We’ve just returned to Guanajuato from a 5-day trip to Merida in the Yucatan peninsula where some good friends have rented a house for a couple of months. So this will be a bit of a travel-post with some photos and highlights from the past week. But I need to begin by remarking on what a rich and varied country this is, and how little I know of it despite spending winters here for much of two decades. Shame on me. In the midst of news about drug lords, violence, illegal immigrants, and corruption, it’s easy to forget that Mexico is a complex country with regions that are as different as northern Ontario is from Vancouver Island. Indeed, our sense was that the Yucatan is a bit like the Quebec of Mexico, culturally separate for centuries and at times reluctantly “Mexican”.
We toured Uxmal, a partially excavated and restored Mayan city. Our guide, Pedro, is a Mayan himself who speaks perfect English, Mayan, and of course Spanish. His respect and awe for the accomplishments of his ancestors was contagious. He drew with a stick on a spot of dry ground to illustrate the precision of their astronomical calculations, since we weren’t there at sunrise or sunset, and it wasn’t either a solstice or an equinox (though close). Their architectural and artistic accomplishments speak for themselves.
Of course we all “know” about the accomplishments of the Mayas, but it’s humbling to see the evidence and to confront our arrogance about the state of our own civilization.
Post-conquest, the city of Merida was one of the richest cities in the world, with more millionaires at the turn of the 20th century than any other city in the world. It built its economy on the cultivation of an agave cactus used to produce sisal fibre. All this was news to me. With the introduction of nylon in the early 1900s, the sisal industry collapsed, but evidence of the earlier wealth is everywhere in the city. So is the influence of European architecture and style. The first road connecting the Yucatan to the rest of Mexico wasn’t built until 1956, so until then the peninsula’s primary contact was with the port cities of Europe. Merida’s Paseo de Montejo is referred to as the Champs-Élysées of the Americas.
End of history lesson. On to geography.
This was the farthest south I’ve ever been, anywhere, and the place is damned hot. And this is winter. But there is no shortage of water since the entire peninsula is atop a porous limestone shelf with many cracks and openings—which leads to the cenotes, deep under-ground caves filled with brilliantly coloured water. Through a series of coincidences (based on the six degrees of separation) we found one off the beaten track, without road signs or change rooms, or entrance fee, just a deep hole in the jungle with wobbly steps leading to the most amazing swimming experience I’ve ever had.
People who don’t have a cenote in their back yard (and who do have enough money) incorporate “plunge pools” in their outdoor spaces—not really swimming pools, more the hot-weather equivalent of a hot tub, sometimes quite elaborate like this one we saw on a tour of renovated old homes.
I took quite a few dips in the simple one at our friends’ rental house.
On a boat tour along a protected coastline of Celestum we saw thousands (really) of flamingos feeding on shrimp;
then traveled through a mangrove swamp to a swimming hole where salt water from the Gulf and fresh water from a nearby spring mix.
Still salty enough for alligators, apparently.I’m very glad nobody saw him (her?) until I’d had my swim.
Back in Guanajuato now, we’re eagerly preparing for Galen and family’s arrival on Friday for a ten-day visit. Be prepared for some grand-kid photos. And then, a chance to see yet another part of Mexico with our friends, Antonio and Eloisa, who are taking us to visit some friends of theirs in the state of Morelos.