Monday, January 11, 2010

taking flight

Diego shivers. This is the coldest it gets, he tells us. But, I have a friend up in Milwaukee. He tells me I don’t know what cold is!


The clouds are threatening, but I know we’re done with the rains. That was yesterday. Today we have gusty winds – the tail end of a storm system that came down from the north. Up on the Gulf coast of the Yucatan, the wind makes me think it’s a lot colder than the posted 60.

We're in Rio Lagartos – a small fishing village some 100 miles due north from Valladolid (our home these days).


We’re here because of the Reserva de la Biosfera. It’s not the best season for viewing this, but the lagoon is home to numerous species of water fowl. Including the flamingo.

A year ago, the age of the Internet came to Rio Lagartos and the ever enterprising Diego set up a link to his boat trips out on the lagoon. The man knows birds and he knows these waters well (having lived here all his life).

It’s a family operation. His wife runs a small waterfront restaurant in this sleepy hamlet. His brother-in-law takes people out on the lagoon as well. His son is even now wiping down the small motor boat.

I brought my fleecy jacket, but I’m thinking it’s not enough. Do you have an extra wrap? Diego, ever the good person (and knowing that a happy customer is a warm customer), brings a warm jacket for me. Ed looks wistful. Diego runs to his house and comes up with a windbreaker big enough to fit Ed. The man can perform magic.

We set out over the shallow waters.


At times, Diego moves slowly, especially as we approach a bird. They’re timid and quick to fly away.


...and they are, for that reason, difficult to photograph.


But, the hefty winds and muscular gray clouds notwithstanding, the birds are spectacular to behold. Ibis, white pelicans, egrets, cormorants and of course, the flamingo.


The flamingo is orange from the shrimp it harvests in the shallow waters. The plumes, alternating with white ones, are truly magnificent.


Diego works the boat into tight waterways and occasionally, a winged creature takes flight in front of our nose. But mostly it is quiet, interrupted by an occasional screech or whistle.


You see the deadwood? That’s from the hurricane that came through in 2002. The worst one in fifty years.


At other times, we move in more open waters – all the way to the opening of the lagoon.
That’s the Gulf behind us! Diego shouts against the wind.


The birds are unruffled. Wind, no wind, does it matter?



In September, the flamingos come out by the hundreds. Now, you have to follow them far into the heart of the lagoon. That’s for another time. I feel grateful for the chance to come this close to their natural habitat.

Diego turns the boat toward the village.


Under a large awning by the water, Matilde, his wife, serves us hot bowls of shrimp soup. Diego joins us (preferring a Tequilla over my cold beer – to warm the insides!).


Are there a lot of people who come up? We ask.
It’s getting better. Last year was hard. The economy, the flu... Today, the weather is the hard part!

Funny -- to me, the weather is appropriate. The wild lagoon seems more hands off with the clouds hovering over us. Don’t get too close! Take a look, yes, study us, but only for a minute!

A bird taking flight is indeed a beautiful thing, but Ed and I are fully aware that they are fleeing from us. We are the intruders. We should not overstay.


Oh, but it has been such a fine day!

Earlier, in the morning, as we head into the center of Valladolid, we are struck how crowded it is on this cool Sunday. Shops are open, vendors are out. People from surrounding villages have come in to sell, to buy. Some cover themselves protectively against the wind.


But to me, the colors are so warm that the grayness of a cloud or two is hardly perceptible.


We visit another store that sells not only embroidered dresses, but threads for those who practice this craft.


Aida (and her brother? cousin?) sells the threads and patterns, and her family, too, is engaged in sewing. Back in the village -- here it is: She shows us a business card with the family name.

I am struck how much the work of a family stays concentrated around a single craft. There are sewing families, there are water-tour families, there are families engaged in the manufacture of leather goods.

Valladolid is crowded on this day and between the cars, bicycles, motorbikes and the steady stream of pedestrian traffic, the few minutes that I have for taking photos becomes a mere grain of time needed to capture the movement, the family life, the culture of food, of spices, of color: it spills out on the curb, or remains quite hidden in a doorway.


Our last evening here. I feel the pang of having to leave. We aren’t really hungry, but we want one more Yucatan meal. I have the soup with chicken, rice, chick peas, avocado and cilantro. It’s warm and comforting and I make a note to occasionally throw in chunks of avocado into a chicken soup, to bring out the flavor of Valladolid.

Even though it wont really bring out its flavor. We come, we leave and we take just little bits of memories. If we’re lucky, they'll have made a mark.