12 May Roca Partida
Roca Partida, Split Rock, is one of the many natural wonders of the Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve. With a small, pristine beach, a thriving reef, warm winds and seas, and the namesake Split Rock, it’s a prefect place for adventure sports like hiking, rappelling and diving, or more relaxing activities like eating fresh seafood in the quiet cove. The history of pirates and their hidden treasures in Roca Partida also make for fantastic storytelling.
Not many people know about this tucked away gem, mainly passionate rock climbers and divers. Moreover, the beach itself is delightfully undeveloped with only a handful of palapas and boats. When we arrived, we asked if we could camp on the beach and a palapa owner assured us that we could, just along the edge of his restaurant. We camped there, ate many a delicious meal with them and they charged us nothing for camping.
Located in the San Andrés Tuxtla region of Los Tuxtlas, the massive cliff with its spectacular views of the ocean and beach wrap you in warm salty breezes and splash you in sunshine. Below, the water crashes against the rocks, creating mini-pools, teeming with life. The reef has been cared for, respected and honored, in order to become a more important stream of income for the local people. Ecotourism, diving excursions, and rappelling, have slowly filled the gap of the dwindling catch.
Natural resource management and protection is changing in Mexico. Roca Partida, Veracruz, is a good example. Traditionally a fishing village, for generations, people here have participated in three annual fishing seasons: the Cuaresma (a February fish run from South to North), the Pampanillo, (a North to South run in September/November), and the Rasqueteo, a community-wide effort to haul ashore a dragnet to comb the bay for sea life. But over-fishing and contamination in the Gulf has led to a 70% decrease in yields, and the loss has forced the community’s fishermen to supplement their income in other ways to feed their families. This shift has pushed the community in a positive new direction.
Roca Partida, like many rural communities in Mexico, takes a communal approach to resource management (known as the ejido system); it makes decisions collectively and shares profits from fishing and other activities. In 2005, as yields dropped and the economic situation grew dire, the ejido made the move toward a more sustainable economic model, one that would seek to protect the natural resources and draw eco-tourism to the area. A reef just offshore, known as La Posa, had long been a source of fish and the community had occasionally taken divers there. Huge jewfish could be spotted lower down on the reef. With the influx of eco-tourists, the community began to see the reef in a different light.
Gama Antele, a third-generation fisherman of this cove, mends his nets alongside his son and a few other fishermen. He explains, “a fish is worth more alive than dead” (“Nos beneficia mas el pez vivo que el pez muerto”). Sadly, someone came along one day and speared all the large grouper, leaving the reef and the community of Roca Partida that much poorer.
Gama loves his community and has resisted leaving for bluer economic waters. People know him here – they call him “Pollo” because he sells chicken around town. “In a big city, people don’t know you”. He doesn’t like that idea – he’d have no community, no social network. Just as he carefully mends his nets, so does he nurture his web of friends and family. These, for him, are his life. He hopes that his son, also named Gama, will become a marine biologist so that he can bring his knowledge back to help the community collaborate to protect the reef.
With the nearby volcanoes of Los Tuxtlas, it should be no surprise that Roca Partida was formed from the fiery clash of lava meeting the sea, but that’s not the only wild tale the juggernaut has to tell. A cave inside was the hideaway for famed Dutch pirate, Laurens de Graaf, possibly the most violent in pirate history. He robbed passing ships and hid his bounty inside Roca Partida. Pieces of the ship and his bounty still remain and a boatman will happily guide you on a tour of the legendary cave.
Besides visiting the famed pirate cove, the regional farmers’ co-op guides many other types of eco-tours in the San Andrés Tuxtla region, which has unbelievable offerings – from staggering waterfalls to biodiversity that rivals the best examples worldwide, from volcanoes to lagoons, mangroves to ancient Olmec cultural traditions. In Roca Partida alone, you can find eagles, turtles, stingrays, sharks, tarpon and barracuda. The ecosystem is thriving, and what better way to support their efforts than visiting and experiencing it yourself.
Roca Partida is at a fascinating crossroads. They’re taking steps to protect their natural resources and their future. Let’s take inspiration from this community’s recent reorientation, working together to care for the web of life that sustains us all, rather than ransacking the reef for personal gain. Let’s be stewards, not looters – contributors, not takers.
You can support Roca Partida’s ecological efforts, and those of Los Tuxtlas Bioshphere Reserve, by visiting and experiencing it for yourself! Or by sharing it with others who are also interested in making this planet a better place …one habitat at a time.