It was the end of our first day exploring the secrets hidden in the Chetumal jungle. We’d visited the jungle reserve of Chichan-Ha in the morning, followed by a visit to the ruins of the ancient city of Kohunlich, and now it was time to explore this portion of the Mayan world by night and water. After reaching what would become our home base for the next few hours, the equipment was unloaded, the bright orange life vests passed around, and one headlamp for each two people. The sun would disappear below the horizon soon.
The view was beautiful, the last few rays of golden sunlight illuminating the greens in the jungle with a warm glow as we readied to embark on this nighttime adventure. I’d never gone kayaking in the dark and I was nervous, but mostly I was eager. The night has always been mystic to me, as is water, and the prospect of adding this experience to my life kept me overjoyed as my friend and I climbed into our kayak and rowed off, leaving the shore behind us and going out into the beautiful lagoon of Chakanbakán.
We followed our guide in a single file (or more accurately, we tried to follow in a single file), with the occasional kayak mini-collision. Our oars cut into the water and in between laughs and jokes the sun kept lowering, first creating a beautiful blue landscape as all light disappeared.
We rowed our kayaks into the wetlands, exploring the lagoon’s every crevice until we came to a stop at its center. Joining our kayaks together, we waited in silence for the light to disappear, taking a moment to just exist in this place, looking forward to a weekend of discovery and adventure. Then it was dark, and one by one we turned our headlamps on and drifted off to create our kayak line again.
I’ve got to admit, it’s unnerving to be engulfed in so much darkness, floating atop a plastic contraption to stay above the water, with only the headlamps around you to guide the way. It felt almost like being in a movie, like we were on a mission. At the same time, it felt like the opposite of being in a movie. It just felt like we were there, and we were exploring this place and connecting with it, with nature. And at the same time, it was also hilarious, going from the stillness and silence to the “algae wars”, where our oars would get stuck in the algae and we’d end up either covered in it, or throwing it at someone nearby’s face (or your unlucky companion, too).
It’s an experience that leaves you feeling incredibly human. I was in complete awe as we rowed under the wetland trees, dodging roots here and there, and occasionally catching a glowing pair of curious eyes in the dark. At one point, we even saw a crocodile curiously looking on from afar, its eyes glowing back at the headlamps (it’s completely safe). And of course, any night spent in the Mayan jungle can’t be complete without a beautiful, starred night-sky.
Once more, we joined next to the marshes’ banks, this time to hear about the people who knew this place before us, the ones who lived from the land and believed in gods of rain and harvest, the hunters and gatherers, the pyramid-builders. We listened to the legends of the aluxes, small dwarf-life creatures in Mayan mythology that lurked in the shadows, and the legends of spirits and ghosts.
When story time was over, the shore lit up in fire from the torches set up to welcome us back. We’d kayaked the lagoon in a circle, first a large outer one, and then close the wetlands at its heart. In the overwhelming darkness, this moment of the shore lighting up was surreal, our way back to this reality, away from the mystery of the night.