The final day of our road trip saw us heading towards the Ria Lagartos reserve on the north-eastern coast of the Yucatan peninsular (see D, above). It was sad saying goodbye to our luxury digs, but we had quite a drive ahead of us so we decided to hit the road early (which, amazingly, I was okay with!). I did have an ulterior motive, however, inspired by this video shot in the area:
(If you don’t have time to watch it, scroll to the 15 second mark where the attractive woman is cuddling the flamingo).
I wanted to cuddle me some flamingos! Aware that I may have to drug them to achieve this, I was very willing to force feed them valium for a pretty shot of us in an intimate embrace.
Kidding! But seriously, they must have done that.
Anyways, I do love me a flamingo, I mean, who doesn’t? Which is why I happily sat in the front seat clutching a strong coffee while Tyrhone drove me to see some. I mean, really, the things I do for him!
I even rigged up this pretty sarong-sun-shield to protect his already sunburned skin!
We stopped in the small town of Temax to find a bano, not at all surprised that the circus had come town. It seemed that in almost every small to medium sized town we passed through, some sort of fair or circus was being set up or dismantled. They were never in full swing, because that all happens at night when, you know, I’m asleep, but always in that ‘one-old-carny-walking-a-goat-around-a-dusty-fairground’ stage where the action is either just about to begin or has just finished.
Seeing all those empty circus tents and half-erected stages just added to a life long condition I have of feeling like I am always missing out on something, like I just missed the best ‘Bearded Lady Riding a Pink Elephant in a Tutu’ show that ever graced the big top.
No? Don’t relate? Well that’s probably because you saw the show! Everyone has seen it except me, you see!
I knew the goat tied to the truck understood how I felt…
I may have missed the best circus show ever, but I really, really, didn’t want to miss out on those damn flamingos. So we forged ahead to the clean, orderly town of Tizimin which was our last food stop before Ria Lagartos. After a quick walk around the main plaza in the center of town, we were drawn into the conspicuous ‘Tres Reyes’ (Three Kings) restaurant that sat on the corner of the square and the main road that led into town.
It appeared that the old ‘Tres Reyes’ was quite the institution in Tizy; a veritable museum of photographs and memorabilia from a bygone era. Framed pictures of better times, old dusty artifacts and even a huge snake skin adorned the walls, diverting my attention away from the vinyl menus preserved under the plate glass table tops. The only sign of progress in the place were the hand-written stickers plastered over the old prices, signalling rises in inflation.
The most interesting installation, however, was the elderly owner who sat at a nearby table (we recognised him from his picture plastered over the walls and the menus), hunched over a newspaper with an enormous magnifying glass, completely oblivious to the two gringos staring at him in complete rapture.
‘He’s the King of this castle’, I thought to myself as I bit into a soft, fresh tortilla, still warm from the pan.
I was suddenly struck with a feeling of nostalgia, which may have had something to do with the family photographs and faded paintings on the wall. It reminded me of all the times I had sat at my late Nana’s old laminex kitchen table in Adelaide, South Australia, drinking tea and munching on pickled onion sandwiches or thick white toast lathered in apricot jam. The comforting predictability of it all.
She raised eleven children in a three bedroom council house, which always felt like a palace to me due to the feel of crisply washed sheets and the scent of something delicious boiling on the stove. She never owned a passport and yet she thought Australia to be ‘the best country in the world.’
She was the queen of her castle, her empire was her family, and unlike me, she never felt like she was missing out on something. Or did she?
As we headed out of Tizimin, I no longer felt the anxious urge to be in a certain place by a certain time to snuggle a certain flamingo. I was thankful that I got to see a place like Tres Reyes, privileged even, to have taken up a seat at old Willy Canto’s table (his name was on the menus too) to partake in his wife’s amazing tortilla’s and the best flan I’ve tasted in my life (and there have been many).
So when we reached the entrance of the Ria Lagartos reserve and Tyrhone decided to hang a right to check out the salt pools of Las Colaradas (see C, above), I was content to go with the flow. We stopped to see if a short man on the side of the road needed a ride, pleasantly surprised that he was actually selling fresh coconut ice cream.
When he apologised bashfully that he had run out of napkins, I could have leapt out of the car and hugged him like a drugged up flamingo.
Instead, I paid him double for the ice creams, which were worth every cent of those 20 Pesos.
Ours was the only car driving along the bright white paths of the Las Colaradas salt works, which made us feel as though perhaps we shouldn’t have been there. But there were no gates or warning signs preventing our entry so we continued into the bizarre landscape of bright pink lakes and foamy, salted shores.
As we drove further into the pretty landscape responsible for high blood pressure throughout Mexico and the world, marveling at the bizarreness of it all, Tyrhone spotted something in the distance. Suddenly we were speeding towards a sea of pink dots that I could barely make out, so I decided it to be a mirage reflecting off the water and definitely not flamingos.
Thankfully I was wrong. The outer pools of the salt works were filled with bright pink, spindly legged birds poking their hook shaped beaks into the shallows to feed on the tiny critters living in the mineral rich water.
“OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD” was about all I could say as I tried to take in the scene of hundreds and hundreds of flamingos feeding in the salt pools; a place I never expected to see them.
Of course, my camera had well and truly run out of juice by then, leaving me to try and stalk the beautiful creatures with my phone (the result of which not did not do justice to the scene at all).
I completely lost myself in the David Attenborough-ness of the moment as I tried with every slow, soft step to get close enough for a decent shot (a cuddle seemed completely out). They must have sensed my desperation (or sniffed out the Rohypnol in my pocket) because every time I got near they would take off into the air with a flap of their great wings and soar away, landing just out of reach of my poised phone.
These blurry shots were as good as I could get, but didn’t detract too much from the thrill of being the only humans surrounded by these exquisite pink birds. Okay, it nearly killed me not to be able to get any decent photographs, so instead I came home and drooled over the photos in this article, trying to figure out how I could get rid of the watermark and claim them as my own…
We reached the town of Ria Lagartos just before the bright red sun melted into the teal coloured waters of the lagoon. A quaint, seaside town that thrives on the eco-tourism of the reserve, we could have easily spent another night and a day there, but decided to head home after a delicious dinner of fresh fish at a waterfront restaurant.
Of course I still wondered what treasures I may have missed out on in the vast lagoon of Ria Lagartos that we ran out of time to explore (FOMO is a serious condition, okay?), but I knew it was the small towns, the local people and the family restaurants that we’d discovered over the previous three days that really made my heart sing. I may not have hugged a flamingo, but I hadn’t missed out on a thing.