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:

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


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!