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San Agustin: between the hills and the orchids

It’s early, one can hear the steps of people getting onto the bus. We are 50 tourism students ready to set off to San Agustin. The vehicle starts and off we go.

After a 2.5-hour journey, after passing through little villages and meandering through narrow roads, we arrive at our destination: Salvador Alvarado, in the municipality of Tekax, Yucatan, baptized by its people as San Agustin the name they gave to their ejido (common lands) because of the patron saint of their native Tekanto. As we arrive, the fear of many is confirmed: there’s no phone signal. Nonetheless, the anguish doesn’t last long thanks to Miguel “Mike”, he arranges the satellite internet passwords, available at the casa ejidal (office of the ejido), so that we don’t remain uncommunicated.

Community-based tour in San Agustin

In the cooperative, Audomaro gives us a warm welcome and we proceed to set up the camp. The ladies have a preferential spot under the palapas, I wonder if that’s ok or not.

In the center of the community, Audomaro tells us excitedly the ejido’s and the community’s history. San Agustin is a community surrounded by hills in the heart of the Puuc region and has just 150 inhabitants. The ejido is dedicated to sustainable forestry and has recently ventured into the tourism market: they offer a community-based tour and a tour through an adventure trail.

After the talk, the cooperative’s cooks were the most acclaimed by the group, after offering us a delicious pollo pibil in the restaurant of the cooperative. In the afternoon we took the community-based tour. In his house, a man from the community showed us his garden full of medicinal plants, ready to cure any illness. The plums of his trees were also subject to tasting.

Later we visited the sawmill, where they showed us part of their production of wood and coal, right next to the carpentry, where they detail the wood and give it added value. . We arrived at the center of the community, where a group of women gather to weave hammocks, they told me that gossip gets good. I will never forget Doña Tomasita, a grandmother who radiated a joy that spread like a positive epidemic.

Finally, we visited the embroidery workshop. I noticed the beekeepers’ outfits worn by some of the inhabitants who produce honey. Our plans to “reconnect to the world” were frustrated by an unexpected rain, which would become our torment, since due to that, our tents were flooded.

Tour through the caves

After a wet night we got ready to hit the road towards the caves of Loltún, an impressive underground formation located 40 minutes away from San Agustin. The tours are programmed and with an obligatory guide, one kilometer long for two hours approximately.

In these caves evidence of human settlements up to 7,000 years old has been found and you can even see cave paintings. This place left me really impressed, the photos can’t live up to the experience of being inside them.

In the afternoon, Audomaro showed us the ecotechnologies they use in the cooperative: they have solar panels, a grease trap, an artificial wetland and an organic garden where they plant some species of the region such as habanero pepper and achiote (Annatto). They also have a wood-burning saving stove where they make the most delicious handmade tortillas! At night, fortunately the rain didn’t appear, so we could light a fire in the camping area.

Adventure trail

On the third and last day we enjoyed a delicious breakfast and experienced the second star product of the cooperative: the tour along an adventure trail. Of the group, only 20 brave students decided to raise the level: they would make the journey by bicycle, the rest of the group did it on foot.

The tour walk was approximately two kilometers long, where we could observe many wild orchids, chaká trees and a beautiful sartenejas in the middle of the woods. The walk under the hot weather was worth it: we arrived at an impressive cave: Aktún Chen Kú, its entrance is approximately 15 meters high by 10 wide and normally you cannot enter, but this time they made an exception.

In the cave they gave us a tour of its first twenty meters, since afterwards the things get more extreme. Inside the cave we lived a unique experience: we turned off all the lights and witnessed the silence and total darkness, it was a feeling of peace and anguish at the same time.

When returning to San Agustin, the cyclists were no longer so confident, we had to pick up some on the road and give them a ride on the bus. Our visit had come to an end: it was time to pack up the camp. To finish, we enjoyed a delicious relleno negro and said goodbye to our hosts. After almost 2 and a half hours we returned to our city life.

In our 3-day and 2-night adventure in San Agustin we disconnected from our daily reality and connected to another, one of a remote community in the south of Yucatan, in which its inhabitants, despite not having many material possessions, have a great cultural and natural wealth that they have taken advantage of in a sustainable way to improve their quality of life. Their tourism venture offers a community-based, local and authentic product, in which unique experiences prevail.

Written and translated by: Jan Martín Müller

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