Archive | May, 2015

Cenotes – Sacred Mayan Wells

31 May

The Yucatán is home to more than seven thousand ancient watering holes known as cenotes (sen-óh-tay). The clear, cool, mineral-rich water bubbles up through layers of limestone and has a silky smooth quality that wraps its arms around you. The wells can be found on private property or equipped with a restaurant and entrance fee. There are two large cenotes in Bacalar. Cenote Azul is the restaurant-type where I swim several times a week.

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Our Yucatan meander included three cenotes in the city of Valladolid and one in Ek Balam.

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Lisa finding a way to get into chilly water at Ek Balam.

You would think that at some point it would be like “ok, been there done that”. But the cenotes of Ticul took it up a notch. Thanks to Roman, our tour guide, we got to visit private, little-known pools of joy. His secret is safe with us. We couldn’t find our way back if we tried.

Thirsty trees reach for water.

Thirsty trees reach for water.

All cenotes were formed deep in the earth. Then the roof caved in on some, requiring stairs to access them.

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Once open to the sky, the water isn’t as pristine. But if the roof remains intact, a crystalline clear swim awaits. The second cenote we visited required a bumpy ride down a long dirt road. Roman left the best to last.

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I could have stayed all day.

This spot was heaven on earth. I am convinced that we will never tire of exploring the cenotes of Yucatan.

imageThe following day we we said goodbye to Roman with promises of a swift return. Off to the pyramids of Uxmal and the final leg of the great Dos Torta Yucatan Meander.

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Off The Beaten Path – Ticul

24 May

While waiting for the construction of our house to begin, the Tortas took off on a Yucatan road trip from our home in Bacalar Mexico, across the top of the state of Yucatan, taking in two cities, an amazing pyramid, two coastal towns and an island. With no real plans other than looking for local art and repurposed items for our house, we chose approximately a three week timeframe and hit the road. After leaving Celestún, into our second week, we drifted southwest toward the ancient site of Uxmal and decided to make Ticul our base camp.

Posada El Jardin

Posada El Jardin

Instead of relying on our guide book, we did a bit of Trip Advisor searching and found a wonderful little place, Posada El Jardin. I was especially attracted to the review that said that the hotel’s owner was willing to act as a tour guide. That’s how we met Roman.

Off on a bicycle tour of Ticul.

Off on a bicycle tour of Ticul.

Ticul is known for pottery made from local red clay. Need we say more? There is both original and excellent replicas of ancient Mayan gods and goddesses. Roman, a Ticul native also made sure we got good prices. He was a treasure.

Andres, shop owner extraordinaire.

Andres, shop owner extraordinaire.

There are times when speaking Spanish comes in very handy. We visited with Andres, a former school teacher and now shop owner, for the better part of an hour, discussing Ticul, its history, politics and problems. I learned that 911 had a huge impact on this little town. As security heightened worldwide, people were less able to bring home items purchased on their vacations. A city that used to see dozens of tour buses daily, rarely sees any today.

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I wanted them all!

I want them all!

A huge kiln used to fire the pots.

A huge kiln used to fire the pots.

Next stop was the home of Roger Juarez, nationally recognized potter and Ticul native. I would love to return and learn to throw pots with Roger.

A nationally recognized artist in the 1990's.

A recognized artist in the 1990’s.

Roger is a national treasure. I wished that I had asked him if this piece was for sale.

To keep water cool.

To keep water cool.

Touring Roger’s property that had been in the family for generations was a treat in and of itself.

Roger's backyard kiln.

Roger’s backyard kiln.

Ancient trees in the yard. Amazing.

Ancient trees in the yard. Amazing.

The deepest well I've ever seen.

The deepest well I’ve ever seen.

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Next week we will continue our visit to the Cenotes of Ticul. Just when you think it can’t get much better, it does! DOS TORTAS

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Flamingos Flamingos Flamingos

17 May

Our guide book is either really outdated (2010) or Celestún has seriously gone downhill. I believe it’s the latter. The “quaint” little hotels described were even below our standards which are pretty basic. However we did find what we came for – flamingos!

An evening walk on the beach to find the palapa, a palm frond covered hut where tours are scheduled, found a family from Mexico City negotiating for a morning boat ride. The captain told us their’s was a private tour when I inquired as to the possibility of joining them. One thing Mexico teaches is patience. After a bit of friendly conversation and some whispering between them, we were invited to join their group. Who can resist the Torta charm?!

Visiting Celestun from Mexico City.

Visiting Celestun from Mexico City.

Off we went the following morning to the Reserva de la Biosfera Ría Celestún.

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Seeing these majestic birds is truly breathtaking. The majority were pale pink indicating young birds. Celestun and Rio Lagartos are breeding and nesting grounds and one of the few places flamingos can be seen in the wild.

Next we were off to the mangroves.

A ride through the mangrove tunnel.

A ride through the mangrove tunnel.

We stopped to visit a fresh water spring.

Clear reflection.

Clear reflection.

You can see the water bubbling up in the middle of the photo.

Natural fresh water spring.

Natural fresh water spring.

For those of you who know the avid swimmer I am, it didn’t take long to climb into the pool.

One way of swimming my way around the world.

One way of swimming my way around the world.

The family from Mexico City, who didn’t appear to be the adventurous type, stood by in amazement as this gray-haired grandma reveled and played in the stunning water. They inquired politely about the presence of cocodrilos, crocodiles, and after some not too gentle intimidation from me, all got in the water. I’m quite certain if we hadn’t been there, they’d have returned home with a far less interesting story to tell. Haha.

Of course you can't pass up the lovely sunset photo.

Of course you can’t pass up the lovely sunset photo.

After an evening walk collecting shells, we packed our bags for an early retreat. It was sad in a way to find this dingy little town surrounded by so much natural beauty. Such is the enigma of Mexico. We were certainly glad to have stopped and if the opportunity arises to return, we will be better prepared and more wary of the expectations created by guide books.
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The Magical City of Izamal

10 May

When a place is officially designated magical, it’s hard to pass up an opportunity to visit. We heard about Izamal at the artisan museum in Valladolid. I admired a painting and was told that it was the convent in Izamal, where the second largest church devoted to the Virgin Mary in Mexico is located. Pope John Paul II visited in 1993, drawing much attention to this little town. Being a fan, we added it to our itinerary (of the virgin, not necessarily the pope).

This painting of a church in Izamal, the yellow city put it on our must see list.

This painting is of the convent  in Izamal, the yellow city. All buildings in the central town are golden yellow.

Mexico has thirty-six magical pueblos. Once a town receives this coveted designation, they get federal funds for publicity and improvements. Izamal is a day trip from Merida and well worth the drive.

The yellow city.

The golden cathedral .

Izamal was once a great Mayan city. In order to convert the population to Catholicism, as in all of Mexico, the  Franciscan priests built a cathedral on top of a pyramid and in a prominent location. The colonial town grew around it.

We found a hotel with a great garden and adequate room.

I loved this grotto and want to build one on our property.

I loved this grotto and want to build one on our property.

There was a great little artisan museum. Bringing our bicycles was the greatest move we made on this trip.

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The Mayan women wear similar dresses as their everyday attire. Young girls don’t want to learn the handwork and the art is being lost.

It's always about laughing at death or selling bread, take your pick.

It’s always about laughing at death or selling bread, take your pick.

There are a dozen talleres or workshops where artists craft from wood, tin, paper mâché, and sisal.

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Working in your own home keeps down the overhead and allows artists to make a living.

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Cotton, nylon, or sisal in varying weaves, patterns  and prices.

Yucatan traditionally produced sisal or henequen as it is called here. For this reason I bought baskets.

I bought this tortilla basket fro e nuns in the church gift shop.  The colors were amazing. I couldn't pass it up.

A tortilla basket purchased from the nuns in the church gift shop. They drove a hard bargain but who can argue with nuns? The colors were amazing. I couldn’t pass it up.

A new addition to my art collection.

Another addition to my budding art collection.

We will definitely make a point of visiting other magical towns in Mexico. Having the ability to take our bicycles made all the difference.

An update on our house construction – the foundation will be poured this week for Lisa’s workshop. It will also provide space to begin shopping for items for the house, ceiling fans, toilets, and appliances. Our builder asked this week to begun thinking about where we want the TV! We may get a house yet.

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The Mayan City of Angels – Ek Balám

3 May

Having visited most of the major archeological sites of Mexico, Teotihuacán in Mexico City, the Great Pyramid in Cholula, Monte Albán in Oaxaca, Palenque, Tulum, Cobá, Chichén Itzá, Tikal in Guatemala and many minor amazing ruins in our area, I was so surprised by Ek Balám. The site is north of Valladolid with the vast majority unexcavated. It almost looks fake, like a Disney replica. But it isn’t.

The mouth of the jaguar. Undoubtedly designed to scare off enemies. Very impressive.

The mouth of the jaguar. Undoubtedly designed to scare off enemies. Very impressive.

Ek Balám is noted for its images of “angels”.

Feathered humans?

Winged humans?

The detail is amazing. I imagine it was a pretty sweet place to live if you were high enough on the food chain.

Mayan hut.

Mayan hut with the angel top left.

Lisa points the way.

Lisa points the way.

We couldn’t pass on this photo op.

I wish I got the picture of one of these guys heading out on his motorcycle, loin cloth flapping.

I wish I got the picture of one of these guys heading out on his motorcycle, loin cloth flapping.

One thing Ek Bálam had that was unusual was a large cenote, sink hole. Lisa took the opportunity to zip-line across and repel down.

One way to get her in the cold water.

One way to get her in the cold water.

We felt very privileged to be able to take our time and really enjoy this sacred place. What was it like back in its day? It’s hard to imagine.

Next stop the magical city of Izamal. DOS TORTAS

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