After a lovely breakfast in the atrium of the hotel
the group headed off (to the strains of Ventura Highway by America) to explore some of the haciendas surrounding Merida that had once figured so largely in the sisal production and trade. Wandering through the grandeur of an abandoned hacienda was a trip to another time.
In addition to the sisal works and plantations of algave each hacienda had its own church, store and every type of shop and convenience that it’s workers could want. This ensured that any money spent went directly back to the hacienda owners 😏
Cenotes and a swim was our next goal and a relief from the intense heat of the day.
As I mentioned yesterday cenotes are where intersections of underground rivers meet and create round shaped pools in the limestone. There are no rivers above ground in the Yucatan. Cenotes were/are highly prized – I believe our CEO said that there are two thousand of them in the area. We swam in two today – by far the most special one was in a cave reached by a long narrow stairway. An extraordinary experience that will stay with me forever. The shuffling and twittering of bats and birds living in the ceiling crevices, together with the light shimmering off the green/blue mineral stained stalactites and stalagmites decorating the pool was a truly spiritual experience. After a period of time the birds began to circle the ceiling gleaming in the sunlight near the entrance to the cenote before flying off. Bats flitted around the ceiling of the Cave during our visit and swim in the crystal clear, blue cool waters. The day was capped off by one of the best Mexican meals I have ever enjoyed. My lunch of sopa de Lima (lime chicken soup) was outstanding as was the main course of fish and vegetables.
Following our return to Merida a small group of us went on walk about to explore the city a little more and get some photos in and around the central square.
After a glass of wine in a local outdoor cafe, enjoying the cooler early evening temperatures and mosquito banishing breezes, we headed home to the hotel. A superb day.
Tomorrow we have an early start and head to Palenque with a stop to visit the Uxmal ruins. Stay tuned.
A quick note re:the photos. Due to the issues with the internet here I am having to shrink the photos and lose a lot of quality in the process to get them posted. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you are interested in a better quality copy of any of the photos in this blog.
After a first meeting our group went out to a local restaurant frequented by our guide. The food was excellent – the best fish soft tacos I have ever had, complemented by happy hour 2 for one margaritas which came in beer steins filled to the brim. The group is a good one. 13 ladies and three guys. Most of the women in the 45 -65 year old range of varying nationalities include Scottish, Polish, Australian, 5 Canadians, a Brit and several Germans. We have lucked out with this group. It has become cohesive immediately, our CEO is very professional and knowledgable and it is going to be a good trip.
Chichen Itza – a UNESCO world heritage site was our first stop today. This city became dominant in what is referred to as the 900-1200 AD Post Classic period of Mayan civilization, following which it collapsed. Chichen Itza ( like many other Mayan cities) waxed and waned according to the Mayan calendar . 52 years was the cycle of the calender which predicted that every 52 years the world would end, with inhabitants deserting centres like Chichen Itza every 52 years in anticipation of that. It seemed the Mayans took their apocalypse theories seriously – a theme which has continued in some modern day groups and religions. When it became obvious nothing was going to happen 😏 people returned to the cities and building began anew. The result being that many temples were built on the outside of existing temples – a prime example of this being the famous Castille temple which was built to represent the Mayan calendar. The fact that the Mayans built these incredible structures without draft animals or the wheel or metal tools of any kind is a testament to their ingenuity.
G adventures lived up to its excellent reputation of hiring first rate local guides. Our guide took us all around the site for almost three hours sharing his seemingly inexhaustible knowledge of the ancient city and the Mayan people. Warfare, drought, the Spanish and the small pox they brought with them are thought to have completed the desertion of Chichen Itza by the end of the 13th century.
Other highlights of the tour included the famous sacred cenote scene of many human sacrifices . Subjects were drugged, loaded with jade and other precious objects and thrown in. As they couldn’t swim – that was all she wrote so to speak. The ball court, the observatory and the temple of warriors rounded out the day.
Ritual human sacrifices were a large part of Mayan culture with many being made to appease the rain God – a VIP in this arid ecosystem. The immense ball court at Chichen Itza and its link to ritual human sacrifices was especially interesting. The game was played in teams of 7. Opinions vary but an idea that appears to be gaining consensus is that the captain of the losing team was beheaded by the captain of the winning team as an offering to the rain gods. Players were kitted out in a similar fashion to a lacrosse player in terms on padding ( albeit much more ornately) and a similar throwing tool was used, hands could not touch the ball. The ball had to be put through a small stone ring high on the side of the court. The first team who scored won the game. The ending for the team captain of the losing team was I imagine an extra incentive to play hard.
Another magnificent structure was El Caracol or the observatory was used by astronomers who were all among the Mayan elite.
By using their knowledge of astronomical data to claim contact with the gods this group,was able to control the large number of uneducated working class Mayan people. The division of Mayan culture into a ruling elite and a much larger working class was very evident as we explored this site and I imagine was a contributing factor to the collapse of the society. History is full of cultures where the so called exploited worker classes get fed up eventually and using whatever weapon at hand tend to level the “playing field”.
Spanish reported wealthy coastal cities and thriving inland cities when they arrived in the mid 1500’s . Within a few decades war and disease, particularly small pox had decimated a once thriving society. The vendetta pursued against Mayan culture by the Spanish Catholic Church resulted in most of the scientific and other writings of the Mayans being destroyed – what we know has been pieced together have from three remaining manuscripts and knowledge of the Aztecs and some of their rituals, as well, as ironically enough to – the writings of the Spaniards who were instrumental in destroying the records of Mayan culture and scientific achievements.
The 38 degree heat was thankfully moderated by a stiff breeze and some cloud cover by the middle of the day. The three hours at the site passed far too quickly before we boarded our transport to continue our trip to Merida.
2 hours of travel through the arid limestone based ecosystem of the Yucatan brought us to the capital city Merida. There are absolutely no surface rivers here, nothing. All the water runs underground, occasionally the rivers intersecting in areas that form the famous cenotes or deep round wells of the region. Merida is a city of around 800,000 people with a charming colonial center. We are staying in a lovely old hotel in the centre of the historical district.
The Spaniards founded the city in the early 16th century on the site of an earlier Mayan settlement T’ho which had been in place for centuries. The debris from the temples destroyed by the Spaniards when they arrived was used to build the Merida cathedral – very much like a crusader castle complete with arrow slits – and the Iglesias de la Tercera Orden a beautiful limestone church. These both border on the Plaza de la Independencia. It was carnival night in Merida and the square was full of street food vendors, colour, music, people, children dancing and cafes set up right in the middle of the road. Our evening was completed with a meal of salbutes a traditional yucatan dish of soft corn tortillas piled high with turkey, avocados, tomatoes, lettuce and cucumber plus a mystery sauce that elevated the whole thing to wow status! The green Chili sauce here is beyond my palate so a few extra dollops of fresh salsa completed the meal.
The area was an important centre for the manufacture of hemp or sisal until the invention of plastic knocked the bottom out of that market. Many fortunes were made on hemp and some of the huge haciendas built by the families that made these fortunes are still standing. Our second day in Merdia will be spent exploring some of these haciendas as well as swimming in some of the crystal clear cenotes on the outskirts of the city.
It struck me on the trip from Vancouver island to Mexico how Canada is truly a land of diversity. Traveling solo has a way of pushing you out of your box so to speak and engaging you with the rest of the world. From the Indo – Canadian taxi driver who transported me to my airport hotel, to the Afro-Canadian front desk clerk at the hotel, to the Iranian-Canadian shuttle driver to numerous people of various ethnic backgrounds in airport lines – all friendly, talkative, leaving me with an incredibly positive image of Canada. I am extremely proud of my country.
The good vibe continued throughout the west jet flight. I have never had the pleasure of flying west jet internationally and a pleasure it was. My pre-ordered chicken salad was one of the best I have ever had. I ordered a glass of red to accompany it and the steward gave it to me on the house. West jet also has a very cool app that allows you to watch big screen movies and tv series free of charge on your own iPad or phone. They also rented tablets to folks who didn’t have one. I indulged in one of my guilty pleasures – cheesy sci-fi movies – watching Pacific Rim and San Andreas during the flight. My exit row isle seat was the icing on the cake.
Arrival in Cancun airport 20 mins early. Customs went off without a hitch. Tourist cards as well as a declaration form for customs filled out , bags grabbed and out everyone went, headed for outside the terminal. I had been warned about being swarmed by aggressive time share people but no one like that was there, probably because our flight was the only one landing this evening. Stepping out into that warm humid air and a glorious sunset was balm to the soul. I had a few minutes wait for my transfer driver, spent it people watching and enjoying the 70’s and 80’s music blaring at top volume from the margarita stand just outside the exit. We exited the airport to the sounds of Dire Straits and the sultans of swing.
Playa del Carmen where I join my group is a resort town in the Mayan Riveria. High end all inclusive gated beach resorts surround the approach into the town with smaller, traditional hotels (much more my style) found in the centre of town. My hotel is close to the beach and right on a small square surrounded by bars, restaurants and shops..
The entrance is through a restaurant with winding Adobe stairs leading up to the rooms. – a nice bonus is the pool on the second floor surrounded by walk out rooms, many of which have balconies overlooking the town square below. I had a standard room booked at the back of the hotel looking into the alley – for another $20 a night got upgraded to a deluxe room pool side .
Works for me 😀. A mariachi band is really givin’ er on the balcony across the road adding to the ambience. This is a nice Mexican hotel. Lots of Adobe – pretty basic but a really good feel.
Tomorrow will be busy – a 6:20 am pick up for an archeologist guided trip to Tulum, and then the afternoon for shopping and a dip in the pool plus some photography. I meet the rest of my group at around 6 and we head out to dinner. Will take that type of busy any day :-)))
An early morning bus ride got me to Tulum before the heat of the day hit. Tulum is a walled Mayan trading port that was in its heyday in the 13-15th century. It survived the Spanish invasion but eventually succumbed to the European diseases that the Spaniards brought with them. The town was about 37 acres in size and is situated on high cliffs north of Playa de Carmen. Part of the genius of locating the town where it is is due to the type of shoreline in the area. The combination of high cliffs and a sand bank extending out a long ways from the beach protected the inhabitants of the town from raiders approaching from the sea.
Only a few channels through the sand were navigable. The Mayans guided benevolent trading ships through these channels using beeswax candles on shore. The Ships captains would calibrate the light from these candles with their navigation and make the safe journey thorugh the shifting sandbanks a few feet underwater.
Our guide was excellent, pointing out stucco work, stellae and hieroglyphics on a number of the structures.
Iguanas and a number of lovely birds accompanied us on our journey through time.
We left the site around noon just as the heat was building. Tomorrow it is on the Chichen Itza and Merida. Stay tuned!