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.