Thursday, March 21, 2013

OXKUTZCAB REVISITED 2013…TOO GOOD TO HURRY THROUGH

Oxkutzcab: A gentle, friendly and ever evolving city.
In Yucatan’s Magic – Merida Side Trips: Treasures of Mayab, we wrote about Oxkutzcab in chapters 2, 3, 12, and 14.
Recently we returned to Oxkutzcab to enjoy the town and note changes. 

Hotel Ix Chel is new.
 Hotel Ix Chel is located two blocks east of the central plaza.  It is spacious and clean.  Address: Calle 53, No. 91A between Calle 44 and 46.
The larger than life wall art at Hotel Ix Chel dazzlingly depicts Yucatan’s history.
 Graphic art gives Ix Chel Hotel a touch of class.

Another hotel in Oxkutzcab is Hotel Clásico. 

Fernando E. Buenfil Góngora made enough money working in the US to build his own dream hotel, Hotel Clásico. His innovative building techniques have brought marvelous advances to Oxkutzcab.
Photo:  Fernando is reading our book Yucatán’s Magic and laughing as he relates hilarious stories about several people pictured in it.   

Innovative Hotel Clásico located on the corner of 58 and 53 in Oxkutzcab has a selection of accommodations that are very competitively priced. Oxkutzcab is a fun place to visit and also very affordable.

Miguel Pacheco has returned to the U.S.
Miguel Pacheco spent more than twenty years of his life as a chef in the U.S.A. He has brought back to Oxkutzcab Italian style culinary delights that have world class quality but Mexican prices.  A few years ago, he opened Café la Cocina on the north side of the market in Oxkutzcab. 
Miguel’s Italian specialties and his Mexican breakfast burrito creation combined the very best of two worlds. They were not only savory but nutritious and sustaining.
Miguel’s business was good but the cash flow wasn’t.  His old boss from the restaurant where he worked on Lombardi Street in San Francisco begged him to come back to San Francisco.  He closed Café la Cocina in Oxkutzcab and returned to his old job in the U.S.  His family is still in Oxkutzcab and Miguel intends to return in a year to stay and home for good.  We look forward to his return.

This photo is from a previous visit to Oxkutzcab when Miguel made me happy. You can’t beat a creative chef who loves to satisfy his clients.  We miss him.
Downtown Oxkutzcab bustles. 

 This is the heart of Yucatan’s fruit and vegetable marketing where most transactions are for crate and truck load size sales. The spring crops of oranges, mangos, and watermelons are flooding the marketplace this March morning and driving sale prices down…a buyer’s advantage.
Quiet side streets.
Quiet side streets where silent bicycles and tricycle taxis set the ambiance for a kinder gentler pace of life…we love this place.  
Oxkutzcab is nestled against the Puuc hills.
 From this downtown street you can see La ermita de la Virgen del Pilar perched above the city.   It was constructed in 1697. 
Seven kilometers south and up in the rambling Puuc hills are the Lol-Tún caves.
This new modest little motel is directly across the street from the Lol-Tún cave entrance. All water is trucked in here and stored in tanks. Water wells are extremely expensive because the water table is down one hundred and ten meters, over 450 feet, through solid rock. 
This lady fills a five gallon bucket with water at Lol-Tún cave, hoists it on her head, and then makes a long trek to her humble home. While we were there she made three trips. The lady’s strenuous efforts give us a profound appreciation of the water that many take for granted when turning on a tap. 


Drinking water is a scarce commodity at Lol-Tún. With his tricycle Jorge Diaz pedals off to retrieve water for his small Mayan style restaurant.  
From November until May northern Yucatan is parched by its annual dry season. Looking at this photo of the Puuc hills and the tinder dryness it is hard to imagine that a place like this could sustain life, but it does. This area was recently torched and set ablaze in anticipation of the welcome June rain which signals that it is the season for planting and raising corn.

Read more of Oxkutzcab and other fascinating stories about the places of Yucatan that tourists miss most in the books: Yucatán’s Magic - Mérida Side Trips and Yucatan for Travelers – Side Trips: Valladolid to Tulum.
They are available in paperback and digital editions worldwide.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Chapulines?


Chapulines?

Yes, Jane and I sampled them and pronounced them edible.

They are exactly what they look like:  insects. Fried crispy and salted, they are available for fifteen Mexican pesos a cup. The flavor is distinct. I could make a meal of them if driven by hunger.


On a recent visit to Oxkutzcab, chapulines were for sale in the central plaza. The furthest bucket contains chapulines, next roasted peanuts mixed with squash seeds, and closest are mandarin oranges coated with a thick layer of sugar.  Lime juice, salt, and hot sauce are offered at no extra charge.



According to Wikipedia, chapulines, plural for chapulín, are grasshoppers that are commonly eaten in certain areas of Mexico. The term is specific to Mexico and is from the Natuatl, the indigenous language of that region.

They are collected only at certain times of year (from their hatching in early May through the late summer/early autumn). After being thoroughly cleaned and washed, they are toasted on a comal (clay cooking surface) with garlic, lime juice and salt containing extract of agave worms, lending a sour-spicy-salty taste to the finished product. Sometimes the grasshoppers are also toasted with chili, although it can be used to cover up for stale chapulines.

One of the regions of Mexico where chapulines are most widely consumed is Oaxaca where they are sold as snacks at local sports events and are becoming a revival among foodies. It's debated how long chapulines have been a food source in Oaxaca. There is one reference to grasshoppers that are eaten in early records of the Spanish conquest, in early to mid 16th century.



Health risks

Chapulines must be very well cooked prior to consumption, because, as with other grasshoppers, they may carry nematodes that can infest humans.



Read more about Mexico’s fascinating world of exotic eating experiences that tourists miss most in the books: Yucatán’s Magic, Mérida Side Trips and Yucatan for Travelers – Side Trips: Valladolid to Tulum, available in paperback and digital editions worldwide.


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Side Streets of Valladolid, Yucatan


Side streets of Valladolid are quiet and interesting for bicycle excursions. You can rent a bicycle or bring your own.
We always travel with our folding bicycles, which easily stow in the luggage compartment of the bus, or inside or on the roof of a colectivo taxi.
If your time in Valladolid is limited, bike to the municipal market or one or more of Valladolid’s five distinct neighborhoods, each with a historic church. 





Located in the village of Uayma, just a short bicycle ride from Vallodolid, is this beautiful church.









If you have half a day, consider biking to one or more of the nearby cenotes, villages, or to Ek Balam.  MexiGo tours is the place to rent a bike and do your own tour, or take one of their guided bicycle excursions. They also have excellent guided tours that visit points of interest at a sensible rate and in the comfort of an air conditioned van.


Toon, his wife Vivyana, and their guides have a wide range of language skills and are very well-informed on what to do and see in Valladolid and the area. MexiGo Tours (www.mexigotours.com) is located on Calle 43 No. 204-C, between Calle 40 and Calle 42, directly behind the big downtown church.
MexiGo Tours are the ones to ask about where to eat and accommodations…I assure you they will make certain you get the very best quality, location, and at prices you will like.




Special Treats in Valladolid
Longaniza de Valladolid, greased to kill spicy sausage, but irresistible and worth the risk.
Sosa Xtabentun is a sweet honey based liquor that originated here. Xtabentun can be purchased at Compañía Sosa located on Calle 42, No. 215, between Calle 47 and 49 in downtown Valladolid. 
Bizcochos, small bread sticks found in the bakery on the corner of Calle 39 and Calle 46 near the ADO bus terminal…knock-offs have become popular and are found all around Yucatan.
Tour guide books extensively describe Valladolid points of interest and the numerous hotels available. Our interest is showing you the other face of Yucatan; places away from tour buses and trinket shops, places that make you want to linger.
Discover more of Valladolid and places nearby:


Yucatan for Travelers -Side Trips: Valladolid to Tulum looks beyond the obvious popular tourist attractions, luxury coastal resorts, and the modern conveniences of big cities to discover the unique Yucatan. 
Valladolid is an excellently located colonial city steeped in history. Half way from Mérida, Cancun and Tulum, a diversity of spectacular side trips abound.
Yucatan for Travelers - Side Trips - Valladolid to Tulum is available in print and digital editions from Amazon.com. Digital editions are also available for NOOK and iBookstore. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Rio Lagartos, Yucatan

Rio Lagartos is a picturesque coastal fishing village on Yucatan’s Gulf Coast 95 kilometers north of Valladolid, 46 km from Tizimín, and 230 km from Mérida, Yucatan.  The name, Rio Lagartos, implies river of alligators, but there are no rivers in Yucatan. This is a bay or ciénaga protected by a barrier island. There are, however, lots of alligators and crocodiles.

Rio Lagartos is situated within the 60,000 hectare Reserva de La Biosfera Ria Lagartos (Rio Lagartos Biosphere Reserve).  The topography is low coastal scrub, mangrove salt marshes, expansive lagoons, sand spit barrier islands, sandy beaches, and fresh water springs
In Rio Lagartos the scenic bay front boulevard takes you east to a large fresh water spring known as an ojo de aqua, and a rustic picnic park.  
Most travelers come here for the guided boat tours that include; lagoon excursions, bird watching, seasonal migrating birds, sea turtle observations, Mayan curative mud baths and fishing expeditions. Most guides speak English.  Ask at Hotel Villa de Pescadores about guided tours…if you arrive by bus more than likely a guide will approach you at the terminal.
There is frequent taxi and bus service from Rio Lagartos  to Tizimín with connections to Mérida,Valladolid, Cancun, and Tulum. There is also bus service to the  nearby fishing village of San Felipe and to Los Coloradas, a sea salt production town established countless centuries ago in ancient Mayan times. 

To avoid crowds and competition for facilities, off season is best and also happens to coincide with the finest weather. September to mid-December is your time. Holidays, Easter and Christmas, plus July and August should be avoided unless you want very high prices and limited availability
A shallow ciénega or bay extends from east to west along Rio Lagartos waterfront and continues around the entire peninsula.  The faro or lighthouse is a prominent landmark situated on the northernmost point of the waterfront boulevard (Malecón) that extends along the entire length of the village.
Rio Lagartos is situated on the northernmost point of the Yucatan peninsula and their light house, with its distinctive group “three” flashing, is in the most northerly part of town.
A navigable marked channel traverses the shallow bay out to the Gulf of Mexico inlet.
Here is an example of Rio Lagartos most appealing accommodations at Hotel Villa de Pescadores.. From the bed you have a panoramic view of the entire bay, lighthouse, inlet, and fresh natural air flow that is worth more than the trip all by itself. An all day procession of aquatic birds silently gliding past on the gentle sea breezes adds a priceless touch of nature to this special place.    A spacious private balcony, hammock ready and peaceful tranquility is hard to find in this day and time.  The management, Felipe Gonzales and his lovely wife Elena, treat you like long lost friends, not just paying clients. 
Hotel Villa de Pescadores is as waterfront as you can get and surrounded by expansive wildlife reserves along the Gulf of Mexico. 
The fall season has the local fishing fleet outfitted for pulpo or octopus fishing. Most of this costly delicacy is made into ceviche that is pickled in lime juice. In the way of seafood fine dining pulpo ceviche is perhaps among the worlds finest…but it must be handled properly and served fresh from the fisherman. We anxiously await the fall season.
A special treat for us while visiting the sea shore is to prepare our own ceviche.
We carry a small cutting board and a sharp knife, spoons and forks…all that is needed. At the local market we buy limes, an onion, tomato and chili pepper – serrano, jalapeño or habanero. In the afternoon we purchase a fish fresh from the fishermen, fillet cut it in very thin slices, place it in a plastic bag or bowl along with chopped tomato, diced onion, and chili pepper (cilantro is a good addition to ceviche but hard to sanitize on the road).Liberally squeeze lime juice over this mixture. It is ready when the fish flesh turns white and is delicious. Eat on soda crackers or with tortilla chips.
This delicious meal is convenient, requires no cooking and can be prepared with limited equipment.
This recipe works equally well with almost all seafood…just make sure it is fresh!    
Sunrises and sunsets on the northern coast of Yucatan are distinctively enhanced by occurring over the Gulf of Mexico waters.

White pelicans find their way to Rio Lagartos every year. These white pelicans are silent giants equal in size to the great California condor. They are graceful and powerful flyers with a nine foot wing span and among the world’s largest aquatic birds. They migrate each fall from as far north as the Hudson Bay of northern Canada all the way here to Yucatan. Unlike their brown pelican relatives, these huge birds do not dive for their fish, but wade in shallow waters using their large bill as a fishing scoop.
Northern Yucatan’s tidal estuaries are home to thousands of pink flamingos that fish the shallow salt flats for shrimp and other mariscos. Their distinctive pink color is a result of a diet rich in these salt flat marine creatures that impart the pink pigment directly to the birds. They appear larger than they are because of gangly legs and an extremely long neck. Adults have a 60 inch wing span and are 46 inches long.

Seldom seen alone, flamingos fish together and fly in flocks long distances along the coast, often offshore, especially early morning and at dusk. They are not noisy but do occasionally honk similar to geese.
    
The coast of Yucatan has bird watching at its finest. Sea birds, shore birds, salt flat birds, fresh water birds, and jungle birds abound here. Be sure to bring your camera and take lots of photos…it is a great sport.




Where to Stay:
Malecón and Calle 14
Rio Lagartos, Yucatan

Links to places to visit near Rio Lagartos:
This coastal region of northern Yucatan is home to two expansive wildlife reserves, Reserva Ecológica Bocas de Dzilám – Ecological Reserve (mouth of rivers of Dzilám), and Reserva de la Biosfera Ria Lagartos – Biosphere Reserve of alligator lagoons.   
Being sparsely populated and with good quiet roads and several interesting places to visit it makes for very nice bicycle adventures. You can do it by car, bus or taxi, but cycling is by far the most rewarding especially with the wind on your back. Remember that this is the land of take it easy and afternoons in Yucatan were designed especially for hammocks and siestas.
On the infrequently traveled road from Rio Lagartos to Las Coloradas between kilometer 8 and 9 there is a culvert and nearby a small, difficult to see sign denoting 50 meters to the entrance. If you are looking for the perfect unspoiled jungle getaway with no tour buses or trinket shops this is for you.



In spite of the modern road you see here that links Rio Lagartos to San Felipe the traffic is nearly nonexistent. It makes a particularly nice bicycle ride especially in early mornings with the sun and wind at your back. Read more; San Felipe





  
Two hour express bus service to Mérida and less then half an hour to Valladolid make the out of the tourist loop town of Tizimín an ideal staging place for several seldom visited delightful side trips.

Nearly all the above side trips can be made by bus/bike and/or car.  Read more: Tizimín