Laguna Bacalar – 40 years later
It had been 41 years since I last laid eyes on Laguna Bacalar and I couldn’t wait to see the fabled Lake of Seven Colours again. I had to wait. I arrived on the lake shore shortly before dawn. I’d ridden for almost five hours on an icy cold night bus from Merida. It was cold and the cabana I’d rented was still dark and without movement. So I walked to a pier where a police woman was guarding the police department’s boat. And I waited for the sun to warm me. I did yoga and took a few photos as the sun started its ascent into the sky. Then, I went back to get my cabana, which wouldn’t be available for several hours. So, I enjoyed a hearty breakfast, talked to the amiable owner of the place who alluded to the Magic of Bacalar, rented a bike and began my exploration.
With daylight the lake’s colours revealed themselves. And I thrilled to be back and to see those very same colours that had mesmerized me in my youth. Yes, it was more developed than when I was here more than four decades ago. Then there was literally no development on the lake. What had transpired in the interim was elegant development, a few small hotels and nice homes had been built lakeside. The town of Bacalar is really laid back. Not much going on at all. But pretty.
What I hadn’t explored as a teenager 40 years ago was the town of Bacalar. I don’t remember there being a town here, but of course there was. It was the first city in the region that the Spanish Conquistadores succeeded in taking and holding in 1543 after fierce battles. I was fascinated by Fuerte San Felipe de Bacalar, the old fort that protected the town from invasions by pirates and Mayans in those early years. Forty years ago I had no idea of the historical significance of the town. It was the scene of heated battles between the Mayans and the colonialists. And it was an important port in the shipping of Mayan riches sacked by the Spanish, and later henequen of sisal, the rope that the Yucatan and Quintan Roo prospered from in earlier times. The pirate lore brought Bacalar even closer to my heart. Two female pirates, Anne Bonnie and Mary Read, were here. I didn’t even know about them, but apparently they are in Johnny Depp’s Pirates of the Caribbean.
Laguna Bacalar has its distinctive colours because it varies greatly in depth. Several deep cenotes feed it and give it the darker hues, while the shallow sandy shore provides the aqua marine colouration. Although it was a bit choppy when I was there, the lake is great for swimming kayaking and sailing. I kayaked for a couple of hours one morning and struggled a bit on the return as the currents wanted to drive me to the middle of the lake and I was intent on hugging the shoreline.
About five kilometers along the lake’s costera roadway, is the 90-metre-deep Cenote Azul. This is a little slice of heaven. The quality of the water is reminiscent of velvet, so smooth, so comfortable, so rich. It’s pristine deep blue, with a rope strung across it so you can rest as you swim to the other side of the cenote. A fabulous restaurant is built along its edge that serves a mean chilequila and ceviche. The servers are great. I spend hours there using the wifi, eating, drinking coffee and swimming.
I was also lucky enough to find a sweet campground, hostel and cabana place that treated me well and where I met really interesting travelers: Campground, Hostal, Cabanas Magic. Although don’t get the “private” room from which you pay four or five times what others are paying and you don’t have any privacy and use the same bathroom facilities (one toilet one shower) as the other 20 or so guests. (More bathrooms were being built.)
Going back into memory lane was a pleasure and I revelled in freshness and hospitality of Bacalar.