The Wetter You Get, the Summer You'll Feel

To the Inland Sea

    Photo: PhotoDisc

The best swimming in Mexico: Ocean?
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 Lacandòn 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 Cristóbal 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.

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