Ruta Maya: Aislada y Solitaria

I am never one to stay still on my vacations. Cancun has gorgeous beaches and soft, white sand, but nothing is more mysterious and riveting than the majestic Mayan ruins a stone’s throw away.

In total I visited twelve ruins in ten days (listed in order)::

1. El Rey

The KING these days in the ruins are the thousands of iguanas! Interesting and sizeable ruins in Zona Hotelera which is quite low key. The column buildings are the highlight.

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2. San Miguelito

The ruins of San Miguelito has been incorporated into Museo Maya. It is a shady reprieve from the Sun and throngs of tourists. The museum itself has interesting displays of Mayan pieces from ruins all over Mexico, from incense burners of Palenque to Atlantis statues of Chichen Itza.

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3. Tulum

Tulum is special for its location off the cliffs and the deep blue sea in front of the ruins. Please see my Tulum and Coba post “Maya Limo Experience”.

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4. Coba

Coba reminds me of Tikal!! Please see my Tulum and Coba post “Maya Limo Experience”.

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5. Chichen Itza

It is undisputable that Chichen Itza is the most famous ruin in the Quintana Roo/Yucatan area. The later occupants of Chichen were actually the Itzaes people, who brought Toltecs influence into Chichen. The Mayans were peaceful groups and no one got sacrificed after the sacred ball game (no proof was ever found in any other Mayan ruins). In Chichen Itza, however, there is a carving in the ball court that the captain of the losing team being beheaded. Chichen has the biggest ball court in the whole MesoAmerica. A sacbe from the main complex also leads to the sacred cenote where bones of many people were found, probably holy sacrifices for the Rain God. The Temple of the Warriors also feature Chacmul, where sacrifices (possibly the heart) were put and offered to the Gods. The most famous part of Chichen is of course the Warrior (Kukulcan) pyramid, whose staircases are decorated with two big serpents, perfectly aligned so that during the equinoxes, it seemed that the serpents become alive and roam the land to give blessings to the people. The importance of Astronomy is further emphasized by the Observatory in the oldest part of Chichen with a snail-like top, commonly known as the Caracol (which I could see from my Mayaland hotel room).

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6. Uxmal

Uxmal is my favourite ruin on this trip! Labna came closed second. There is just something about Ruta Puuc architecture that is very pleasing to the senses. The pyramids are grand, no doubt. The Magician’s pyramid was built upon five temples. The details are just amazing. I love the lattice design, which represented serpent’s skin. Serpents are very important in Mayan beliefs. This design can be easily seen in the Nunnery Quadrangle. The work on the Governor’s palace and hidden gem-house of pigeons are equally amazing.

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7. Kabah

Before I write about Kabah, let me backtrack a second. For a Mayan enthusiast, Ruta Puuc ruins cannot be missed. The ruins constructed with Puuc styles visited on this trip are Uxmal (the granddaddy of Puuc architecture), Kabah, Labna, Sayil, and Xlapak. A typical feature in Puuc architectures are Chaac, the God of Rain. The Puuc region relied on rainwater, and thus, Chaac was very revered in this part of town. This also led to the constructions of grottos where rain water was collected. Chaac representation is the square face with long elephant-trunk nose. Kabah has an interesting arch leading to a sacbe (Mayan highway). And one can also see a big hill (covered in soil and trees) near the arch. I believe this is Kabah’s great pyramid which has not yet been excavated. The job of the an archeologist is really not celebrated enough. How can they recreate the ruins that we now see from a pile of stones. It is mind boggling. Kudos to their hardwork we can learn about the ruins.

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8. Sayil

The beauty of Sayil is the three storey palace and the 1km or more walk to visit the different parts – on a path, but through a jungle nonetheless. Perhaps it was not the smartest thing a lone girl traveler should do, but hey, it was kinda hard to resist. I am glad I did! What a treasure it was to see a stelae of the Fertility Goddess and also the watch tower.

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9. Xlapak

Xlapak is a very small ruin between Sayil and Labna. The theory is that all the smaller cities probably was part of a larger region (Uxmal was perhaps the capital of some kind). In Xlapak, one can observe the Puuc decorative architectural style from the three buildings that have been partially reconstructed.

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10. Labna

Labna is a total beauty. It is difficult to see from the photo, but its main palace is actually consisted of three parts with three courtyards in front of each section. The decoration is just amazing. We can see an almost complete Chaac, and the decoration of serpents is unique. There is actually a youth coming out of the Serpent’s mouth. The poor old man supporting the palace floor is a surprising find as well. When you climb on the top of the palace, one can see rain water collector. The watch tower and the arch are also beautiful. There are parts on the arch when you can see traces of the Mayan blue and red paints.

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11. Dzibilchaltun

Nothing is as grand as a temple of the seven dolls at the end of the main sacbe on a sunny morning amongst the morning dew. What an amazing experience to be in Dzibilchaltun all by myself for hours!! An important feat in this ruin is the 130m building. Here you can also see a remain of a colonial church amongst all the Mayan buildings. There is also a second smaller sacbe leading to a small temple.

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12. Ek Balam

Ek Balam is famous for its Flower Mountain Mask. I was told that what we see now is actually the original piece. The archeologists only cleaned it. Amazing details and designs. For that reason the main pyramid in Ek Balam has many parts covered under palm roofs to protect the carvings. The main structures near the main pyramids are still in rubbles. From the top, you can see Chichen Itza and Coba apparently. I could not see them :)

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Every ruin has their own story, their own architectural style. The best way to see it all is to arrive at 8am in the morning before the big tourist buses arrive. I really had amazing experience in the ruins. I was alone in some and had some alone moments in each of the ruins: the best time to soak up the sun, the mystery, and the fresh air. It was also the time to let your imagination runs wild of what the place would have been like back in its heyday. I love every step, every stone, and every story that goes with it.

¡¡¡Until next roam!!!

Writer’s Note: please refer to Mayan books, such as one by Dr. Michael Coe to learn about each ruin.

Categories: Mexico, Traveling | Leave a comment

Chili & Lime

Mexico is a culinary heaven!  There is so much yummy food that I do not even know where to begin tasting, and once I started, when to stop eating!

At the thought of going Mexico, my mind began to wander and my mouth to water. I was imagining spicy, flavorful tacos con carne asada or tacos al pastor or tacos con puerco. I could taste it in my mouth!  When I got to Cancun Zona Hotelera, hole-in-the-wall places like Tacun did not disappoint.  I went there twice in two days. The pork and beef skirts tacos were so satisfying. The mango margarita made you soooooo happy, and the parillada (a platter of pork, chicken, beef, and cactus), omg, was to die for. The chicken was so well seasoned and flavorful. The pork (which is cooked similar to Shawarma Kebab) was so juicy and to die for. With every bite, every gush of pork jus in my mouth, I was plotting and planning my return.

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The Yucatecan specialities, however, are totally unique. Yes, the Yucatecos also eat devilish habanero salsa and eat everything with tortillas (corn and/or flour), but the Yucatecan dishes are really something else!
Achiotes (the plant that produces red color seasonings used in Pibils) to the Yucatecos are like olive oil to the Mediterranean cuisines.  Indispensable!

Below are my favourite dishes and places (not in order of preference):

1. Panuchos and salbutes are typical Yucatecan food similar to tacos. The best I had was a USD1 dinner for two panuchos in Santa Elena. How good panuchos and salbutes are depends on the seasoning of the meat and hiw fresh the ingredients are abd how well done the salsa habañero is.

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Hole in the wall place for Panuchos in Santa Elena

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2. Cochinita Pibil in Chaya Maya

Chaya Maya is indisputably one of the best restaurants in Merida. I love the down to earth atmosphere and the local ladies making tortillas fresh in the restaurant. I tried the Chaya drink here (chaya is a meicinal plant with many benefits) and of course, the most well known Yucatecan dish, cochinita pibil. The best meal experience on the trip – hands down!

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3. Principe Tikul Xiu Restaurant

Here I had the best handmade tortillas ever!!! best tortilla ever! I also tried a bite of queso relleno (cheese cooked with meat in bain marie) and poc chuc (another famous Yucatecan pork dish). One of the best meals I had.

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This restaurant is so delicious! They have expanded to Merida and Oxkutzcab. They are initially started in Mani.

4. Pollo Pibil in La Central

I had a memorable lunch in a small restaurant in Santa Elena town. It is family run and a random non-touristy place. I had the pollo pibil. It was to die for!!! It was a long wait on an empty tummy, but it was worth the wait.

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5. La Buena Vida (The Good Life) in the North Akumal Beach

Not the most memorable meal, but it was a nice time enjoying the sun and the sea air with salsa music in the background and margarita in your hands. I did not want to leave. The perfect place to end such a wonderful and busy trip.

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6. For the garlic lovers: mojo de ajo cannot be missed. I had fish mojo de ajo in Celestun. It was flavorful and very light. Very satisfying!

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7. Chaya Tamale in Los Mestizos

Good things happen to those who are greedy! A detour to Izamal ended up in a tiny restaurant called Los Mestizos. I ordered a pork dish (similar to poc chuc – a seasoned grilled pork loin, but in Izamal style – served with blended beans – frijoles). And being greedy, I decided to order a second dish of tamales with chaya leaves. It was very interesting!! I love tamales, and the chaya leaves gave it a different twist.

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8. Sopa de Limon in Mayaland Hotel

Upon recommendation of a reliable friend with good taste, I decided to try the famous sopa de limon in Mayaland hotel. It was an awesome decision! I truly enjoyed every spoonful.

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9. Snacks!!! Botanas!!!

I eat a lot and I eat often. I snacked my way through the trip. All my snacking gave me idea of the title of this post. Mexican food is spicy and flavorful. And limes or lemons are used as flavor combinations in a lot of the food. I suppose spiciness and acidity combine very well. You can see that most of the snacks there burn your mouth like fire and it comes with lime flavors.

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There is no way you eat only one little morsel of these heavenly goodies: ¡A Que No Puedas Comer Una!

Categories: Mexico, Traveling | Leave a comment

Anuncio

Dear Readers,

I recently changed the address of the blog to http://roaminjuliet.com

Also, I am in the process of merging my two blogs.

The theme of the new blog will be about experiencing the World, and not only Guatemala (although that is where my heart is).

Thank you for reading and the feedback. Keep believing!

Peace and Love

RJ

Categories: Life As Usual | Leave a comment

Woolgathering

Just some woolgathering that I have done during the trip on what I could have done better on planning the trip.

Shopping Tips in Mexico

Look for arts and craft workshop that directly works with the artists.

A workshop de artesania en Izamal near the third pyramids is good place to go (bargain hard – i got 25 percent discount on my mask and it is still slightly more expensive than the Uxmal place and pay in peso and if you want to pay in dollar, bargain your exchange rate).

In the Uxmal ruin, there is Casa de Artesania that is owned by government of Yucatan.  Logical prices and good selections of quality handicrafts.

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Skip the markets and souvenir shops in Cancun and Merida and Playa del Carmen – unless you are ready to bargain hard – not worth it and mass production.  I paid half price for a sombrero in Valladolid main square compared to the other places.

General Tips

In Cancun, sometimes certain companies prefer dollar (for example, the Ultra ferry to Isla Mujeres and it is quite a huge difference – USD22 vs MXP310). Get your calculator and brain ready at all times!!! Cancun and Merida and Playa del Carmen have better exchange rates. If you will leave the main tourist areas, exchange to pesos.

For famous ruins, it is worth it to leave early and arrive at the ruins at 8am (ie. Tulum, Chichen Itza, Uxmal). In the case of Chichen, it is worthwhile to stay in Mayaland hotel who has an entrance to Chicen Itza on its property. Book your tour guide for 7.55am latest. So that you can walk over and by 8am you will be queueing at the ticket booth. For the Singaporeans, it is a kiasu way to do it, but nothing beats the feelings when you can take photos with no one around. You really feel the mystery and mystic of the place. In the beginning of the summer, there is early morning fog. The photos come out amazing!

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Sound and light show at Uxmal can be skipped. Unless you are staying the night at Ruta Puuc and you would like something to do at night. The show is in Spanish, and it is a bit boring to be honest. (I am writing this blog during the show lol). I actually prefer the 3-D show of Tales of Maya Skies at the Mayaland hotel planetarium.

Look for local places to eat. I find it tastier and the food is more catered to local tastes.  The local places are Bueno (good), barato (cheap), though the place is not necessarily Bonita (pretty) – charming for sure though! And the food is freshly cooked and thus, there is no worry of getting ill. And yes, affordable, delicious, authentic places do exist in Zona Hotelera of Cancun and in Mercado 28. (Check out my food entry to be published soon!)

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Isla Mujeres – the idea of renting and driving around in your own golf cart is cute, however, if you are renting by the hour (MXP180 per hour), for a little bit more you can get taxi by the hour and get chauffered around for MXP200 per hour. It is less cute, but it is more relaxing! And if you speak spanish and you get lucky, the taxi driver will also be your tour guide. It is worthwhile.

Shell collecting – the beach of Celestun has beautiful shells and some are in perfect conditions.

To swim in the sea, for those who are weary of the sea when you cannot see the bottom, swim in Cancun/Isla Mujeres. At Celestun, it is too sandy and one cannot see the bottom.

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If there is two or three of you, it is worthwhile booking a driver and a car and a guide who knows the ruins well. The convenience is priceless, and you can change your plan at a moment’s notice. Ecoyuc team has been very patient and accommodating. My itinerary has changed loads since the original plan. I have been paying at least USD40-50 for guides in the major Ruin sites. I could have just arranged for guide actually from the agency (extra USD500 extra for the trip, but he would be with me for 7 days). I am spending less now of course, but I am probably am not getting the full value.  Though I was told that guides sometimes will not work the extra time, and the clients will have to follow his/her pace. That is so not happening with me.

Skip the guide in Tulum. The place is small and the archeologists do not know much yet about Tulum. You can read about Tulum online or from books written by the Mayanists. The guide in Coba is not bad. The guide in Chichen and Uxmal were great! I got lucky I guess!

If you are into ruins, make sure you stay one night in Ruta Puuc to enjoy the ruins. Puuc style is one of the most beatiful design of architecture. We stayed at Sacbe Bungalows in Santa Elena. The place is cute, au naturel, clean, and very friendly owners (French).

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In Merida, stay near Plaza Santa Lucia or Plaza Grande, there are festivals almost nightly between the two. On Thursdays, there is a trova (folklore) show about Merida. It started five years ago. It starts at 9pm for one hour. It is a safe city, but I am not totally comfortable walking back to my hotel on Calle 57 and 68 (about four blocks away from both Plaza Santa Lucia and Plaza Grande). Luckily there is a hotel on almost every block. Casa Ek Balam, Luz en Yucatan, Maison del Embajador, and Hotel Casa Lucia would have been a great choice from location perspective.

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Categories: Mexico, Traveling | Leave a comment

¡Andale!

Since I am doing this trip in style to fit in all that I must see in a week’s time (private car and chofer), I have a lot of opportunities to chat with Juan, el chofer, in these seven days. Apart from exchanging ideas on our respective cultures and our ideas on the ancient Mayas, I have had some opportunities to improve my Spanish and pick up some Mexican slangs. ¡Está padrísimo! (It is very very cool!)

Being the only passenger, I also got to play my latin music, which spurred the comment that “la cigüeña se equivocó” when I was born, referring to the myth that storks deliver babies and it has dropped me off in the wrong Country in my case.

When I showed him my painting that I bought in Playa del Carmen, The comment was “¡Que padre esta pintura!” (How cool is this painting!). I have to say it is pretty cool. The Artist is a Tzuhutil Maya from the Chiapas region. It is showing the back of Mayan women in their traditional costumes and food and animals typical for the Mayans. I love the strong colors used and also the textures of the oil on the canvas. The painting is very alive. The lady at the Casa Tzuhutil gallery told me that the Tzuhutil Mayas made their own canvasses from Manta (a type of cloth – most likely from cotton).

I like Juan. He drives safely, he does not mind asking for directions or the locals when he does not know things, and he goes out of his way to make me comfortable. He is also chatty and curious, without being “metiche” (busybody or for the Singaporeans: kaypoh).

When I bought a big bag of “totopos” (tortilla chips), I ate two then put the bag away. Then I grabbed more chips, then I put it away again. After a few times of this, he said “ya te picaste” (the tortilla chips are addictive and you cannot eat only one!). The amount of snacks “botones” I ate was always making me thirsty. So we stopped a few times at various “tendejon” or “abarrote” to quench our thirst (small provision shops aka warung in Indonesia aka sari sari shops in the Philippines).

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On the evening that we stayed at a quaint and quiet town, Santa Elena, we decided to stop at a “cervefrio” – a place to buy cold beer! (Cerve is from cerveza aka beer, frio means cold) to help us pass time and rest as there is zero entertainment in that place (though where we stayed, Sacbe Bungalows was clean and comfortable).

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There was a day I was “manones” (heavy in context of mood, not fun, low energy), but then, a self reminder that I am finally on Mexican adventure lifted my mood and “me fui a soltar el chongo” (I let my hair down) for the rest of the trip. I had my margaritas and my sweet and sour botones, and all the food I wanted to try.

During meals I also always asked for habañero chiles. Nothing beats spicy food. And one time, the habañero chile was sooooo spicy, the kind that makes your lips burned and your eyes watered!! We call this type of chile “bravo”.

We also at times shared meals, so that I can try a few more things. I would always asked “¿podemos hacer una vaquita?” And luckily neither of us “es un cacique” (an Indian chief in the context that a chief is usually greedy and everything is for himself first). If I had done that and ate more than my actual portion, he would have told me “¡me caciquiaste!” (Just kidding! I would not be so greedy and he would never tell me that even if I ate more).

The trip was overall amazing! ¡Estoy contentísima! I had amazing experience visiting the Mayan ruins because we always started early. And we never had to deal with people “hasta la madre” (tons of people).

Still not convinced how amazing Mexico is?? What else are you waiting for????

¡ANDALE!

Categories: Mexico, Traveling | Leave a comment

Tres Culturas de Peninsula de Yucatan

Three cultures co-exist in the Yucatan Peninsula:: the Mayan culture which practices and preserves the beliefs of the Ancient Maya from medicines to meteorology; the Mestizos culture which is the mix of the native Mayans and the Spanish conquistadores (seen from the remaining haciendas and colonial towns such as Izamal and Uayma); and the Mexico today which has adopted many influences from its neighbor in the North in terms of values and lifestyles.

Mayan Heritage

As we leave the Cancun area, I am getting closer to the real taste of Mexico where one can observe the remaining few locals still adopting the traditional Maya living (from the Mayan houses, Mayan healer (curandero/curandera), and traditional clothing such as huipiles – mostly adorned by older women in the pueblitos (small towns).

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I visited a Curandero in Santa Elena Sr. Don Hernan. I did not manage to get myself a medical assessment from him, but he showed me the true Mayan way of living. He showed me how hennequen fibre was obtained from the leaf and how the dried fibre can be made into a rope for a pair of sandals. He also showed me the famous achiote plant used in the famous Yucatan dishes: cochinita (pork) and pollo (chicken) pibil. To make a pibil, achiote is mixed with sour oranges. He also showed the Mayan gods that are revered to by the Mayans. One creature called aluces / enano, a small spirit creature which is often misperceived by the people to be a molester while they work on the land/on the mountain (for example by making people lose their direction/orientation). Don Hernan does not believe that is the case. He believes that one just has to pray and throw some soil to his back without turning around and he will find his way back quickly.

It is amazing how in such modern age, there are still those who believes in the ancient superstitions and way of living. Don Hernan also grows many plants in his garden, and they have medicinal properties, such as the chaya leaves and a fruit which can cure asthma. His lovely wife taught me how to make corn tortillas. It was hard! He also showed us how a Maya house was built. The construction started with the four wooden poles and a rope was used to measure distance from the middle of pole to the point where the oval wall would have been built. For his efforts, Don Hernan has been visited by many foreigners and received an acknowledgement/appreciation by the Smithsonian Institute for guarding the Mayan heritage.

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Mestizos Culture

The haciendas all over Mexico and the quaint colonial towns, such as Izamal and Uayma, are witness of the birth of Mestizos culture after the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadores in Mexico in the 1490s. The term “mestizos/mestizas” refer to the offsprings of the inter-marriage of the Spanish and the local indigenous population (whether it is Maya in the context of Yucatab Peninsula). As the conquest spread and was sustained, local Mestizos and non-royal Mayans were given the governing posts, as they were loyal to the Spanish regime.

Although I find Izamal a very quaint colonial town and the best town I had seen on my trip, with its colonial yellow color buildings and immense church and monastery, I find myself not too enamored with what it represents. Izamal and Uayma were built on the destructions of Mayan buildings. The stones were removed from the Mayan cities to build the church and the main squares. The Catholics came and imposed their religion on the Mayans. As a matter of fact, the Izamal location was picked by the Spaniards because it was a Mayan city. Nine ruins are located in and around Izamal. For the Spaniards then, it was killing two birds with one stone: destroy the Mayans culture and impose theirs by stealing the stones from Mayan buildings to build their churches. The biggest irony is that 600 years later, some Spaniards I know do not even give a damn about Catholicism and about going to Church in general.

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Regardless of my feelings on this subject, Uayma’s church is quite unique and worth seeing. I had never seen a colonial church decorated as such.

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Another colonial town worth mentioning is Mani. This is the site where Bishop Landa burnt thousands of Maya scrolls and idols, thus much knowledge about the Mayans were gone. After that, there were two versions of the stories: 1. Apparently he regretted it so he started to document details about the mayas, or 2. His authority ordered him as a punishment to record details of the Mayan customs and that is how we know what we know about the Mayans.

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Haciendas are even worse in my view. I barely visited any and honestly, nor was I too interested in them. They also represent the oppresion and exploitation by the Mestizos and the Spaniards of the Mayans as forced labors. One exhibit in the Mundo Maya museum in Merida states that the laborers were paid in coupons which could only be spent in the shop of the Hacienda owners, which meant the laborers would be unable to save money to break free of the exploitation cycle and make a better lives or themselves.

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Modern, Young Mexico

The present Yucatan peninsula, is one of the most developed in Latin and South America. It has a functioning economy. It has created a larger number of middle class. In Merida, one can see more people owning cars and homes. New colonies (neighborhoods/suburbs) have emerged, enlargening the size of Merida. American restaurants (IHOP, TGIF, Starbucks, etc) and shopping chains (Walmart, Sam’s Club, Home Depot) are prevalent. Sushi places are getting to be more common. No one lives in the city centre anymore, except foreigners snapping up colonial buildings to be made into Bed and Breakfasts.

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Despite the adoption of lifestyle from its neighbor in the North, the mexicans in general still have a strong family values and traditions, similar to those of Asians. The children leave home only when they marry. Families get together often for meals. I find the Yucatecans very friendly, helpful, and respectful. They are quick to warm up to people (Guatemalans I find are more distant in the beginning), but at the same time they respect your space.

Valentine’s Day is also very important for them. The women expect flowers/dinners/gifts on this day. On this day, I did see many flower sellers on the road. And the restaurant in my hotel, Meson de Marques in Valladolid, were full of local couples celebrating Valentine’s Day. I was told this restaurant charges tourist prices. It was not great though, but it was the to-go romantic spot for the couples.

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The best part if the culture though is their music and dances and literature. I went to the Trova (folk music) night in Plaza Santa Lucia in Merida. The trova performance is on every Thursday night. The theme of the performance this week was of course “Love” for the Valentine’s Day. I loved the trova music by Trova Trio and the regional dance of “Jarana” which is of “Mestizaje” (fusion of Mayan and Soanish culture) origin. The best part for me was the recital of Yucatan’s poet, Ricardo Lopez Mendez’s poem “En Tu Cuerpo”.

No one can learn about the culture of others in a space of 7 days. I feel that I have barely scratched the surface, and yet I have gotten a taste of the different aspects of the Yucatan Peninsula. I am definitely coming back here – soon! ¡Ya me pique!

Categories: Mexico, Traveling | Leave a comment

Maya Limo Experience

I went to two important Mayan Ruins (Tulum and Coba) today in the heat without being tired at all – I even climbed the Great Pyramid of Coba as the finale (42 metres of steep, narrow steps). Thanks to the yellow Maya Limo in the Coba ruins.

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The climb was challenging on the way down. I do not know how a guy had her daughter on his shoulders and one hand holding a little boy. It is courageous on hand and reckless parenting on the other. People are known to have tumbled down these pyramids. The dangers are quite real. He must be Maya in his past life. The Mayans, it seemed would walk up these steps with ease with offerings in hand.

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Anyways, back to my lovely limo. For mxp190, I was chauffered around with natural air conditioning through all of the Complexes of Coba (each about 2km apart from each other). I am such a lucky girl today. There were very few people in Coba and I had many photo moments with no people around!! The highlights of Coba for me are the larger ‘juega de pelota’ (ball game) court, where it comes with a jacuzzi (for purification and not ice bath guys!) and the painted complex (where you can still see a deity figure in the original orange and blue Mayan paints).

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The best however, is the Coba immigration (aka the Xaibe Palace). The building below is located at a crossroad where visitors of Coba was observed and checked. The spirals of the buildings are for the guards to go around to watch all sides.

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The second best is the almost 100-km Mayan highway (called sacbe) from Coba to Yaxunah, a town 12 km from Chichen Itza. It was 10m wide and it was white in color (covered with stucco I believe). It has been taken over by jungles unfortunately.

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The Mayans were an intelligent and advanced society of its times. They were however the victim of their own success. On one hand, they were conscious of their ecological surroundings. They had gotten astronomies and the movement of the Sun to the T, which helped their agrarian societies. On the other hand, their blind faith to the Mayan gods seemed to give them a permission to deforest their jungles in their quest to build bigger and better temples. They did not only use the woods for the construction of houses, but also to burn limestone to make cements (producing cal). The Mayans never ceased to fascinate. There is still a lot to learn about them. All the mounds you see around the excavated ruins are treasures that are waiting to be uncovered. If you have more interests on Mayan’s astrological prowess and their mythology, check out Tales of the Maya Skies, a 3-D film on the subject (http://www.mayaskies.org).

Coba really reminded me if Tikal in Peten, Guatemala. The old cities were both taken over by jungles when they were abandoned, and only a small percentage has been uncovered in different parts, thus, creating “complexes” within the jungles. I am not an expert but the top of the Coba pyramid is similar to Tikal. When I was at the top of the Grand Pyramids, I saw jungles and the tip of the checkpoint building, which reminded me the view from Tikal Temple 4, where one could see the top of Temple 1 and Temple 2.

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On a brighter note, Tulum is also amazing in its own rights. It was a bright, hot day. And with sweat dripping down my forehead, I climbed down to the beach below the Tulum ruins. It was an amazing beach and sea with large corals which gave the Mayans protections from sea invasion. No boats can enter Tulum, except on the part that is aligned with the windows on the Temple. Lights would be shown at night through the Temple’s two windows, making it an ancient lighthouse, to guide any incoming boats.

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Tulum is a walled ancient city. Its walls were the reasons the archeologist called it, Tulum. Its name during its time was Zama, the city of Dawn because it faced where the sun rises. Tulum is very special due to its cliff location. A combination of hot sun, sexy Venus, and sleek beach must be a combination that is hard to resist for any tourist gullible enough to believe Cancun is Mexico (myself included) LOL. Tulum was dedicated to Venus as seen on the figure found on the main Temple and King’s Palace, and is also aligned to Cancer constellation/summer solstice. I was surprised when I admitted to myself that it did not impress me much. It was beautiful and amazing, but I did not feel the ‘connection’, the mystery. Maybe I was hungry and I was thinking of Subway (the sandwich chain) at the shop/restaurant section of Tulum’s entrance or the Starbucks we missed when we first got on the highway. NOT!! I really found this area is too touristy. I feel my Magical Maya failed to mesmerize me today.

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I still feel like I am in seventh heaven though!! The Maya Magic is back and my seventh heaven is about to change to the Mayan thirteen levels of Heaven!!!! I arrived at Mayaland hotel to find my garden-view standard room is facing the Observatory (El Caracol) of Chichen Itza!!!!

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SPEECHLESS!

Categories: Mexico, Traveling | 2 Comments

People, Place, and ….

Today is my third day here, but there are just so many thoughts I have on my experience so far. So I apologize in advance if my writing is all over the place.

My interactions with the local people outside of the conference and the hotel have been interesting. I find them warm and helpful. I found the Guatemalans more reserved and weary with strangers than the Mexicans. I was told that the attitude stemmed from the bloody civil war past. The scalpers and people selling souvenirs in ZH and Isla Mujeres can get on one’s nerves after a while, but they were much less insistent than the Cubanos wanting your CUC (this is the currency only foreigners are allowed to use and own – the Convertibles. Owning CUC gives the locals better earnings and purchasing power).

What surprised me is the fact that none of the Mexican participants in the work event really bothered to network with me. I guess I have lost my charm LOL. I actually enjoy that the male species here are quite respectful.

All is not lost however, I had my spanish immersion yesterday when more than half of the presentations were delivered in spanish. That was GREAT!
Yes, my spanish level is still decent, but actually the Mexicans speak clearly and they do not speak so fast. When I arrived in Guatemala, it took me a while to adjust. Guatemaltecos speak slow, but they speak with different diction.

And of course, I have seen very little so far, but it seems that the European looking mestizos are in the cushier jobs. It is a topic closed to home. I will probably not discuss this matter further to avoid any polemica on my blog.

I am sooo looking forward to Sunday and the start of my personal trip and to see more of what Mexico and Mexicans are all about. Unfortunately I will be on the tourist trail this trip.

This brings up another matter of course. Being on a tourist trail gives one a sense of safety. There are many tourists around if you need help. There are other potential victims of petty crimes apart from you (lol). The locals are used to strangers. There will be decent medical clinics. More tourist police. Eateries with decent or good hygiene standards (not that I care that much if you have seen my food posts! Dingier the merrier!). It is easy to meet people. But, but, but, the trip so far has felt so sterile. There is not much sense of adventure. No fear of the unknowns! Not that I am into death-defying activities, but an authentic experience would have been nice. I enjoyed my market visit because I came and left before 10am when the tourists start coming. But otherwise, I do not feel like I am in Mexico apart from the food and the language.

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Categories: Mexico, Traveling | 2 Comments

Mobile Merry Go Round in Mexico

I have had so much trouble with my prepaid mobile experience in my first two days here that it warrants a discussion on the topic.

Before arriving in Mexico, I found a fellow traveler’s entry on how difficult it was to obtain a prepaid sim card for foreigners as local Mexican contact info was needed. I already made a mental note to go through the process in a Telcel’s customer service center, however, because I wanted to save time to go to Isla Mujeres and hassle I decided to obtain mine through a small distributor shop near market 28 (which opened at 9, while the center opens at 10 and is located either in the Americas mall or Plaza Flamingo – both required extra trips) when I went there for breakfast and sightseeing. That was my first mistake!!

I paid USD 40 for a micro sim card which included 500MB data, 50MXP worth of local calls, no identity asked, no passport asked. The guy had some difficulties while activating the sim card but he did get it to work. I saw right away that the data works (apps notification downloading). Later that day, I managed to use whatsapp, facebook, and received and replied an sms to my mom. The 3G signals were not good but I thought that was because I was in la Isla Mujeres.

Reality came crashing the next day when colleagues could not call me. When I checked by calling myself via Skype, I received a message that number is invalid. I tried Telcel’s online chat but I got disconnected three times. I finally tried calling their customer service number and received a message to register myself by calling another number. It took me a few tries to figure out which options were applicable to me. Finally I managed to speak to someone and we got disconnected. The second person managed to get me registered (only names are needed) and I thought that was the end of it – NOT! I still could not receive any calls.

In a moment of frustration, I decided to go to Telcel’s customer service in Plaza Flamingo. They took care of it in one second. Apparently to call a mobile number in Mexico one needs to add number 1 before the area code!! I did not read this anywhere! The guy in the little shop told me nothing. He also failed to mention that the moment I leave Cancun incoming calls will be charged. If I knew, I would have chosen a Merida number where I will be most of the trip (he asked which area code I wanted so I just said Cancun). The charge is 6mxp per minute to receive calls, and free to receive sms. Anyhow at this moment, I was just glad I got it to work. And though I had to pay extra taxi ride to this place, I made it very very worthwhile by going for dinner at Tacun, a-hole-in-the-wall mexican eating place across the street from Telcel. Best meal so far! Hands down! Watch out for my food posts later on :) I will be drooling there.

Categories: Mexico, Traveling | Leave a comment

Isla Not-So-Sexy Mujeres

Highlight of the island visit: hold and kiss a nurse shark (tiburon gato). It was so docile I had to ask at the end if it was alive. And also chicharrones for lunch, in place of the local grilled fish! I love my pork! LOL. I suppose a hungry shark would have found me yummy and fatty that afternoon. The chicharrones were so greasy, the grease seeped through two layers of papers and the plastic bag (is that even possible scientifically speaking?).

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My thoughts of Isla Mujeres: touristy as expected! Visited Ixchel, a tiny Mayan ruin in the southern point of the island (I skipped the golf cart rental in place of a taxi so I did not have to worry about traffic). Beautiful view from the ruin to the Mar Caribe.

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The Playa Norte is nothing special. Full of lounge chairs, hotels, and restaurants. And some places played loud music (salsa/reggaeton). I love the music of course, but it is not conducive with blending with nature :) Been there, done that, NEXT!

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Ps. Love the conch weather-meter!

These days, the 18,000 locals live in the colonies in the middle of the island, near the salinas, from the original downtown near the Playa Norte. Electricity and water (both clean and potable) are all supplied from Cancun. This makes sustainability of the island’s existence always an issue to consider. The island really lives of tourism alone, now that salt is no longer quarried there.

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Categories: Mexico, Traveling | Leave a comment

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