El Pueblo Magico

The Bacalar sign @ Laguna Bacalar

We said a sad farewell to Tulum and we jumped into a collectivo, busted an hour down highway 307 to our first stop, Felipe Carrillo Puerto. A colourful little town with not much happening other than swapping into our next collectivo. Another hour down 307 and we arrived in beautiful Laguna Bacalar.

A few little shops lined the highway, but this place had a certain quiet sleepy feel. I mean, once we got past the 4 vendors trying to sell their juices and various baked goods.

A hot 900m Walk and we arrived at Ximbal. Our “don’t have your hopes up” camping accomodation as everything else was full. These guys supply everything – tents, matresses, sheets, blankets, puppies, kittens, laundry, lockers..the lot! (If you have your own tent it’s even cheaper, but carrying our own tent may have literally been the straw that broke the camels back) all for less than the price of 1 dorm bed.

Camping Ximbal @ Laguna Bacalar

Fatima our host and her husband, helped us set ourselves up, patted Max the kittens fur off and set out to check out the Laguna. Laguna Bacalar is called “the lake of 7 colours” and it’s so true. The clearest water, in what looked like every shade of blue. It was breathtaking.

Laguna Bacalar is more than 60km long with a bottom of sparkling white sand.

Laguna de siete coloures @ Laguna Bacalar

A lot of the Laguna shore is taken up by private property, a Marine Camp, backpacker lodges, hotels etc. so getting close to the water seemed difficult. The government are currently building little piers that will be available to the public, but instead of paying $33 peso to dip our toes in, we headed back to some wifi to do some research on what is good to do.

Imagine living on a huge Laguna and not being able to access it! There were a couple of public access points already but they were small and far and few between.

Our lunch pit stop was a van parked up and dressed up like a food truck. We got a bit closer to have a look, and with the amazing review from the couple who had just finished eating, and the description from the worker – “it’s like sushi, but it’s not. It’s a chicken roll” we gave it a go. Well sushi is the furtherest food away from “Banana Go” as possible, but man was it good! Crumbled chicken stuffed with your choice of toppings and fried, kind of like a chicken kiev served with a side of rice and salad, we loved it! It also made for a nice break from our normal taco starter followed by a burrito or quesadilla.

On the way back to camp, we were offered, by way of gesture and no words, to buy some biscuits/crackers from a kid who we picked as maybe Scandinavian, due to his pale skin, white hair and super blue eyes. Alice was sure he was the Milky Bar Kid as he was dressed in a smart pair of overalls, a plaid shirt and a straw cowboy hat. We wondered about his where he was from and then we saw his mother and brother further up the road. His brother was dressed identically and his mother was wearing a long navy dress, pop socks and a bonnet. We couldn’t quite work it out. We later found out that they were from a Mennonites.

The mennonites migrated here from Germany and speak Plautdietsch, a low German dialect. They are a religious community who use only horse and buggies on farms, some don’t use electricity (those who do only use it for outside lights). Those communities that have upgraded to a tractor will remove the rubber wheels, and put on iron ones. The mennonites are respected and looked upon as very hard workers, who keep themselves very much to themselves but who give back to the community with 80% of the dairy and produce they cultivate.

The women are not allowed to speak to, or interact with anyone outside their community, without permission from their husband. These communities date as far back to 1958.

The next day was a bit grey and rainy, so we decided to hold off on a boat tour and check out the town. From the plaza we ate a weird sweet savoury pastry sandwich that a local vendor was selling for $10MX ($0.70 cents AU, 35p UK), had some of the freshest and sweetest mango from a sidewalk vendor and wandered through the little streets. We found a beautiful old Iglesia (church) and cute, coulourful and sleepy streets, even though all accomodation is supposed to be full there didn’t seem to be anyone around.

“Mexican Recycling” @ Laguna Bacalar

The Little Streets of El Pueblo Magíco @ Laguna Bacalar

A Door in the Streets of El Pueblo Magíco @ Laguna Bacalar

There is also the Fuerte (fort) that was built/completed in 1729 after Bacalar was ransacked by pirates in the 17th century. It was built to also protect the citizens from raids by the local indigenous population. In 1859 it was seized by Maya rebels, who held the fort until Quintana Roo was finally conquered by Mexican troops in 1901.

The Fuerte de San Felipe can still be visited today and is a beautiful building with all its formidable canons on its ramparts.

After a wander around the beautiful “Pueblo Magico” as it was named back in 2006, we headed to La Piña for a spot of lunch. Again, this was another “grandma’s kitchen” type of place and the food was incredible. Had a beer for $1 ( ok maybe had a couple). The food was so fresh, full of taste and recipes local to the region. After an afternoon napping by the Laguna, we headed back to Camping Ximbal.

Huaraches y Chilaquiles @ La Piña, Laguna Bacalar

People watching and day planning turned out to be super entertaining. From the German “spend savvy” traveller who got everyone else to do his bidding, including asking Fatima to cook him dinner and also trying to gather as many people together to make his boat trip cheaper. To the guy in the Peruvian knit jumper, with a traditional Peruvian flute (that he had NOT mastered) who disappeared every morning at 8, followed by 2 dogs, and flute in hand. He wouldn’t return until later that night. Where did he go everyday?? What was he doing?! We know he cannot play that flute!

That night we headed to a recommended taco joint “Christian’s tacos”. Probably the best tacos we have ever had. It was the first time in Mexico that pineapple was in the Taco, and it was also the first time we tried the traditional pork, Al Pastor – Shepard’s style. It is based on shawarma spit-grilled meat brought by the Lebanese immigrants to Mexico.

It was here that a lovely dog came and sat beside us, and once the grandma (who is responsible for the kitchen and amazing tacos) had said the dogs name, we assumed it belonged to the restaurant. Next minute, with the dog trying to climb onto Alice’s lap, grandmas husband asked if it was ours, at this point we realise that grandma just liked dogs and gave it any name (OR said something completely different and we misunderstood, our Spanish isn’t exactly top notch) and we promptly stopped petting the very cute, probably homeless dog while the guy from the restaurant shooed it away. Bloody grandma.

The next day the sun came out, the togs went on and we headed down to the Laguna for a 2 hour boat tour. All the companies/options are run by the local boat owners, all offering the exact same tour for (around) the same price.

On our tour de lancha, we were joined by Mats, a solo danish traveller and 7 other Mexican holiday makers. It all started with our “captain” that couldn’t start the boat, luckily enough there was another captain around to help.

We headed off and our first stop was Cenote Negro – a near 250ft deep limestone sinkhole attached to the Laguna. It was an incredible site, seeing trees that had fallen in, balancing precariously on the ledge of the dramatic steep drop down into the black water.

Our captain “parked us up” by wedging us between a fern and a tree on top of a rock. He loosely tied a rope to pretty much a twig and sat back down.

Tour de Lancha @ Laguna Bacalar

When it was time to leave, we wished that we could have got a photo of the 3 Mexican men, and their absolute look of disbelief and horror coupled with a macho “what are you doing, we could drive better” look, as the women were close to getting knocked off the boat by the intruding ferns and trees. As we mounted a rock and continued on, we saw some of the most beautiful parts of the Laguna, none of which we got any information on as our captain spoke the quickest spanish and didn’t care to ensure we could keep up. We would never expect people to speak English obviously but a little slower would have really helped. Our last stop was a canal called El Canal de los Pirates. It was here that we were told of the natural mud bath, and how great it was for your skin. It was believed to have natural ingredients and exfoliating components. We still think this might be a bit of a laugh for the locals, seeing travellers and the like packing this smelly mud onto their skins and letting the sun bake it on. Even after a wash in the fresh water of the Laguna, we still stunk!

Jess in mud @ El canal de Los Pirates, Laguna Bacalar

We shared a couple beers with our new Mexican friends and a few laughs on the trip back home.

We spent the remainder of the day having a nap on the grass of the Laguna, and decided to go for one more swim. This is where we met Adam and Rachael, a Scottish couple after Jess bonded with Rachael over how to brave the initial cold of the water, and dove in together. After some chats and sharing experiences, we all decided to meet up for dinner. One of our favourite things about travelling is the way you meet up with people. No one has a working phone or data so you sort of just say “see you later around here probably, maybe around this time” and hope it works out. It did work out and we had dinner and a few drinks along with our Kiwi mates we met in Tulum, and an Austrian traveller Seb at… you guessed it. Christians Tacos, minus one super friendly lap dog.


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