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 pervades 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 bricks cast with sand from the Palizada river, baked in the sun. In the rooms that now occupy the hacienda’s old warehouse, parts of the inner walls have been left bare to show 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 Marsella, 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. Living history of Campeche, embodied in tiles that still perform their original function: to shelter 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 intimate embrace with the trees. It has mosquito nets for walls, in order to keep the bugs out without obstructing a panoramic view of the river. That same Palizada river in whose waters an impatient Rosita, forever enamored with this landscape, would go for a swim every day after school. Childhood memories she willingly shares with us, making us grasp with no need for elaborate explanations the love she feels for this place, and the joy she gets from sharing it with her guests.
As the good hostess she is, incapable of keeping the joy of that privileged spot to herself, Rosita transformed the shelter of her afternoons into a welcoming space of particular grace. Hammocks, cushions and an intimate bar elicit the idea of sipping on cocktails while admiring the flight of countless birds, as they trace their routes along the river between their feeding and roosting places at the beginning and end of each day.
Also blessed with a river view, another wooden room on the riverbank known as “the cabin on the river” 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 I may capture images of the permanent parade of birds, as well as the daily but always exciting visit of howler monkeys.
Perhaps, on a lucky day during a future visit (because we will return to Rancho San Román), we’ll be able to admire from that 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 in Mexico of manatees (Trichechis manatus), a species classified as “Vulnerable” by the IUCN Redlist.
A few yards away from that cabin, wooden steps descend unto the dock where boats await to take guests out on explorations of the Palizada river. We’ve celebrated the merits of these boat outings on the first part of this story. It’s a trip worth taking more than once, but this time around we’ve chosen to stay with our feet on the ground in order to explore the interpretative trail within the property.
The trail guides our steps in parallel to the river and, keeping us sheltered from the sun under the shade of old trees, and grants us numerous birds, including a close encounter with a nesting hummingbird. We also witness an unexpected spectacle starring acrobatic iguanas, as they react to our presence by leaping from tree branches into the river, always with the grand finale of a big splash. I’d like to photograph these divers with their long tails and wrinkly skins, but I 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, epicenter of our conversation and laughter and fitting stage for delicious breakfasts and dinners. Joann Andrews leads the compilation of our list of species with characteristic enthusiasm. On this trip we’ve been tasked to assess the potential of the Palizada area for bird related tourism and by now we’re all excited to see how, in spite of rainy weather that has 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. Rest that will have to wait because, across from our room, an old palm tree harbours a pair of Barn Owls (Tyto alba) with their chicks, their calls beckoning us out into the garden. There isn’t enough light to photograph the owls’ sorties in search of food, but it suffices to capture the event with the camera of our memory.
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 on 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.