Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy Guest Comments!


Miak had these nice things to say about her recent trip through the Yucatecan countryside:

"Hola! 
Feliz Navidad! I hope that you had a wonderful X'mas eve celebration last night. Anyway, I just want to let you know that I'm really pleased with your service. My partner and I had the most amazing experience at the cenotes that Saul had brought us to. I really appreciate your flexibility and prompt responses to our request. Thanks very much for your help!  :D  
It's indeed two thumbs up for your service!" 



 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Happy Guest Comments

A group of 6 cruisers, who visited Merida with us, had this to say:

"Hi Bill, 
Your attention to detail really came through for us!!  Thank you so much for taking such care to make our excursion entertaining, comfortable as well as informative.  Your picture-taking was above and beyond what we expected.  We will have great memories for a very long time thanks to you.    

Mil gracias!

Marta and Mike  

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Tour to Valladolid, October 2012



The church of Valladolid, festively decked out with colored flags
It seems like a long, interminable drive, especially on the ultra-boring but super-quick toll road where you will pay $140 pesos (at the time of this writing) for the privilege of traversing its hallowed and rough concrete, but after about 2 hours of driving you arrive in the city of Valladolid a large small town whose name only a few non-native speakers can pronounce.

La Casa de los Venados

The tour today involved reaching the famous Casa de los Venados folk art collection at the beautiful home of John and Dorianne Venator just one half block off the main square before the tour got underway. Each day, at 10 AM, the Venators graciously open their home and their absolutely stunning folk art collection to anyone who wants to see it, in exchange for a small donation to the local Lions club whose members support local activities and projects to make life a little better for some of the less fortunate in the city.

A little something in the bathroom
It is the largest private collection of Mexican folk art in private hands and it is one of those things that must be seen if you are in the area. From paper maché to iron to wood to clay and ceramic; this collection has it all.  Everywhere you turn there is something to look at; a cat under a chair, the chair itself, the lamp above the chair and the wall behind that - it's a visual feast!

An evil nun miniature
The tour takes about an hour and although the guides do speak English, it is far more enjoyable if you are fortunate enough - like we were today - to get a personal tour by the owner himself and enjoy Johns explanations on his favorite pieces and some anecdotes ranging from the building construction to how some of the pieces in the collection were obtained.

A must see and the purpose of this day trip.

Smoked Meats of Temozon

It's on your left, as you enter town
Next stop was nearby Temozon just back across the highway on the road to Ek Balam, for a taste of their justifiably famous smoked meat. While they were still setting up, they were kind enough to prepare some tacos of smoked pork and spiced pork wrapped in home made corn tortillas and roast tomato salsa. Unbelievable! Behind the sparkling clean store/restaurant/meat counter/carpentry shop were the smokers and of course I had to visit them and take some photos while the young man stoking the fires to minimize flames and optimize smoke, explained the process.

The finished product is on the tray in front
It was here, in pork heaven, where my faith in humanity was restored. We left the restaurant, purchasing several pieces of pork for later and drove back to Valladolid. Upon reaching the entrance to the Zaci cenote, I realized that not only had I left my camera, but also my iphone, on the table at the restaurant in Temozon! So a quick drive over the same route back to the restaurant and what would you know, the phone and camera were safe, tucked behind the counter by the smiling girls who made up the counter staff. I was deliriously happy and once again we drove back to Valladolid.

Pork ribs, smoked
The Zaci Cenote

In reality, what we were trying to do was to make time since the Taberna de los Frailes was not open yet for lunch. So, a visit to the cenote of Zaci. Although no one swam, and the water was a little greener than at any other cenote I have seen lately, it is a pretty little place with artificial waterfalls and blue water populated with plenty of black catfish.



La Taberna de los Frailes Restaurant

Finally, after much waiting, it was 1 PM and we were able to enjoy the delicious food, beautiful ambience and truly outstanding service at my favorite Valladolid restaurant: La Taberna de los Frailes.



The imaginative grilled watermelon and panela cheese appetizer with papaya vinagrette - really

A perfect ending to a perfect day, and we arrived back in Merida at 5 PM, a full 9 hours after leaving this morning!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Happy Guest Comments

Here is some feedback from Mike, whose group of reunited international vets got together for a cruise and then chose us to take them into the city of Merida and enjoy some real Yucatecan food. The photos he refers to are ones that we took of his party and then sent on to each member of the group to help keep the great memories alive!


"Thanks so much for the pictures. They are just great!  Send the remaining photos, we are so looking forward to see them.
 
As a group we all thought your escorting us to such wonderful sites was the highlight of our week.  You were very thoughtful about our comfort and a great host for taking pictures and sending them to us.  We especially appreciated your kind attention to Jim. By the way, the carrot cake was the best and I just had a KUKIS Biscotti - both are the yummiest ever.
 
We are going to spread the word about Lawson custom tours.....  I hope we can bring you some business."

Happy Guest Comments

This is the water in the cenote with direct sunlight shining in from above


Luisa, part of the Rubio group who went to Mayapan and the hidden cenotes and who previously sent a comment (scroll down to see it) also sent an eloquent comment that I thought worth showing off:

"Best day ever.

Ever."


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Happy Guest Comments!

Remember, these are all real - my mother does not write these!

The Rubios from Texas were down on a Carnival cruise and took a Lawson tour to mysterious and empty Mayapan and the magical cenote which they had to themselves thank you very much. Here's what they had to say (the part about the wish you will have to come and find out for yourself):


Hi,

We are finally home and settled in. It would be cool if you wanted to quote me. We really had an awesome time on our excursion. I was looking through some of our pictures and wanted to also send you some because they turned out so great. 

We are just raving about the excursion by the way... my sister said that even if the rest of the cruise flopped, it wouldn't matter because we had such a great day, and the kids kept saying that they had to make a wish. :) Thanks for again everything!

Hope to hear from you again soon about the shots you took. And I hope the other boat people enjoy it as much as we did. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Happy Guest Comments!


Aimee and Karyne and their group came in on the Carnival ship to Progreso, took a private Lawson tour to Uxmal and had a dip in a cenote on the way back. Here's what they had to say about their tour and their driver and guide Edwin:

"I have only been back to work for 2 hours and I've already told 3 co-workers that they must book any tours in that area through your group! I work for an airline so I know word will travel fast. Everything Aimee said below is true. You exceeded our groups expectations...and we are some tough critics. 

Thank you!"
"Edwin was a passionate, wealth of knowledge. I loved every single second of the trip. He kept us perfectly on schedule and kept with our pace. My favorites were how he explained the logic behind the architecture and astrology.

The cenote was unbelievable! I can’t say enough good things about the tour and Edwin. I will definitely add a review on cruiscritic.com!"

Thursday, October 11, 2012

For Cruisers: The Scoop on the Cenotes

One of the most requested destinations for cruisers coming in on the Carnival ships to Progreso each Monday and Wednesday - after the Mayan ruins of course - is a cenote.

For those of you not familiar with a cenote, it is an opening in the ground through which you can access the Yucatan's water table. The water is crystal clear, thanks to the fact that all the cenotes are part of a vast underground river which is interconnected, either through actual dive-able caverns and passages or simply small cracks through which the water circulates. This is why the cenotes are so sparkling clean; if the water wasn't circulating these pools of water would be green, slimy and full of frogs. This sounds disgusting, rather like the term 'sink hole' used on other websites when describing in English what a cenote is.

Let's just call them cenotes, shall we? The word comes from the Mayan "dzonot" or "ts'onot" depending on which spelling method you use (the Mayans didn't use our dictionary so there is some dispute over the correct spelling of Mayan words)

Which cenote to visit? There are literally thousands of cenotes of all shapes and sizes on the Yucatan peninsula. Really. Here are three options for you to consider, along with their advantages and disadvantages, to help you decide which cenote is right for you. Sounds like a commercial for pain killers: "Ask your travel professional if cenotes are right for you!"

Dzibilchaltun

This is the cenote at Dzibilchaltun, during our dry season and before the tourists arrive.
Note the clear blue color!

There is a cenote at Dzibilchaltun, but it is not the cave like cenote you are searching for; rather, it is almost like a swimming pool, complete with a shallow end and a deep (a very deep) end. There are also water lillies growing in it. Small, harmless, black fish will exfoliate your skin for free. This is a very expensive treatment in Asia so take advantage of it while you are here.

Advantages

  • close to Progreso, only a 30 minute drive to get there
  • ruins on site so you can combine a taste of Mayan culture and a refreshing swim
  • relatively easy access to the water ie. no stairs, no ladders, no ropes to swing down on
  • free exfoliation
  • very photogenic

Disadvantages

  • close to Progreso, which means every Tom, Dick and Harry from the ship may well be here with you
  • ruins on site which means you pay to play, probably a little more than at a site where it is just the cenote
  • not a cave so not as spectacular as some of the others
  • did I mention it would be crowded

Chunkanan

This is cenote number two on the Chunkanan tour. Getting in is easy - just
jump in from this platform, getting out is a little more tricky!
These are three cenotes also known as the Cuzama cenotes. First a little history and local gossip. A few years ago, the tiny village of Chunkanan, a former henequen (sisal) plantation town, came up with the idea of exploiting the cenotes they had in their back yards and created the horse-drawn tour that everyone reads about and loves. The mayor of nearby Cuzama, envious of all the vehicles and tourists passing through his town but not stopping on their way to Chunkanan, realized that the cenotes were on public land and so he could also exploit them, and created his own access point to the cenotes, using the same narrow-gauge rail system to move visitors in and out of the jungle. Which is fine. Except he went a step further and placed a stop sign on the highway to Chunkanan and a red-flag-waving man to stop vehicles. Of course the vehicles did stop and visitors were told that the official entrance to the cenotes was this one and that the Chunkanan entry point was closed, thereby killing the business for the folks at Chunkanan who were wondering what the heck happened. After some conflict, a few fistfights and an uneasy truce, the two access points remain and you can see the red flag waving man stopping cars, and just beyond him, the fellows from Chunkanan waving you on.

Advantages

  • A great experience, with the horse drawn rail platform known as a "truck" pulling you along the 9 kilometers of track
  • three beautiful, spectacular, cenotes to swim in 
  • exceedingly photogenic
  • probably the highlight of your cruise for sheer WOW factor
  • a chance to observe local politics close up and personal
  • far less chance of running into fellow cruisers at this location

Disadvantages
  • 90 minute drive from Progreso (and a 90 minute drive back)
  • usually only two of the three cenotes can be visited due to time constraints
  • increasingly crowded as more and more people come to the cenotes (July, August, December and Easter are horrific)
  • the first two cenotes now feature stairs to a platform below. From there access to the water at the first cenote is easy enough, but the second one requires a little dexterity with foot placement on rocks while holding a rope. The third cenote features a vertical ladder attached to the wall of a 1 meter diameter hole straight down.
  • delays due to traffic - the horse-drawn platforms use only one track so incoming and outgoing platforms have to respect certain right of way rules that can make coming back from the cenotes a time-consuming experience as the incoming "trucks" have the right of way. 


Chunkanan is ideal if you have no mobility issues, want an experience that you will talk about for years and can get off the ship nice and early.

San Ignacio 

Another cenote that has come up recently in travel brochures and online is San Ignacio. It is a pretty cenote that also has an onsite restaurant and gift shop. One of the more "civilized" cenotes in that besides the restaurant and gift shop, it also has lighting down below as there is no natural lighting coming in from overhead. They also have a website: http://www.cenotesanignacio.com/

Advantages:

  • very civilized cenote experience
  • the possibility of having a nice lunch there as well as shopping for a souvenir or two
  • only 60 minutes from Progreso so closer than Chunkanan

Disadvantages
  • the cenote is very small so if there are more than 5 people there at a time, it will feel crowded
  • it is about a 60 minute drive from Progreso so further than Dzibilchaltun
  • not much else to do in the area

Other options

There are, as mentioned previously, thousands of cenotes in the Yucatan. If you want to organize something off the beaten track (literally) and explore the magical Yucatan jungle, please send us an email and we will prepare a customized, personal cenote experience that will make your trip unforgettable.




Saturday, August 18, 2012

Happy Guest Comments


"Pierre and Andrea's guests had a WONDERFUL day with you!! You did it once again! Your traveling magic!"

- After taking a lovely couple from France around the Puuc Route -

Monday, July 16, 2012

Happy Guest Comments!

This month, Erica and family came in to Progreso on the Carnival cruise ship and we took them to the cenotes of Chunkanan! Here's what they had to say:


Hello!
 
We had such a wonderful day with Saul at the cenotes! The boys are still talking about swimming in the caves :) Saul was also an amazing photographer.... he took several pictures of our family and they turned out wonderful!
 
Thank you so much! It was great to meet you and if we make it back to Progresso, you will be my first call :)
 
-Erica

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Tours out of Cancun! Happy Guest Comments!!

Bob from California, who, with 3 companions asked us to provide them with a personalized tour that would arrive early at Chichen Itza (before the crowds) has this to say about his trip:


Our trip was wonderful and well worth the price.  We left at 6:15 and were at Chichen Itza at 8:00, the only folks at the site.  We had an intimate tour of the site and it felt like they had shut out everyone else but us.  We could clearly hear our guide, could shot our pictures without waiting for others to get there photos or get badgered by the local vendors.  We had read that the problem with Chichen Itza was that  tourists were constantly harassed by the locals, and when we were there they so busy setting up for the herds that would follow, we never got a single vendor asking us to buy anything.  The personal nature of our experience was made clear the following day when we went on a bus tour out of Cancun.  We got picked at 7:00 am, taken to a bus depot and sorted, then driven to another Mayan site.  We did not even leave the bus depot until 9:00 and did not arrive until nearly 11:00.  

Following Chichen Itza, we went to a cenote and were once again able to enjoy it all to ourselves. It was beautiful and tranquil.  This is not the cenote that the hoards go to, and was once again a very intimate experience.  The Yucatan food was wonderful and we all ate way more than we should have.  The lime soup, the pork, hot sause, and the beer were all good.

We finished with a trip to the jungle site of Coba and got to climb the pyramid there.  It was a great comparison between the pristine site at Chichen Itza and the unexcavated site of Coba was stark.  A great day!  We all agreed that we would do it all again and it was a special experience.  

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Happy Guest Comments!



The William Lawson tour was just what all our friends in Merida said it
would be. We were told again and again about how engaging and warm Ralf
is, and it was true. He also knows the peninsula like the back of his
hand. If you had an old college friend who had moved to Yucatan 20 years
before, the tour would be no different.
We made up our own tour: We really just wanted to see some of the beach
communities, and I wasn't ready to take a bus or cab. Ralf gave us a
casual drive up to the coast, with impromptu diversions to haciendas and
neighborhoods along the way.
When we got to Progreso, we veered right and drove all the way to San
Benito and Telchac, and he even had a caretaker show us around a new
resort development, a completely spontaneous move, and completely beyond
the call of duty. Then, back to Progreso, where we had lunch at Eladio's
beachfront bar, and he showed us how to get the most out of the menu,
ordering a round of beers and waiting for la botana and ordering a single
fried whole fish to share for fresh fish tacos.
He had also arranged with the gods to keep the skies sunny and clear, at
no extra charge. It was a good day, and one we'll never forget. We learned
tons.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Happy Guest Comments

After months of e-mailing back and forth figuring out what we wanted to do, where we wanted to go, etc. we finally settled on a loose itinerary and paid our deposit via PayPal...easy peasy. We spent a fabulous week in Playa del Carmen prior to heading to Valladolid for a few days, and then made arrangement with Ralf at Lawsons to pick us up in Izamal to drive us into Mérida. We met him at Kinich restaurant and had a pleasant comfortable drive into the city, chatting just like old friends. We were dropped off at our hotel, Luz en Yucatan, with plans set for our driver, Saul, to pick us up the next morning for our tour.

Saul arrived promptly at 8 a.m. and we were on the road for our adventure! As we meandered through the narrow streets of Mérida on our way out of town, Saul pointed out various landmarks, buildings, interesting things, etc. Very informative. He's originally from Mexico City but has lived in the area for years and truly knows his stuff...better than any travel guidebook. Our first stop was at the market in Uman. The market is only open in the mornings apparently, so we made a quick stop to check out all the vendors. The market is quite large and is comprised of vendor stalls both inside and outside. We bought bananas, apples, fresh peanuts and pumpkin seeds. There was also people selling tacos, cochinita pibil, fresh tortillas, and pretty much everything else under the sun! Hammocks, jewellery, clothing, shoes, leather goods...even animals! There is also a beautiful church across the street -- great photo op for sure. 

After we had our fill of the market we hit the road. Let me just add, we never felt rushed at any moment of the trip. Saul literally let us do the deciding of when we would stop and go, if we wanted to stay longer at one place, or shorter at another. We decided it was best to get to Uxmal as early as possible to beat the heat, so we headed directly there. We arrived mid-morning, but it was already 35 degrees! Yikes! Luckily for us, the place was next to deserted. We saw only four other people the entire time we were there...and no vendors inside the site. Since Saul is a certified licensed guide we paid him to give us the tour, and we're so glad we did! As I said before, he really knows his stuff. He gave us all the detailed history of the site as well as stories and folklore. It was super interesting and definitely beats Chichen Itza any day! We visited all the main buildings, even getting to climb one of the pyramids. When he saw me struggling to get up the last few (hundred) steps he offered his hand to pull my fat gringo ass up the stairs, lol. Again, we were never rushed, and his advised my partner, Scott, of good places to take photos. He also took a few of us, too. After climbing the pyramid he took us down a tree-shaded path to the exit rather than heading back across the whole site again in the direct sun. He pointed out various types of birds and plants as well. I'm so happy we chose to visit Uxmal -- I found this site to be much more interesting than Chichen Itza or Tulum.

Next we decided to go to the furthest point on our journey so we could gradually make our way back home, so we headed to the EcoMuseo del Cacao. Along the way we passed Kabah, and a few other ruins, but opted not to stop in as we were so hot and tired and just needed to relax in the a/c in the car for a bit. He did slow down for us to take photos from the car as Kabah can be seen right from the highway very easily. The chocolate plantation was great, with a very detailed description of the entire chocolate process. At the end of the tour we got to try real hot chocolate the way it is traditionally prepared with spices, etc. Very good. We also stopped at the gift shop to buy some chocolate, cocoa, and even chocolate shampoo. Saul joined us for a cold drink, and we decided to head to Santa Elena to have lunch. 

Ralf had recommended having lunch at The Pickled Onion in our previous e-mail conversations, so after reading up on the place we decided it was a must visit! Unfortunately the owner, Valerie, was away on holiday in Canada so we didn't get to meet her, but the restaurant was still open and the cook was awesome! We ordered queso fundido, gazpacho, and pollo pibil -- soooo good...and cheap! We had a great meal, and an even better chat with Saul about the Yucatan, Mexico in general, politics...just like old friends! 

The next stop was at a local Mayan families' home so we could get a feel of how these people traditionally lived and continue to live in some cases. We were greeted warmly by Hernan and his family who showed us around the various palapa-roofed buildings that make up his home. The first building was a small hut, for lack of a better word, that had a hammock hung in the middle. There was also an alter with various saints mixed with Mayan gods and statuettes. Hernan was so proud, showing us the various things, with Saul translating for us. Outside, we headed for the kitchen building where Hernan's wife was making fresh tortillas for the family for lunch over an open fire. She told us she makes 150 a day just for the family! We were offered some fresh ones to try, and then lead around the yard where they grow various fruit trees, vegetables, and Hernan works on sisal. He showed us how they traditionally scrape the sisal leaves down to the fibers, dry it, then twist it into rope. We were also shown how he's grafted two different types of oranges into the one tree so they have both sweet and sour oranges. My favourite part was meeting the goats and piglets they raise and getting to rub the piglets belly so she rolled over like a dog! Too cute. (I know these will be eaten eventually, though). The family was very gracious in letting Scott take photos of them, so we left them with a few hundred pesos as a token of our appreciation, though we never felt like this was mandatory. 

Back in the car, we hit the road toward Muna. The plan was to stop at an artists shop where they make pottery, but it was closed when we arrived, so we continued on and stopped for some fresh ice cream instead. Good choice, Saul :)  Next we stopped at Hacienda Yaxcopoil. This is an old hacienda that's partially in ruins. We opted not to pay for the tour that takes you inside as it was starting to get late, so we just walked around the public park area in the middle where we could take photos. The sky was starting to get very dark and ominous, and just as we were getting back in the car we could hear claps of thunder in the distance. Within minutes of driving away we could see lighting and then the rains came. For the entire drive back into Mérida we experienced torrential rains, so much so that we had to slow to a snails pace on the highway in places just to see the road! Cars were pulled over everywhere, trees were down from the high winds that picked up all of a sudden, and parts of the roads were flooding, especially as we got into towns like Uman again. It seems the storm drains here weren;t able to keep us with the amount of water coming down so part of the road were flooded up onto the sidewalk! It was something to experience for sure. But Saul was so good, very safe driver and got us home safe and sound after a long hot day on the road.

While we didn't get to do everything on our very ambitious itinerary after all, it was always our choice, and we never regretted a moment! It was just too hot for us gringos to try to do everything, lol. This just means we'll have to come back next year to explore some more! Everything from start to finish was perfect, and Ralf was a pleasure to work with in the planning. We enjoyed every moment of our private tour, and Saul is an asset, as well. This day was worth every penny, and I have no problem recommending William Lawson tours to anyone who wants a personalized experience. Cannot wait to come back and do it again!

Leanne & Scott 
Stony Rapids, Saskatchewan, Canada

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Day Trip to Uxmal (FREE BONUS: Mayan Tongue Twister!)

Got a last minute email from a charming couple about to tie the knot (maybe here in the Yucatan?) who were staying here in Merida and wanted to see Uxmal, Kabah, Sayil, Labna and Xlapak. This is a 12 hour tour, easily. I know I have done it with my photographer friends from Winnipeg.

Oh, and we want to be back by 2 PM. Um, no.

We took the highway and reached Yaxcopoil and who can resist a great hacienda right? A quick tour, some photos and then it was on to see the queen of the Puuc route, Uxmal. Here, the "quick" visit, immediately after enjoying one of the best espressos in the Yucatan (really, it's here at Uxmal) became a 2 hour extravaganza as my couple was enthralled with the excellent guide service from Antonio, one of the licensed Uxmal guides who not only pointed out the obvious, but also the less obvious. Did you know there was a fisherman of Uxmal? How about the naked slaves?

The Pyramid of the Magician aka The Dwarf. Or, the Dwarf Magician. Or the Magical Dwarf. 
There was simply no time to continue on to other sites along the Puuc after that so we started on the road back to Merida, stopping at a small cenote in the middle of nowhere to refresh and cool off. The water was of course crystal clear and a cool 73 degrees F.

Shot of the Governors Palace in the distance
By 3 PM, and after calling the hotel to let them know we would be late, we were back in Merida. Complete with street food in the form of natural local fruit popsicles, grilled chicken, fresh roasted peanuts and mangos conveniently peeled for easy eating in the car, this was a quick but also in-depth look at the Mayan culture in Uxmal.

And the Mayan tongue twister? It's right here:

video

Friday, May 25, 2012

Happy Guest Comments!


One of the "twin" houses on Merida's Paseo de Montejo

Hope you're doing well.  Finally getting some time to provide some feedback. 

Prior to the day of our trip, your communication was excellent.  Good info, prompt responses on email, etc.  And it was a nice touch that you called at the start and the end of the day trip.  Overall a pleasure. 

We had a great time on our Uxmal daytrip.  Saul was a good driver and guide - felt very comfortable with him.  He knew the roads, and how long it would take to get from place to place.  He also did a very good job as a guide at Uxmal.  And we enjoyed lunch at the Pickled Onion, which was your reco.

We made good use of the flexibility of having our own vehicle and guide as we ended up going to Dizibilchatun, which we never even considered doing until after we started our day. 

My only suggested improvement is that there be greater coordination between the schedule that you sent to me and what is told to the driver (which of course is Saul in this case).  For example, in the route that you emailed to me, you mentioned the popsicles at the Muna Pemex station.  However, Saul didn't know about this.  We ended up making the stop there, but only because I mentioned it and had a copy of the email that you sent to me.  FYI, the popsicles were good, and we also enjoyed walking around the market at the main square in Muna.

Thanks again for your assistance.

- Bruce, who took the Puuc Route tour with Saul - 

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Loltun Caves

The Lol Tun caves are far enough away to be out of reach to many visitors who like to "do" the Puuc route and all it's charms, but one can make a day trip out of it starting with the Eco Museo de Cacao followed by a drive through the orange orchards 1) getting hopelessly lost, 2) absolutely muddy with thick red Yucatecan earth or 3) both, while looking for the Hacienda Tabi and then the Lol Tun caves.

The drive from the end of the Puuc Route to Lol Tun can be a violent experience, especially if you follow the sign that says Lol Tun and veer off the road to the left. The road becomes narrow and is absolutely riddled with thick potholes that will shake you up and definitely slow you down if you are driving your own car and place a certain value on your suspension and motor mounts. These small holes will become even more craterlike with the advent of the rains which are now upon us, it seems.

It is however a scenic drive through lush groves of oranges, mandarins and lemons/limes, along with other fruit such as mango, zapote and mamey. The occasional farm worker will appear on the side of the road; wave to him and he will invariably wave back.

Once you reach Lol Tun you will find an official price list containing entry fees and a sign advising you that guides are not included in the entry price. Interestingly they are not optional either. You can't just go traipsing around in the caves without knowing where you are going (you can definitely get lost) and without knowing how to work the lights. Lights! Of course!

So you can negotiate with a guide there on what would be a fair price. The rate at Uxmal and Chichen is 500-600 per small group so plan on that. As there are no official prices in LolTun, the actual fee you will pay may vary depending on the time, the guide available, how desperate they are, among other factors. Not really a clear and concise system and as usual the government does nothing to make this experience better for both the visitor and also the guides (who get no salary, no medical insurance and are completely reliant on tourism).

In any case, figure about $600 per tour and try to latch on to other people to form a larger group - if you are a couple or a single person - to bring the price down.

Inside the caves, the tour is spectacular of course. A picture is worth a thousand words so I will let some photographs do the talking.

The welcoming iguana

Looking back at the entrance to the cave



These stones are all over the caves


Strange, these things hanging from the ceiling

Handprints on the wall, apparently from the Mayans

The guide at the bottom gives you an idea of the scale of the cave

Note the remains of a wall built to defend the Mayans against the Spanish during the Caste War

This area will take your breath away

Sunlight streaming in from above

Check out the two MotMots waiting at the exit from the cave!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Historical Stone in Tecoh

One of the more interesting things (to me) that I find when visiting churches and monuments in the tucked-away villages and towns of the Yucatan are the old carved stones with inscriptions in them, often in old Spanish or even Latin.

It is always a challenge trying to figure out what they say, as the writers (or carvers) were not the most literary people in the world and the indiscriminate use of the C, S and Z as well as the habit of superimposing letters like the D and E to make a word (DE) sometimes difficult.

This stone, lying around at the base of the main church in the town of Tecoh, has such an inscription. Who knows where it was originally places, but it now sits there, exposed to the elements, testimony to the complete abandonment by "official" authorities charged with the preservation of such historical pieces.


From what I can make out, the inscription on the stone is "Solo Deo Honor Et Gloria" for which you can find some information here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soli_Deo_gloria


Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Visit to Sisal

I must confess that I have never been to Sisal. Amazing but true.

Sisal is located on the western side of the Yucatan peninsula, about 55 kilometers from Merida. It was once the main port of the Yucatan, and all the henequen fiber left this port, destined for the United States and Europe. When it arrived at its destination, the containers bearing the stamp "Sisal" which referred to the port of origin, caused some confusion and people began calling the fiber sisal, a term used to this day.

What I found in Sisal is a little fishing village with a newly reconstructed pier, home to some cormorants, a pelican or two and plenty of vacationers (Easter week) enjoying a sunny albeit very windy day. Families strolling the pier, others doing some line-fishing from the leeward side of the concrete pier and still others sticking out like sore thumbs (yours truly) taking photographs. Near the beach the strong wind whipped up the sand which stings people's arms, legs and faces like thousands tiny needles, sort of like a really random acupuncturist going all out.

There is a decent beach, some restaurants serving the usual Yucatecan seafood options, a colonial building that was once a customs house (that's what the sign says) and a cannon lying on the side of the road. I didn't see any signs of a fort, but there are several colonial era buildings that are in complete ruin and beyond any hope of getting a restoration.

Here are a few photos:

The pier at Sisal

View of the beach from the pier

Fish!

The days catch, so far

It's hard keeping your hair in place with all this wind!

Families enjoying a day of fishing

Customs building from the beach

Coca Cola

The former customs building

When parking, be careful not to hit the random cannon on the side of the road.  You'd think this would be in a museum or something!



Friday, April 6, 2012

Chichen Itza and Yokdzonot Day Trip

On a bright sunny day, leaving Progreso nice and early, my guests and I and our magical driver Saul headed out to Chichen Itza for a day of sightseeing and touring the magnificent ruins, arriving just in time before the herds of tourists from Cancun arrived and the pesky trinket salespeople were still setting up their Juan Dolla (one dollar) tables with goods brought from Mexico City and probably China as well, from what I have heard.

Always interesting is the creativity put into attracting visitors attention that the vendors display. Some of the more commonly heard come-ons are "Almost free", "Only one dollar", and the omnipresent "Good price for you my friend", said with a confidence and heavy Mexican accent; less common are such gems as "Cheaper than Walmart" and "How much you wanna pay?"














Enjoy the photos!