Part of the gift birds bestow on us is spurring us to know the world around us, inviting us to disconnect from the screens of our computers and mobile devices and take to the roads and trails out there, in search of the access point to some natural spot. Once there, in addition to coming across feathered friends, with any luck we may also encounter ourselves.
The better we understand this, the more we’ll be able to avoid the trap of focusing too much on our “list of species”. We’ll begin to grasp that, even if we travel in search of birds, the journey itself is the destination. With that in mind we shall trace our route and choose the places where we will sleep and eat, and the towns where we’ll make that strategic stop for a timely cup of coffee that awakens the senses, feeds the conversation and wets our appetite for more miles of road.
It will also become progressively easier to recognise instinctively those places where we will know ourselves specially welcome, as we feel today upon arrival to Rancho San Román, our chosen lodgings during this exploratory trip to Palizada, Campeche.
Here, on the bank of the Palizada river, the many colors and sounds of nature mingle with the textures of an old hacienda that has chosen to reinvent itself as a “bed and breakfast”. We also sense the energy of the human team that has renovated these spaces, aiming to give travellers plenty of reasons to stop.
Settled in cozy two-level rooms appointed with beautiful beds dressed in fabrics from Oaxaca, elegant wooden wardrobes and ample modern bathrooms, the feeling that embraces us is that of being personal guests of owner Rosa Yolanda del Rivero Lastra (or Rosita, as she prefers to be called). Her grandfather developed this cattle ranch at the start of the 20th century, building it with sun-baked bricks cast with sand from the Palizada river. In the rooms that now occupy the hacienda’s old warehouse parts of the inner walls have been left bare to show the character of those old bricks.
As we look out the window from our room’s attic we can appreciate the old reddish tiles that still cover the roofs. Manufactured in Marseille, France, they were brought as ballast in the hold of countless brigantines that would then set sail for the long journey back to Europe, loaded with a cargo of precious woods and palo de tinte. This is living history of Campeche embodied in tiles that still perform their original function, sheltering dwellers from the sun and the rain.
A few steps from our room, right on the riverbank, a single thatch-roof structure is raised on stilts in an intimate embrace with the trees. It has mosquito nets in place of walls, keeping the bugs out without obstructing a panoramic view of the Palizada river in whose waters a young an impatient Rosita, forever enamored with this landscape, would go for a swim every day after school. These childhood memories she willingly shares with us, making us grasp with no need for elaborate explanations the genuine love she feels for this place and the joy she feels when sharing it with guests.
Ever the good hostess and incapable of keeping such a privileged spot to herself, Rosita transformed it into a welcoming space of particular grace. Hammocks, cushions and an intimate bar beckon guests to sip on cocktails while admiring countless birds in flight along the river towards their roosting places at the end of each day.
Also blessed with a river view is the properly named “cabin on the river”, a suite that offers a peaceful veranda ideal for relaxation, contemplation or reading. In the case of photographers such as ourselves, it’s also a perfect platform from where one may capture images of the permanent parade of birds and of families of howler monkeys during their daily and always exciting visits.
Perhaps, on a lucky day during a future visit (because we will return to Rancho San Román), we’ll be able to admire from this same spot a special event described to us by Rosita: “the full moon rises in synch with the sunset, a spectacle that can be seen from the river”. She also tells us how in May, when the famous mangoes of Palizada are in season, delicious fruit is thrown into the river to feed the manatees. Thus tempted, these sirenians that can weigh up to half a ton approach and let themselves be seen. Such an uncommon spectacle confirms the importance of this ecosystem for the survival of Mexico’s manatees (Trichechis manatus), a species classified as vulnerable by the IUCN Redlist.
Not far from the cabin’s veranda we find wooden steps that descend unto a dock where boats await to take guests on explorations of the Palizada river. We’ve celebrated the merits of these boat outings in the first part of this story, but on this day we’re keeping our feet on the ground to explore an interpretative trail within the property.
Protected from the sun by the shade of old trees, we follow the trail in parallel to the river and are soon rewarded with sightings of numerous birds, including a close encounter with a nesting Rufous-tailed Hummingbird (Amazalia tzacatl). We also witness an unexpected ongoing spectacle starring numerous acrobatic iguanas, which react to our presence by leaping from treetops into the river, always with the grand finale of a big splash. I’d like to photograph these reptilian divers in action with their long tails and wrinkly skins, but one would need the ability to predict the future. This trail, much like the river running next to it, deserves more than one visit.
As night falls we gather in the homey dining room of the main house, a fitting stage for delicious breakfasts and dinners that is soon filled with conversation and laughter. Joann Andrews leads the compilation of our list of bird species with characteristic enthusiasm. On this trip we’ve been tasked to assess the potential of the Palizada area for bird related tourism and we’re all excited to see how, in spite of rainy weather that’s not been truly cooperative and even though it’s still not time to close our list, we’ve already recorded 130 species!
Our spirits thus lifted we retire to our rooms for a night of well deserved rest. But sleep we shall not yet have because, across from our room, an old palm tree harbors a pair of Barn Owls (Tyto alba) with chicks, their calls beckoning us out into the garden. There isn’t enough light to photograph the owls’ sorties in search of food, but we definitely add the moment to our our personal archive of memorable experiences.
The following day is slated to begin early: our travel plan announces a visit to Palizada, a city founded on the 18th of May, 1772, under the name San Joaquin de Palizada, and designated “Magical Town” of Mexico in February 2011. Magic that, it bears saying, has already made an appearance during this trip.
(…to be continued).
Rancho San Román is located on Km. 45.5 of Carretera Palizada-Santa Adelaida, some 22 kilometers from Palizada. For more information, visit the website of Rancho San Román, contact them through their FaceBook page, or call Ph. 913 403-8807.
With special thanks to the Campeche Secretary of Tourism (SECTUR Campeche) for making this trip possible. For more information on this and other wonderful destinations in Campeche, México, visit www.campeche.travel.