Friday, December 13, 2013

Angel was Friendly, Flexible and Knowledgeable

"I have visited Chichen Itza, Tulum and Altun Ha. Uxmal was my favorite. Very relaxed feel to the place and gorgeous preservation work. We hired a private guide company (Lawsons Original Yucatan Excursions) and had a most wonderful time with them. From the person who handled my planning (Ralf) to our driver and guide (Angel), we were never disappointed. My husband has limited mobility and we also have a 13 year old child. We were never rushed and the boy was never bored. LOL Angel was friendly, flexible and knowledgeable. Our vehicle had a stocked cooler with sodas and water and Angel even stopped after our hot day to buy us some local handmade popsicles (very interesting flavors). When I go back, I will definitely hire them again!"

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

"Wondrous and miraculous" This happy guest is "not hyperbolizing"

Ben visited with his family this past fall. Here is a recounting of his experience with us:

"Wondrous and miraculous.  That's the experience William Lawson Tours provided my family this past week in Progreso Yucatan.  I'm not hyperbolizing.
First, the wondrous part.  Our guide, Angel, took us on two fantastic excursions.  The first was to the ruins at Mayapan and two cenotes afterwards.  Both were fantastic experiences.  Angel's knowledge of Mayan history and culture was awesome; he answered every question and made observations that enriched our experience.  We were the only people at the cenotes, and my two young adult sons had a blast, leaping 30 to 40 feet into the dark cenote waters that seemed like something out of an Indiana Jones movie, only better.  In between, while we were driving on narrow jungle roads east of Merida, Angel provided us with an impromptu snack, asking a local  Mayan lady to make us some fresh habanero salsa with chaya & scrambled egg tortillas, which we ate at a hacienda in the early stages of restoration.  It was quiet and real, yet other worldly.  On our way out, Angel stopped along a little road and stripped one henequen leaf down to its sisal fibers, twisted it, and knotted it at one end, showing us in just a few moments, what brought great wealth to Yucatan when henequen was green gold for the region.  As we drove along, I knotted the other end and have saved the tiny strand of twine as an invaluable keepsake of another time and another world.
Our second excursion was to the Yaxcopoil Hacienda and the ruins at Uxmal. Uxmal was magnificent and not overrun, allowing use to roam freely and enjoy Angel's explanations and story-telling.   Again, the stuff in between was every bit as enriching and stirring.  We stopped at a magnificent hilltop vista above the town of Muni, and explored the lovely creations of an artisan there (his name escapes me).  We stopped at a tiny village tortilleria for fresh tortillas right off a rickety conveyor belt from an oven that made the little place about 130 degrees.  We also stopped at Hacienda Ochil on our way back to Merida.  I was gratified to see the narrow gauge rails and the corroding carriages that once carried visitors, workers, henequen leaves, and raw sisal fibers from the fields to the main hacienda and the warehouses where the fibers were processed.  I'd seen these things in pictures on the internet, but it was fantastic to see these artifacts up close, with my own eyes.
The last 10 minutes of time with Angel were yet another gift.   He knew we were tired  (my wife and I are thinly disguised oldsters), but after getting our okay, he drove us, in the mid-afternoon, through incredibly narrow and congested streets near the city's center, but not the part with the fancy cathedrals and colonial state buildings, but the working class part.  The streets teemed like an alive river, with thousands of people going about their hard-working lives:  vendors, workers returning to work after siesta, women lugging home groceries for that night's dinner, and the best part for me -- hundreds and hundreds of school children of all ages, just dismissed from their day's studies, the adolescent ones talking together excitedly and hanging out, and the younger ones holding a parent's hand while they jostled their way home.  Those 10 minutes touched me deeply, seeing that river of life, and glimpsing the hard working and generous hearts of the Yucatecan people.
But wait, there's more.  The miraculous part.
I didn't come to Progreso or Merida to see the sights.  I came to Progreso with faint hopes of finding my long lost paternal grandfather, a Chinaman, who lived for 55 years in Progreso and who passed away there 23 years ago.  My family and I found his little flat on Calle 35; we had an address.  But we couldn't find his headstone in the Cementario Generales, despite an afternoon of searching.  I gave up hope, except for one last thing to try.  Before our  first excursion, I asked Angel if he could drive me to the library in town, so I could ask if there was a directory of any sort for the cemetery.  Perhaps I might find my grandfather that way.  No problem, Angel said.  On the way there, he pulled over and picked up his friend, a gregarious man name Pedro M. 
Angel and Pedro are aptly named.  One is a celestial helper and the other is a saint.  Within an hour the two of them guided me to Progreso's municipal offices, where we found the record of my grandfather's death and also his last residence, the town's nursing home.  Angel and Pedro helped me secure a certified copy of my abuelo's death.  Not only that, but Pedro also secured the name of the man who helped bring my grandfather to the nursing home when he faltered. 
Angel and Pedro then drove me and my family back to Cementario Generales.  There, one of the municipality's managers, whom Pedro miraculously summoned during all this, led us to the necropolis' western edge, where we found my grandfather's final resting place.  I could hardly speak, I was so surprised and moved.  The manager asked me if I would like some  flowers.  I said yes and looked around towards the outer streets, knowing from our fruitless search the day before, that there were no convenient flower vendors, such as one might find in an American cemetery.  The manager simply stepped up on an elevated slab nearby, climbed briefly onto a tree, and plucked 4 beautiful blossoms and gave them to me.  They looked like gardenias, and they were lovely, white.  For Chinese folks, white is the color of  mourning.  How did he know?
Later that night, Angel and Pedro  introduced us to an open-hearted woman in Progreso whose family is the only one of Chinese heritage in Progreso today.  We have the same last name!  My grandfather knew her grandfather, we were certain, and likely worked together for a while in Merida's Chinese Colony.
All this in one day.
Lawson Tours is magic.  Lawson Tours provided me and my family with 2 great excursions, and one life-changing, unforgettable journey of the heart that I never expected, and will never forget.  To Ralf, Angel, and Pedro -- thank you for giving me my abuelo.  Gracias por todo, desde mi corazon lleno-- thank you for everything, from my full heart! "

Monday, December 2, 2013

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.