Yucatán Journal 8: the promise of turtles at Akumal

Way too much of my Mexico info comes from one edition of National Geographic Traveller that listed 50 Mexican “discoveries”. That one magazine sent me to Las Pozas, Cobá, and a bunch of other places. For our last day in Tulúm, it sent us towards Yal Ku.

To reach Yal Ku we had to venture back north, past the resort lagoons of Xcaret and Xel Ha, (the Yucatán is wallpapered with billboards for these). The idea was to get information in Akumal, and then find a way to Yal Ku. We never made it past Akumal though.

Akumal is a totally artificial town. It exists only because the bay around which it is built is a popular place for sea turtles. Come to Akumal for resorts and dive outfitters. Don’t come for your authentic Mexican experience.

We didn’t make it past Akumal because we were corralled onto a snorkelling trip. We knew half the bullshit they told us about Yal Ku was false, but then they promised us we’d see turtles if we snorkelled in Akumal (with a tour guide, of course). It’s hard to look past a promise of seeing turtles. So we signed up. The guide introduced himself, told us he could also sell us ganga, and then lead us to the boat.

The tour was pretty useless. We swam around the bay in aimless circles. The boat’s only role was to provide shade to one immense, sluggish barracuda. The guide’s only role was to ask the kayaking life guards if they’d seen any turtles. The kayaking life guard’s only role was, apparently, to spot turtles.

We’d been told that the Bay was full of coral and brightly coloured fish. Maybe Australia has spoilt me for coral, but what the bay had to offer was pretty lacklustre. We say a stingray which, I’m not kidding, made my heart spasm for a moment. Apparently the death of San Irwin really has hit me hard.

I was pretty much over the whole thing, when finally our guide got a hot tip, and we found our sea turtle. It was on the sandy floor, tearing up sea grass with muscular pulls of its neck. Its pale skin was covered in sharp, dark geometries. It sheared its way through a bed of grass while we hung suspended in a ring above it, close enough to reach out a flipper to touch it. The turtle couldn’t have cared less. When it began to swim it did so oblivious to us, pushing leisurely along, surfacing for snorts of air.

The turtles at Akumal are clearly used to being ogled by people, and clearly don’t feel themselves to be in any danger. This one let us follow it along, its dark eyes looking through us, as it flitted from surface to floor and back again. Our guide called us to follow him away. He was clearly an idiot. We’d found the promised turtle and weren’t inclined to follow him any further. I could have watched the turtle doing its mundane thing all day.

Eventually we had to give up the turtle and return to the beach. We spent the afternoon stealing moments on private, resort-owned sun chairs. Other snorkelling groups came and went, suckered in by the same promise. It didn’t matter; the beach was beautiful and the turtle was worth tolerating the tour for (not that I’d recommend the tour to anyone else).

We left Akumal behind. We returned to Tulúm. Our tripped started to end. I can still see the turtle very, very clearly.

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