Hurricane Franklin began life in the Caribbean as a tropical depression then morphed into a tropical storm. I first became aware of him when he was swirling off the coast of Honduras and heading for the Yucatan Peninsula where my son Shawn and I have been for the last couple of weeks. He was scheduled to make landfall in Yucatan Monday night when we would be in the small coastal fishing village of Celestun.
Celestun is very small and very quaint and is one of my favorite places. Its biggest claim to fame is the Ria Celestun Biosphere a few minutes out-of-town by tuk-tuk. Celestun wouldn’t be my first choice when picking a place to ride out a hurricane. Franklin was small by hurricane standards, only a category one (just one step up from a tropical storm) but nonetheless a hurricane is a hurricane.
I considered cancelling our trip but I really wanted Shawn to see and photograph the biosphere I love so much—this would be my sixth visit over the past five years—so we boarded our 2nd class bus in Merida (57 pesos/$3.19 usd) for the 1½ hour trip to the coast amidst gathering storm clouds (I had never been in a hurricane before so what could possibly go wrong?). We arrived late in the afternoon, stopped for a couple of cold beers (and some fresh ceviche) and then proceeded by foot to our local hotel (calling the Flamingo Guest House a hotel is being overly generous but it is cheap).
Later in the evening we walked back into town for dinner and some more beer at La Palapa (right on the sand and beach). When in Celestun fresh seafood is de rigueur (shrimp, crab, fish, octopus and conch), the beer is ice-cold and the margaritas ain’t half bad either (for a couple of hundred pesos two people can eat and drink like kings). Looking out on the Gulf of Mexico the usual emerald-green water was turning dark and turbulent, the winds were picking up and the palm trees were swaying (look out for flying coconuts). Again, we returned to our hotel which was only a 15-minute walk from town (easier without our backpacks).
It turned out that Hurricane Franklin was pretty much a non event. A bust. Shawn said that around 6:30 a.m. it rained pretty hard for about an hour and the wind picked up a little but I slept right through it—so much for my first hurricane. We slept in a while longer and then made the trek into town for breakfast. My favorite place in Celestun for breakfast is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays so we headed to the main square for traditional Mexican fare: huevos revueltos con jamón y queso con arroz y tortillas. Also big cups of steaming hot Cafe Americano (about 75 pesos pp total). The next couple of days we would have breakfast at my favorite haunt on the beach run by a Swiss national named Peter.
After Franklin’s brief passage in the morning Celestun remained overcast, breezy and much cooler for the rest of the day. Yucatan is beautiful anytime of year but during the summer months it’s brutally hot even on the coast. This time of year the ambient temperature often exceeds 38°C/100°F with humidity in the 65% to 80% range, the resulting heat index is often a staggering 58°C/136°F (and that’s killer heat by any definition). The only other time I’ve experienced a heat index that high was in Vietnam during the war (1967 through the Têt Offensive of 1968), we lost more grunts to heat exhaustion and heat stroke than to hostile enemy action (it sometimes killed our guys in the field with their heavy loads if they couldn’t be medevaced out quick enough for treatment.
Wednesday morning we had a large but quick breakfast at Peter’s and then grabbed a tuk-tuk at the main square (for 10 pesos pp) for the 15-minute ride out to the biosphere. The most expensive thing in Celestun is renting a boat and guide at the biosphere (1,500 pesos/$84.12 usd). The price is for the boat and guide so the more people you have onboard (a maximum of 6 to 8) the less you pay pp. Being a wildlife photographer I always rent the entire boat for myself, it’s impossible to photograph using long lenses with other people in your way (and people never seem to shut the f#%k up which disturbs the wildlife).
We had a great time in the biosphere and I think Shawn came to love it almost as much as me. We photographed Roseate Spoonbills (a rare treat), American Flamingos, a Wood Stork (recently upgraded from endangered species to threatened species), Egrets and even the elusive Tiger Heron deep in the mangrove swamps. I got a closeup shot of a very large spider (I think it’s of the Orb species) that bit me 5-years ago (May 2012) with dire consequences—you can read about that experience here. Yesterday we once again boarded our 2nd class bus for the return trip back to Merida. Interestingly the trip to Celestun takes about 1½ hours but the trip back to Merida takes close to 3-hours (they stop in every little village on the way back).
I have included a complete photo gallery above if you’re interested. Just click on the thumbnails to enlarge for better viewing. Unfortunately, this will probably be my last visit to Celestun and to the Yucatan Peninsula in general. Brother Joel and I will be embarking on part two of our world trek soon after my return from Mexico—we’re thinking of shoving off sometime in October for parts unknown but generally towards the east and Asia. Our itinerary is uncertain at this time but I will definitely be posting updates soon on this blog. So, stay tuned for part two of our world adventure—it promises to be a humdinger. Shawn should be joining us in about a year when his youngest daughter heads off to college.
Photographer’s Note: I had the opportunity on this most recent trip to the biosphere to give my new wildlife combo a thorough workout: Canon EOS 7D Mark II coupled with my Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM super-telephoto zoom lens. Both worked flawlessly and I was very impressed with their performance. The 10 fps on the Mark II was great for birds in flight and the new & improved autofocus (much like the flagship 1Dx Mark II) was amazing and tracked very well. The new 100-400mm version 2.0 also performed as advertised—all my images came back crisp and sharp. The lens autofocuses quickly and stays locked on. It’s a relatively heavy lens, on par with my Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM telephoto zoom, but is easily handheld. The balance of my photography here in Yucatan (everything but wildlife) was shot with my new Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and despite the raging controversy surrounding this new offering from Canon I personally couldn’t be happier with its performance (a tempest in the blogosphere teapot in my opinion). SFD