My plan is as simple as the region’s terrain. Leave at dawn to avoid the heat, run in a straight line heading east, avoid obstacles along my path, and turn around after about 30 minutes to return to my sleeping family.

I stick to the plan without deviating. But at what price?

I have to cross an arm of the sea with water just murky enough to make my imagination run wild. What kind of beings might be hidden away in the sludge I’m stirring up? Cutting through the waters with my clumsy flailing, I wonder how many teeth the jaws of these finned creatures might hold. And there, in the mangroves, isn’t that where crocodiles slumber?

There are also unpleasant cormorants, perched on trees as dead as their haughty stares. Annoyed, several cranes fly off one by one as I approach—soaring over their domain that I seem to be sullying with my footsteps—, cutting out a disturbing shape reminiscent of a dragon in a sky set aflame by the rising sun.

Yet, beneath my feet, I’m treading upon death. Rather than sand, millions of empty, broken shells cover this Mexican beach. A few washed up fish, their corpses bloated, force me to dance to avoid flattening their sad remains. A sun bleached avian skeleton, still with a few grey feathers but missing a skull, makes for a much more captivating sight. And stone crabs, blue-blooded antediluvian monsters with too many legs, have me worried I’ve inadvertently travelled backwards in time by a few hundred million years.

Very much alive, but timid and out of reach, a few squat shapes enter my peripheral vision. Their feet in the water, legs as thin as their beaks are enormous, a colony of pelicans begins to move, mindful of the presence of another biped, this stray tourist.

Farther along, in brackish water, I come upon the true emperors of this place where all is foreign to me. The sun is already blazing, yet its powerful light seems to exist only to highlight these flamingos’ miraculous plumage, its pink so improbable it seems artificial.

It’s time for me to turn around. With regret, as everything here is so astonishing. And with relief, as nothing on this island inspires the slightest confidence. Never, ever, have I felt as far away from home as on the wild beaches of Holbox in Quintana Roo, Mexico.