Friday, June 11, 2010

After the Puuc

After leaving my New Yorker and on the road back to Merida, I saw the sign for Cacao and the San Antonio Mulix hacienda and remembered reading about some cenotes in that area that I had never visited before. I figured I might as well stop and have a look, for future reference.

After a solid 8 kilometer drive from the highway into the not particularly charming hamlet of Cacao, where there is a ruined hacienda that has been evidently and absolutely raped of anything of value, I continued on to San Antonio Mulix, not without first taking a photo or two of what were probably once some beautiful buildings, now waiting for a merciful death by collapse as they sit dejectedly among weeds and plastic garbage that the indifferent inhabitants of Cacao have tossed in front of their still-dignified facades.

Once you reach San Antonio Mullix, which is another, shorter drive along a narrow one-lane but paved road, you come upon a building set on a hill, which has several signs indicating that this is where one pays or whatever to access the cenotes. Here I met the most unmotivated and lethargic woman, who was the hostess with the mostess for this tourist attraction. Again, I have to wonder at all the millions of pesos spent by government folks who travel to shows and produce expensive campaigns to attract tourism to the Yucatan and then do nothing to train people or provide basic services for those very same attractions the tourists come to visit. I digress.

I ask this obviously-bored-out-of-her-skull woman how one gets into the cenotes and she mumbles, while looking away, that you have to pay and then go down that road over there. She points tiredly to a dirt road and a closed gate.

"Esta bien; cuanto cuesta?" I ask, "How much?"

"10 pesos if you are local and 25 pesos if you are from elsewhere" is her unenthusiastic response. She is really into this, I can tell.

OK. I fish 10 pesos in coins out of my pocket and she pushes a clipboard at me on the table and asks me to fill in my details. I write in name, age and where it says COUNTRY (it's in English) I write Mexico.

She stares at it for a moment or two and then tells me, like I am really, really stupid, "You wrote Mexico"

"Yes", I answer, "I wrote Mexico because it's asking me for the country. Is that not right?"

"Now I'll have to charge you 25 pesos" says my hostess in a dull monotone "because you put Mexico. You should have put Merida"

I considered (and stupidly started) arguing about what the word country means as opposed to city, but then decided that this was going to be a tough one and so I asked "Should I just change it to Merida?" and bent down to scratch out Mexico and write in Merida.

She moved the paper away from me and said, while removing the questionnaire to reveal another sheet underneath, "You wrecked that one. Here, do it again"

So I did and then was free to drive to the nearby entrance and let myself in, unlatching the chain that was holding the gate closed.

To make this long story short, an interminably long, winding drive over a rocky, dusty road led me to two cenotes, one of which was too shallow for a dip and the other was perfect. Both have steep dropoffs at their deeper ends and I suspect, from the signs posted, that this is a spot used by divers to explore the dark waters beneath the rocks.

Is it worth the trip? Maybe. I haven't decided just yet.

Puuc Zone Part II

After leaving Yaxcopoil and Peba and finally finding ourselves in the hills of the Puuc, we drive first to the Mayan ruins of X'lapak, which I stupidly thought were the last ones in that line of ruins. While my New York guest toured the site, I rechecked maps and saw that there was another site, Labna, just 4 kilometers away.

Labna was our next stop, after about an hour at X'lapak. I was initially not going to visit the site but thought what the hell, it's been a while - and I am glad I did!

Labna is a spectacular, albeit small, site full of intricately carved stones and stunning, rebuilt arches. The ruins under the trees in the jungle are un-restored mounds of carved stones, which lie in helpless abandon at your feet as you wander through them, feeling a little like Catherwood and Stephens must have felt when they saw them for the first time. The ruins are so detailed and so in your face, since this is an off-the-beaten-track Mayan ruins site and as such you are free to immerse yourself - literally - in amongst the pieces of forgotten ancient history strewn at your feet.

Be sure to wander off the sac-be or path that leads you naturally from one area to another; there is plenty to see under the brush and trees, plus you have the added advantage of it being a lot cooler, especially when visiting in a month like this, when it is so hot.

After Labna, it was Sayil and finally Kabah, the ruins closest to Santa Elena and Uxmal and the ones I mentioned in an earlier post a few days ago. At Sayil, I again waited for Ms. NYC to explore to her hearts content while I explored photographic opportunities in the sparsely stocked 'gift shop' palapa. An example of the interesting - ok, pornographic - items on display, covered in thick, black, cobwebs dating back to the Echevarria presidency, is in the photo below.

After Kabah, and thoroughly saturated not only with the heat that was becoming unbearable but also Mayan ruins, it was time to pay a visit to Valerie Pickles Pickled Onion restaurant, on the highway as you near Santa Elena. A light lunch was had there and then we were off to Uxmal, where I accompanied my New Yorker to the check-in counter and left her to enjoy a well-deserved and refreshing afternoon by the pool.

Puuc Zone Part I

My intrepid guest from the Big Apple was ready to roll at 7AM and we leave the Luz en Yucatan hotel and Merida, under a partially cloudy sky that threatened to unleash the suns wrath within another hour or two, in the direction of all things Puuc.

First, a short photo op stop at Yaxcopoil where the hacienda gates were still silently locked but the morning light was magnificent, bringing out the warm, earthy tones of the crumbling arches and buildings.

Returning to the LawsonMobile, a young-ish man runs up, shouting 'hello' in English. I ask him what's up.

In Spanish now, he asks if I can help him find a job in the US and that he is from Merida. I've left my portable immigration docket and questionnaire at home so I smile and say no.

"How about some money?" is his next anxious question. I shake my head, no.

He glances at the cigarette in my hand. "Y un toque de tu cigarro?" Now he wants a drag of my cigarette.  I'm already back at my car. Um, no, sorry, I don't think so.

It's back onto the highway.

"How about a quick look at a cenote" I ask. Alas, after a bumpy drive on a bad road, the recently discovered (by me) cenote at Peba is still closed this morning; we're two for two now. So we are off to the Puuc!

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