The Yucatan revisited 2006
Nov 2, 2006
|My Journey to Mexico, Guatemala and Belize 2006
Part 1 - The Yucatan, 2006
A Second Helping of Kumquats
By: Gay A. Wright
Journal story and picture album
Paddling the Cosmic Canoe across the Yucatan for the second time
With the Iguana, Monkey, Macaw and Peccary
(for meanings of the animals consult the cosmic canoe myth)
Local life in between places and hotels in the Yucatan;
Archaeological sites and Museums of the Yucatan and Chiapas,
Uxmal, Kabah, Acanceh, Mayapan, Flycatcher Inn B & B, Santa Elena, Ticul,
Campeche, Balamku, Calakmul, Becan, Rio Bec Dreams Jungle Lodge,
Red Hands Site, Dzibanche, Kinichna, Lemones, Chacchoben, Ek Balam,
Genesis Retreat, Valladolid, Pryamide Inn in Piste, Chichen Itza, Yaxuna, Ake,
Izamal, Macan Che B & B in Izamal, Merida Museum of Archaeology,
Palenque and Hotel Xilbalba, Palenque Archaeological site and museum,
Visit to Usumacinta Lake at Catazaja near Palenque
And sights on the way to the Guatemala border at El Ciebo
Even before my trip in 2006 began I spent a couple months on the Internet looking for information and booking reservations. I didn't have any problem with the Mexico part, as I had been there before and was going pretty much the same way as I did two years ago. I wanted to revisit the people I booked lodgings with before and fill in some sites I had missed the first time. It was the Guatemala and Belize part that I had to research intensively to find the most suitable lodgings and ways to tour the archaeological sites. During this search it became more evident that I would have to apply for a passport. The new law stated that everyone travelling had to have a passport by 2009. However I had been told that Guatemala would not let people in with just a driver's license and birth certificate. When I went to the courthouse to fill out the papers I found I only had 8 weeks to get the papers and it took 4 to 6 weeks for them to process the passport application. I filled them out and gave the checks to the clerk and went home thinking the passport would just pop up in the mail and I would be on my way. Not.!!! The first thing that rubbed me the wrong way was I had to give the clerk my original birth certificate. I also had to provide two pictures of myself for the passport book. I didn't hear from them until 4 weeks later. Then it was a letter that took 4 days to arrive from Georgia that told me there was a problem with my birth name on my certificate and the name I had been called by and used for 60 years. Say What! Not my last name as I provided the proper papers showing I kept my married name from my divorce over 25 years ago. I was my first name. Just goes to show not to name a child something he will never be called in his whole life. I had one day to scurry to the bank for advice. My banker phoned the passport bureau and after some questions and answers, she wrote me a letter stating she knew me for over 15 years and banked at the bank using my current name. While I was at the bank I purchased cashiers check for 60.00 to expedite the paperwork that would have taken two weeks to do. Considering I only had 10 days left, I wanted to be on the safe side. I also had to have family members fill out forms they sent stating that they had only know me by my current name and not my birth name. Besides that they didn't like the pictures I sent and I had to rush from the bank to a passport picture place to get new pictures taken. Fortunately, they could process them in an hour and with the pictures, documents and letter in hand I hurried back to the post office and sent the information to the bureau by overnight express. FYI, Overnight means they have two days to delivery it. Over night delivery cost 15.00 and in order to assure I would get it back over night I had to send an over night envelope for them to mail the passport to me. That was another 15.00. That all happened on a Friday. On Tuesday I called the bureau number and asked how far along the passport was in processing. I was told it should be sent out on Wednesday and I should get it on Thursday. On Thursday I called the post office and was told the over night envelope was sitting in Austin because it missed the one and only delivery to my post office by 30 minutes. Arghhh! Over night? Bull patties. On Friday I called the post office, they finally had my envelope waiting for me. Not taking any more chances I went down and picked it up. What a relief. I only had one day left before I was scheduled to leave. So after all this strain and stress of my experience I can pass on to you this advice; apply early at least 3 months, get your pictures done at the passport picture place, be sure you have your birth certificate and current name the same, and if not, get documents to prove it. Keep your blood pressure down and keep from having to pay all the extra costs. By the time I was done it had cost me another one hundred dollars on top of the hundred dollars it cost for the original application.
I had spent two hundred dollars and had not even started on my trip.
The bus trip into Mexico.
My friend Linda took me to Austin and we had breakfast at I Hop before I boarded the bus in Austin, Tex. I had to transfer to another bus in San Antonio to go on to Mc Allen. When I arrived in McAllen my luggage was not on the bus. I had to wait for the next bus from San Antonio to arrive, which was at 9:30 pm, to see if they sent in on that one. Well, thankfully the luggage was there, but that still meant that I missed my reservation on the bus in Reynosa at 7.00 p.m. to go to Villahermosa. The bus people were helpful, if you could call it that, as everyone had different information to give. I was able to catch the last shuttle bus to the border and while the bus waited for 20 minutes, in order to allow people to get their travel visa I was taken to the visa office by a young porter. He wanted to be sure I knew his tip would be 5.00 dollars, as he told me that at least 4 times. I was issued the visa and when I returned to the bus I had to push the button that was located where the bus stopped instead of using the one I did the last time that was at the Reynosa bus station. Green light when the button was pushed, I didn't have to be inspected, red light I did. I breathed as sign of relief when it came up green. I did tip the porter the five dollars he insisted on for a tip. After that ordeal was over all of us (passengers) continued on the shuttle bus to the Reynosa bus station. When I got off the bus, I asked one of the ADO bus employees on the loading dock where I could buy my ticket to Villarhermosa. Amazingly enough he spoke English. He told me the only bus leaving at that time was one to Veracruz. In fact that was the last bus that night leaving for anywhere and it departed in 5 minutes. There was only one seat left. He helped me buy the ticket and I was able to pay for it in US dollars. (Talk about the Universe watching over me). The ticket lady gave me 6 pesos change and that is what I lived on until I reached Merida two days later. I didn't have time to buy any pesos as the money exchange house was closed (Sunday) by the time I arrived in McAllen.
The ADO busman told me I could get a connecting bus to Villahermosa when I reached Veracruz. So I got on and settled down for the long trip. In the morning I watched the scenery and as we approached Veracruz. The beach came into view with small houses scattered here and there in the lush bushes. There were also many fancy vacation houses along the oceanfront. We wound our way through the coastal mountains and small villages. When we arrived in Veracruz, after a 14-hour trip, the town was just another crowded, jumbled city like most of the rest in Mexico. The streets were filled with vendors and corner stands serving food. At the station I was able to purchase a ticket to Villahermosa on my credit card with an hour to spare. With my limited peso money, I bought water and juice. I had packed enough to eat in my lunch bag for a three-day trip and sure was glad I did. I sat in the bus station and ate canned ham and crackers. The bus left at 5:30 pm.
When I was on the bus I asked one of the two drivers (driver and alternate) if I would be able to catch my reservation on the bus from Villarhermosa to Merida, which was at 11:30 pm. Another amazing miracle, one driver also spoke English. He said they should arrive in time to catch the bus before it left. He was really nice and brought me up to a seat in the very front of the bus so when we arrived he could get me off first. When we pulled into the station they stopped the bus directly behind the bus leaving for Merida, the driver jumped out and ran around to the Merida bus and asked him to wait. He then took me by the arm and rushed me into the bus depot and helped me buy by ticket. (I was able to use my credit card as I did in Veracruz.) He then rushed me back and loaded my bags and me into the bus to Merida. I gave him a big hug to say thanks. The ADO bus line surely has many customer service oriented people working for them. That was another wonderful miracle. What are the chances of such good Universal timing? I settled back for the long ride to Merida, finally falling asleep as the bus rocked me back and forth in my seat.
Merida to Santa Elena.
So then, when I arrived in Merida on the 31st, I was on time having made up the four hours I lost in McAllen. Still not having any Mexican money I asked the taxi driver at the bus station where I could change some American dollars and he told me across the street. It was a cafe, but the man changed a twenty for me, that way I could take the taxi to the car rental place downtown. When I arrived, the Alonzo family were there waiting, and speaking English, they rented me another car. I had already rented one from them two years ago and had made reservations with them again over the Internet. There email address is email@example.com . They had the little V.W. bug cosmic canoe waiting. Before I left Merida, I went to the money exchange down the street, bought breakfast at Burger King, which I took across the street and ate in the park, sharing it with the pigeons. I had scrambled eggs and cheese on a croissant. Not too bad for my first meal in Mexico.
About 10:00 a.m. I left Merida in my little cosmic canoe car and started on my journey down to Santa Elena where I was going to stay that night with Kris and San at the Flycatcher Inn.
The site of Acanceh
The first place I wanted to stop was at the small town of Acanceh. It had a temple pyramid in the middle of town with another temple located behind it. I had read about the site on the Internet that was written by the archaeologist that had worked on the site. She had uncovered the stucco masks that were located on the top sections of the temple. There are 6 total, 2 on each side except for the east side, which have been covered by a protective roof.
The caretaker of the site saw me take a picture and ran across the open lot and asked me if I wanted to go in and see. The site is now an official INAH site, so I paid my fee and he took me in through a wrought iron gate in the fence that surrounded the site that he had to unlock. He didn't speak much English but I could understand between the lines, so to speak, for me to grasp the concept of what he was saying. He took my hand and helped me climb up the seven levels to the area where the masks were located. They were huge. These are the original masks, not reproductions, and have stucco so fine it seems to gleam as if it were highly polished, almost like a ceramic glaze. Some parts of the face were crumbled away, but most of it was still intact to get the picture. He also showed me the other temple behind it that only has a flat top to it, no upper structure. While we were standing there between the temples I turned to look at the trees and I saw an iguana about 4 feet long scurry through the bushes. He was too fast for a picture, but I could see his whole body. He looked like a small dinosaur running like crazy.
The caretaker explained the merging of three architectural styles of different cultures, the ancient people, the conquering Spanish colonial style and the Mayan houses and shops of today all located in the village. The site was nice and I enjoyed his tour. I bid him goodbye and bought some bananas from a vendor's shop and was on my way again. I almost didn't make it through the next village as there were no signs pointing the way, but I kept on the straight line the map showed and sure enough made it to Mayapan without much strain on the nerves.
The archaeological site of Mayapan is located on the road to Ticul. I had been there two years before, but while there I noticed they were clearing a bunch of brush from the back and side of the site. Sure enough, they had cleared an area and finished putting together four new buildings, all behind the Caracol. One of them had a round top on it like the observatory. I walked around the area a long time, but then my feet started having sharp pains in them. It must have been too much activity for the first day. I was able to get some really good pictures and they will insert nicely with the ones I took from the last visit. I saw a fox while I was on top of one of the temples as he ran through the buildings below looking for some kind of lunch.
Road to Ticul and Flycatcher Inn in Santa Elena
When I was done looking I continued on the road to Ticul. When I went through the town of Mama I ran into road construction. I thought it wasn't going to be too bad until the road became narrower the further I went. There were graders pushing down rows of gravel. I thought I was going to have to turn around, but the grader driver motioned me to come ahead, so I squeezed between him and the pile of road dirt on my left, by inches and just barely passed him with his wheel lug nuts fully visible in my face through the passenger side window. Surely not the way they do construction in the US, where they have it all blocked off. From there I encountered oil trucks spreading oil and a compacter rolling it into the road base coming behind him. I had to squeeze by them too. I thought I was the only one doing this, but coming in the other direction were several trucks going so fast, it was like there was no road construction at all. In just a few miles the dirt road gave it up to the new finished section and I entered the town of Ticul in just a few minutes. I think it was harder to get through the streets of Ticul than go past the grader for all the bike taxis and now this year, new motorbikes that covered the streets. Not to mention the cars too.
When I found the church in the square, I could find the road to Santa Elena. Considering I had been there before, I thought it would be easy to find, however the landmarks had changed since two years ago, not to mention the lushness of the surrounding bushes and trees. They have had an extra rainy season this year, so every thing was grown high, and abundantly green. This was a stark contrast to the arid conditions two years ago. After fumbling through the streets, I came upon the shop that makes rotisserie chickens and called out the window to the man that I wanted one. For three dollars, there was my dinner. Around the corner I spotted the 'farmica' (drugstore) and bought some liniment for my feet. By that time I was in my socks and I limped into the store. I had a difficult time trying to explain my feet hurt and wanted some 'limento'. I had to hold up my feet and say ouch. The boots I had been wearing hurt my feet so bad I had shooting pains in the arches and toes. I must have made my point as he sold me some liquid in a small bottle. It smelled of camphor and menthol, so I thought it would do. I finally made it to the Flycatcher Inn about 5:30 p.m. After greeting my hostess Kris and her husband Santiago, I called it an early night. I ate some of my chicken and after I soaked my feet and used the liniment I retired. I really slept pretty well.
A few sites on the Puuc route.
The next morning on the 1st of November I went to Uxmal, which is about 25k from Santa Elena. I passed through the village of Santa Elena where the hub of traffic clustered in the plaza below the church steps. Most of the traffic was made up of the bike taxis looking for a fare. When I reached Uxmal I could see they had done some really outstanding work and finished portions of the north plaza by the dovecote building, digging out part of lower mounds and had revealed a row of rooms. I took pictures two years ago of a partly buried room that looked like an underground house located by the great temple behind the Governor's palace. This time the room had been restored and a wall ran from the Turtle house to the Grand Temple. They also had finished the work on the Magicians temple and I was able to get into the courtyard in front of it and take pictures of the buildings bordering the courtyard and the steps up to the Earth Monster doorway at the top. The grounds were meticulously mowed and groomed.
I was able to find the Old Woman's house, and a few phallic stones by it, see in picture below, but the phallic temple was not to be found in the bushes. It sure seemed to me that they purposely leave part of the site un-mowed to keep out tourists from areas they don't want disturbed. There were a couple of areas, like the stele platform behind the cemetery group that was also obscured and even though I saw it my last visit, it was hidden this time. There was plenty to see and enough iguanas sitting on rocks and in the bushes to make me happy. I ate lunch in the nice restaurant at the site entrance and finally took my sunburn and mosquito bites back to the Inn when the clouds spat forth a bit of rain about 5 pm. Sun goes down about 6, so I had time to settle in and go to bed at 7.
Kabah and beyond
The following day, November 2, I went to Kabah. The clouds looked dubious with potential rain, but I managed to see the new section next to the arch that was being worked on 2 years ago. It was really hard to tell what they had finished, until I was able to compare with other pictures I took. It looked like they had the walls done up to the roof line on several structures, but the next row of stones that would stick out from the wall line to create the decorative edge of the roof facade were lined up on the ground ready to be placed on top of the walls. They also had a mound dug out enough to see a corner of a colonnaded porch with a connecting room, both having corbelled ceilings. One corner of the building was exposed to show the wall and roof line with the way the stones were set to make the decorative edge.
On the way back along the path to the Arch I found one of the site caretakers picking little red things off a small bush. When I went over to see, he showed me small hot peppers. Now that I knew what the peppers grew on I was able to identify them again later on my trip.
I had seen most of the rest of Kabah, but stopped by the arch again. It is such a spectacular piece of architecture I had to get another picture. As I stepped into the bushes to take it I spotted a huge iguana. Ah, ha. I stopped and looked at him. He was not very eager to run away so I thought I would sneak up on him slowly and see how close I could get. I had my video camera zoomed in on him and stepped cautiously in his direction. He sat there a long time, but when he figured I was close enough he scurried off into the underbrush. I was able to get some good footage of his exit. I continued down the road to see if I could get to Santa Rosa Ztampak. I drove almost to Hopelchen and thought I had lost the road to the bushes. By then the sky was pretty black with clouds, and when I turned around to go back, it started raining. When I reached the little town of Bolenchen, that I had passed through about 30 min before, it had rained so hard the water was still standing on the down hill grade and flooding the road, as the water couldn't drain off fast enough.
I did find the road that went into the corn fields we took two years ago to find Itzimte, but I already had been there, done that. Besides the bushes were so high you couldn't even see the mounds of stones from the road. I looked for Chunhunhub, but again, the weeds obscured the driveway, and looked as if it had never been there. So, disappointed, I drove back and stopped at Santa Antonio Zalpak village and was able to get a good picture of village life and the old abandoned hacienda before returning again to Kabah. The temporary break in the clouds darkened again and by the time I reached the doorway of the Codz Poop building the rain came wafting over the trees. I sat in doorway watching the rain engulf the treetops. There was a good view of the grand temple that is still in ruins over the tops of the trees. I watched the water drip off the noses of the Chaac faces and in the end didn't even have a tissue to offer Chaac to wipe off his nose. I climbed down and with it still sprinkling took a few parting shots and made my way out of the site, back to the Flycatcher Inn in Santa Elena.
Senor Ek, Pickled Peppers and Roger the Potter
The next day the 3rd I was to see Senor Ek. I met him two years ago and had come down to see him specifically to transcribe his herbal remedies into English to preserve his medical knowledge. Things did not go well. First, the guide I used last time had some dubious dealings with the Shaman Ek and cheated him, so Senor Ek was not happy about that. Considering I was associated with the guide, I was thrown in the same boat as him. He told me some herbal remedies, which I recorded on tape. He showed me plants he picked from his yard that were used for medical uses. He also said all he knew he learned from books he read. Wait a minute, I thought, why am I here if all he knows is already written down? That made the whole quest pointless. I never did understand why my spirit voice told me to do that. Maybe the time of importance had passed in two years and was now a mute point. We only stayed a couple of hours. I had hired San to translate the Spanish from Senor Ek into English. When Kris and San tried to translate it later, it became clear that some of the herbal names were confusing, so I just gave up the project as a complete loss.
It had rained again during the day, so it was not a very productive day. When I went back to Santa Elena I stopped by the new restaurant that was being built by a Canadian lady, Valerie Pickle. I was introduced to her, as she was also a guest of Kris and San. She had journeyed to Mexico in search of a place that brought peace to her heart and found it in Santa Elena. She was of German descent and was a good cook. She decided to open a place to eat on the hill that enters the town on the road to Kabah. I sure wish her the best. She is a little younger than I am and has a little more vim and vigor in her bones than me. Along side of the restaurant building she had a Mayan house built so she could live there. The view is great. I think she is going to call the place the Pickled Pepper.
Roger the Potter
On the fourth of November, I went into Ticul and tried to email everyone with the happenings of my trip when I was cut off the Internet and lost the whole thing. I gave up on that plan and fumbled around the streets again until I finally found the potter, Roger Juarez's house. I gave his mother, now 92, a picture I took of her two years ago and bought a couple of sauce dishes, two figures, a bowl and a small vase. That made me happy to find him and get some more of his excellent pottery. He makes such good reproductions of the pottery that has been unearthed in many of the Mayan tombs. He has perfected the glaze and ink in his firings that the pottery looks like it was just recovered from a tomb a thousand years ago. He also makes reproductions of the Jaina figurines.
Back at the Flycatcher Inn Santiago gave me the grand tour of property in the back. He has been clearing his acreage for the past two years. He showed me several mounds they discovered that had definite outlines of building corner stones and a number of cenote holes. One he showed me still had a mortared edge and neck hole and he told me the inside of the tank was rounded and all the mortar covering the surface was intact as well. See picture below. It will be really exciting to hear about new discoveries as they are made. They sit so close to the other ancient sites that they are sure some of the mounds they have are part of the suburbs of some of the old communities. Considering the Santa Elena church sits on top of a temple mound, it is pretty clear that another ancient city stood where the village is now located.
November 4th, I bid my fine hosts at Flycatcher Inn a fond adieu and drove to Campeche. I stopped again in the village to buy some bananas from the veggie man set up for business on the street. On the way I found the road to Santa Rosa Ztampak, the turn off that I missed the previous day, by five miles. I hadn't driven far enough and found it located two miles outside of Hopelchen. But with the threatening rain and the hour, by then 3 pm, the opportunity to visit was lost. Oh, well. It was not to be. Besides, the road looked really muddy. I should have known it was a sign for future encounters on my trip, but after having such a fair weather trip two years ago, it didn't register that there was trouble ahead.
I arrived in Campeche, about 5, which was much easier to find this time, as nothing was changed. I had reservations for the Hostel Monkey right on the plaza. I had a private room, located on top of the first floor roof section. It had two twin beds and a cold shower. Guess who washed in the sink? The town ladies had food set up in the plaza that evening and I had my favourite, 'jamon' and 'queso' sandwich followed by a piece of flan for dinner. I walked around the plaza and looked at the other food booths. They didn't have music in the plaza this time so I went to bed. It was much quieter this time in town and I slept fairly well.
November 5th, early in the morning I worked on the Internet in the Monkey Hostel. It was pretty tranquil in the morning, with the church bells ringing across the square. I could even hear the priest giving mass in the church and the people singing. The voices carried so clearly over the empty streets and across the plaza. What a refreshing sound for a serene morning. The clouds were starting to build again on the horizon and looked like it would storm again today.
The Monkey Hostel, like most hostels, served breakfast. Here they had corn flakes, toast and an assortment of fresh fruit. To this I added some of the papaya and limes I bought on the road to Campeche. That is worth a sentence or two about the commerce practices in Mexico. All of the villages and towns in Mexico have the speed bumps on the highways entering them to slow traffic. They are called Topes. They should also be called food stops, as each of them are used by local residents that set up a table and umbrella to sell their local wares. On the way through one town I stopped and asked the lady for three limes, or lemons. She must have thought I said three kilos, as she brought me a huge bag the size of medium duffle bag full of limes. She told me 10 pesos. I didn't have the heart to tell her all I wanted was three, so I took the whole bag. I hauled them all over the Yucatan until I finally had to give them up in Piste, 1500 miles later. So I had limes with tea and made my own Margaritas, which was much cheaper with the one bottle of Tequila I bought for seven dollars. The liquor lasted the whole trip and I even brought home half of the bottle. In any case, the breakfast that morning made up for the stairs I had to climb to get to first floor of the hotel, which would be the second story. It all has to do with the way colonial buildings are constructed.
To interject a second thought, I have to note here that a hostel is a youth hotel. They are different in each location and they cater to backpackers and youth traveling around the world. This one was fairly nice, except for my bleak unadorned room. I was able to get my laundry washed, work on the Internet and enjoy the breakfast they served all with the room fee.
Fort Miguel and the pirate ship
I drove down to Fort Miguel that holds the museum where all the Mayan artifacts from Campeche State are exhibited. I was able to video the entire collection of bowls, vases and other art including the unusual Chac mool they have. From the top of the ramparts where the cannons were posted I could see the sea for miles. The view was as beautiful as it was two years ago. As I was admiring the view, a pirate ship sailed by close to shore. What's this; a pirate ship? This had to be a joke, but it had the shape of a galleon ship, the sails and everything to make it appear to be the real thing. I certainly was amused and was able to video some footage of it as it sailed past the fort. I found out later that a local tour company owns the ship and makes a pass in front of the fort twice a day. It is a floating lunch or dinner tour of Campeche bay. Now, that is very clever business enterprise. The day was very warm with the clouds building bigger and bigger as I drove back to the hostel along the main avenue along the shoreline.
When I returned, it poured down rain. I waited until the rain stopped watching the people on the plaza dash for cover from the balcony of the hostel. When the shower was over I walked up the street to find the other museum, but it was closed. When I walked back it poured once again. After that storm cloud passed I went out into the plaza where the local ladies were serving food again and bought a ham and cheese sandwich, some potato salad and a piece of cake for the next day's lunch. The Chamber of Commerce promotes this on the weekend to acquaint visitors with the local cuisine. While I was in the plaza I spotted a Mayan woman carrying a container on her head. I chased after her and when she went around the corner I was right on her heels. I managed to snap the picture from around the edge of the building of her walking through the fresh puddles of rain while carrying the loaded pan on her head and holding a staff in one hand. It was a jewel of a picture and she never knew I was there.
Compton on the way to Calakmul
In the morning, November 6th, I went to the bank and changed some dollars for pesos. The line of people was so long I had to wait for 20 minutes. After that errand was done I departed Campeche for the site of Calakmul. That would be a six-hour drive. I started out by going on the new toll road that went to the town of Campoton, or rather it ended there. This is a small village that caters to the summer tourists. It has a lot of fishing and Cocktelerias. These are the same as bike taxis only outfitted with a small bar in front instead of a seat where they served drinks. Mostly, they served margaritas and rum concoctions made with fresh fruit juice. It was a bar on wheels and the village was full of them. Another side note, this time in Mexico it was easier to order ice with any drink because of the more wide spread use of purified ice cubes. What a blessing to those of us who worship the ice goddess. You know who she is, the one holding an ice cube tray in one hand and an ice pick in the other.
I passed through a few villages before reaching Escarcega, which