Steven Koevoet immediately fell in love with nature in Yucatan

PLAYA DEL CARMEN – Steven Koevoet (52) from Vlaardingen is an alround tour guide from Playa del Carmen, Mexico. He ended up here 26 years ago during a tour and spontaneously decided to take cave diving lessons. And never left. 

We agreed to meet at a quarter past six in the morning at the corner of the In Najil Xook school, just outside the town of Tulum. From there we drive together in darkness to Mujil, twenty kilometers away, in the middle of the Sian Ka'an nature reserve. We are going to spot tropical birds. Koevoet is dressed as a typical tour guide. In green, protective clothing. A hat. Binoculars around his neck, dragging a telescope. 

There is a lot of jungle in this area, but a lot of land is already being sold here too

In Mujil, the variety of birds is enormous, Steven explains. This is due to the diversity of trees. The chance of spotting a toucan is also the greatest here and that is my personal wish.

Birding with Steven

Hij heeft inmiddels naam gemaakt in de omgeving als Birding With Steven. ,,Het is een ervaringsvak. Je leert kijken, je leert de bewegingen en natuurlijk ook de geluiden van vogels herkennen”, legt hij uit. Er is geen echte studie voor, wil hij maar zeggen. Hooguit een niet aflatende interesse. Hij is constant scherp. Tuurt en tuurt naar de bomen. Speurt naar die beweging en wijst. ,,Daar, bij die wat kale boom, op twee uur, nét iets naar achteren. Zie je die gele borst, die zwarte vleugels met die witte tinten? Dat is de ‘Hooded Oriole’, de maskertroepiaal. Mooi hè.”

The best moment to watch birds: at sunrise

Steven Koevoet

Als Koevoet 26 jaar is, gaat hij met vrienden door Latijns Amerika backpacken. Een van de plannen is om te gaan duiken en snorkelen nabij het eiland Cozumel. In kuststad Playa del Carmen ziet hij dat er duikcursussen worden aangeboden in cenotes, het zo unieke natuurverschijnsel in deze omgeving. Kleine meertjes in de jungle, met ieder een eigen structuur. Ieder een eigen flora en fauna. Duizenden zijn het er, sommigen met onvoorstelbare dieptes. Koevoet wil deze cursus persé volgen en neemt afscheid van z’n vrienden. Na deze cursus wordt hij zelf duikinstructeur in het gebied. ,,In Nederland was ik drukker. Dat had ik eigenlijk wel gezien, dus ik besloot het er gewoon op te wagen.” 

The gartered trogon was relatively easy to catch with good binoculars

And so he dived into all those fascinating waters in Yucatan. He swam between the deep caves. He guided tourists through adventurous, adrenaline-fueled places. But after about ten years he is finished. “I noticed that I was getting colder in the water. It started to bother me more and more. Diving is of course also very tough, the fun was gone.” 

Steven Koevoet
Steven Koevoet in full action

He changes his existence a little bit and becomes an alround guide in the very touristy area. Tells about the many Mayan temples, about nature, about history. “While I was in the archaeological site of Coba, I overheard two tourists talking about a bird they saw. I explained to them. They advised me to do something with it because they had had trouble finding a good bird guide.” A lot is coming together for him. As a young boy, he already had a profound interest in Mayan culture through an inspired teacher. “And my grandfather lived in a rural area. As a child, I really enjoyed watching birds there.” 

We go into the jungle together, but we stay in a populated area. After all, there are more open plains here, which attract a lot of birds. We see the full moon go down and the sun rise. Around half past eight it starts to live. Hummingbirds, woodpeckers, jays, the beautiful Red Cardinal. Red, yellow, black, brown. "Birds or the underwater world don't matter much, I think it's both beautiful," he explains.

De pyramides van Muyil
The pyramids of Muyil

And a little sad: ,,I also dived in the sea. There's a lot here. Turtles, dolphins, and thousands of fish in all colors and sizes. This is a beautiful area. But after a while, there was a Russian woman who wanted to grab a whale shark for the photo. She literally dove after the animal and grabbed it. I get her out of the water. But yes, the customer is king, and my boss was not happy with that. That incident really hurt me, so I stopped. I prefer birds. Birds are elusive.” 

He tries the birds to move. By imitating their sounds. He lets his phone play bird sounds. Hangs a loudspeaker in a tree. We see, consciously and unconsciously, about fifty species of birds. We only hear the toucan.

Beautiful view over the Muyil jungle

Koevoet hardly goes to the Netherlands anymore, the absolute urgency is missing. He will stay here for now. His hunger is far from satisfied and business is going well. ,,Although I never really discover new birds, I think I've seen them all. But it remains fascinating. I have seen four jaguars walking around in the wild, which is and always will be very special.”

Steven van Beek
Steven van Beek
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