Calakmul – A Real Jungle Adventure! – Part 2


Calakmul – A Real Jungle Adventure

Part 2 – Calakmul Wildlife

A blog post by Lady Felicity

Calakmul was a very special place. Hopefully by now you’ll have read about our incredible jungle cabin accommodation in Greg’s last blog post (read it here if not) and in the next blog post you will be able to read about the unique Calakmul ruins. Once again I’m here to talk about some wildlife.

As our accommodation was in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, we could listen to the birds and, on occasion, howler monkeys in the distance from the comfort of our bed or hammock, protected from the insects by mosquito net walls.

When booking a guided tour (through our accommodation) for the Calakmul Archaeological Zone we saw that they also offer a guided tour through a section of the jungle to attempt to spot some wildlife. Naturally we jumped at this chance.

This lead to a 4:30am wake up call as our guide met us at the hotel reception at 5:30 and we were pleased to find that he was fairly fluent in English. He hopped into the back of our car and we set off on a 40 minute drive deeper into the jungle.

Our first stop was at a ‘car park’ aka a gravel ditch type space at the side of the road, from which a jungle trail led us away from the road and through the trees.

We soon spotted the rather vocal howler monkeys and, by comparison, beautifully dainty spider monkeys. (If you have never heard a howler monkey before, check out our video HERE – their call is rather distinctive!).

We also saw white-chested parrots, olive-chested parrots, lorikeets, and other similar species of birds whose names I can’t recall. There was also a roadside hawk perched in one tree giving us a bored look as we passed by.

Amongst the trees we saw a flash of white, which was actually the aptly named white tailed deer. We also saw male and female curassows running through the brush (these are large birds, once eaten by the Maya. They are a bit like over-sized, exotic looking pheasants).

Next we made a stop at a drying up swamp area which was home to lots of baby crocodiles and, apparently, the considerably larger mother who (thankfully!) remained buried amongst tree roots and mud.

At one point our guide climbed around the tree to see if it was possible to see the mother in her tree-root den. This put him between the baby infested swamp and the den itself making us somewhat nervous – what if the mother didn’t like anyone between her and her babies!? The guide assured us she has never attacked anyone… yet! Suffice to say Greg and I passed up on his offer to get any closer and try to see her for ourselves, I’ve seen enough nature documentaries, not to mention the film Crocodile Dundee!

On our walk along the road back to our car I spotted an Agouti, the same creature I had spotted in the grounds of our hotel when staying in Palenque. Agouti, or Sereque as they are known in Mexico, are related to guinea pigs and have a similar face but a larger body and much longer legs. I know some people keep them as exotic pets but I always enjoy seeing animals in the wild, even if it’s just rabbits or guinea pig related creatures like these.

We went from our jungle walk to the Archaeological Zone and during our hour plus drive to the Calakmul Ruins along ‘roads’, with more potholes and craters than actual road (it became a bit of a game, with our guide trying to tell us which holes to avoid (and when it was just impossible to avoid them), and which side of the road to drive on so as best to avoid blowing our tyres! Apparently many people get the guide to drive their car as the road is too stressful for them. As you can imagine, this was not the case with Greg who quite enjoys a driving challenge! We also passed many wild Oscillated turkey (one of which decided to attack our car!) and even a wild boar!

The best part of the drive for me was when we stopped as a massive herd of Coati streamed through the jungle on either side of the road as well as across it. They were beautiful!

In English they are apparently known as hog-nosed coon! I can see why, as they do resemble (and are related to) raccoons and have a cute little up-turned nose. They are also double jointed like raccoons. Their ankles can rotate beyond 180° which allows them to descend a tree head first. We saw a lot of this as they flowed through the trees on either side of us. Quite fascinating to watch.

Coati are also known for their intelligence, also like raccoons. I note this in particular as it also links to my interest in spindle neurons. (If you read my blog about Whales -read HERE- you’ll have heard briefly about this) Only highly intelligent species such as humans, great apes, cetaceans and elephants have spindle neurons, but they have actually also found a lesser evolved version of these cells in raccoons. Such a rare thing, it makes me wonder quite how intelligent and emotionally diverse the raccoon and coati actually are.

If you are anything like Greg and myself, if you like the wildlife, the tranquillity, the less touristy, more organic, untouched and more adventurous versions of everything, but still welcome a bit of luxury, Calakmul is definitely a place to visit in Mexico. The accommodation, ruins, wildlife – all of it was brilliant! I highly recommend the guided tours too, although make sure you book early if you need an English speaking guide.

Our guide was clearly passionate and very knowledgeable about his subject. He actually helps the archaeologists still working in Calakmul and he adores the nature too. We told him that on our journey from Palenque to Calakmul, in the middle of the day, we had been shocked to see a small black jaguar slinking across the road (a main road!) and, unsurprised, he explained that it was a Jaguarundi.

Where I had thought it must be a young unusually dark Jaguar, our guide explained they are actually just a bit smaller than a jaguar and have a black to brown/grey coat or in the case of the eyra, a red- chestnut coat. They are also known as ‘Otter-Cats’, and are related to the puma.

They are diurnal- usually active during the day rather than at night, and while they are fine in trees they prefer to hunt on the ground.

Jaguarundis make an unusually wide range of vocalisations, including purrs, whistles, yaps, chattering sounds, and even a bird-like chirp. I wish we had spotted it in the jungle and could have perhaps witnessed some of this but the fact we saw one at all really made our day! I was happy when a toucan flew over our car, let alone when a large(-ish) wild cat crossed in front of it! Amazing!

Our guide didn’t have any pictures of the Jaguarundi but he did show us some stunning pictures of the Jaguars and puma he has managed to encounter through the years.

Our time in the jungle and at the ruins with our guide was fascinating and terrific fun. If we had known in advance to hire an off-road vehicle, there are more ruins in the jungle, even more remote and untouched than the main ones we saw – which we could have visited with him. If we have the chance to return one day, it’s on our next to do list!

On this visit though, we had one more place to visit before leaving this amazing place.

At 3:40pm Greg and I drove though the jungle, returning to the main road. A short stretch along it took us to a little car park. There was just one other car when we arrived but it filled up (about 30 people in total) as we all waited for the sun to set.

A short walk through the jungle took us all to a dried up sink hole cavernous pit with a recessed cave area. In the cave, called Zots Cave, live bats. When we arrived we could see one or two had ventured out of the cave and were circling the pit in front of it.

While we waited for the rest of the bats to emerge we spotted that, feeding from the tree right in front of us, overhanging the sink hole pit, were Emerald hummingbirds. Maybe ten or so.

Hard to film, they are incredibly fast, though we got some good footage in the end. As warm up acts go, they were rather fantastic. So unexpected and delightful to watch.

To the Aztecs the hummingbird was the symbol of strength in life’s struggle to elevate consciousness—to follow your dreams.

At about 5:50 the hummingbirds flitted off and the bats came out to play. About three million of them. They circled around and around the cavern, up into the sky like a funnel or vortex till they found open air and space to filter out over the jungle and away into the evening sky. It is known as ‘volcan de los murcielagos’ meaning ‘Bats volcano’ and that suits it perfectly.

I went prepared with my waterproof coat (much to Greg’s amusement- it was swelteringly hot and he thought that only a usually freezing cold person like me could stand it in such heat), and, as it turned out, I wasn’t the only one. A few of us spectators wore our coats, in my case it was to deter the insects and mosquitoes, I suspect in many people’s cases it was to guard against bat guano (Some people also recommend covering your mouth and nose with a hanky or paper mask in case the bats stir up any cave mould. The air remained clear and odourless while we were there but that doesn’t necessarily mean it wasn’t there).

Though the bats flew above our heads, flitted around and amongst us, dark blurs that appeared to be brushing past our arms and legs, Greg and I escaped remarkably poo and bug-bite free.

After about 15 minutes of the amazing spectacle, people started to trickle away. We were the last to leave (after about 40 minutes with the bats), just before it got too dark to see the jungle path back to the car.

I’m glad we stayed as long as we did. The straggler bats flew closer and closer to us as the people left and the area opened up for them. It felt like such a privilege to see them (and the gorgeous hummingbirds!) like that.

Eight different species of bat – seven types of fruit eating bat and one insectivore – live together in this cave, one of the top three caves in the world for bat biodiversity. The part of the cenote pit we can see is dry but apparently, in the cave, there is still a trickle of water for thirsty bats.

It’s a magical place and seemingly untouched by people, but for the gravel path to reach it.

It was a special evening and the perfect way to end the Mayan/ Aztec/ jungle part of our Mexico adventure before moving on to the marine part.

To quote our video – ‘Calakmul we like!’

Thank you for reading, and safe travels.


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Calakmul – A Real Jungle Adventure! – Part 1

Calakmul – A Real Jungle Adventure

Part 1 – A Jungle Hotel

A blog post by Greg

When we began the research to start booking our Mexico adventure (which would become our video, Mexico: Mayan Mystery and Marine Majesty), one of my main goals was to find a remote jungle ruin to visit. In my mind I had visions of Indiana Jones at the start of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Felicity was looking through the Lonely Planet Guide when she found a place named Calakmul – at that point in time little more than a word on a page – and we began to look at visiting, and whether it would be possible to get to the site during our time in Mexico.

To begin with we would have to drive quite a long way out to the Calakmul Biosphere, a jungle filled biosphere reserve covering nearly 2,800 miles, including the Calakmul Archaeological Zone. It feels a world away from the tourist metropolis of Chichen Itza, with its crowds of tourists in beachwear bussed in from Cancun, and even feels a long way from the jungles of Palenque which, although they felt so remote, had a huge row of large hotels leading almost right up to the entrance of the archaeological site.

When Felicity found a hotel for us to stay in, the website ‘warned’ that it is 36 miles from the nearest petrol station (which seems even further to us as it is longer than the whole way across the Isle of Wight), and about 60 miles from the nearest reasonably sized town. It may surprise you that the hotel’s website has ‘warnings’ – but this hotel wanted to make it clear that it was decidedly in the jungle, and so you couldn’t expect everything you would in a city hotel. They actually say on their website at one stage:

“From what you have read to this point, it may look like we are trying to scare you away. On the contrary, this is a wonderful/magical area. We just want you to be prepared before coming here.”

As you can imagine, with the way Felicity and I enjoy adventures and avoiding the crowded ‘touristy’ areas as we go, the ‘warnings’ of how they were remote and didn’t have all the mod-cons and a string of shops, bars and restaurants nearby just made us want to stay there even more.

Even on arriving at the hotel, a mile into the jungle from the road, we would then have to drive over an hour further into the jungle to reach the ruins of Calakmul itself.

There was no question that here we had discovered our remote jungle ruin, and fast forward from the planning stage to our arrival at our hotel in Calakmul to see a slightly overexcited Greg driving along a jungle road and pulling up at the entrance to the Hotel Puerta Calakmul.

‘Hotel’ doesn’t really do justice to the place we had arrived at. Yes, it has a reception, rooms and a restaurant, but not in the traditional hotel style. The reception is a covered hut beside the carpark, and from there you are taken through the jungle to your ‘room’. The rooms are actually wooden cabins in the jungle, with no glass windows, just mesh to keep out the worst of the insects.

This led to a wonderful feeling of experiencing sleeping outside in the jungle, while at the same time being comfortable. To be laying in bed and listening to all of the sounds outside, and to feel the warm jungle air blowing through.

To my mind it was better than camping in a tent because it felt as though you were completely open to the jungle outside. For Felicity it was better than camping in a tent because… well, because it wasn’t camping in a tent! We could spend time outside in the hammock, and time relaxing inside the cabin, and the whole time we could hear the sounds of the jungle all around us, and it was beautifully peaceful.

The restaurant, a short walk along a pathway, was of a very similar style. On one side it had the bar, offices and kitchens, while the three other sides were just discreet mesh walls allowing unrestricted views of the jungle. It was a civilised way to feel a part of the jungle, so we could sit here, miles from the nearest town, enjoying the jungle surroundings but also enjoying tortillas, enchiladas, the odd beer and wonderful hospitality – we were on our Honeymoon after all!

All of this, and we still hadn’t made it into the jungle to search for wildlife, or visited the Calakmul ruins yet. Which will take place in our next posts!

If you are interested in learning more about the hotel we stayed in you can look here. Just to be clear, we haven’t been paid to promote them or anything, we just really enjoyed the experience!

For now, thanks for reading, and safe travels!



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The Cotton Castles of Pamukkale, Turkey

The Cotton Castles

A post by Lady Felicity

In November 2019 Greg and I went to Turkey to film an episode of our travel  adventure documentary series. From the title, ‘Turkey: Fairy Chimneys and Underground Cities’ you can easily guess what first drew us to the country – but during our short time there we wanted to explore as much of what the country has to offer as possible. One place that really stood out for me while we were researching our journey beforehand was Pamukkale, also known as the ‘Cotton Castles’.

We started our Turkish adventure in Goreme, Cappadocia but to reach Pamukkale we had to catch a short flight from the nearby Nevsehir to Denizli (via Istanbul) which is then about a fifty minute drive to Pamukkale.

Today many people consider  Pamukkale the eighth wonder of the world. Once there, it’s very easy to see why.

Turkey, through my eyes, is mostly a landscape of soft golds, browns and creams. Even the sky had a soft palette to me. Soft sunrise and sunset, it could all have been painted with delicate watercolours. To have that gentle golden brown interrupted with what looks like a snippet from a snow covered arctic wasteland is so unexpected that it can be quite jarring. It just doesn’t look like it belongs there.

Imagine a cliff made up of individual pools which form in large step-like terraces. Imagine it’s all formed from hardened, compacted snow and ice with icicles forming decorative stalactites here and there. The pools sparkling with sometimes crystal clear, other times milky but always quite beautifully blue tinted water. A stream of the water gushes along in a narrow channel alongside the cliff’s sharpest edge. That’s the best I can do to describe what my eyes felt like they were looking at when visiting this incredible place.

Legend said that the formations are solidified cotton, the area’s principal crop, giants left out to dry long ago. In reality, however, it is something much more unusual than snow or cotton.

These travertines are believed to have been formed in a process which lasted 15 thousand years. Underground hot springs located 160m above the plain of Menderes, containing 34’C water rich with calcium bicarbonate, allow water to trickle down the hillside. As it does so there is a chemical reaction that results in the formation of the pure white limestone terraces we see today.

The thermal pools have been a tourist attraction for thousands of years. Only in more recent years, when the site was declared a World Heritage Site, were preservation efforts and methods put in place to protect this natural wonder. The surrounding hotels, erected on top of the ancient city of Hierapolis located above the terraces of Pamukkale were then torn down and where once motorbikes were permitted to drive up and down the white slopes, now all but one footpath through the pools is closed off to the public. This footpath is also restricted to barefoot only.

So much damage took place in the past, I was glad to see they are now doing their best to preserve the site while also allowing admiring tourists to enjoy it.

For those of you who have watched our video (link here) you will already know about the issues we initially had when visiting the Cotton Castles of Pamukkale – that the thermal pools combined with a cool morning created a white blanket of mist. Trying to see the white travertines or the ancient city of Hierapolis through a shroud of mist proved tricky bordering on impossible. Once the afternoon sunshine broke through it though things improved.

We walked along the beautiful path, struggling to connect the snow-like appearance our eyes were seeing with the thermal pool temperatures and hard, rock surface our feet were feeling.

A lot of the pools and much of the path we had largely to ourselves as the majority of people don’t seem to stray too far from the entrance and the first handful of pools located there.

When we first arrived in Hierapolis and struggled to even find the Cotton castles, the mist was that thick, I was so disappointed. How glad I am now that it cleared in time for us to explore them. I now know properly what I would have been missing and it is something, if you’re visiting Turkey, not to miss. Such an incredible natural wonder and one of the many beautiful highlights from our time in Turkey.

Thank you for reading, and safe travels.


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