back.

Sandra Dayton, the founder of the Jungle Spa, gives a lot back to the culture she loves, in part through her non-profit organization. She told us that massage as simple relaxation is foreign to the Maya. Her therapists “are from a culture where giving massages is a way of healing. . . . When they were born, a midwife massaged them out of their mother's belly. They were massaged all during the infancy and at 7 or 8 years old they were taught to massage their parent's and grandparent's tired bodies when they came home from working in the cornfields.”

We envision the day when more cultures incorporate massage into daily family life. Imagine girls AND boys running to give Mom and Dad a foot, hand, and shoulder massage when they return from work.We have a lot to learn from the Maya!

For info about the Jungle Spa, visit

Becky and Nancy


Last September Nancy & I spent a week in Sedona, Arizona, to celebrate our seventeenth unofficial and our third official wedding anniversary. It was the first time either of us had stayed in the red rock town. We were both blown away by the beauty.

The sky takes on a deep blue against the red rocks, and the air seems crystal clear. We were surprised at how much vegetation there was—lots of pines, junipers, manzanita bushes, and many varieties of cactus, not all dust and desert.
We went for a hike every day—and there are A LOT of hiking trails. One morning we did a yoga session up on a flat rock with a spectacular view of Bell Rock, the surrounding mountains, and the green valley. It was one of the vortex sites, where the earth’s electromagnetic energy is particularly strong. Nancy also practiced planking.

We spent time at several vortexes, and finally admitted to each other that we felt no special energy…although Nancy’s hair got some fetching swirls!

We spent a full day hiking at the nearby Grand Canyon. The Canyon is gorgeous, of course. Despite our altitude sickness, the intense heat, and the overwhelming depth of the giant chasm, we loved it.
We would go back to Sedona in a heart beat, perhaps to see the spectacular color later in the fall. We loved it!!!