Tabasco sauce doesn’t come from Tabasco. But like its namesake, this Mexican state isn’t for the faint of heart. Exploring it is a spicy adventure in every sense of the word
Our first stop is Kolem Jaá, in the foothills of the Sierra Madre, It comprises some 27.5 hectares of reforested jungle, dotted with waterfalls. It took seven years to build, (it opened to the public in December, 2003) and is breathtakingly beautiful.
Kolem Jaá (which means the grandeur of the water) is reached by motor launch. A small cluster of very clean, thatched-roof cabanas provide accommodation. Meals are basic but very tasty and plentiful. However, the adventure that awaits is unforgettable.
Our first morning, we tackled the canopy trail. The camp’s director reassured us, “This is the highest – and safest – canopy trail in Latin America.” So off we went.
High above the forest floor, a series of 11 platforms have been constructed in the trees, 30 to 40 metres above the ground. These are connected by a series of wires. An elaborate leather harness with your own flywheel connects you to these wires in turn, allowing you to zing between platforms. The leather gloves they provide allow you to slow yourself so you can get a good look around the forest as you zip along. What an unforgettable experience!
Birds and butterflies in an array of colours and sizes were just feet away. At two platforms, we found ourselves looking monkeys in the eye. One was only a couple of feet away and cheekily strolled away along our wires looking back as if to say, “See! You don’t need all that equipment.”
I couldn’t resist the opportunity to visit the Cave of the Blind Sardines, which contains 13 caverns, each of which has its own self-contained ecosystem. The cave is a kilometere away and I opted to ride there on horseback. One can also mountain bike or walk. The route offers gorgeous vistas with unusual plants, streams and some interesting fauna including plenty of howler monkeys in the trees.
Wearing light-topped helmets, I clambered down into the cave filled with beautiful stalactites and stalagmites, and peered into the water. Through evolution, these strange, tiny fish have lost the need for sight in an environment where darkness prevails. Did I mention the bats? There are plenty of those as well. One needs to dress in old clothes – it’s wet and slippery. A Swiss visitor arrived in a chic St. Laurent blouse, her hair perfectly coiffed. But she was a good sport. I cringed, but she met her splashing fall into the water with good humour, “I don’t care. It’s worth it. What an incredible place!”
A final opportunity not to be missed at Kolem Jaá, is rappelling down a waterfall. It’s wet but with temperatures climbing to the 90s, it proved very refreshing and lots of fun. Another visitor, Magdalena, who had never tried anything like this, enthused, “It’s an amazing feeling to drop a little at a time and always you’re getting splashed with water.”
The next stop for a dedicated ecotourist has to be Punta Manglar – 300,000 hectares of protected mangrove swamp, about an hour out of nearby Villahermosa. Rare species of turtles, birds, and fish make their home here and others such as manatees and sharks have been spotted. Depending on the part of the swamp, the mangroves are black, white or red; the colour changes are distinct. Yumká is a nature interpretation centre near Punta Manglar. The Yumká guide transported us by motor boat to the swamp where we transferred to silent canoes and were paddled into its depths.
This is an area teeming with life – several species of heron, kingfishers, blue morph butterflies, cormorants, and much more. The swamp is also home to alligators and the extremely rare jaguar whose roar has often been heard by locals.
The final stop is Comalcalco, an ancient Mayan Archaeological site about an hour from Villehermosa. It is the only major Mayan city built with bricks rather than limestone masonry and is different from most other Mayan ruins throughout Mexico.
I found myself intrigued by this fish we saw for sale by the roadside. Péjelagarto is a fish with an alligator snout, found only in this one area. It apparently has a distinctive, very tasty flavour. Sadly I didn’t get an opportunity to try this. Next trip perhaps?