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Wild Lunch at Codornejo - Akil, Yucatan

If you are in the area around Oxcutzcab, Akil, Tekax you might want to stop in at Codornejo (a combination of codorniz - quail, and conejo - rabbit) which features - surprise! quail and rabbit as its specialities.

The non-air conditioned restaurant is nicely set up, the service is friendly the platter with rabbit and codorniz is tasty, if a bit dry. The best part of lunch here is the natural agua de mamey, which on a hot day is superbly refreshing. You can even buy the frozen concentrate to take home.

There’s a small pool if you are with kids, so they are not screaming about how hot it is - just toss them in the water. There are tables nearby so you can eat and keep an eye on them at the same time. Coconut ice cream for dessert is served in a little jicara (gourd) which is cute.


The Church of Hoctun in June

Hoctun (Mayan hoc - ti rip up and tun, stone) is a town best known for its colorful cemetery (considered one of the prettiest cemeteries in the country) that has appeared in this blog at some point, but it also has a photogenic church located in the main square, worth a stop on the way to or from the cemetery, as you continue your trip either to Izamal or on to Valladolid and/or Cancun.

For photographers, visit early, to get the best light in the cemetery and also at the church. These photos were taken in June, when the flamboyan or Royal Ponciana trees are in full bloom and contrast spectacularly with the stone church, the yellow walls and the deep blue Yucatan sky.

Here are some photos (click to enlarge) to whet your appetite.

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.

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.

Magical Mystery Tour 3 - Sacred Mayan Moments - Xocen

Yesterday, another Magical Mystery Tour, but this one was less mysterious as I had a destination in mind that I was going to follow through with and I was joined by two lovely ladies: one was my lovely wife and the other our comadre (a comadre is the godmother of your child) both Yucatecans and both excited to see a little of the Yucatecan countryside. 

First stop, tamales. These tamales can be found in Libre Union and were just coming out of the ground, literally. Note in the photos, the large pib or pit where the baking takes place. The rocks were still scaldingly hot enough for someone to walk barefoot across 

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While making a mess of the car eating the tamal (tip: get the tomato salsa - it's the best and extra spicy) we turned off the Valladolid highway and headed towards Uayma via San Francisco El Grande and Tinum. That's the tajonal (yellow flowers) filled road in the photo above.

If you haven't been to Uayma and have only seen the church in photos, it should be on your Yucatan to-do list. Here is a taste to whet your appetite:

Finally, we arrived at Valladolid and the original plan of eating smoked pork tacos at Temozon was shelved due to time constraints as we just spent too much time at the beautiful Uayma church. So we made a quick stop at the Coqui Coqui boutique for some fragrance sampling and a little shopping before heading to our destination for the afternoon, Xocen.

Xocen, aka the center of the world as it is known there, is a small Mayan community with a feel that is hard to describe but not anything I have felt in the Yucatan before, and if you know me, you know I am a cynical old cuss and hard to impress. Xocen impressed me in its "Mayan-ness" and of course I am not the first one to write about it or wax poetic. It was the Yucatan Today magazine that brought it to my attention just a few days ago!

We were going to to witness the Sacred Mayan Moments presentation, which is an outdoor theater production that highlights important moments in Mayan village life, and after driving around the small village and asking, we were able to find the venue. I will not go on and on about how colorful, beautiful or moving this production is - since it could take paragraphs and I would lose my reputation as a hard-hearted Teutonic cynic and reveal my inner mushy self - and will leave you instead with some of the hundreds of photos I took. Admittedly, there are a LOT of photos.

If you are at all interested in or feel an affinity with, the Mayans, the Yucatan and this land, you MUST see this. I cannot recommend it highly enough. More info below the photos.

Yucatan Today article here. Video of the presentation here.

We will run a tour out to Xocen on Sundays so everyone can see this, or go on your own, but GO. Presentations are on Sundays only and the last presentation is March 8th 2015. 

Please let me know if you are interested and I will send further info as I will be putting something together today for each Sunday. Cost will depend on the number of participants so get your group of amigos together and spend a magical day in the heart of the Mayan culture.

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Uxmal, again. It never disappoints!

Uxmal is probably the most popular destination for day trips from Merida, for cruisers and non-cruisers alike. The great thing about Uxmal is that besides being the best Mayan ruins site on the peninsula in my opinion, the road to and from Uxmal offers so many interesting places to stop for a photograph, a banana or some exploration. 

First stop is usually the town of Uman, and on this day, that is exactly what we did. There was a small mass happening in the enormous church so we didn't go in, and later a large Mercedes hearse pulled up with Jalisco license plates for some kind of funeral.

After stolling around Uman, having that banana in the market (you haven't tried a banana until you have tried a platanito dominicano) and taking a ride on the tricycle taxi, the next stop this day was Muna, where we visited Pedro (aka the Gourd Man) on his hilltop vantage point with the great view of the surrounding area.

A little shopping, a sip of fresh squeezed orange juice and we are on our way to Uxmal.

After Uxmal it was off-roading time and we rushed to get to the cenote in the middle of the jungle where thankfully no one else was around and no oncoming traffic on the tiny one way dirt path into the underbrush. You see, when you are in the middle of this tiny road and you see an oncoming vehicle, someone has to back up the entire distance traveled so it can be a bit hair raising.

Feeling refreshed and just a little peckish, we crossed the highway and made a quick stop at the Hacienda Ochil for a bite and found them ready to close for the day, but a little cajoling (and the fact that I have been here numerous times and the waiters took pity on us) enabled us to wrangle a couple of cervezas and some delicious sopa de lima which really hit the spot. Also, we were able to see that they really do make the cochinita pibil in a fire pit and don't cheat by sticking the pig in an oven. 

Chunkanan Cenote Update

While I love the 3 cenotes of Chunkanan (aka the Cuzama cenotes) and they are indeed magical, potential visitors should know that this attraction is in the midst of some serious problems that will come as a rather unpleasant surprise unless you read this update.

Initially started as an attraction based in the village of Chunkanan, the folks from nearby and larger Cuzama realized that many tourists passed their town without stopping and decided they wanted a piece of the pie as they alleged that one of the cenotes was on their land. They therefore created their own access to the cenotes, building a rail track that intersected with the original tracks from Chunkanan. This caused some conflict, but after a few fisticuffs and much negotiation, an uneasy truce was arrived at.

At the Cuzama entry point, red-flag waving men attempt to make tourists stop, telling them that the other entry point is "closed". Just beyond them are green-flag waving people from Chunkanan waving to continue on to their village and take the tour from there.

Now it seems that the even larger village of Acanceh, the one before Cuzama (are you still with me here?) has gotten into the act, alleging that one of the cenotes is actually on their land and, since Cuzama was collecting a "fee" from the Chunkanan folks, has asked the Cuzama people to hand over a portion of that "fee". Cuzama has so far claimed that this is not correct and they will hand over no funds to Acanceh. Acanceh has retaliated by not allowing access to "their" cenote.

Therefore, there is no access at the time of this writing to the last - and most spectacular - cenote, the one with the vertical ladder down a small tunnel-like hole. According to the folks from Cuzama, when asked, the cenote is having some "maintenance" done. Not true, according to a Chunkanan rail cart driver I talked to who then went on to explain the whole thing.

A last report from a tour guide in the field one week ago, states that the Chunkanan folks are now offering only ONE cenote - the first one, Chelentun - while the Cuzama folks are taking their tourists to "their cenote" which is the middle one for those who have been before.

So if you are planning to visit Cuzama/Chunkanan for the "three" cenotes, be aware that you may not visit all three, or even two, of those magnificent cenotes until someone steps in and mediates a solution that will bring the tour back in a manner fair to all parties involved.

Mayan ruins, flamingos AND cenotes in one day!

Often I am asked if I can arrange a tour to the three cenotes of Chunkanan/Cuzama, and while the cenotes are still there, the fantastic little tour is not. You can read about that original tour by clicking here

Short-sighted squabbling by villagers with no long-term vision of the benefits that this attraction was bringing to their communities, combined with a complete lack of any intervention by any competent authority has led to the demise of the tour, although it is still being advertised and promoted in many magazines, websites and brochures. At no point was the final user - the visitor - taken into account. He or she has to find out about this through websites like TripAdvisor or by actually arriving at the site only to find that some of the cenotes are having "maintenance" done and the tour is completely different from what is advertised. I could go on about this for hours, but don't want to bore you completely to death.

Luckily, there are hundred if not thousands of cenotes in the Yucatan, of every imaginable shape and size; open to the sky, hidden in caves with just a tree root to scamper down from the jungle surface into the refreshing water below.

Homun is in the heart of cenote country and right next to the the aforementioned villages of Chunkanan and Cuzama, and have their own cenote attractions - and this past weekend I took some visitors out to see a few of them.

Picking them up at the beach where they were staying, they mentioned they wanted to see flamingos so we took the Xcambo - Baca - Merida road and were able to see quite a few, in small clusters,  just beside the highway. Their coloring was pink with white still visible, indicating these were juvenile flamingos as their feathers don't turn completely pink until they become adults.

After stopping at the Xcambo ruins for photos and a quick walk through (free admission) and some flamingo photos, we continued on through Baca and visited its large church in the middle of town. Baca was an important city back in the day and while it is somewhat deteriorated since the henequen industry crashed, you can still see evidence of it's relative wealth in the colonial era and turn of the century buildings along the main street.

After Baca, a straight shot out to Homun, where we hired a local guide - a 12 year old who swore she was 16 named Barbie - who rode with us to all the cenotes and made the introductions at each one. It is not necessary to hire someone local to visit the cenotes if you know where they are, but why not spread the wealth and help folks in Homun out a little? For $200 pesos you have a chatty local guide who knows everything about everyone in the town (just ask) and you are helping an entire family. Barbie has been doing this since she was 8 years old, and while for us North Americans it is a bit disconcerting to think that you are sending your 8 year old daughter to ride around with strangers to caves, it seems to not raise an eyebrow here. I think if an evil-doer ever tried anything, the villagers would see to it that he had a particularly nasty end.

A little bit of Merida, a little bit of Yaxcopoil

Susan and her husband were back in town with their parents and they wanted to see one of the Yucatan's many haciendas. The original idea was to go to Sotuta de Peon but since the House and Garden tour they were on finished too late to make that happen, I thought it better that we visit the Yaxcopoil hacienda. 

I caught up with them at the last house of the House and Garden tour, run by the pioneer Yucatan magazine, Yucatan Today.  It was a beautiful old home, and unlike many of the older homes in Merida, is still lived in by its' owner. Have a look:

With the tour behind us, we drove to the nearby hacienda Yaxcopoil, but of course, as always happens on one of our tours, there was a diversion. A detour, a small stop, a side road; these are the things that make the trip memorable and today was no exception. Everyone was hungry and wanted to eat before visiting the hacienda where Doña Nica most likely was no longer making panuchos under the tree on her makeshift griddle over a fire, and so a quick ride around the block in Uman yielded the La Margarita restaurant, on the main square, serving home cooked meals. The menu? Bistek con papas and espelon con puerco, a version of frijol con puerco (pork and beans) that is very special as the espelon is the tender, new version of the black bean and gives the dish a particularly delicious consistency.

Energy restored, we continued on to Yaxcopoil and enjoyed this immensely photogenic hacienda in the warm glow of afternoon light, before returning to Merida for a well deserved nap.

Magical Mystery Tour #2

This is the photographic chronicle of my second Magical Mystery Tour outing, as described in the last installment here.   

On this occasion, as I had some garage sale items to deliver to the beach, I thought it would be interesting to take a drive I never had made before - the road from Chuburná to Merida, via the back road through Sierra Papacal and the hacienda Suytunchen. 

It was a beautiful, sunny day and the tour started, as usual, with a detour to see the fishing boat "refuge" or harbor in Chuburná. A stop along the beach also provided a glimpse at the major work underway to reclaim the eroding sandiness there.

Once you leave the beach area, you are driving on a raised one and a half lane, pot-holed road that cuts across the mangroves. You will see egrets, ducks, cormorants a pelican or two and on this occasion I saw a couple of small groups of flamingos. Not being equipped with a super birders zoom lens, I could only take photos from the road and at a distance. 

At the end of what seems like an interminable road where the vegetation changes from marshy mangrove to scrubby underbrush, you suddenly find yourself on a wide, brand new stretch of highway, and a sign announcing the CICY. I always wondered where the CICY was, having heard they had another property. Well here it is, out in the middle of nowhere with a security guard and gate - to prevent intruding zombies from attacking, I suppose. 

This wide, well marked highway is like an oasis in a mirage, as it appears after the long drive along the pocked road from the beach and then disappears when you enter the town of Sierra Papacal. Please, someone explain to me the logic of building a perfect, modern highway - that is only 1 kilometer long and abutted by crappy roads to get there in the first place?

The balché tree is in bloom however, and growing right there by the mystery highway so I was able to get some good photos of the flowers.

Sierra Papacal was next, but there was nothing in the tiny village that caught my eye, even with a circus in town, except a sign for a turnoff to Suytunchen, which sounded interesting so I went there instead. It turns out Suytunchen is another hacienda, this one raised cattle up until recently, when it became a venue to be rented for social events. The daily rate is around $25,000 MXP for the location; you provide everything else. As you can see, it is small, but has some great photo op potential. The afternoon light warms up the bright colors painted over those melancholy, silent walls, that have watched the telenovela of life play out in front of them.

With the light fading fast, this was the last stop of the Magical Mystery Tour #2 - a slightly shorter version than the first, but nevertheless, a worthwhile trip.

From Suytunchen, a sign indicated the road to Merida and I was on the Progreso-Merida highway in minutes and home.

 Stay tuned for the next Magical Mystery Tour!

Izamal aka the Yellow City

Why is this city yellow? It depends on whom you ask. One theory says it was always yellow, while another and in my opinion more believable theory states that it was painted Vatican yellow in honor of Pope John Paul's visit here.

That's right, the Pope came here and if the Pope can get all the way over here from his comfy palace in the Vatican, so can you. 

Izamal is about an hour and a bit outside of Merida, towards Cancun on highway 180. There isn't a lot to do on the way, unless you count the town of Kimbilá, which is known for its textiles although a recent visit left me feeling a little Shania about the whole place: So you have hipiles? That don't impress me much.

In Izamal itself, you should visit the monastery, which has as its front yard the second largest atrium (after the Vatican) in the WORLD. That's right. And the whole structure is on the base of a Mayan pyramid that once stood here and whose stones were used for the construction of this and other buildings around town.  

There is still the Kinich Kakmo pyramid just across the way, a few blocks walk actually and very near the Kinich restaurant which serves up splendid Yucatecan fare and is a must-visit when in town.  

Other interesting places in Izamal are the combination embroidery shop/herbal medicine place (you will have to ask) as well as plenty of handicrafts and artisans goods at several galleries and boutiques. One thing to keep in mind is that if you should visit the shirtless man in charge of the herbal remedies for everything from cancer to impotence to AIDS and want to engage him in a conversation, make some time available as he will go on for hours.