Driving the 300km across the Yucatan peninsula from Cancun in Quintana Roo state to the Hacienda near Merida, in Yucatan state, we hit the most fully restored Maya site - Chichen Itza.

This is the main pyramid, El Castillo. This is why we came - to climb pyramids and look around. And we were thinking, what?

Here is a very short time line of the people of the Yucatan peninsula. I was quite surprised at how late is was that the Mayan civilization flourished:
7000-2000BC Hunter-gatherers occupy the peninsula
2000-1500 Cultivators settle down and needing to have influence over the weather, develop a god of rain and a god of corn
1500-200 The Olmecs build the first ceremonial centers, develop religious rituals including human sacrifices to assuage an ever-increasing number of blood-thirsty gods
200BC-250AD Mayan farmers relocate to Yucatan
250-900 Mayas begin their temple-building era, develop a written language and sophisticated calendars, 'build and abandon more cities than existed in all of ancient Egypt', new cities being discovered even today
900 Beginning of the end of classic Mayan civilization
1000 The Toltecs conquer the Maya
1200 The Itzaes (of Mayan stock) move into the area
1524-1821 In 1524 the last major Mayan group is conquered by Spanish troops to begin the Colonial Period

From our balcony in Cancun.

I expected to tolerate Cancun, the tourista capital of Yucatan. I expected it would be just.fine but really, if you are in search of ever new places to soak up sun you'll be very happy in Cancun. The streets and roads are safe and clean, the beaches are georgous and clean, the food in the many upscale restaurants is delicious and clean and the dozens of major resorts are chock-o-full of modern first class amenities, and they're clean too.

I'm not that crazy to soak up sun and still I thought it was a fine place to be.


A delightful Concierge, cute as a button and full of enthusiastic recommendations. She encouraged us to go to this restaurant where she knew Ricardo - she would call Ricardo even, and he would be our host. Ricardo was a tequila sommelier and gave us a long and entertaining lesson in tequiliadome.


Ricardo and some dang fancy pants.

So I told him 'uhh-uhh please be in my picture, I just love your pants, they're just so dang fancy' and he immediately leaned over into this cancan pose. Leigh couldn't believe I had said such a thing and no doubt was wondering what it the world it was she had gotten herself into...

From this dinner (which was in fact our first dinner) whenever a beverage was in order, we had learned to order tequila shots, and they Always, Everywhere came with a little side glass of Sangrita. Each place had their own twist on the recipe and I searched the internet for one that looked like it would be closest to my favorite, and here it is:

Sangrita of the Yucatan
1 1/2 C Tomato juice
1/2 C Clamato juice
3/4 C Orange juice
2 TBS Minced onion
4 TBS Seeded and minced green chilies
2 TSP Grenadine
1 TSP Salt
1/2 TSP Black pepper
1 Dash each Worcestershire sauce, A-1 Steak sauce, Tabasco
Juice of 4 limes
Stir together all ingredients, strain and chill well before serving.

A small clip from a giant mural on the wall in the spa where Leigh enjoyed what she reported to be an excellent massage.

A beachside bar. Unknown to me ahead of time, not even occuring to me to ask, we arrived in Cancun during the first weeks of Spring Break.

It could have been a disaster. PartyDrinking and DrinkingParty are 1-2 the most popular sports in Cancun. But it all worked out fine because we asked before going anywhere 'is this a place for grownups?'.

But really... the Cancun area is most well known for its coral reefs and its world class snorkeling and diving all along the coast including as far south as Cozumel and Tulum. It takes a whole day to see Cozumel or to go to Tulum so we decided to take a quick run up to Isle Mujeres for a ferry ride and a quiet snorkel.

And since we had a car we thought to go to the pier a little further away but that had many more departures because it was for locals, not all gussied up for tourists. It was easy, fun and unlike everything else we had done in Cancun, actually a bargin.

All the variations of blue and green.

Me, originally entirely missing in a blackened window but by the magic of PhotoShop I emerge, like used to happened with so much effort in the stinky old darkroom days...

The Birds.

We took a ten minute taxi ride from one end of Isle Mujeres, where the ferries land, to the other end, to Parque Nacional El Garrafon. It's a National Park and although the reef is a bit abused and the currents a bit rough, still I liked it because it had a decent snack shop, easy access showers, large well priced lockers and plenty of towels and comfy chairs laid out under leafy cool trees. All this for ten bucks. 'It's included' became a favorite expression.

And as our chip-tossing neighbor on the patio allowed, hey, anyone can have his own flock of birds.

These guys spent all afternoon yowling at each other and playing King of the Mountain.


This is the pier on Isle...

...and this is the pier back on Cancun. Love those piers.

I Made it... I got to the top, I couldn't &^%$ be-Lieve it and I butt-walked most of the way down.

Leigh made it too. Huffing less, ok, but she's way waaaay younger. If you want to go, go now, go as young as you are Now. You don't want to be one day older.

And see those teeeeeny little people under the trees? Feeling high?

The Maya began primary development at Chichen Itza around 600AD (although there is evidence of some building as early as 300AD), and left for unkonwn reasons in the 9th century. Chichen Itza was resettled in the late 10th century, then invaded by the Toltecs, then came the Itzas and then abandonded again, mysteriosly, in the 14th century.

The story of the site then is very complicated, layered as it is by all the different eras of occupancy and by overlaying constructions.

Like the picture above, taken by me myself from The Top of El Castillo, Grupo de las Mil Columnas, (Group of the Thousand Columns) is another of the restorations at the site. Notice it's Flat out there and the buildings are all very far apart.

LP: 'The lost Mayan cities continue to be discovered even today - more than a century after scientists and adventurers began a concerted effort to find them. The reason is simple: Most of the lost cities remain buried beneath jungle, and the territory ruled by the ancient Maya was vast, extending from the Yucatan Peninsula and the bordering Mexican states of Tabasco and Chiapas south through Guatemala and Belize, and into northwestern El Salvador and Honduras.'

Detail from Tzompantli - the Toltec 'Temple of the Skulls'.

LP: 'You can't mistake it because the T-shaped platform is festooned with carved skulls and eagles tearing open the chests of men to eat their hearts. In ancient days this platform held the heads of sacrificial victims.'

This they call the Principal Ball Court as seven others are already found in Chichen Itza alone. The game must have evolved over time because some stories say the players could not use their hands and yet the carvings here indicate the players used bats. The object is clear though, get the ball through the hole.

It was a very big deal - ball courts are in every city throughout the empire, and the game had serious religious overtones. The players were prist-like honored citizens still you really Really wanted to win. Because indications are the losers ended up as sacrificial victims themselves, their heads up on the pile at the Temple of the Skulls.

A relief from the ball court.

The game in action.

Goooooal! This picture and the one above are out of order, from the lovely little museum in Merida, but useful here.

Note the stairs. Note how all the buildings are so far apart. We walked up and down and up and down and up and around and around and down. My good-sense shreaking, my legs, begging for mercy.

The Observatory.

A small section from the Group of the Thousand Columns.

Hacienda Temozon. I certainly need to tell the story of our two or three or maybe was it a four hour wander through the mud villages and dirt roads of central Yucatan as we searched out this place.

This is the side building where we had our very lovely accommodations. They did an excellent job with the refurbishments including gorgeous tile, lovely furniture, beautiful linins etc.

(I don't have a picture of the main house but I should scan one in from the brouchure...)

A view from our room looking back towards the front gate and the chapel.

From the back veranda of the main house looking towards the restored manufacturing area. (Tell about Agave.)

The Hacienda kept an example of the traditional lodging of the area for the tourist's amusement.

We were taking a pre-breakfast stroll around the hacienda and glancing back I heard Leigh's shirt scriek 'take my picture'. Stop, I called out. No, she yelled back. Yes-No-Yes-No. This is the ants-in-the-pants dance.

Ant Hills! The ants were all out due, probably, to the light-up-the-room Lightning and crash-Crash-KaBOOMing Thunder and Pouring Pouring rain storm from the night before.


From the Hacienda we headed out for a day on the Ruta Puuc.

Notice. More stairs. Notice, Very steep. Very narrow. Very steep and narrow and High. And I mustn't forget to mention the relentless heat. I forgot about that one. Let me say: I am so very grateful that on this day I was not one day older.

This is Uxmal, another partially restored city and generally considered the most graceful in the area. The buildings are much closer together than the buildings in Chichen Itza and the setting is more hilly so you can get a nice flow going, with a feeling of real life as your eye wanders from structure to structure.


more of the same. One of these has got to go...


This is a closeup of the decorations over the building in the picture above.

more. Stairs...

Here we have moved on to the next site along the Ruta Puuc - Kabah - I think - I might have missed one. Again, a hilly area, navigable by stairs. And stairs to get around the buildings. We were now deep into our second day of doing what we said we came to do. Climb up on top and look around.


Another place now, Labna. There were several sites where we didn't stop. It was Hot and we were Tired. Here you can see the 'sacbe', the elevated ceremonial road (also called white roads because they were paved with crushed limestone, which you can catch a glimps of in this picture) that at one time connected all these cities together.

Here is a practically unbelievable fact. I say fact because I read it in many sources. These guys never attached a wheel to a cart. On top of which they had not one large domesticated animal. No carts, no wheelbarrows, no horse or oxen. These guys used nothing but human muscle to conquer and enslave their neighors, build their cities, farm land to feed a growing population. Whooo.

Also, they never quite figured out how to do an arch with a capstone and so the gate you see here is about as big an opening as they could get.

Time now for rushing off to catch the English language tour of the Grutas de Loltun (the Lultun caves). The 'English' part was the tour guide turning to us and translating a bit of what he had just said. Then the other tour participants would come up to us and correct the guide's English. It made for a very entertaining few hours.

Actually for me language was absolutely no problem whatsoever. Sure there were moments of gesturing and pointing and consulting the phrase book or thinking of another way to express some thought, but really, no problem. No problemo.

This was fun. We hadn't eaten all day and decided to go back to the hacienda on a road we had not yet traveled, taking us through the town of Ticul. Who could resist a town named Ticul.

The food here was yummy and despite what might appear to be dour expressions, the owner and the cooks and really everything about the place was fun. Turkey is a major staple in Yucatan. They 'ranch' turkeys and various turkey preparations are on every menu. I had it here and it was Good - rich and moist and peppery. The guy was the general everything-except-cook. I asked him 'did you make this yummy food?'. 'No', he laughed, 'only little Maya ladies can make That.' He was about my height but I guess in comparison, they are little...

The white dress is absolutely the same as the dress worn by half the women in the Yucatan. It is a traditional design and I was surprised many times by how many women still wear then. The top is a white cotton smock type thing always intricately embroidered at the neck and hem. Under this smock is a plain white dress with lace extending beyond the hem of the smock.

The women who wear these dresses, you can tell, are hardworking rural women and we know what that means, yet I never saw the slightest smudge or the least graying on these clothes.

Sweet soccer youth...

This morning it was raining for a while but cleared up nicely for an easier day in the capital city of Merida.

I liked this town (you can hardly say 'capital town', now can you). It felt happy and at ease - people had white collar government jobs, nice homes, shops and entertainments, historic preservation and some tourists too, for a bit of cash flow.

The cathedral.

I went chasing after these two and this is the best I could come up with...

It was Sunday and the entire colonial 'El Centro' was closed to cars. It was delightful to walk and delightful to stop walking. We stopped plenty for a beverage here and a snack there and another beverage some place else - a nice change of pace from The Stairs.

This juxtaposition made me smile especially as the restaurant's name was a sticker placed over the Previous restaurant's name.

Policia Turistica. Most of the policia looked kinda' scarry, like heavily armed yet somehow poorly equiped soldiers but this guy was feelin' cooool.


Inside the local museum (Museo Regional de Antropologia). This is the image, found everywhere in some form, of the being who acts as intermediary between man and the gods.

We were in need of a bit of refreshin'.

If this was all I saw of Merida I'd have had a good day. Check it out. There is a little combo in the back playing salsa for the neighborhood dance. They were mostly middle aged townfolk and were totally into it and as livly and skilled as any salsa dancers I've ever seen.

Leigh couldn't get over it and kept asking 'they're dancing and it's the middle of the day. What's up with That? I'm standing here, sweating and they're Dancing. What's up with That'

Scrub and what they call something like 'dry jungle'.

There were villages all along the country roads where these thatched roofed homes from what looks like forever ago were still occupied - hammock in the doorway and TV in the corner.

Looking out the window of the JW Marriott in Mexico City.

Catedral Metropolitana, the oldest and largest cathedral in Latin Amercia, begun in 1573.


Day of the Dead figures. (I should pick one or two and make them bigger.)

At the Museo Nacional de Antropologia. The place was swarming with school groups. This guy was fab.

Palacio Nacional, built by Cortez on the site of Moctezuma's home and remodeled by the viceroys.

Fodor's: 'Diego Rivera's sweeping, epic murals on the second floor of the main courtyard exert a mesmeric pull. For more than 16 years (1929-1945), Rivera and his assistants mounted scaffolds day and night, perfecting techniques adapted from Renaissance Italian fresco painting. The result, nearly 1,200 square feet of vividly painted wall space, is grandiosely entitled 'Epic of the Mexican People in Their Struggle for Freedom and Independence'.

And it really is all that and these pictures are not all that but I took a dozen of them anyway.

One side of grand staircase and there is an equally stunning set on the other side.

Here's a glimpse of what Diego thought of The Church...

and invaders in general.

For scale.

This was the most brightly colored of the panels.

Ya hoo.

Our adios to Mexico.

The Wisteria blooms starting bottom right, then up and over and then bottom left, and then up and over so that the whole thing is never perfect all at once since the bottom right is all leafed out by the time the top left is drippy purple.

The process begins in early March and finishes in early April - and I always miss so much of it doing SeaTrade and the over-there vacation I usually add. Ephemeral, that's it. My Japanese friends just love ephemeral and make a point to drive by, to catch the fleeting and the seasonal...

I'll take a picture like this one when I get back - just to notice, and add it at the end.

Here's the trip:
1) Cancun
2) Isle Mujeres
3) Chichen Itza
4) Ruta Puuc
5) Merida
6) Mexico City
7) home

HomeMexico and the Caribbean • Mexico • '03 Mar: Yucatan

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