Saturday morning found us up early and, with breakfast behind us, we headed down to the lake for our appointment. We found our tour guide with no problem, or rather he found us with no problem! We loaded into the boat and I most assuredly put on my life jacket. To tour the whole perimeter of the lake takes six hours. We were not interested in that. We only wanted to see some of the highlights.
The lake had an abundance of fishermen and snail men on it. They were mostly in row boats by themselves or with a young adult or child along. The fishermen would twirl the large white nets above their head until they had enough momentum and then let it go. I tried and tried to capture a picture of one them in midair but never got it. We saw plenty of boats just sitting in the water by themselves with nobody in them. Near a couple of them were some men treading water. Our guide explained to us that these were the snail men. They made their living by free diving to the bottom and gathering the giant snails. My mind went back to them later when I found out that the lake contains upwards of 200 fresh water crocodiles!
Our first stop was a reserve called Nanciyaga. It is supposed to be an ecological reserve dedicated to preserving the one small piece of rain forest located in this area. (2008 update: this is where the film Apocolypto was filmed) In reality, it is nothing more than a pretty tourist trap. There are several natural springs here and they produce mineral water, the bubbly kind. Lots of natural gas. We got to sample it right from the well using cups made out of tree leaves. How native is that! They also have several mud pits where the mud is supposed to be medicinal and rejuvenating. Since I did not feel ill and I wasn’t yet tired, I decided to give smearing smelly black mud all over my face a pass! I found the preserve very interesting in its’ natural beauty, but the hard sell tactics of the guides at every turn is a big turn off. And all tours are given in Spanish, as was the boat tour. As we were walking the last stretch of path leading to the entrance, I looked over a the edge of the water and there lay three huge crocodiles. There was a chain link fence between them and us, thank goodness. This is when I found out about the number of them in the lake. Our guide assured us that they never stray very far from this area of the lake because there are so many fish here for them to eat. “What happens when they deplete the fish supply?” I thought. I didn’t ask this but made a mental note to keep all body parts in the boat at all times!
From here we motored over to monkey island. The University of Veracruz, in some strange act of research, populated several islands with macac monkeys. People are supposed to leave them alone, but guess what? Tour boats line the shore with the monkeys begging bananas, fruit and whatever else the tourists have brought. And they are ugly. Did I say ugly? I mean really ugly. The poor things are not from this climate zone and have no natural protection against the sun. Ever piece of skin that was not covered with hair was badly, badly sunburned. It looked like layers of skin kept peeling, oozing and reburning. I found this whole idea of putting monkeys on these islands to fend for themselves in a foreign environment quite cruel. Our guide had told us we could bring food for them, but true to the Lonely Planet’s advice to leave them alone, we did not bring anything for them. Besides, they were a little scary and quite aggressive when food was thrown to them. Boats with food stayed a little off shore because the edge is lined with trees full of monkeys. Our guide nosed us right up to the shore and almost beached us. I was afraid the monkeys were going to come onto tour boat and, when they discovered we had no food for them, take a bite out of us instead! They, however, never did this. They paid no attention to us at all. They must have learned that only the offshore boats have food. We stayed there far too long and took too many pictures. I am not going to share any of them. Upon looking at them, they are way too disgusting. I would not recommend viewing these monkeys to anyone who has any feelings about animal welfare at all.
After leaving the monkey island portion of the lake, we circled around a couple of the bigger islands and took pictures of the surrounding volcanic hills. It was really quite beautiful to behold. But the trip ended safely and we disembarked and headed back to the our hotel. Oh, did I mention that as soon as the boat pulled away from shore, my fear of the lake dropped away and I was able to enjoy the tour for what is was and not worry about drowning all the time? Maybe my phobia about water is lessening its’ grip?