Chris and I are normally DIY travelers, both for budget reasons and because we’ve had mixed experiences with guided tours in the past. But today we took what was quite possibly the best tour we’ve ever taken: to visit the Sian Ka’an Biosphere.
Pronounced like shaan kahn, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site made up of jungle, freshwater lagoons and archaeological sites. We took a tour with Community Tours Sian Ka’an to see just a sliver of the huge preserve, as well as visit a campamento chiclero, or chewing gum camp, to learn more about gum’s Mayan roots.
One of the best parts of the tour we have no photos of: a 45-minute float only in our life jackets (worn upside down, like diapers) through a crystal-clear canal with fish, mangroves and sun. Super. Cool. OK, here are the rest of the photos.
Welcome to the chewing gum camp
This is Valentín — he learned to harvest sap for chewing gum when he was 12; he’s cutting canals into the tree so the sap all falls into the same path and into a single bag
He has these spikes that he attaches to his shoes so he can scale the tree safely, which his father handed down to him; you can see the white sap starting to make its way out
We cooked some sap he collected yesterday over the fire; this is a very small batch since it was just me and Chris
You must keep stirring the gum!!!
After it heats up, it starts to ball up like this…
…and then you rinse it in water and it’s ready to chew
This is our main guide Cesar — he grew up in San Francisco but fell in love with Tulum — messing around with natural incense
These freshwater lagoons are light where it’s shallow and darker where it’s deeper, and they’re connected by small canals that eventually lead to the Caribbean
Chris striking a pose from the viewing tower
No caption needed
A canal connecting the lagoons from west to east
Looking out into the grassland
An ancient “customs inspection” building, which would monitor boats going through the canals with goods for trading, including chewing gum
The roof of the restaurant where we ate at the end of the tour; Valentín was part of the crew that made the roof
Pollo pibil — the perfect ending