If you smile at a crocodile…

In the heart of Cancun, Laguna Nichupté is another of the regions natural wonders. It is a system of lagoons that comprise over three thousand hectares, it has seven lakes and communicates to the Mexican Caribbean ocean through two channels. Nichupté is full of mangroves and an astonishing biodiversity of plant and animal species. Including large crocodiles known to have attacked dogs, a few distracted tourists and silly pedestrians who don’t mind the warning signs. So best see the Laguna Nichupté from the safety of a boat.

Entrance to the underworld

The South of Mexico is rich in history and natural beauty. Mayans inhabited this area of the country and studied natural phenomena. Even though they were great astronomers and scientists at their time, they also believed in many Gods and explained some natural events with beliefs.

Cenotes were used as both, source of water; and, for Mayan people they were believed to be the gateways to the underworld or afterlife and their god Xibalba. Being sacred, these water wells, were protected by the Mayan people with Alux – a clay made spirit. Mayans used to perform sacrificial offerings in cenotes.

Cenotes are limestone cave-pools with crystal clear water due to the slow filtering through the ground of rain water. The word derives from the Mayan tz’onot or ts’onot, which means water well or abyss.

Near Cancun, Gran Cenote, a semi-open cenote, provides access to the second-largest cave system in the world, Sac Aktun – with over 215 km mapped passages. The opening of the cave has enough light to see the underwater columns of stalagmites and stalactites while still being in the dark. In the cave you can see bats flying around and the refreshing crystal clear water makes it possible to see the small turtles and fish swimming around.

The black panther

There are actually two species that are referred to as black panthers: black jaguars and black leopards. If they didn’t live so far apart they would be confused with each other. In fact the only easy difference is that jaguars, in their yellow colour, have spotty spots. Jaguars have black dots inside some of their spots (rosettes), whereas leopards don’t. However, this “easy” difference becomes quite hard to see when these cats are melanistic, that is, a black coat or entirely black. Whilst the spots are still visible, distance makes them harder to distinguish.

About six percent of jaguars will be all black. In the same way, there are also jaguars that are all white or albino jaguars. Both black and white jaguars are exactly like all other jaguars in every other way; they are just a different color.

There is a big need for conservation of these rare black cats. They need to be taken seriously as they are at a high risk of becoming extinct with an estimated population of only around 600 worldwide.

Working or worming

Three hours South of Sydney, Conjola Beach is within the Narrawallee Creek Nature Reserve. Golden sand beaches with striking blue waters that are backed by 10-20 m high foredunes; and nearby, a small community of Lake Conjola (population 350). The perfect setting and location for a holiday, or for a home if you are a beach worm.

Beach worming is one of the least known fishing activities yet one that can only be described as an art, or hard work. It takes the patience of a turtle and the speed, laser vision of Cyclops, and lightning hands of a ninja to snatch the worm from the sand. Pliers in one hand and a smelly fish in the other, the worms poke their heads up to feed, concealing the rest of their bodies. One must creep behind the V-shaped pattern in the wash the worm creates when it sticks its head above the sand for the smelly fish. Then, with another piece of stink bait held close to its head one must lure the worm out on the bait. Once the worm is biting the fish, one must close the pliers around its head and draw its thrashing form from the sand. That’s the idea, anyway. Surprisingly, some beach worms grow to be up to 2½ metres long, beneath the sand.

Selling for $1 to $1.50 each worm, it makes for an attractive business when there is no limit on bag sizes for licensed wormers and one might harvest up to 1000 a day. However, over-harvesting has caused the destruction of the pipi industry. And some fishermen say to have witnessed a depletion of worms on the mid-north coast of NSW. Hopefully the industry will be regulated so that this skillful hobby can be done in the years to come.

Meet the locals

Bendalong is the ideal south coast seaside weekend village. Just a few hours drive south from Sydney, Boat Harbour Beach, is one of several beaches in Bendalong. This is an area with awesome beaches and whilst many little Aussie coastal villages can boast a great beach or maybe two, Bendalong has seven of them.

“Boat Harbour” is a 320 m long beach with waves averaging 0.5 m right next to Washerwomans Beach. The beach faces north and is pretty sheltered meaning it’s a good place to stand-up paddle board, kayak, swim or snorkel.

Additionally, Boat Harbour beach boasts a boat ramp located toward the eastern end. Thanks to this ramp, the beach has become famous for the large local sting rays that come in close to shore to feed on the scraps thrown to them by the fishermen. You can stand in the shore and let the rays come near to gently pat them or venture for a snorkel with these magnificent creatures on a weekend away.

Snorkelling with sharks

The blacktip reef shark lives in warm, shallow, tropical waters. It has a small territory it usually stays within which is why it is an easy target for avid snorkellers if one knows their favorite spots and is able to get an “off-menu” tour.

The black tips on its fins, in particular on the dorsal and caudal fins, gives it its name.Though it has a white belly and dark back that helps them camouflage with the dim seafloor and the brighter ocean surface which means one must be very alert to spot them.

These sharks grow up to 1.5 meters and is a species that cannot stop swimming, or they will simply sink. However, as a means of preserving the species, females are able to reproduce asexually if no males are available.

Beware of the macaque

This near-threatened crab-eating macaque is a ferocious creature. It lives around Southeast Asia and spotted in a coastal lowland forests in Miniloc, Palawan. This monkey lives in troops and whilst their social composition is a matriarchy, the males are pretty aggressive. They look even more so when showing their teeth beneath their moustaches and cheek whiskers. And even more so when a second one behind you does the same.

Don’t be smelly

Otters are the largest member of the weasel family. Without fat to keep them warm, otters have to eat constantly to make up for the energy needed to maintain their body temperature. Some have even been seen taking rabbits. Otters may live in salt water, but they need regular access to freshwater to clean their fur. A small puddle will do.

Otters can be shy and elusive, but with patience and a few tricks there’s a good chance of seeing one. In Shetland, due to the long hours of summer daylight, otters have become used to going around in daytime as opposed to being nocturnal as in most other parts the world. In early summer female otters can be seen showing their cubs (usually two) how to hunt in the shallows of the kelp forest of Shetland. Like these two. Summer is also when the older cubs start exploring new territory.

To be successful in otter spotting, it is important to remember that otters have good smell and bad eye sight so, avoid your silhouette breaking the skyline. Also, make sure the wind is not blowing towards the otters as your scent will scare them off. Finally add in a small dose of luck and there they are.

Muckle Fugga

Shetland is a group of islands located in the North Sea, North of Scotland and West of Norway. Unst, the most northerly populated island in Britain, is often known as the island above all others. Population: 600.

The Hermaness National Nature Reserve, up top Unst, has magnificent views during its walk in the high cliffs. This walk is also full of up close encounters with sea birds, especially the Great Skua (or Bonxie as the locals know it) as here is a breeding ground for them. These birds can be quite aggressive in breeding season, so sticking to the path is the best caution whilst walking.

Even further North than Unst is the Muckle Flugga Lighthouse, built on a pinnacle of rock in Oost (Out of Stack) that rises 61m above the sea, and is frequently overtopped by unbroken waves. This is Britain’s most northerly lighthouse. Three people manned this remote spot, ferried with supplies when they could.

The lighthouse was known originally as North Unst Lighthouse. In 1964 its name changed to Muckle Flugga — derived from the Old Norse for ‘large steep-sided island’.

Big paws and big teeth

Just a short drive from Narvik, the Gateway to the North, there is a park with generous-sized enclosures for a range of Arctic animals: bears, wolves, lynx, deer and elk: the Polar Park. An ideal place for all to learn about the native species, including of Norway’s only wild cat.

Four different types of medium cats are given the name of Lynx. Their coats of fur vary in colour according to their climate range. This Eurasian (or Siberian) lynx lives in Northern regions so their coats are thicker and lighter in colour (for camouflage). The Eurasian lynx has wide, harelike paws to help them skim through deep snow without sinking in: a handy characteristic this far up North the world.