Summer in Cozumel and the East Side of the Island


The San Gervasio ruins are centered around the Mayan Goddess Ixchel. The Goddess Ixchel was among other things, the goddess of fertility, midwifery, weaving and medicine. Many Mayan women made pilgrimages here from the mainland at some point in their life. It is believed that if you come to this island and make an offering to Ixchel, you will have a baby.

The period of time that San Gervasio was inhabited covers the era from 300 AD to 1600 AD. The busiest time was from 1250-1450 when the area was a strong commercial port. While this ruin is not considered with the importance of Chichen Itza, it is still an important ruin for the Yucatan.

Ixchel's is to the right. It is in one of the farthest points of the excavated ruins and is generally not visited in the summer months because of swarms of mosquitos and horse flies.


This is the archway which the sacbe (raised Mayan road) leads to the sea. It is thought that this is where offerings are made to Ixchel to ask her for abundance in your future married life. Offerings can be shells or flowers.

The Mayan Sacbeob (that is the plural of sacbe) are always very straight and usually go East/West or North/South. They were raised to keep them from being flooded and were covered with a lime mixture that would light up in the moonlight. The Mayans were said to float along these roads in the moonlight.

Here is a spot along the sacbe where you can still see the white "plaster".

There are also places in the ruins where you can still see the blue paint that was on the inside of the building and red hand prints. These red hand prints can be found in many cultures of the world including in Cambodia and South America.


One of the many Iguanas in the site and one of the many birds.



To the right is one of the many butterflies found here in the winter months. I have seen many varieties including the spectacular Blue Morpho in the ruins.
To the left is a glob of Amber from one of the trees. The guide did explain to us the type of tree, but I forgot.


Okay, this tree I remember. It is the La Ceiba tree. It is considered sacred by the Mayans as it is believed that it connects the underworld with the earth and sky. To this day Mayan people (and even some of us gringas) respect this tree and protect it.

I still remember the incident on the island when the old Le Ceiba tree on the road to the south tip of the island was comprimised by someone trying to make a parking lot around it for rental cars when they weren't in use.

There arose such an uproar that the plan was abandoned.




For me, I find this area to very calming and spiritual. You can draw your own conclusions from what you experience when you visit this ruin.


In the photo above is Solveg, an 89 year old artist and extensive traveler. She is trying to figure out a way to get down in here in this photo.

Be sure to bring mosquito repellent in the summer months.

This cave is believed to be an entrance to the underworld. The Mayans have a much different belief about the underworld than the Christian world. The Mayans believed that these pathways, which are often water-filled, are the difficult route that the dead take to make their way to the afterlife.

It is believed that San Gervasio also has "vortexes" which can take you into another dimension. It is also believed that spirits walk these ruins at night.

Most of the guides will tell you about this and also the story of a tourist that disappeared for 19 days and reappeared because of one of the vortexes and that the spirits kept him alive during that time.


On to Punta Sur, the park at the South tip of the island

The lighthouse at Punta Sur is worth a stop on your trip around the island. It was built in 1901 and the house beneath it was the home of the lighthouse keepers.

There are 127 steps to the top of the lighthouse to look out at what, to this day, is still the best panoramic view of Cozumel.


On the road leading to the lighthouse there is a raised boardwalk (what a good idea) that takes you to one of the lagoons where a great deal of wildlife can be observed. There is a tower you can climb for a better view. Here is a good-sized croc we saw there. Crocodiles are common on the island, but no alligators. The Punta Sur park area is also a stopping point for many migratory birds in the spring.

You can take a boat ride through one of the lagoons. I have done this a few times, but was disappointed this time as I saw no wildlife and the mangroves had still not returned to the state they were before Wilma four years ago.
The beach at Punta Sur is nice. There are hammocks and shady areas. The sand is white, white, white! There is a reef you can snorkel to that is quite a long swim from shore. The day I did it the water was very murky and I didn't enjoy swimming in that. I like to swim only in clear water, gives me the hebby jebbies. But many other people have told me that they have gone out to the reef and it was crystal clear when they did. Maybe I just hit on a bad day.

Now for a difficult journey. Photos of the dogs dumped at the dump


I really did a lot of thinking before posting these two photos. For the most part this blog is meant to show the beauty of the island of Cozumel. But there are some things about the island that are very hard to stomach. This is no doubt true of anywhere in the world you go. So Cozumel is not unique in this respect. The value people place on pets here is just not what it is in the states and most of Europe. When puppies lose there cuteness they are sometimes taken to the East side of the island to the dump and "dumped". They fight with the vultures for garbage. They have a horrible life unless they are taken by the Cozumel Humane Society and treated and neutered. Most of these animals are not neutered and reproduce, hence compounding the problem. Before hurricane Wilma it was estimated that there were packs of over 200 dogs making the situation dangerous to all.

There is a large mound made mostly of trash that has a little shade and most of the dogs are found there in the heat of the day, trying to keep cool. The Humane Society as they find the funding, is bringing in these dogs and giving them their shots, spaying and neutering them. Many of them have illnesses that are expensive to treat. Some require chemo therapy due to a type of veneral cancer. Since the CZM Humane Society is full right now, they are returned to the dump to live out their lives. It is not ideal, but is the best under difficult circumstances. These dogs are very expensive to treat.

Because of the disturbing nature of these photos I have decided not to put them on the blog. It is a truly heart wrenching story they tell. If you care to know more about these abandoned dogs, I have put up a separate web page. I recommend that you not have your children go here because if it is very upsetting. click here

Clearly much more education on the lifetime commitment each pet deserves should be taught to the island people. The Humane Society is working on this and slowly (poco a poco) things are changing. Not fast enough for these unfortunate dogs.

If you want to help them I believe the best answer is to donate to the local Humane Society in Cozumel, or volunteer there. Here is a link to there web site and there is a place in the upper right-hand corner to click on to donate. Click here The Humane Society is looking for a Cozumelanian to go to the schools to start an education program on proper pet care to try to begin to change the attitudes towards animals here on the island. If this is something you think you could be interested in doing, please contact Monica at the HS

Things are moving with the HS. Last winter they worked with an organization called VIDAS. They had a clinic here on the island and spayed and neutered 252 animals. So positive things are happening, but much more needs to be done.

And now on to something a lot more positive. East side turtle release.


This is an activity that can ONLY be enjoyed in the summer here in Cozumel. The turtle season of nesting spans the months of June through October (roughly). There are four species of turtles that nest here. The most common are the green and loggerhead. But also the leatherback and hawksbill can be found here. The females can lay up to 6 times during the season and lay upwards to 200 eggs in a nest. But don't let the numbers fool you, all marine turtles are endangered. Turtles can live to be 100 years old, but don't start to lay eggs until they are 35. A lot of bad things can happen from the time the eggs are laid until they grow up and reach nesting age.

On this particular evening in late August we met at the museum and viewed a slide show and had some discussion from the biologists. Then we made our way by car and bus to the east side. We were really lucky because this night there was a nest that was due to hatch out and also some turtles to be released that were born a day or two earlier and were going "home" that evening. Allie, to the right, was able to actually hold a green turtle. She is a skilled photographer and videographer at her young age and put together a film clip that I believe is quite amazing. Click here to view.

Baby green up close. I am sorry, but I am putting in a lot of photos from this night. It was thrilling to see these babies make their way to the sea. Just awesome and I was moved to tears. The experience was so full of joy and hope for the future of these endangered creatures.

What we were able to see this evening was miraculous. So few people get to have this experience. We were truly blessed.

This particular activity was free, but we gave tips to the volunteers doing the releasing.

I will list contacts for activities at the end of this part of the blog.


This man has been working with the turtles for over 20 years. At the time the nest is due to hatch he assists by digging around the core area.

For years the Cozumelanian people ate turtle eggs during turtle season. They saw nothing wrong with that and were unaware of the growing pressures on sea turtles. About 20 years ago a group of men learned of the plight of sea turtles and decided to try to save them. They started working alone protecting the eggs and the turtles while they were laying. Eventually the government saw the benefit and passed laws to disallow the taking of turtle eggs. This was pretty much ignored because many of the islanders didn't see the urgency. Now the government has gotten quite serious and closes off the east side at night and even has federales protrolling to keep people away. The nests are marked by biologists and left to develop unless they are too close to the water.
Suddenly, the first baby begins to emerge. The observers were so excited.

Then more and more begin to emerge from the core of the nest and try to find their way up and out.

I believe this is a baby loggerhead. Of the babies that were born earlier, there were loggerheads and greens being released that night. They were so high energy and raring to get on with their lives!

 



Then as the light was beginning to fade a flood of turtle babies began to make their way to the sea.


 

The crowd stayed a respectful distance from the turtles and were careful not to step on any of them. The biologists set up cones for us to stay behind.

Everyone was fascinated by the experience. People passing by on the road stopped and watched. It was a magnificent time.

We can hope that the children present took away a respect and interest in continuing to save these precious babies.

The babies that had been born in earlier were much more energetic than the ones from the nest. The green turtles from the nest had to dig up to the surface before making their way to the sea and it took them a lot longer.

This baby was one of the last to make it. It was moving pretty slow. They all had their eyes covered with sand and yet they kept driving to the sea. All the signals and clues telling them which way to go.

Well, they all knew where to go except this little guy who insisted and trying to go back the way he came. Poor survival plan. He finally got turned around and made his way home.

The tired baby on the left is working hard to come up out of a human footprint.


For information on how you can observe the turtles laying and release, here is one web site with information. All the local programs are described in this Cozumel Insider web site. I also spent a couple of nights at Ventanas al Mar and the staff there arranged for myself and a couple of friends to go out with the volunteers that were watching for nesting activity. That doesn't start until 10 pm and goes pretty much all night. Again, it is a matter of luck being there at the right time to catch the females nesting.
 

With the light almost gone, the many little trails that the babies left could still be seen in the sand. Nobody left until they were all safely home. Where they would go will remain a mystery.

There are so many dangers ahead for them. Getting caught in fishing nets, being killed for meat in some areas of the world, plastic bags being injested by mistake, pollution, and the natural preditors that they would encounter even if man didn't exist.

At my age, I know I won't be around in 35 years to see their return. But I hope that the tradition of keeping them safe will continue and that the environmental pressures allow enough to still return to continue this wonderous saga.

Video of the first turtle release on Youtube.

Baby turtle bonanza

The next Wednesday I decided to take a chance and go to the area of the east side where they were releasing turtles the week before. There I met Martin (nicknamed Pantera). We had a turtle bonanza. He had 3 buckets full of baby green turtles and a nest due to come out of loggerheads.

I got to ask Martin a lot of questions. First off, he has been volunteering for almost 20 years in the project to protect the turtles. The last 2 years he is finally being paid for what he does. He told me that the green turtles lay 100-120 eggs and the loggerheads 90 - 100.

Since I had been seeing so many turtle "crawls' along the beach I thought we were having a banner year. But Martin showed me the meticulous records they have of every nest on the island. Sadly, the number of nests were down by 1,000 this year. I hope that doesn't mean that the female turtles have diminished that much.

My neighbors, Robin and Allen (from Sea Robin Diving) were the only ones there. We got to help carry the buckets of baby turtles to the beach. Martin watched as I carried a bucket down the steep slope in my crocks and kept mumbling a horrified "cuidado, cuidado" (careful, careful).

That is Allen in the background on the phone! Just a note of interest, some cell phones do work on the east side of the island.


Temperatures in the nest over 84oF produce females. Below 82oF all males. So the smaller babies at the bottom of the nest were males.
Soon the baby loggerheads began to leave the nest, with only a little help from Martin. I learned that the turtles initially lay eggs only a couple of feet deep, but with the winds, waves and shifting sands they can become much deeper. If they didn't assist them, the deepest ones would never survive. In the case of this nest it was almost 3 feet deep to reach the last of them. I noted the final babies were also smaller. I suspected that the warmth of the top of the nest assisted in the development. We know the warmer part of the nest produces females.

These little turtles just flew to the sea. We were very careful and could get much closer to these than the other week.

When all the baby loggerheads left the nest, Martin cleaned out all the egg shells and counted them. This nest had 104 eggs, with only 88 hatching out. The remains of the nest are returned for research. I was impressed by the detailed records that are kept.


2nd night turtle release. First the nest of loggerheads, then the green turtles.


The Peace Ship, Zamna in Cozumel




Cozumel has been awarded the Island of Peace Award by a UN group. This ship, the Zamna, will sail around the world on an international voyage of peace. One lucky Cozumel child will be aboard. The ship docked in Cozumel at the Ferry Pier on August 24 and stayed a few days. The public was allowed aboard to tour the ship.
 

This ship was built in Vera Cruz, Mexico by a group of 23 carpenters in only one year. It was just launched. It is a triple-hull wooden ship. It was named Zamna after an ancient Mayan high priest. Local dignitaries were having a private party on board this night.

The bow has a dove (for peace) but I like to think it is really a swallow for Cozumel.

The hull also has a rendition of the priest, Zamna.

The boat has three hulls the windows are in the pyramid style of the Maya and its bow has a light that simulates the pyramid of Chichen Itza .

 



There has been a lot on consternation about the Lionfish that have been spotted in the waters around Cozumel. I have been doing a little research and comparing the Lionfish and Stonefish (above). I have learned that the sting of the Stonefish, that is a resident of our waters, is much worst than the Lionfish. I am sure you are cheered by that.

This is the first blog I have done since May. Sorry for the delay. In May's blog I mentioned that there was NO FLU in Cozumel. To the best of my knowledge this is still true. I have had to dispell many misunderstandings about the flu while I was in the States. A sad note, I was staying in the Buffalo, NY area for 2 months. During that time, 2 children died of the H1N1 flu. Please tell people to stop calling this the Mexico flu or the swine flu. It is just not accurate. The fear and consternation caused by the hubub in May had a devastating effect on the lives of the people of Cozumel. I understand the press has started up on this again. While I know the flu needs to be taken seriously, it is everywhere now and you should be taking precautions no matter where you live or visit!

Thank you to Juen Hutchinson who corrects my typos and is my source of information of all things Maya and also much of the history of Cozumel.

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