Tekax - History, Nature and Mayan Archeological Sites

Tekax, officialy known as Tekax de Alvaro Obregon, after the Mexican revolutionary politician and one-time president, is next door to Akil and very near Oxcutzcab, making it another destination for those who happen to find themselves in the ‘citrus belt’ of the Yucatan.

Vegetation abounds on the outskirts, lush green and varied. Fields and orchards attest to the rich soil in the area. The town itself, a two hour drive from Merida, is historically interesting and relevant as well. Definitely worth at least one overnight stay while you are exploring the area.

You will see that the town is very colorful, with lots of colonial era constructions including the famous ‘casa de tres pisos’ a three story home owned by a wealthy property owner and the site of bloodshed during the Caste War. In fact, you can see the marks on the dilapidated wooden front door, apparently made by Mayan machetes as they tried to gain entrance to this imposing house. The place is still owned by descendants of the last owners and since it is such a huge undertaking to maintain and perhaps restore it, you might very well be able to purchase this and sink a ton of money into it.

The main square central park area, featuring a wrought iron fence, is one of two such parks in the Yucatan, the other being in Valladolid. There has been a great effort made to landscape and plant, as well as providing citizens and visitors with places to sit and contemplate life while listening to piped in music, often classical. On the morning when I was there last, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (Spring) was wafting over the area.

Nearby is the impressive Chacmultun Mayan site, and there are a gazillion caves to explore (with a guide, por favor) the most famous of which are Sartenejas and Chocantes. The nearest known cenote is San Mateo, near the town of Peto, a bit of a drive from Tekax.

Enjoy the photos! (click to enlarge and see them completely)


Chacmultun: the last site on the Puuc Route

At the southern end of the Puuc route, which begins in Uxmal and extends through Kabah, Labna, Sayil and other less-known and some completely unrestored settlements still hiding in the jungle, there sits Chacmultun. Chacmultun means hill of red rock, which is the original name its discoverers gave it as the stone quarries in the region produce red limestone, as opposed to the whiter version in the northern part of the Yucatan peninsula. In fact, many Mayan sites are known by names that probably have nothing to do with their original names; given that there is no text to consult, no stellae to interpret, no record at all. That big hill in Coba? We’ll just call it Nohoch Mul. Big Hill. OK.

Back to Chacmultun. This site is a collection of three or four settlements, with Puuc-style temples and mounds, clustered around a small, fertile valley filled with rich red earth which would have been the agricultural production center at the time (it still is used for farming now).

You will see partially restored buildings complete with friezes, cornices and decorative elements, some of which are cracked, others still intact. You can visit and clamber around most of the site, and will notice some very lame efforts by the INAH to “preserve” some of what is there. Some of the restoration is also quite miserable, the chultun in the main part of Chacmultun proper being a prime example (see photo). In one of the buildings there are paintings on the wall and to preserve them the specialists at INAH have simply plastered over them. To protect stellae on the ground, depicting hieroglyphs and carvings, they have been flipped over so the sun and rain don’t erode them. Very high tech. Parts of the structures have crumbled into ruinous but very recognizable chunks, which would not be that difficult to restore, if there were some will on the part of the folks in charge.

The view from one of the areas visited - Xet Pol I believe - a long walk on a small road through the fertile field and up a small hill, is truly stunning. You feel you can see to the end of the world from there, and the breeze under a shady tree is a most welcome sensation.

The site is stunning and highly recommended if you have any interest in the history of the Mayans in this area. My guide said that the area was populated from the year 300 BC to just before the Spanish arrived at the end of the 1400’s and commercially was important as much of the paper and exotic bird feathers came from the area.

Take a Guide and take Water on Ice

You can hire a guide locally (none at the site, check in Tekax tourism office) and you will get so much more out of the experience than if you go alone. Once at the site, note that you will be required to pay an entry fee of about 50 pesos per person and that there is NO water of any kind for visitors, which included bathroom facilities. None. So make sure you have taken care of your bathroom needs before getting there. When you finish the tour, be aware there is nothing hydrating available, so have that with you in your ice box in the air conditioned vehicle.

There is a lot of walking and if you go in June, as I did very recently, the 2-3 hour visit under a blazing summer sun which feels relentless will make your head explode. That cooler with water, Gatorade or similar and plenty of ice, a vehicle with air conditioning; these will make the trip a far better experience and possibly save you from getting heat stroke.

Lawson’s Original Yucatan Excursions can design a custom and private excursion to the area, which I suggest should be a two day trip with an overnight in Tekax. This way you can enjoy the site on one day, relax in the evening and enjoy the town of Tekax, and the next day hit some caves before returning to Merida. Contact us at lawsonsyucatan@gmail.com for more info or to book this trip.

Photos

Akil, Yucatan - Citrus Country

Tucked in between the more well-known towns of Oxcutzcab and Tekax, the former being the hub of all citrus and fruit production in the state, and the latter full of history and natural wonders, Akil is a small village with not much to offer but still a typical southern Yucatan town, with much lush vegetation, fruit plantations and the unique distinction of producing fine athletes!

In town, you will notice little in the way of colonial wealth on display in the form of crumbling mansions, but you will see never-ending sessions of kids practicing basketball in the main square. Mayan thatch roof chozas abound as do a gazillion malix street dogs.

There is a cute airbnb in town where you can set up your base camp for exploring the area, and it is much more pleasant than the rather unappealing, commercial hotel offerings in “Ox” as it is known, or even Tekax, which at this point deserves some quality lodging options along the lines of this airbnb.

Enjoy the photos!



Las Coloradas, Salt Production Center of the Yucatan - Day 2

After dinner in Tizimin at the number one restaurant on TripAdvisor, we had breakfast this morning at the number two restaurant on TripAdvisor. I liked number 2 better. Good service, good food and central downtown location. Then, it was off to the coast to meet our guide Mario aka Jacky Chan, whose nickname is inspired by the fact that he does bear a certain resemblance to the martial arts actor. He took us on a walking tour of the salt evaporation pools, with their distinct hues and also gave us background, history and scientific explanation of what we were seeing. Great guide!

Besides viewing the pink lagoon(s) there is also what they call the Mayan bath, which is a clay like sand, full of healthy minerals and no organic matter (no smell and good for your skin) that is applied to your face or the whole body if you like. Later, you wash it of a little further down the road at the “blue lagoon” which is fed by ocean water from the sea, just behind the dune on the left in the photos.

After leaving Mario, we visited doña Miguelina, who, with her family had prepared for us a delicious lunch of sikil pak, ceviche and tikin xic (grilled fish, marinated in achiote). We ate two fish: pargo and tambor. I recommend the pargo most definitely!


Las Coloradas, Salt Production Center of the Yucatan - Day 1

On a good road trip, the journey there should be as much fun as the actual destination. In this post are some of the highlights for a trip to Las Coloradas, the salt flats that are near Rio Lagartos and lately famous for their “pink lagoons” which are man made evaporation ponds vital to the production of salt. The area was used by the Mayans back in the day, and in the 1930’s a businessman from Merida bought the land and began what is now one of the country’s major salt producers, with 80% of the salt produced going to the national market. The commercial brand of the salt produced here is Sal Sol and you can find it in any local supermarket.

Starting in Merida, you can take one of two routes: the toll or free highway to Valladolid and then up through Tizimin and on to the coast; or, the back road which start by heading towards Motul, home of the famous huevos motuleños, served up by doña Evelia in the municipal market. This should be your route and Motul your first stop, for breakfast of one, two or three (or more!) eggs.

With your breakfast completed and sustenance assured for the trip, have a look at the cenote and church before leaving Motul. Definitely worth a look!

The destination on this trip, for Day 1, was Tizimin, where an airbnb rental was waiting for us. Along the way there are plenty of stops to be made here and there and your trip can take anywhere between 2 and 4 hours, depending on how much fun you are having or how many photos you feel inspired to take. In our case, it took most of the day. Notice at kilometer 61, you will feel the need, the urge, to stop and photograph this pink gem. Temax is a good photo stop as well, and Chenché de las Torres is truly out of this world, if you can get in.

Finally, we arrived at Tizimin and after some navigational challenges with Google Maps and the recently changed one-way street system, we arrived around 4 PM at our airbnb.

In the evening a little dinner, walking and exploring downtown Tizimin on foot and by car - it reminded me of Merida 30 years ago - and then back to rest up for the following day, which was to be all about the salt, the beach and a most amazing Tikin Xic lunch!

Calakmul, Campeche

One of the greatest Mayan ruins sites on the peninsula, Calakmul is also a jungle paradise where you can see many local animals; including - if you are very lucky - the elusive jaguar. If you are looking for a "lost city in the jungle" this is definitely it.

The trip I recently did was Merida - Campeche - Champoton (lunch by the sea) - Escarcega - Xpujil where we overnighted in a small but decent enough hotel. The next day was spent at Calakmul and we returned to Xpujil for the evening. On the third day, onwards to Chetumal where I left my guests to take their flight back to San Miguel de Allende via Mexico City. The drive back from Chetumal to Merida takes about 5 hours if not making any stops. 

For a future trip I would spend more time in the area, as there are many other ruins sites to visit. Perhaps 5 days total leaving from and returning to Merida, making stops here and there during the driving portions of the trip.

Art Galleries - Special Merida Tour

Besides all the usual suspects - ruins, haciendas and cenotes - that visitors to the area love to experience, there is a thriving artistic community in Merida comprised of both locals and newcomers to the area. One very special tour can be arranged to see some of these galleries and meet the artists who create pieces ranging from paint to sculpture and beyond. 

On this day, which lasted about 12 hours or so, we visited artisans in their homes and galleries, had some great food in spectacular settings and even threw in a home viewing or two. A great day out with two local experts who I shall call Lucinda and Shirley, who are extremely knowledgeable both about art and where to find it in Merida.

An architectural masterpiece in Merida; yes, it's for sale.

An architectural masterpiece in Merida; yes, it's for sale.

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The first stop on the tour was a magnificent home, now on the Merida market. A true oasis from the noise and heat outside. The attention to detail and each carefully planned square meter of this home make it really worth a visit. And if you like it enough, you can even buy it and make it your new Merida pied a terre. 

After the house tour, a look at some galleries! Some of these you would never know about, as they hide behind an unremarkable and unmarked door on a hot Merida side street, while others stand out boldly, welcoming one and all to peruse their interiors.

Of course, we had to have lunch at some point. Here, the Hacienda Santa Cruz on the outskirts of Merida. Great food, fabulous place.

Puuc Route Day Trip

There are some die-hard Maya-philes that want to see all the sites on the so-called Puuc route or Ruta Puuc en español and these generally comprise Kabah, Sayil, Xlapak and Labna, in that order as you are heading out from Uxmal. 

There is also Sabacche, which has ruins and a small regional animal preserve, including an ocelot what is friendly and will let you join it in its cage (enter at your own risk) and a really interesting feature that showcases the air currents blowing around in the caves beneath your feet. Opening times there are sporadic so it's not always a sure thing. 

If you are really determined, you can also visit the LolTun caves, which kind of make up the end of the route and take you into citrus growing country. Very scenic and photogenic around there, with lots of fruit trees from mangos to oranges to limes and bananas, due to the excellent kankab or red soil.

A day out here, including Uxmal and LolTun, can easily be a 10 to 12 hour day, depending on how interested you are and how much time is spent at each site.

Here are a few shots of the ruins of Kabah, Sayil, Xlapak and Labna, in that order.

Kabah (above) is known for it's long facade of Chaac sculptures covering one entire wall and it's beautiful arch, leading to a sacbe that once went all the way to Uxmal

Sayil (above) is stunning

Xlapak (above) has one pretty building that has been restored and several mounds. There is so little here in terms of restored or reconstructed buildings that the site has no entry fee

Labna (above) has probably the most beautiful Mayan arch in all of the Puuc. It would be fantastic if the INAH could restore the small square around it

From Maxcanu to Chunchucmil

An 'amateur' photographer and I took the route that goes from the formerly wealthy town of Maxcanu to the hacienda Chunchucmil where president and authoritarian Mexican de facto dictator Porfirio Diaz had a pleasant lunch hosted by one of the most prominent hacienda owners of the time and intimate friend of then governor Olegario Molina, Rafael Peón Loza.

An interesting note is that of all the money spent on the dictators 1906 visit to Yucatan, and of all the important people who came to attend the event, the whole Mayan thing was completely ignored, except to acknowledge their presence in pre-colonial times.

To introduce the Mayans, who knew little about the dictator of the faraway land called Mexico, to their illustrious leader, a neo-mayan arch was built, one of many under which Porfirio Diaz' procession would pass while entering the city of Merida. The neo-mayan arch featured the rain god Chaac, but whose face was made to resemble that of Porfirio Diaz. And at the luncheon in the Chunchucmil hacienda, a Mayan was called upon to welcome the dictator and express his gratitude for coming to the Yucatan and giving the Mayans of the area the opportunity to set their eyes upon his face. (De la imagen, al poder y la vanidad. Porfirio Díaz en la tierra de los Mayas - 1906. Dr. Jorge Victoria Ojeda)

This at a time when the Mayans were working in slave-like conditions at the haciendas/slave camps run by Molina, Peon and others who made their fabulous fortunes (which live on to this day in Merida thank you very much) on the whipped backs of the little brown people whose lives they have done nothing to improve (also to this day).

Magical Mystery Tour 5 - There and Back Again. Valladolid that is.

Valladolid and back.

There was a tourism fair announced for Valladolid and at the last minute, I decided to go. Too late for company and I always enjoy some stress-free exploring, being able to turn down any road I find appealing without worrying that there will be nothing to entertain my guests at the end of it.

Taking the regular highway, I stopped where a sign advertised a cenote, but the person in charge said they only open it later that afternoon (Saturday) and on Sundays. Could stop by later, I thought and continued on.

Then I saw a sign for Chankom, which sounded vaguely familiar from a book I am translating and so decided to visit this obviously sleep little town a few kilometers before Valladolid. There, I found a lady selling tortas and tacos and so that's where I had breakfast. Also, the town has a gorgeous little cenote, that is not of the swimming variety, but potentially could be. No access to be had, though.

After Chankom, I headed directly into Valladolid and found that what was going on was a food expo in the main square which was right up my photographic alley and so I took some shots. I also chatted with the author Rafael Chay Arzápalo who has published a great dictionary that features photos of almost everything you can imagine, with their names in Maya, Spanish and English.

After not seeing a whole heck of a lot else, it was time to go back.

I stopped at the town of Cuncunul, driving the back road from Chichimilá. I was looking for an elusive home restaurant serving what is purported to be the best poc chuc ever, but alas, I never found it. What I did find was a tidy little town with plenty of photo ops. Here are a few of the photos of downtown Cuncunul.

After Cuncunul, I zipped through a few more towns or maybe not, can't remember and pulled into a vivero to check out plants. The name alone is worth stopping for: Mr. Collis Mystical Nursery. I bought a cacao tree, a coffee bush and a Yucatan tobacco plant to add to my garden. I also took some photos (of course).

Finally, just before Merida, I stopped at Holca to check out the church which in all these years I had never done, and have some roadside chicken, one of my favourite meals.

At the end of the day, I was rewarded - for what I don't know - with a beautiful fall sunset.  

The New Choco Story Combines Mayan History and Culture and Chocolate

The Chocolate and Mayan exhibit is now across the road from Uxmal

As many of you may know, I am a big fan of anything done in the private sector that promotes the Yucatan and the Eco Museo de Cacao, Plantacion Ticul, was one of my favorite places in the world. However, thanks in part to zero help from the authorities entrusted to promote tourism at the government level, this attraction which is not blatantly commercial and does a fantastic job of describing and promoting all things Mayan in the Yucatan, suffered from a lack of visitors. The new location is now across the street from Uxmal, making it easier to get to, even for cruisers that are in the area for only a short time.

A recent trip where we were given the official welcome tour. 

A recent visit to the new, somewhat unfortunately named Choco Story chocolate museum proved to me that they have done a great job of recreating the original attraction. Many of the original ideas that made the place so attractive have been recreated at the new location including the monkeys, the chocolate drink preparation and sampling and the exhibits on Mayan history and cacao in the area. There have been some additions made as well, to make the experience more complete, including two new chozas or Mayan huts that describe the chocolate experience when it came to Europe, and the making of chocolate bon bons or pralines, again in Europe. The music in each exhibit is now appropriate to the theme, rather than a general musical theme throughout. There are now two jaguars on display as well, animal rescues from owners who thought they could handle having a jaguar as a pet until they grew into adults. These cannot be released back into the wild as they have really no idea how to go about surviving in the wilderness, much like the spider monkeys which are also rescues from circuses and private owners.

 

These monkeys are not on display 'just because'. They are animal rescues and have been mistreated and are being cared for. They cannot be released into the wild as they have been among (sometimes abusive) humans for much of their lives.

The popular Cha Chaac ceremony is there, as are the stinger-less melipona bees and the orchid garden. The biggest item missing is the cacao tree plantation, but that is because the trees take at least 5 years to get to the point where they are flowering so that is something that is in the works. An 'archaeological dig' for kids in a sand pit is also planned. And of course don't miss the gift shop where you can buy all kinds of things 'chocolate'. Don't miss the liquid chocolate frappé that is so delicious and decadent that it will leave you thirsty for more.

If you would like to visit the Choco Story museum, feel free to contact us and we will prepare a quote for you and your group, as this is one of the many destinations we can include in your private, custom Yucatan tour.

Magical Mystery Tour 4 - Homun Adventure

The fourth Magical Mystery Tour took place this week, and the destination turned out to be Homun, an area that is like a piece of swiss cheese: full of caves, cenotes, as well as a whole lot of history dating back to Mayan times and then the colonial era as well.

For those unfamiliar with the Magical Mystery Tour concept, in a nutshell it's this: you sign up for a tour which is practically free - you share in cost of gas and any tolls (vehicle rental if there a whole bunch of people) but you have no say on where the tour goes. These tours are designed to explore potential destinations for more formal tours in the future and may involve birding, photography, cave crawling, hacienda exploring, food tasting, cenote dunking and whatever else occurs to me. You have the option of participating in everything or nothing, but once you are along, you're along for the day! No whining, no special requests and a sense of adventure is a must. 

On this tour, Angel (the internationally renowned Lawson's guide) and Jose Luis (professional driver and all-around go-to guy) were on the tour to Homun, to check out an hacienda and other attractions on a large property on the outskirts of Homun, way off in the Mayan jungle. This was not off the beaten path, there was no path.

First stop, after Starbucks, was breakfast in the town of Tahmek, just off the Merida-Cancun highway. Poc Chuc sandwiches amidst villagers and colorful chickens. Across the street, a very unusually named kindergarten.

A few minutes later, we were on a back road, leading out of Homun into the forest. As often happens, there is a bit of garbage along the side of this road, and while it looks disgusting, it did give us an opportunity to see and photograph the largest flock of turkey vultures I had ever seen. 

After some time, we arrived at this former cattle ranch, which saw a little of the henequen action but is not at all built up in the sumptuous way some of the over-the-top haciendas are. The building itself is very modest, but it sits on top of a cenote. Note the giant arch over the cenote, holding up the hacienda building. In the forest, falling to pieces, are more buildings. There is cow poop everywhere so you have to watch your step!

After checking out the hacienda and grounds, we walked about 25 minutes into the jungle to check out an opening in the ground which was really a cave. Inside, enormous rock formations, strange little critters and shards of pottery probably dating back to the Mayans, who used these cool underground spaces for both ceremonies and burial purposes. There was indeed evidence of Mayan actitvity in this cave.

After the caving, it was time to get into the underbrush and check out something else that is on this property: a Mayan ruin and a dry cenote. There are no more carved stones of any kind on the largish building structure, and there is a nearby Mayan graveyard that used to have stone tablets, all of which are now gone; stolen apparently. In the dry cenote, evidence of a Mayan garden, including a raised platform with earth and a cacao tree, which the Mayans cultivated back in the day. Also the skeleton of some poor cow that got too close and slipped into the hole and died there.

The day was a resounding success. Cenote, cave, Mayan ruin and cow poop. What more could you ask for? Muddy and dirty, we returned to Merida with yet another Yucatan adventure under our belts and Magical Mystery Tour #4 complete. Stay tuned on Facebook (Lawson's Original Yucatan Excursions) for the next outing.



Playa del Carmen Destination Hotel - La Semilla

Normally I would not be writing about hotels and such but this little 7 month old gem deserves a recommendation. La Semilla is an oasis among the hustle and bustle (especially the hustle) of Playa del Carmen. A couple of blocks from the ocean, under a tree with a backyard that reminds me of a typical Yucatecan home "patio" and an interior courtyard complete with fully grown trees, a waterfall and a creek throughout and even a home for the resident "alux". 

Extremely friendly and professional service, all kinds of commodities included at no extra charge, like the excellent WiFi, bicycles, towels for the beach, parking at the front door (ltierally), breakfast with real, strong coffee and amazing all-natural "jugo de la casa". If you are going to the beach, they will loan you a cooler so you can keep your beers cool. Amazing. 

It's a respite from what's going on outside and your senses are pampered with lemony scents in hallways and rooms, crispy cool air conditioning in the rooms and relaxing music throughout. Soft lighting at night and plenty of shade during the day.

Alexis and Angie have created a paradise and on your next trip to Playa del Carmen, definitely spend a night or three here!


The Convent Route - Day Two

The day started with a stop at Uman, which is nowhere near the so-called convent route, but since we were going to Ticul and Mani and had been the other way before, I thought the Uman-Muna route would provide some interesting views along the way. The large small town, our first stop, is where there is a giant church as well as all those insect-like mototaxis buzzing about.

Done with Uman and ready for more driving, we continued on to Muna. No church pictures there, but a huge procession/demonstration to do with Earth Day perhaps judging from the signs blocked traffic in Muna's main square while every citizen from the surrounding 17 mile radius marched in the parade. Mostly kids of school age, and in uniform.

There wasn't much to do in the traffic, limited though it was and while waiting I snapped a shot of this beautiful old home, probably once owned by some rich fat cat and now a school.

Finally, we made it to Ticul. There, after checking to see which was the best way to Mani we snapped a few shots of that church (and the surrounding street area) as well.

And then, at long last, we made it to Maní, site of the infamous auto da fé, where the charming Friar Diego de Landa, burned as much of an entire culture as one man with a mission can, effectively wiping out the great majority of the Mayans legends, stories and cultural and religious icons. Later, and in his defense when put on trial for overstepping his mandate, he wrote a book about what he had seen and how the Mayans had lived which is now the only record historians have of that time. And to put the proverbial cherry on the sundae, he was absolved of any wrongdoing by the courts in Spain and sent back to the Yucatan and was named "Protector of the Indians". Nice job, Diego.

After Maní, what else is there in the world of churches, right?  Well, how about the church at Oxcutzcab? This town is famous for it's fruit market and the mural over it, but the church also has it's particular charm.