Flamingos, Mangroves and Ricky Martin, Oh My!

A friend that I made in Mexico City, Perla, decided to come visit me in Merida. She has close family friends in Merida who she hadn’t seen in over a year, and me being there was the perfect excuse to come visit.

Perla’s friends, Jorge, Roxanna and their daughter Andrea, are the nicest people I have ever met. Jorge is like the picture-perfect TV husband and father: very generous, caring and patient. Jorge and his wife made me feel so welcome and part of their family. They own two homes, one of which they use for storage. Perla and I were lucky enough to be able to stay in one of their homes while she was visiting.

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Perla and I in front of the Merida sign. Every major city in Mexico has one of these signs with the city’s name.

Perla and Jorge wanted to do whatever I wanted to do which was a lot of pressure! I felt as though I had to think very carefully and choose something everyone would enjoy. I had heard that thousands of pink flamingos come to mate in Celestún, a city on the coast about 30 minutes to the West of Merida. So, we all loaded into the car and headed to check it out.

In the car I felt like I was Jorge and Roxana’s oldest daughter. Jorge and his wife only speak Spanish and I quickly learned that I was understanding more Spanish than I had realized. I was also starting to be able to speak without translating from English to Spanish in my head.

When we arrived in Celestún, Jorge rented a boat with a tour guide which would take us out on the lake. At first I was a little appalled by the water’s condition. The smell of the shore was a grotesque sulfur smell and the water was a murky brown color. I thought the water’s condition had been caused by pollution and trash but as it turns out, the lake is usually a crystal clear blue color, though since it had rained recently it caused mud to flood into the lake turning the transparent blue water brown. So I might suggest anyone interested in going to check the forecast in the days before coming.

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We loaded onto the boat and started heading out full speed ahead. From afar I could see a long, thin, horizontal line of hot pink. As we got closer I realized it was thousands and thousands of pink flamingos. I couldn’t believe my eyes! I had never seen flamingos in the wild let alone thousands of them. It was one of the most spectacular things I have ever seen. Our guide told us that flamingos are born black and white but turn pink due to the shrimp larva that they eat.

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After touring around the flamingos, our guide told us to take our phones and start filming. I thought something was going to jump out of the bushes! He then drove us full speed ahead into the mangroves. It felt as though we were on a whole other planet! The trees were like something out of a Tim Burton film. The trunks looked like hands grasping onto the shore for their dear life.

We then pulled up to a place where we were able to get out and swim. The water was an off-putting color, almost like dark apple juice. The water smelled of sulfur and there were also strange-looking black fish. There was no way in hell I was swimming in that.

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Perla loves to swim, she even brought goggles and a snorkel mask with her. Perla jumped into the water with no hesitation and was in heaven. I kept smelling the sulfur and looking at the creepy black fish. Perla kept encouraging me to jump in but I was terrified! I was trying to tell myself to jump in and if I hated it I could jump out! I had swam in a bioluminescent lake in the middle of the night and swam in cave water with God knows what living at the bottom! If I could do those things, I could do this!

So, I jumped in! I can’t say that I enjoyed it, the water was terribly salty and smelled like rotten eggs. I stayed in for about five minutes before my nerves and those evil-looking little black fish got to me and I had to get out. I don’t regret it for one second though.

After the tour Jorge took us out to a nice seafood lunch on the beach. I tried raw octopus for the first time and really enjoyed it. Lunch for Mexicans is their big meal of the day- they call it “La Comida”, directly translating as “the food”. It is usually eaten around 2pm and there is a lot of it. Today’s lunch was no exception. We ate until we couldn’t eat anymore and then we ate some more.

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My new Mexican family.

After lunch, when I thought my stomach was going to explode, Jorge took Perla and I back to our “home”. Even though we were exhausted, it was Friday night and we were on vacation! We had to do go out and disfrutar la vida! We decided to go to the movies.

Let me tell you, Mexico knows how to go to the movies. The theatre was located inside a big mall. When we walked in there were speakers playing Ricky Martin and a guy with a comical-looking Ricky Martin head dancing around. There was no explanation. For whatever reason, being inside the mall was so comforting and reminiscent of home (minus the dancing Ricky Martin).

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The theatre was brand new and like a dream! Tickets were only $70 MXN (about $3.50 USD). And for roughly $100 MXN (about $5 USD) you can get a giant tub of popcorn with a combination of two flavors, a large drink and a candy. Their concession stand includes five different types of popcorn: buttered, light, caramel, cheddar and enchilada.

Back home in the U.S., going out to the movies is one of my favorite activities to do. After traveling for so long little things like this feel like such a special treat, and when you can do it all for under $10 USD, why not?

The theatre had brand new plush, blue velvet seats. The whole thing was just heaven. We saw the movie Sully in English with Spanish subtitles. I couldn’t have asked for a better day. The things that really stand out for me on my trip usually aren’t all the tourist attractions. In fact, I find the most memorable times of mine are those spent with friends I have made along the way enjoying the most basic of activities.

How to Get to Celestun from Merida:

How to Get there by Bus: From the Noreste bus station located on corner of Calle 67 and 50 in downtown Merida downtown you can catch a bus to Celestún. The bus leaves every hour from 6am to 2pm. A ticket is $70 MXN (about $3.50 USD) and the bus takes 2 and a half hours to get there.

How to Get by Car: From downtown Merida take Calle 65 until you reach Itzaes Avenue, here you’ll find the signal for Celestún highway. Follow this road for about 2 hours and it will lead you directly there. You will pass through several small towns along the way.

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