To the Inland Sea

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Vacation Special, August 1997
 R O A M I N G   L A G U N A   M I R A M A R  

To the Inland Sea

The best swimming in Mexico: Ocean?
By Christopher Shaw

August 6
Miss Crustacean USA Beauty Pageant and Ocean City Creep
Ocean City, New Jersey
Beauty pageant for hermit crabs; this year's hopefuls try to win the coveted crown from the reigning champ, "Copa Crabana." 609-525-9300.
August 8
Surfing Walk of Fame
Huntington Beach
Six athletes are inducted on the pavement in front of Jack's Surfboards, the Hollywood Walk of Fame of the surfing world. 714-375-2188.
August 8-9
Long Beach Island
Lifeguard Tournament

Barnegat Light, New Jersey
Long Beach Island lifeguards compete in surf rescues and other events. 609-361-1200.
August 8-10
Tetonkaha Rendezvous
Bruce, South Dakota
Blindfolded canoeists cross Tetonkaha Lake, while their partners in the bow bark out commands; if they reach shore, they switch and head back. 605-693-4589.
August 9
Hawaii State Windsurf Championships
Kanaha Beach Park, Maui
Professionals and amateurs, male and female, square off. 808-877-2111.
August 9
Hawaii State Windsurf Championships
Kanaha Beach Park, Maui
Professionals and amateurs, male and female, square off. 808-877-2111.
Somebody asked Subcomandante Marcos, the figurehead of Mexico's Zapatista movement, how he first came to Chiapas. Half-jokingly, he answered that he got drunk and wound up in Ocosingo instead of Acapulco. "There is a lake near there called Miramar," he said. "I asked which way the sea was, and they told me, 'That way,' so I started walking. Pretty soon I realized I was in the mountains, and I never left." It's not a bad story, and it's even plausible once you've seen Miramar for yourself.

I'm a lake lover of four decades, and I have never seen anything like it. Laguna Miramar ("sea view"), as it is called in Spanish, lies in a ring of mountains 47 miles southeast of Ocosingo, in the southern state of Chiapas, the heart of the Lacandn rainforest and the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve. It is also the Zapatista heartland, one reason Miramar may not be for everybody. Access is through the Maya community of Emiliano Zapata, where you are already "back there," so to speak. Then it's a four-and-a-half-mile hike to the lake.

The trail ends at a long, narrow beach. There, beneath chicozapote trees bristling with orchids, bromeliads, and epiphytic cacti, the community has erected two thatched, open-sided palapas, one for tents or hammocks and one with a traditional raised hearth for cooking. Zapata and the other lake communities bar hunting and logging near Miramar, so the only sounds are "lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore," in Yeats's words, and the unceasing drone of howler monkeys.

I visited Laguna Miramar with Fernando Ochoa, a bilingual outfitter from San Cristbal who helped Zapata develop its tourism plan. We paddled the lake's more than seven square miles for three long days and didn't see it all, though we did visit pictographs, rock carvings, and a full-scale island ruin left behind by Miramar's ancient inhabitants, ancestors of the Maya who live there now. A thousand feet deep, Miramar sustains enough aquatic life to entertain a Cousteau, including turtles, crocs, and a cryptozoological creature the Indians say resembles a manatee. In our canoe cruising, however, all we saw were several dozen species of tropical and migratory birds, a bewildering array of plant life, and fish. Mostly we swam.

And the swimming was the best I've ever had, anywhere. The few divers who have sampled Miramar's depths can get downright poetic about it. We paddled from one travertine shoal to the next, diving into water the color and clarity of Aqua Velva and basking in shallow depressions eroded along the shore. Once in a while we saw a single dugout in the distance. The rest was silence.

W A T E R I N G   P L A C E S
Steve Alten, author of Meg, a fictional fish story about a real prehistoric shark, Carcharodon megalodon, perhaps as long as 60 feet; the movie arrives next year.

"If you're drawn to Meg, you could dive the inky, alligator-infested waters of the Cooper or Ashepoo Rivers in South Carolina, where visibility is two or three feet. Beside an old Coke bottle and an older clay pipe from a colonial plantation, you could find a seven-inch megalodon tooth. Its jaw contained roughly 200 serrated teeth in four rows. Keep that in mind as you come up for air, face to face with a ten-foot gator."

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