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No rivers in Yucatan

Dear Friend,

Almost exactly seven years ago to the day I was enjoying the tail-end of my honeymoon on the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico.

Yes, I know you’re wondering why a reinsurance broker should be fool enough to go on holiday in the Caribbean during the hurricane season, but it was extremely good value and we had spent all our money on the wedding, so we thought we’d take a chance on the cheapest exotic location we could afford.

We flew into Cancun and deliberately avoiding its 20-kilometre strip of gaudy hotel complexes, immediately took the ferry to a charming island opposite called Isla Mujeres. Needless to say we had a great holiday travelling around the Yucatan — there are lots of amazing Mayan ruins to see – and the people are extremely friendly — especially once you get away from the slightly over-developed coast.

And that development has been utterly spectacular — it is incredible to think that as recently as the 1960s the territory of Quintana Roo was a long strip of virgin coastline with a vast almost uninhabited area of jungle, famous only as a refuge for fugitives from justice and bandits. The territory was only made a full state of the Mexican Federal Republic in 1974!

Thirty years later and the peninsula is criss-crossed by six-lane highways and the strip of hotels in Cancun would not look out of place on Spain’s Costa del Sol. Millions of visitors flock there every year from all over the world. If any illustration were needed of the exponential growth in insured values, then this is it.

On the last day of our holiday a waiter that we had befriended with showed us the front page of the local paper — it was taken up almost entirely by a satellite image of an enormous swirling tropical depression. A couple of days later that depression strengthened into Hurricane Mitch and devastated large areas of neighbouring Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

Cancun escaped Mitch — but seven years later Wilma is going to be a direct category five hit. The coastal damage will be considerable — and goodness knows how many more hotels have gone up since I was there.

But there is one other tourist attraction I haven’t mentioned that might mitigate damage in the region —its geology. The peninsula lies in incredibly porous rock which means all the rivers run underground, forming spectacular cave formations called “cenotes”. Because of this vast underground reservoir, the chances of the sort of flash flooding that would devastate villages in other areas must be extremely slim.

Still, that must be small comfort as the hatches are battened down and the storm approaches

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