Scenic trail in Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

naturist 0000 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

South Florida is one the most popular tourist destinations, but it’s not known for its hiking. In this blogpost, I invite you to join me on a scenic trail that proves that hiking in South Florida is exciting even though it’s as flat as it gets.

Florida trail view 0003 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

This 8-mile section of Florida trail goes through various landscapes of Big Cypress National Preserve. About a year ago, I went to Florida with my sister, and we stayed at the same CouchSurfing hosts, as in my first visit to Florida with Joe; Peter already knew we would love the idea of hiking in the swamp, so he got in touch with his friend Dave from Florida Great Outdoors group. Dave was an excellent guide, he knew every corner of the trail and told us a lot about the wildlife, of which we saw plenty!

cormorant 0000 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

Just on the way to the southern trailhead, we saw various birds, from a cormorant with a fresh catch to great egrets wading between cypresses.

great egret 0000 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

Dave knew that we were unlikely to encounter too many other hikers, so, almost immediately after the start of the trail and getting ourselves familiar with its rules, we got naked. Given the muddiness of the trail and hot weather, it was clearly the best way to go!

Florida trail view 0002 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

In the beginning (coming from the South), the most typical landscape is grassland with a few scattered cypress trees. But unlike prairie or savannah, this grassland is flooded, with water levels varying throughout the year and depending on weather conditions. On this trail, we could really see why the Everglades are called the “river of grass” (the whole southern part of Florida practically represents a giant swamped slow-moving river). Besides the sawgrass marsh, we also went through the pine forest and cypress swamp. On the photo below, you can actually see the so-called cypress dome in the background. It is formed when pond cypress trees grow higher in the center than on the edges of the swamp, which can happen due to various reasons.

Florida trail view 0004 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

Our first encounter with an animal on the trail was a snail.

snail 0000 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

There were many dragonflies

Halloween Pennant dragonfly 0000 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

and grasshoppers,

grasshopper 0000 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USAgrasshopper 0001 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

one of which devoured on a flower 🙂

Speaking of flowers, maybe we were lucky with the season, but there were quite a few plants blooming:

white star sedge (a sawgrass species),

White Star Sedge 0000 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

milkweed,

Hymenocallis,

http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5503/12021500684_86f8da91cf_z.jpg

and marsh roses (Sabatia) – pink

marsh rose (Sabatia) 0000 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USAmarsh rose (Sabatia) 0001 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

and light-blue.

marsh rose (Sabatia) 0003 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

Bromelias were blooming too,

bromelia 0000 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

but even when they weren’t, they served as a nice decoration on cypress and pine trees.

bromelia 0001 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

At some point, palm trees appeared more frequently between the pines, but we could tell that the first one wasn’t in the best condition… which made me look like a giant next to it.

naturist 0007 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

That’s where we saw some Carolina anoles too. I was too slow with my camera and only got one hiding in a hole in the tree and missed how it changed colors while moving across different surfaces (for this ability, they are nicknamed american chameleons).

carolina anole 0000 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

Midway, pine and palm forest got denser and we stepped on solid soil for the first time in a couple of hours. This is also the only place on the trail that is suitable for camping; we had our lunch break there.

naturist 0002 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

We couldn’t rest for too long, however, and soon followed the trail further through the swamped cypress forest.

Florida trail view 0001 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

When we reached the cypress dome, we could see how the tallest pond cypress trees indeed surrounded the central pond, with many tropical understory plants mingled between them.

naturist 0003 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

We almost missed our second reptile encounter, a snapping turtle, as it was well-concealed in the mud. Being much better protected than a lizard, it didn’t feel the need to run away from us but looked cautiously; considering the name of the species, we didn’t approach it too close though.

common snapping turtle 0000 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

Then there was a stretch of the trail that went through fern thickets taller than human.

naturist 0001 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

And some open water again, where we could see the odd cypress ‘knees’ (I saw many more of those in the Mississippi swamps near New Orleans).

naturist 0006 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

Usually, I don’t post pictures of people in clothes due to the nature of this blog, but my sister deserves a credit because later on this trip she did get naked in a public place for the first time in her life (at Haulover beach), and here in the swamp she looked pretty cool and odd at the same time in her white night dress (she thought if she didn’t get naked she should wear the lightest thing she had…)

naturist 0005 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

The rest of us were content with our naked attire… As you can see on these photos, the cypress forest after the dome became more flooded, and the rest of the trail we hiked in ankle-deep water, which actually felt nice.

naturist 0004 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

Then, we had our third reptile encounter, or actually two but of the same species.

Water Moccasin 0000 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

This was a venomous snake, water moccasin. They are territorial and feel safe with their venom-filled fangs, so they didn’t show a sign of retreat, but thankfully they did show their warning display. So we just stood there and looked at each other for a few minutes, and who knows who of us was more scared… Well, there is no use for them to bite humans unless attacked, so I guess we could call it mutual respect.

Water Moccasin 0002 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

It also provided enough time for taking pictures 😉

Water Moccasin 0001 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

Soon after that, we could hear the noise of Tamiami road; it didn’t make sense to put on clothes in the end of the trail just to make it dirty, as it was still muddy, but that’s what we had to do.

In the pond by the visitor center,  we had our fourth reptile encounter. A group of american alligators were sunbathing and just waiting to be photographed.

american alligator 0000 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

Thus, we saw representatives of the major groups of reptiles on one trail!

wood stork 0000 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

And as a bonus, while picking up the car, we saw some more wading birds: wood stork (above) and great blue heron (below).

great blue heron 0000 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

Florida doesn’t really need much publicity for tourism with its climate, beaches, festivals and Disney World, and it probably has more nudist colonies than any other state, but there is definitely more to it! This trail was perfect to discover Florida’s wild side and see the “river of grass” that it really is. Next, we’ll show you the place where this river meets the sea.

PS Keep in mind that Big Cypress National Preserve is also a home to black bears and  elusive Florida panthers (a subspecies of cougar)!

Autumn colors at the Silver Mine Lake

naturist 0001 Harriman State Park, New York, USA

I’ve been describing new spots around New York state in the last couple of weeks, but this is from a place that should be familiar to many readers – Silver Mine Lake at Harriman State Park. I just wanted to share some nice pictures with autumn colors, which are quite rare on this blog due to its temperature-sensitive theme 😉

food from farmers market 0000 Harriman State Park, New York, USA

However, there was a very warm weekend in October that Ramon and I spent there. Saturday felt actually like summer, and I didn’t even take pictures, because I thought I had more than enough from this lake. Only on the next day, when it started raining and was foggy, did it occur to me that it was actually fall time.

autumn view 0002 Harriman State Park, New York, USA

So here are the amazing multicolored leaves

autumn view 0000 Harriman State Park, New York, USA

and the lake itself in the fog.

autumn view 0001 Harriman State Park, New York, USA

It was still surprisingly warm, and we walked around in the buff, feeling the soft drizzle on our skin.

naturist 0003 Harriman State Park, New York, USA

Here are what Ramon called ‘blending’ photos – blending with landscape.

naturist 0002 Harriman State Park, New York, USA

The fogged lens gave a nice effect too.

naturist 0000 Harriman State Park, New York, USA

It was nice to close off hiking and swimming season at Harriman State Park on such a fabulous day! Looking forward to the next one!

kayaking the Sacandaga River and Good Luck Lake in South Adirondacks

view 0000 Sacandaga River, Adirondack, NY, USA

Besides hiking, Adirondack Park offers great kayaking too. Teddy, like many locals, has his own kayaks so we went to explore the West Branch of Sacandaga River and Good Luck Lake – with that name, you needn’t think twice about checking it out, and it turned out beautiful too! The banks of the canal that lead to Good Luck lake were full of blooming aquatic plants.

water plants 0000 Sacandaga River, Adirondack, NY, USA

The views from the Good Luck lake made us feel lucky!

Lucky Lake 0000 Sacandaga River, Adirondack, NY, USA

And we were indeed lucky to see a family of elusive loons. Their calls echoed because of the hills surrounding the lake, it sounded quite spooky.

loon 0000 Good Luck Lake, Adirondack Park, New York, USA

We stayed at the lake till sunset, and next day returned to explore the Sacandaga River more.

naturist 0009 Adirondack, NY, USA

That part of Sacandaga River is just perfect for laid-back kayaking: the current is not too strong, and the width allows easy maneuvering and yet being close enough to the banks not to miss any wildlife, that you’re likely to see there.

However, there are some places that hard to go through because of fallen trees.

kayaking 0000 Sacandaga River, Adirondack, NY, USA

Still, we managed to get through without too much hassle.

kayaking 0001 Sacandaga River, Adirondack, NY, USA

The bottom was mostly sandy, but in some places there were algae that looked like smooth golden-green hair.

water plants 0001 Sacandaga River, Adirondack, NY, USA

Going further up from Good Luck lake, we had more and more places that were too shallow to paddle easily,

view 0001 Sacandaga River, Adirondack, NY, USA

so the best way to continue was lifting up and crawling with the arms while still seated in kayak.

naturist 0003 Adirondack, NY, USA

But after the bridge, it became too rocky and shallow to continue in kayaks. We walked for a bit, but there was no sign it was going to improve any time soon.

naturist 0008 Adirondack, NY, USA

I think I forgot to mention, that ironically, Teddy’s dog was the only one clothed 😀 Teddy just didn’t want him to get lost.

blackberries 0000 Sacandaga River, Adirondack, NY, USA

It was nice to make a pause from rowing and get some blackberries. After that, we headed back downstream, and stopped at a little sandy beach. There was a fellow kayaker passing by, he seemed cool with us being naked but wondered why we didn’t have any ladies with us. We suggested him to work on that next time 😀

view 0002 Sacandaga River, Adirondack, NY, USA

Down another bridge, the flow was even calmer. We tried to go through a small channel, but it was blocked by a beaver dam.

beaver dam 0000 Sacandaga River, Adirondack, NY, USA

Well, it turned out that main branch was dammed by beavers too, just a few feet up!

beaver dam 0001 Sacandaga River, Adirondack, NY, USA

But it wasn’t too difficult to get over it and was actually fun!

naturist 0004 Adirondack, NY, USA

We heard some big animals running through the bushes – could be deer or bears – but the only wildlife we were lucky to see that time was a blue heron.

heron 0000 Sacandaga River, Adirondack, NY, USA

It seemed to be pretty busy fishing and didn’t pay much attention to us.

heron 0001 Sacandaga River, Adirondack, NY, USA

Given that Adirondack Park is ‘the largest state-level protected area in the contiguous United States’, there is obviously more to explore. Looking forward to the next trip to Adirondacks!

hiking to the Tenant Creek Falls in Adirondacks

naturist 0000 Adirondack, NY, USA

Sorry for having been quiet for the entire month of November, but hopefully we’ll be more active at blogging this month. Luckily, there’s never a shortage of what to post, just the lack of time. After writing about the hike in Mohonk Preserve in New York, I thought I should add a couple more stories from Upstate this summer. My friend Miguel, an avid naturist himself, connected me with his buddy Teddy, who seemed to know the southern portion of the Adirondack Park well. So, after a couple of weeks planning, I was on the train from [former] New Amsterdam to Amsterdam, NY.

Tenant Creek Falls 0000 Adirondack, NY, USA

Teddy brought me to his favorite hiking trail along the Tenant Creek.

naturist 0001 Adirondack, NY, USA

There are three waterfalls, but most people don’t go beyond the first one. We had the third waterfall all to ourselves!

Tenant Creek Falls 0001 Adirondack, NY, USA

The hike took us about an hour, but as we started pretty late, we had just an hour of sunlight left to set up a camp and go skinny-dipping.

naturist 0005 Adirondack, NY, USA

It was easy to find a spot for out tent, but the place is certainly not mean for a lot of campers, so we were lucky to not have any neighbors. The sound of the waterfall was a perfect accompaniment for otherwise quiet night!

Next day, we went to explore the forest around, and it was so worth it. Butterflies and flowers greeted us, and we had some hand-picked blackberries for breakfast :p

butterflies 0000 Adirondack, NY, USAbutterflies 0001 Adirondack, NY, USA

… and then I saw a coyote! He definitely saw me too, and even let me to take a picture of him,

coyote 0000 Adirondack, NY, USA

though by the time I focused well, he was scared by Teddy getting out of blackberry bushes and ran away.

coyote 0001 Adirondack, NY, USA

But even so, it was a big luck to have seen a coyote in New York state!

After walking in the sun, it was nice to come back to our camp and enjoy skinny-dipping.

naturist 0007 Adirondack, NY, USA

In the waterfall, there was even a deepening that looked like a perfect bathtub, but the water was too cold to really sit there for a while.

naturist 0002 Adirondack, NY, USA

We could swim in the pond below, however.

naturist 0006 Adirondack, NY, USA

On the way back, we saw these amazing colorful mushrooms.

mushrooms 0000 Adirondack, NY, USAmushrooms 0001 Adirondack, NY, USA

Near the first waterfall, Teddy knew a tree that grew right on top of the rock with its roots twisting down. It was almost the point to put our clothes on, because there might be more people coming, but we couldn’t resist snapping a couple of photos.

naturist 0010 Adirondack, NY, USA

What a great place to enjoy the beauty of the forest and meditate.

naturist 0011 Adirondack, NY, USA

This toad seemed to do the same, and lucky him, nobody would make a fuss for him being naked!

toad 0000 Adirondack, NY, USA

official(!) naked-friendly trail and water hole in Mohonk Preserve, NY

I haven’t counted exactly how much but a good share of our blogposts is about hiking. This one is special because it is about a trail that is officially designated for nude recreation! Yes, there is one (hope not the only one!) – at Split Rock in Mohonk Preserve, New York! I heard about it from Young Naturists America, as they organized a couple of outings there; you can also read about their correspondence with the park officials as to why there is no information about this trail on their website. The bottom line is that this is a private land, and one of the conditions of the owners to give it for public use was keeping its tradition of skinny-dipping. Well, if only more land-owners were like that!

Unfortunately, clothing is only optional behind the actual Split Rock formation (the name speaks for itself – it’s a split rock with a creek and small waterfall in the middle), and the nude-friendly trail is just about 10 min walk of easy hiking. I had a bitter-sweet feeling about this place. On the one hand, it was exciting to finally find an official place for naked hiking. On the other, it also seemed unfair to not include the main attraction in the clothing-optional part. Come on, if you decided to give ONE single trail of a huge preserve for nude recreation, can’t you give at least this one entirely?

naturist 0000 Mohonk Preserve, NY, USA

Nevertheless, I was happy to see this sign – I could get naked in the forest, ‘as nature intended’, without worrying about rangers. I finally got relaxed, after spending several hours to get there! Long story short: I was supposed to go  with two buddies by train to Poughkeepsie and then bike all the way to Mohonk Preserve, but I got a flat tire, and of course it was the only time when I didn’t have a spare tire with me; I didn’t want to keep my friends for too long with me and let them go ahead, but by the time I found someone with a spare tire it was almost too late to bike to Mohonk… Luckily, I got a ride almost all the way to Split Rock! However, my friends were already leaving by the time I got there, so as most other visitors.

naturist 0001 Mohonk Preserve, NY, USA

I could see only one [naked] figure wandering in the evening fog. I found another split rock water hole, much smaller than the first one though. The water was clear but pretty cold. I guess that’s why it’s called skinny dipping there.

naturist 0002 Mohonk Preserve, NY, USA

A bit later, the only other visitor came by and we started talking about this place. He was surprised to hear that I was going to return by bike and offered a ride to the town of New Paultz. I actually wanted to ride my bike, as I didn’t get to do it much that day. Then, as I was unlocking my bike at the parking lot, the ranger on duty also raised her concern as it was getting dark and the road didn’t have shoulders. When I saw a ver dark cloud coming and heard thunder, I finally gave up. Few minutes later, on the way to New Paultz, a sever downpour started! So it wasn’t a bad decision to drive to New Paultz and stay in a hostel there… Next day, I hitch-hiked back to Split Rock and when checked on my bike, found this big (I thought at the moment) garden spider under my seat!

garden spider 0000 Mohonk Preserve, NY, USA

The weather was quite good again, so I went to the creek once again. This time could sunbathe on the rocks, so refreshing in the water hole was more pleasant. Then I noticed something awesome on the bank of the creek:

wolf spider 0000 Mohonk Preserve, NY, USA

Now, that is a BIG spider! To be honest, I had no idea there were such huge ones in New York state (just look at the fir-tree cone next to it for comparison).

wolf spider 0001 Mohonk Preserve, NY, USA

Well, after posting this, I guess Split Rock won’t get any more popular… On the other hand, it’s not exactly the place that you want to get crowded, so it’s up to you if you want to face this monster! 😉

Another justification for writing about spiders now is that it’s Halloween! That’s my contribution here. I remember one of the readers wrote me he freaked out about the picture of harvestman (aka daddy longlegs) that I posted in my first story about Harriman State Park. Let’s see the reaction to these! It’s worth noting though, that while harvestmen are among the most poisonous animals out there, they are simply not able to bite a human. Unlike wolf spiders! (That’s the name of this beauty, if you haven’t guessed.) Apparently, nothing bad can happen if they do bite you, but it won’t be pleasant.

wolf spider 0002 Mohonk Preserve, NY, USA

I have to say some good words about wolf spiders though. They are actually caring mothers. The keep their their eggs in a special sac that they carry around everywhere with them; on the photo above you can even see how the sac is attached to her spinneret (silk-producing organ). And what’s even more remarkable, after hatching, little spiders stay on their mother for a week or so. Maybe I’ll see that next time.

new cenotes in Yucatan

This will be the final post of the ‘Mexican series’ for now, and I feel that another review of recently discovered cenotes is an appropriate finale. After I found out how beautiful and unique cenotes were – they are a special kind of sinkholes typical to Yucatan peninsula – I wanted to explore more of them. The problem with cenotes, in my opinion, is that being a tourist attraction, many appear overdeveloped to the point when they don’t even look natural anymore (with convenient stairs, decorations, souvenir shops around). So, we set up a goal to find some of the least explored cenotes.

We found a description of Chaak-Tun in a travelog that made us believe it was a kind of untouched natural wonder. But when we arrived there, it became clear it was ready for mass tourism, just waiting for the road built next to it to get asphalted. The price was already quite steep, at 200 pesos (for foreigners, 60 for Mexican citizens). Nevertheless, we enjoyed the visit, and it was not crowded. There were two caves, both with stalactites and stalagmites.

naturist 0000 Chaak Tun cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexicocaves

The second one did not have any natural light, so the mild artificial lighting was justified.

naturist 0001 Chaak Tun cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexico

While there was no one around, I took a chance for skinny-dipping 🙂

naturist 0002 Chaak Tun cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Another cenote that we visited in Tulum area  was ¿Cementerio de Mascota? (Pet Cemetery). It was discovered recently and has not been fully developed for visitors (yet). I put question marks around the name, because we are actually not sure if what we saw was cenote Cementerio de Mascota or an unnamed cenote in the same area. Tomas only knew that it was supposed to be further down the road that goes to the famous cenote Dos Ojos, and we got directions entering the park, but we never saw any indications to it, so we couldn’t be certain.

naturist 0004 Pet Cemetery cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Once we passed the much-visited cenote Dos Ojos, we decided to continue the walk naked. The forest was green as the rain season was starting, and some trees were blooming.

blooming tree 0000 on the way to Pet Cemetery cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexicoblooming tree 0001 on the way to Pet Cemetery cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexico

And some were even fruiting, like this wild papayo (papaya plant).

papaya 0001 on the way to Pet Cemetery cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexicopapaya 0000 on the way to Pet Cemetery cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexico

I liked those ‘tree-hugging’ epiphyte cactuses too (they reminded me of myself on the coconut palm tree).

epiphyte cactus 0000 on the way to Pet Cemetery cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexico

As the air was cooling down (it was late afternoon), more and more birds started singing, but we didn’t see the possessors of this hanging nest.

hanging nest 0000 on the way to Pet Cemetery cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Eventually, the road had a steep turn to the left, and there was a sign to cenote Sac-Actun (one of the longest underwater cave systems). We decided not to turn and continued in the same direction, passing through the wooden gates; but almost immediately after that, the road turned right. We were not sure whether it would bring us to Cementerio de Mascota, and decided to follow the road for not more than half an hour. We soon reached a spot with a layer of sand that seemed to have been washed out of somewhere… then we saw the pipe that was probably used for that and followed along it.

naturist 0003 Pet Cemetery cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexico

The trail was going downwards, and the trees were getting bigger and greener – a good sign of proximity of water.

banyan 0000 on the way to Pet Cemetery cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexico

There it was!

cenote0000 Pet Cemetery cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexico

However, there was something weird about it. It almost looked like a crime scene! Or like people were rushed out, leaving their diving equipment, food, and half-full (or half-empty? :D) glasses of wine!

cenote0001 Pet Cemetery cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Well, what I guess in reality happened was that there were some ‘cleaning’ works on the site, which will eventually transform this cenote into another tourist attraction. To us, it would have actually been more attractive in its virgin state, but at least we could explore it a bit before it was going to be discovered by mass tourism.

naturist 0000 Pet Cemetery cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexico

We snorkelled, and given the atmosphere of the place (and its name too!), we were happy to have seen nothing but fish in water.

naturist snorkel 0001 Pet Cemetery cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexico

After we got out of water, we heard some noise in the woods, then we saw the trees shaking! Almost as if someone was trying to fell them with brute force. Soon we figured out what it was: monkeys were jumping from one tree to another. They were actually coming in our direction, so I quickly installed a telephoto lens on my camera. The monkeys got quiet for a moment… and then they reappeared right above us! But they moved so fast in the canopy that we didn’t manage to get any decent shots.

On the way back, we stopped by another small cenote just a bit off the road to/from Dos Ojos.

naturist 0000 on the way to Pet Cemetery cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexico

It made a perfect refreshing skinny-dipping experience before we would get back to the main road to catch ‘camioneta’ (minibus) to Tulum.

naturist 0005 Pet Cemetery cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexico

A couple of days later we were joined by Miguel, who showed me some less known cenotes previously. This time we wanted to see recently open cenotes in a place that was called, very promisingly, Cenotillo.  Apparently, Cenotillo boasts more than a hundred of cenotes! We had a map that listed just a few of them.

Cenote Usil (Ucil) seemed to be the closest to this little town.

cenote 0003 cenote Usil, Yucatan, Mexico

Probably for this reason, there was some rubbish around but surprisingly there was nobody there.

cenote 0002 cenote Usil, Yucatan, Mexico

It was the perfect time of day to see solar reflections on the roof of the cenote.

naturist dive 0010 cenote Usil, Yucatan, Mexico

The water was quite cold, and it seemed bottomless! Perfect for a skinny dip-dive 🙂

naturist-dive,-cenote-Usil,-Yucatan,-Mexico-(s)

We were up to visit more cenotes, so we left pretty soon.

naturist 0000 cenote Usil, Yucatan, Mexico

By the way, cotton trees seemed to dominate the forest around Usil, but I preferred them to keep the cotton for themselves. I don’t mean that just because we didn’t need clothes in that weather, but also because quite a lot of that fibre was accumulated on the water surface of cenote.

cotton tree 0001 cenote Usil, Yucatan, Mexicocotton tree 0000 cenote Usil, Yucatan, Mexico

After that, we went back to the village in hope to ask for directions for other cenotes. Local police happened to be the best at giving advice, and we were even escorted by a policeman to a guide-vigilante Dani who curated some of the cenotes just recently open to public.

The first one we went was cenote Xoch. Luckily, Dani was absolutely cool with the idea of naturism and didn’t even blink when I got naked while walking through the forest on the way to cenote.

naturist 0003 cenote Xoch, Yucatan, Mexico

We were truly amazed when we reached the cenote. It was almost as big as the Sacred Cenote at Chichen-Itza. Unfortunately, to my view at least, they’ve already made some basic constructions next to it, but hopefully there won’t be much more than that.

naturist 0000 cenote Xoch, Yucatan, Mexico

Another disappointment came from the strictly enforced rule of wearing life vests, because “the bottom of cenotes hasn’t been explored yet”.naturist 0001 cenote Xoch, Yucatan, Mexico

For someone who can swim well, it seems to be an absurd requirement for swimming in absolutely tranquil waters of cenote, but at least Dani didn’t make me wear swim trunks 😀

naturist 0002 cenote Xoch, Yucatan, Mexico

Then we went to cenote Kaipech.

cows 0001 cenote Kaipech, Yucatan, Mexico

It was next to a cattle farm, but nobody was around; the cows seemed to be intrigued by our appearance.

cows 0000 cenote Kaipech, Yucatan, Mexico

Despite being next to the farm, Kaipech was probably the least developed cenote of this scale that I’ve seen!

cenote 0002 cenote Kaipech, Yucatan, Mexico

There was no ladder, so we had to go down by the rocks (luckily trees and their roots were of great help with that), but this is what made this cenote my favourite one perhaps.

naturist 0001 cenote Kaipech, Yucatan, Mexico

This cenote still felt untouched, although we definitely weren’t the first ones to visit it: a couple of plastic bottles were floating in water. Dani said this cenote was next in their plans for development to bring tourism in the area. But in my opinion, they should not change anything about it, it is just as perfect in its virgin state as it gets. They should only keep it clean…

We cleared the entry point of floating rubbish and went for a swim.

naturist 0000 cenote Kaipech, Yucatan, Mexico

This place seem to be teeming with wildlife. Judging by the constant buzz in the distance, there was a beehive around, so one has to be careful not to come too close to it. I also saw a basilisk, aka Jesus Lizard because of its ability to run on water, but this time it was just sunbathing on a branch above water. The seeds on the photo below are “snakes’ food” according to Dani, but it is hard to believe that, as all snakes are exclusive carnivores, as far as I know. I wouldn’t mind sitting there for a while and observe if any snakes come to eat those berries.

snake berries 0000 cenote Kaipech, Yucatan, Mexico

There was also a nest with one egg that could be easily seen, but I guess the trick was that it was on a palm tree leaf right above water, so any crawling intruders were likely to fall down.

nest 0000 cenote Kaipech, Yucatan, Mexico

As usually near cenotes, there were some blue-crowned motmots, locally known as ‘pajaro toh’. These birds are brightly coloured and have various distinct calls. I can still hear them calling to visit those picturesque and yet mysterious cenotes!

toh bird 0000 cenote Kaipech, Yucatan, Mexico

Sandy Hook is stronger than Sandy!

As life in New York metropolitan area slowly returns to normal after the Frankenstorm, some of the city dwellers start thinking beyond the most vital issues. I’ve heard from several people already their concern about whether we’ll have a proper beach season next summer, because of some rumours that beaches got destroyed. So, yours truly got on a plane and went to check it out. Well, luckily I have a friend who is a pilot on a small plane and we planned a flight on the clear morning last Sunday…

When we reached the coastal area of Rockaway, it was obvious that for many people by the waterfront, the most essential question was still… where to live.

A large part of Breezy Point was wiped out by fire that fire department wasn’t able to reach because of the flooding.

These are aerial photographs of one of my favorite beaches, Fort Tilden, before Sandy.

And these are from this Sunday.

The beach itself looks as beautiful, but you can see that the dunes receded… and their sand covers the road now! I have mixed feeling about it being less accessible now. In a way, it is also nice to have some wilderness areas within NYC boundaries.

Jersey Shore suffered from Frankenstorm even more, but we flew only above its northernmost tip, Sandy Hook. Gunnison beach of Sandy Hook, probably my favorite one in the area, appeared totally flooded at first sight.

But it definitely remains to be a wide sandy beach as we know it!

It’s got this interesting sand barrier structure that goes along the shore, but I doubt it will last till next summer.

Parts of the road were still flooded, and I am sure there is a lot of mud and sand.

Another thing that I noticed looking at the beach, was that the parts of sand dunes covered with plants, even just grass or small bushes, seemed to have resisted the surge pretty well.

This made me think that the fence that limits access to the dunes for protection of shorebirds, such as plovers, was actually also necessary to preserve the plant cover. This, in turn, reminded me of a couple of case when I saw rangers patrolling the beach hitting the fence while passing through it and not bothering to put it back! One friend of mine took care of it, and he made it artfully!

In any case, I have no doubt that there will be a beach season next summer. Sandy Hook proved to be stranger than Sandy!

wild stuff in Harriman Park, NY

This post will summarize some of our experiences in Harriman State Park, a beautiful woodland just 1-1.5h away from Manhattan (driving or by train + bike).

There are scenic views, numerous lakes, and plenty of wildlife. It is nothing but stunning to have that land of [nearly] unspoiled nature so close to the biggest urban area in US… This fact is only evident by the view from Bear Mountain.

By the way, the name was not given to this mountain in vain – yes, there are bears in the park, and we have even seen one! I have to admit this is not the best photo of a bear – unfortunately it was not close enough to make a good shot, but I just had to add it here as a proof.

Other animals, like the Canada geese on the photos below, might be less unusual for an urban dweller but also appear less menacing.

But before I go on with the list of animals we have seen there, here is a bush that every year turns those woods into a truly fabulous place for about two weeks early June. It is mountain laurel.

In places where mountain laurel is concentrated, e.g. at the Lake Skannatati, its white-to-pink blossom is outstanding.

In the height of its bloom, the woods look more like Garden of Eden than just a wild forest. Of course, you’d feel like wearing nothing but Adam’s (or Eve’s) suit there.

… which provides plenty of opportunities for nice photos. Just wandering around there feels special.

But don’t think it would be the only type of flowers you’ll see there.

Lily Pond is rightfully called so because it is almost entirely covered with water lilies!

Other lakes, on contrary, have totally open surface and clear water, like Second Reservoir

or Silver Mine Lake, for example.

And there are many more lakes.

It is warm enough for swimming from May to October.

If you’re not up for swimming, you can just walk on water.

Seriously! Well, it is just that many of those lakes are reservoirs with dams. It is like those infinity pools but in a natural setting.

Main activity in Harriman Park is hiking, but some trails are good for biking too.

I’d recommend wearing a helmet though.

But of course, it is hard to resist temptation to relax in such a tranquil place… especially when you have a hammock with you.

And especially after some nice food.

By the way, there are some wild fruits there too, like grapes

and blueberries, but better leave those for animals.

And if you bring food with you, make sure not to leave any garbage, it is really disappointing to find any in such a pristine place.

But even if you don’t have a hammock, sitting by the lake will make you forget about all daily troubles.

 

There are also some springs and falls connecting the lakes and reservoirs.

 

After all that chilling, it is definitely worth going for a walk again, and don’t forget your camera for there will be a plenty of opportunities to shoot photograph animals.

There are many colorful insects.

Dragonflies are the easiest to spot, and some come right to you or even on you 😉

Other arthropods that drew our attention were these huge centipede and harvestman.

Recently, we’ve seen this juvenile eastern newt (eft), that had amazingly bright orange skin (they loose the color when they go back to water and mature).

Common Garter snakes are common there indeed (and do not pose any threat).

As in any healthy forest, there is plenty of birds; we’ve even seen some nests with nestlings.

Some of the most common bigger birds are turkey vultures and herons.

The latter probably feast on fish like this school of young catfish.

Most likely you will see some species of sunfish family. There were many nests of theirs at Silver Mine Lake, and it was interesting to see how protective they were around them.

At Lake Skannatati, they could easily hide among water plants but they preferred not to,  perhaps they were even attracted to my underwater camera.

After I mentioned bears, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are some more common mammals, like hares,

raccoons (even though you can see them in Central Park too, it is somehow nicer to see them not feeding off a trash bin),

chipmunks,

and of course deer (white-tailed deer, to be exact).

Seeing a horned stag among all that blossom will make you feel like in a fairy-tale.

As Christian says, you may get to see unicorns coming out of those bushes any moment.

Run for the Wild!

I will be happy if some of my dear readers support me in raising money for conservation of lions!

Next Saturday I will participate in a 5k fundraiser run at the Bronx Zoo, Run for the Wild. We are raising money for the Wildlife Conservation Society, this year particularly for lion conservation. I unfortunately I cannot promise to run totally bare, as I usually do, but I will run barefoot. I used to have Vibram Fivefingers ‘barefoot’ shoes, but I lost them in my last trip, so I will run totally barefoot. I am still learning the techniques of Moving Naturally system, which I mention in the post about Jones Beach, which I find less energy-demanding than running that we’re used to after wearing thick sole shoes.

In case you wonder why lions need money to support them, this is what I wrote on my personal Run for the Wild page:

Join me in making tracks for lions! On April 28, I will be participating in the WCS Run for the Wild, a 5K run/walk at the Bronx Zoo. This event is dedicated to these beloved big cats, which are losing ground across the African Plains. The funds I raise will go toward the Wildlife Conservation Society projects to conserve lions and other imperiled animals around the globe and at the Bronx Zoo.

Did you know that lions now live in only a small number of African countries? The nations of Morocco, Algeria, Congo, and Gabon have lost all of their lions.

If we do not act soon, they could also vanish from Nigeria, South Sudan, and Uganda.

Being at the top of energy pyramid in many habitats in Africa, they are essential to the ecosystem. Even $10 will make a difference for lions African ecosystem. The donations I collect will go toward WCS efforts to monitor lions and work with local communities toco-exist peacefully with the big cats. With your support, WCS will continue this important work.

Please also consider joining me for this fun event! You can register at http://www.wcsrunforthewild.org.

Thanks in advance for your generosity and your commitment to saving lions.

Please support me, lions and Wildlife Conservation Society following this link.

Hiking near oasis at the Dead Sea in Israel

After spending 2 days of snorkeling at the Red Sea, I had to move further, and the next stop on my trip through Israel was the Dead Sea. I stayed at a friend of my new friend who brought me to Ga’ash beach in Tel Aviv. He lived in Ein Gedi kibbutz, which is a part of luscious Ein Gedi oasis off the shores of the Dead Sea. The sea-lake itself is of course the major attraction in the area, and I will talk about it in my next post, but there is also a nice opportunity to see local flora and fauna on a daily hiking trip. Ein Gedi nature reserve has two spring-fed streams with flowing water year-round: Nahal David and Nahal Arugot. The former is much more popular, and I was advised not to go there, as tourists pour in big portions coming with organized bus tours.

view 0001 Nahal Arugot, Dead Sea, Israel

So, I went alone to Nahal Arugot and for most of the time I wasn’t disturbed by anyone and even found some moments to enjoy the refreshing waters in the buff!

view 0000 Nahal Arugot, Dead Sea, Israel

Right after entrance, it did feel like it was a desert, but then it got quite green along the stream and at some points I walked right on its banks or even in its shallow waters.

view 0002 Nahal Arugot, Dead Sea, Israel

When it got deeper and wider, I couldn’t resist dipping in the water. Skinny-dipping, of course!

naturist 0001 Nahal Arugot, Dead Sea, Israel

But I heard some loud voices of american teenage tourists and had to cover fast. In any case I had to hurry, because the trail closes very early and I had to return to the entry point by 5pm.

Then I saw the first pool with waterfalls. That is what the trail is known for, but this one was quickly occupied by some American tourists and I continued further.

view 0003 Nahal Arugot, Dead Sea, Israel

I noted another pool but decided to stop there on the way back, if I didn’t find anything else.

view 0004 Nahal Arugot, Dead Sea, Israel

So, I continued hiking partially on the trail, partially through in the stream, in hope to find a more secluded spot. I found one pool that seemed to be somewhat hidden by the trees and bushes and refreshed again.

naturist 0003 Nahal Arugot, Dead Sea, Israel

It also seemed like a nice spot for having a lunch. While I was eating my sandwich, a couple of birds came very close to me.

bird 0001 Nahal Arugot, Dead Sea, Israel

They did not beg for food like their urban relatives, and it was nice to imagine that they were as curious about me as I was about them.

bird 0000 Nahal Arugot, Dead Sea, Israel

After food I went for another dip

naturist 0002 Nahal Arugot, Dead Sea, Israel

and encountered another creature that didn’t mind me taking a close-up photo.
dragonfly 0000 Nahal Arugot, Dead Sea, Israel

Then I finally continued hiking. I reached the tallest waterfall

view waterfall 0005 Nahal Arugot, Dead Sea, Israel

but didn’t stay there for too long as I wanted to go till the end of the trail.

view waterfall 0006 Nahal Arugot, Dead Sea, Israel

Unfortunately, just a little further above the waterfalls I was called by a guard, who told me it was too late to continue further. It sounded strange to me, as it was early still, but I didn’t bother arguing and started my way back in the direction of the Dead Sea.

view 0007 Nahal Arugot, Dead Sea, Israel

I was passing by the high waterfall again, but it was then full of VERY noisy teenagers, orthodox Jews this time. I was wondering why they needed to shout so much, as the place looked so peaceful and perfect for listening to the sounds of nature, but for them it was more of an attraction park, which is also understandable, given that they might not have too much access to natural freshwater pools if they lived in that area. But then I raised my head and right above the gorge saw a group of nubian ibexes.

nubian ibex 0000 Nahal Arugot, Dead Sea, Israel

Apparently, they were thinking about the same issues, as they were staring from above at the noisy tourists fooling around at the waterfall. The good part about their noisiness, I thought, was that in case I would do skinny-dipping, I could hear them approaching.

The pool that I noted previously was still unoccupied so I decided to enjoy it for myself.

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xghfk2_skinny-dipping-in-the-desert_travel

As you can see, I also found it to be quite an attraction to slide down the stream bed into the pool.

It was also amazing to see ferns growing on the walls above the stream given that few meters away a rocky desert was starting.

fern 0000 Nahal Arugot, Dead Sea, Israel

But then even more amazing was it to see two animals side by side that you would never expect to see in the desert: a frog and a crab!

frog & crab 0000 Nahal Arugot, Dead Sea, Israel

After I had enough fun at the pool, I followed till the exit quickly and just stopped to take pictures of another group of ibexes, which came even closer.

nubian ibex 0001 Nahal Arugot, Dead Sea, Israel

I never thought I could spend such a refreshing day and seeing so much wildlife at the Dead Sea.