Chac Mool—Mayan ruins
Our boat trip across Bahia de la Ascension to the Santa Rosa peninsula
Mangrove estuary adventure
This adventure is not on anyone's vacation itinerary. We've wanted to do this trip ever since the day we glimpsed the Santa Rosa peninsula from the plane during our July 3, 2004 fly-over for the LG aerial tour. The Santa Rosa peninsula (where the Chac Mool ruins are) lies between two large bays; Bahia de la Ascension and Bahia Espiritu Santo. Together they make up the majority of the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve and play an indispensable role in the lives of countless animals, be they terrestrial, aquatic or airborne. It's an area of spectacular, desolate beauty that includes diverse habitats of sea, shallow bays, brackish mangrove estuaries, savannas and low jungle. Sian Ka'an map
Getting it together
This trip wouldn't have come together without the help of our good friend and business associate, Michael, owner of Sol Caribe hotel/resort in the Sian Ka'an, 8 kilometers north of Punta Allen. He arranged for the boat and captain Manuel Garza to show up on this bleak Sunday morning, gassed up and ready to go on an all-day adventure to a place he had not visited in over 8 years. We embarked on the tranquil lagoon side of Sol Caribe and proceeded to zip across calm water toward the more turbulent mouth of Bahia de la Ascension. This is a daily event for fly fishermen who come here from all over the world for some of the best saltwater fly fishing in the world, guided by seasoned guide/captains like Garza. We were not the normal clients.
Wild ride across Bahia de la Ascension
Once we entered the open waters of the bay the waves came up and we bounced onward toward the east end of Cayo Culebra, a long thin island known for it's bird rookeries. Cayo Culebra sits at a slight angle, right on the sea mouth of Bahia de la Ascension. We circled "bird island" to snap some photos of the frigate and boobie birds who come here to roost, and then continued across to the southern shore of Bahia Ascension.
Aerial view of Cayo Culebra where this bird rookery is
Shoals and tunnels through a green maze
It was too rough to approach Santa Rosa by its sea side so, by default, we would have to navigate the labyrinth of mangrove passageways that connects a maze of lagoons on the southwest side of Punta Pajarros. One of these would be our access to the Chac Mool ruins, but which one? Captain Garza hadn't been back here in eight years. Since then several hurricanes had come and gone, sculpting the contours of the mangrove shore and the depth of the cuts between lagoons. Normally the sun would have been a navigational aid, but the day was overcast and the clouds eliminated any distinct shadows. No help there but the shade was a blessing. As luck would have it, I forgot my compass back in the room so we had to rely on the instincts and memory of Manuel, our captain. It took a while, and some trial and error, but captain Garza figured it out. After passing through a narrow channel that resembled a mangrove jail cell we arrived at the Playa Blanca dock. We were almost there.
Chac Mool ruins
We tied up the boat at the dock and with no one in sight, walked up the sandy access road toward the beach. The ruins were just a short walk down the road to the right. Chac Mool is a small but interesting archaeological site, partially because of its remoteness, but also because it has some similarities to Chichen Itza and Tulum. Chichen Itza, because there have been several Chac Mool statues found there, and Tulum because these ruins are also located next to the Caribbean. Having the freedom to explore the site was a privilege and we owe a BIG thank you to Tom at Playa Blanca and the Casa Blanca Fishing Lodge for their gracious hospitality. We hope to return soon to do some fly fishing, and to see the Tupac ruins which are a short paddle through the mangrove from the Chac Mool ruins.
The Chac Mool chamber
The photos below show the namesake for the site, the reclining Chac Mool which represents one of the most powerful deities of the ancient Maya. Chac was the God of rain and thunder, and his color was red. I found it interesting that one of the Chac Mool's hands was red (below), apparently a remnant from its creators. There were also traces of paint over a doorway to one of the buildings higher up, on top of the elevated plaza area (photo above). Across from this plaza was another raised plaza with a number of short columns in rows, also very similar to Chichen Itza though much smaller in scale (3rd photo from bottom).
By the time we cruised home across Ascension Bay the wind had died down and the waves virtually disappeared. With Punta Allen in sight we noticed something floating on the surface. Then a fin or flipper slapped the water. We pointed toward it and Manuel noticed it at the same time, then steered us closer. As we approached we cut the motor and coasted closer to find two huge sea turtles at the surface in a romantic embrace. These were two of the largest turtles I had ever seen and we all just stood there in awe, feeling fortunate to have a chance encounter like this. I think the turtle was thinking the same thing.