THE PUUC HILLS ADVENTURE
MERIDA / TICUL / OXKUTZCAB / KIUIC / YAXHACHEN / XUL / MERIDA
A months worth of activities crammed into just 5 days by bike, bus and on foot.
The following adventure is told by captioned photos;
My wife Jane and I began this adventure with a 7 kilometer bike ride from our home in Merida to the downtown bus terminal where we packed our bikes in the cargo hold for the nearly due-south 65 kilometer bus ride to Ticul. (Above is Ticul’s central plaza.)In an up-scale coffee shop on the zocolo the owner, Luis Echeverria plays typical Yucatecan troubadour ballads. Luis happens to be director of the famous Ticul artisan’s ceramic center, (Arte Maya) where reproductions of ancient Mayan art works are produced indistinguishable from the originals.
One of Ticul’s many pottery shops catering to the tourist trade featuring gaudy paint jobs.
Bicycles, tricycle taxis and cars daily pack the streets around the central market area.
Lunch at a side street “cocina-economica” turns out to be the best of the trip and the price and quality were only topped by the service.
With our bicycles parked outside the window we partake of an eating extravaganza and wonder why we don’t have anything as sumptuous as this in Merida.
Low-key and unassuming the Zazil Restaurant owner doesn’t need glitter and glitz to attract his patrons just his fabulous cuisine.
Our laid-back accommodations in Ticul at Posada El Jardin situated on a quiet side street had only 4 apartments all appointed with genuine antiques and nestled under towering shade trees where the only sounds were from nature. Crickets by night and song birds by day added a special tranquility so very rare in this day and time.
This is our quiet cool cabin at the Posada el Jardin under the ancient trees nestled in dense tropical foliage and adorned with rustic area relics. After all of our many trips to Ticul over the years we finally found this unique little hide-away that suited our love of nature perfectly.
One of many street venders nightly in the zocalo featured fried everything.
The packed streets of day yield to a quiet and easy going evening atmosphere.
After 25 plus years of exploring the Yucatan highways we find yet another place to travel and are off to Dzan at first light in the morning when this end of the planet is cool and inviting.
San Isidro patiently stands aside as the three century old colonial church of Dzan is refurbished.
Church icons are stuffed in the back room hoping to be put back by Easter Sunday.
The little town of Dzan is surprisingly immaculate and well kept. Parking is no problem with a conspicuous lack of motor vehicles.
One of many different ancient frescos adorning the church walls that was very curious.
The facade of the three century old church facing west features a number of building stones with glyph carvings from the ancient Mayan temple it is built from.
Twelve kilometers down the quiet country road from Dzan is Mani. Mani is well known for the fact that this is where the sacred Mayan codices were destroyed by bishop Landa in 1557 just fifteen years after the founding of Merida.
Gold leafed glitter adorns the pious simulation of some Catholic ritual of this symbolic church that was one of the very first to be erected at Mani using more than 6,000 Mayan slaves.
Through these arches and court yard is the atrium where Landa burned the Mayan artifacts in 1562.
Glitzy glittering adornments and an enormous church now stand where a Mayan temple stood in this unusual little town that has the phenomenal distinction of being continuously inhabited for the past 4,000 years.
Under the shade of some kind old tree we take a pause for our morning coffee break.
A real bicycle path, “cyclo-pista” takes off out of town and through the orange grove country on our way south to this days destination of Oxkutzcab.
Above is a reminder of a very hotly contested presidential election last July where the populist contender Andres Manual Lopez Obrador, (AMLO) claimed victory and thousands of supporters took to the streets around the country for months.
A real relic of the past this ancient colonial building still has its prominent and stately carved stone door jams that speak of a more elegant time in Yucatan. The building now suffers from apathetic neglect and even sports a cheap little Coca-cola sign.
In contrast to the times the above palapa house is the same exact style as those in use in Yucatan for more than several thousand years. Now there are electric poles and a paved street.
Oxkutzcab market in the morning where you can buy the local specialty of “vaporcitos” or tamales which are chicken meat immersed in corn meal and wrapped in a banana leaf then steam cooked. The large aluminum kettle on the table would be filled to the top with vaporcitos and quickly sells out.
Parked at the zocalo and across the street from our hotel are the two buses that run every day from Oxkutzcab up into the Puuc hills with a final destination of Yaxhachen, a town of 2,800 which is the end of the road with only jungle surrounding it.
The bus driver with blue cap and white shirt keeps the ancient bus miraculously rolling along these winding country roads and up and down the steep hills in spite of numerous missing parts and provisional repairs.
In a small village the little old lady patiently waits along side the road for the bus driver to deliver her meager bag of purchases from Oxkutzcab.
Oh my God! We made it bikes and all to the Mayan ruins of Kiuic. The rattling old wreck of a bus makes a smoky assent on its way up to its final destination of Yaxhachen. We are left out in the quiet wilderness with the precious commodity of fresh air something very rare in this world anymore.
Jane walks her bike down a hill too steep for her brakes and the loose gravel.
At Kiuic we are treated to hand made tortillas done by Juanita who has many hidden talents that include her abilities with painting. Her blouse is hand painted. Birds and local wildlife are her specialty because she was born here and this is all she knows of the world. There is no electric and the water must be hauled up from a very deep well making it very precious.
Our spacious jungle lodging at Kiuic is eco-friendly with solar powered lighting.
This gigantic bromeliad is at our front door. All of the vegetation in this reserve is natural and uncultivated.
In 1840 the world renowned explorer and classic writer John Lloyd Stephens and his associate Catherwood, an illustrator who sketched many of the interesting ancient artifacts of the Yucatan and Central America actually stayed here in what remains of this palapa house.
This is one of the sketchings that Catherwood did in his 1840 visit to Kiuic and labeled it the “casa real” or royal house. I believe that Catherwood must have been a real rascal to name this place the royal house but judging from close scrutiny of his drawings I have found out that he had an idle mind and took delight in putting into his drawings many hidden faces…take a look?
This old wooden hammock fastener still protruding from the palapas wall of the “casa real” that more than likely was used by Stephens and Catherwood in their 1840 visit.
A new addition to the Kiuic reserve is this wooden tower perched high atop one of the Puuc hills that is 200 meters above sea-level. I am looking down from the top at Jane waving from ground level.
On top the tower at sunset, Jane, Monika Francais and John Grimsrud.
Monika and her husband Ariel Francias atop the tower enjoying the precious natural view with not a trace of civilization to be seen across the panoramic vista of the Puuc hills.
The wild Puuc hills with no roads out there only foot paths through this milpa country.
The director of the Kiuic reserve and our instructive guide, James Callaghan.
The sun slips over the western Puuc hills ending a beautiful day in one of the last pristine places on the planet earth at the Kiuic reserve.
Day two of our Kiuic adventure after a hardy breakfast our walking tour takes our group out past this entry sign carved from the local zapote wood. Zapote is a tree that played a big part in Yucatan yielding a white sap that is used in the making of chewing gum. Its wood is so enduring that wooden lintels in Mayan ruins countless years old still last to this day untreated in any way. The fruit of this tree also known as custard apple is fabulously delicious but delicate and does not ship well. Kaxil=forest and Kiuic=plaza and thus you have the forest plaza or gathering place.
James Callaghan, our guide and lecturer enthralls the group with mind stimulating and enlightening information. This is one of the many ancient Mayan structures that fill the woods around the Kiuic preserve.
A photo-op of our tour group in front of one of the classic ruins at Kiuic.
This 1840 drawing of Kiuic done by Catherwood clearly demonstrates the damage done by the intrusion of the rank jungle foliage whose roots upturn and destroy these elegant structures many of which have endured through the centuries.
International diversity representing the International Woman’s Club Merida; Jane, Cynthia, Lennie and Monika.
This is all that remains of the dwelling from the 1840 drawing made by Catherwood.
Jane and John Grimsrud the only members of the group to arrive and leave by bicycle.
This structure was abandoned while still under construction which could have been less than five-hundred years ago. Note the semi-aired tall forest unique to Yucatan.
Juanita who was born and has lived her life here at Kiuic visits us at our lovely jungle cabin. Her palapa home is adjacent to our cabin. She demonstrates some of her artistic talents on her hand stitched blouse.
This hand sketched drawing of the Mexican Virgin of Guadalupe adorns the front of her humble but comfortable home.
Above are two sketches adorning the front of Juanita’s palapa home and her self taught talent for art is remarkable.
Done on paper Juanita’s unique style has a priceless quality nor to be found elsewhere.
These drawings are depictions of flora and fauna found here in the high-dry jungle country of the Puuc hills.
Jane and Juanita stand in front of Juanita’s cooking house made of poles and plastered inside with the red sticky local clay abundant here in the Puuc hills. No materials are imported for palapa home construction that is the same today as it was over thousands of years here in Yucatan.
This is the main plaza in Yaxhachen, in Mayan meaning new-water-well. This pavement only goes two more city blocks and quits. Yaxhachen is the end of the road with only foot paths through rolling hills where the locals plant their corn and calabasas.
Paula above looking is at photos from our previous visit and below her husband Adalio home from a very hard 16 hour day of harvesting honey from his milpa out in the Puuc hills. These are the lovely people whose home we will stay at this evening in Yaxhachen.
Above are two of Paula and Adalio’s daughters and little grand daughter in front of their palapa home.
Adalio at his front door with his tri-cycle that he uses to transport his crops to and from his milpa fields. They have no motor vehicles and make little impact upon the environment. However their form of agriculture is slash and burn and soon they will torch the fields to make ready for spring planting with the upcoming rainy season that begins in June.
In recent years hi-powered chemicals have been introduced into the planting of crops that may have a severe impact upon the health of these people that take no precautions with the handling and storage of these very toxic compounds.
In the above photo stacked at the front door are toxic chemicals used in agriculture that emit noxious fumes that made Jane and I nauseous just spending one night here. To add to this witches brew of stinking lethal chemicals Adalio burned in a smoldering fire that went all night plastic bottles, bags and any other packaging that they didn’t know how to dispose of. As a net result Jane and I passed one of the most miserable sleepless nights of our lives here and ran for our lives before the sun had risen. Poor Paula, Adalio’s wife was suffering grave consequences of this chemical poisoning.
This evening before quitting time Adalio and I have many laughs entertained by the friends and relatives, acquaintances from our previous years visit that came by to joke and reminiscence with us.
On the road leaving Yaxhachen at first light in the morning after a sleepless night Jane and I bike through the beautiful Puuc hills that lifts our sagging spirits on our way to Xul.
Note the spelling on the sign; “no “H” after the x, you have to use your imagination when reading the maps and road signs…the standard is that there is no standard.
Early morning is worth the effort for biking here in Yucatan especially this season when the afternoon temps are on the rise. Note the conspicuous lack of motor vehicles.
As luck would have it we loaded our bicycles aboard a open pick-up truck with benches used as second class transportation here in the out-back of Yucatan and rode all the way down to Oxkutzcab from Xul. This turned out to be a good choice after our sleepless night and the view was stupendous from our perch crammed in with a load of friendly passengers.
Note; In Yucatan the word for all buses is camion, which in Spanish means truck and may have originated from the fact that these open trucks are so common for people transport in out-back Yucatan.
Our rollercoaster ride through the Puuc hills in the back of the “camion”, bus we rode to Oxkutzcab gave us another prospective of life in the out-back away from traffic and city pollution.
Our arrival at Oxkutzcab and downloading the bikes from our little “camion” or bus. Next it will be to the big bus terminal and on to Merida after breakfast in the market.
At the bus terminal to greet us is one of the tri-cycle taxi drivers who remembers us from a previous visit when he got lost transporting our friend Jane Morley to the hotel. This guy is special. He adorns his tri-cycle taxi with these paintings that he so artfully paints.
At the ADO, Autobuses de Oriente terminal where we will load our bicycles and bus back to Merida is this advertisement. What the sign effectively says is; “Mr. Que Mas” (A play on words, que mas =what more, but run together quemas means burns.)This is the burning season (here in Yucatan) so, get some distance so you don’t burn!
Well that is exactly what Jane and I plan to do and in a couple of weeks we will be on a ship headed for Europe with bicycles.
In our five days on the road we pack in a month worth’s of activities.
When we arrive in Merida we will still have a bicycle ride equal to our morning ride through the Puuc hills from Yaxhachen to Xul just to get from the bus terminal to our home.
March 26-30, 2007