BY BIKE AND BUS JUNE 2008
Here is another out of the travelers loop road trip to the places that tourists miss most.
Twenty five years ago when Jane and I first ate in this Tizimin restaurant called Tres Reyes, we arrived by train from Mérida. Well that train has been out of service for over twenty years now but this fixture of downtown Tizimin still hasn’t changed. Over those years the town went from third largest in Yucatan to second largest and it is a mystery to me because the place has no alluring magnetic cultural attractions. To the north of town is Yucatan’s only real cowboy country complete with huge ranchos and lots of beef cattle.
Yucatan’s birth rate is the biggest in all of Mexico and that might help to explain this areas population explosion.
The towns we visited this trip don’t even make the feeblest of attempts to attract tourists.
The façade of this 1588 Tizimin Tres Reyes or Los Santos Reyes church is totally devoid of adornments and unpretentious to the point of being downright drab. Some years ago sitting upon the top was a small simple cross but even that has been taken down now.
Restoration within has produced some photo opportunities like the gilt retablo, the now encased Tres Reyes, the carved pulpit and below neatly refurbished statuary.
Here comes tropical wave number five that will dump tons of rain in Tizimin this night. The tropical waves are numbered beginning with the hurricane season that starts June first and hurricanes are named.
Jane and I planned our out of town excursion to coincide with these tropical waves that seem to appear every three days this season. Global warming and the thirty percent decline in the Gulf Stream Caribbean water flow that transports its heat north to Europe now leaves all that extra warmth here totally upsetting our weather patterns. The problem was that these tropical waves took several days to clear out and then there would appear the next one. Well we positively lucked out and did not get rained on one time in five days on the road, though every afternoon and night deluges of rain flooded Yucatan.
We were well satisfied with our lovely and immaculately clean Tizimin accommodations that overlooked a splendid tropical garden courtyard. The place was quiet and centrally located with very agreeable bicycle parking.
The twenty first century may have arrived but it hasn’t impacted Tizimin totally. At the bus terminal you can still hire this hand drawn cargo cart to lug your luggage home.
Half way from Tizimin to Mérida is located this quaint little and seldom visited out of the tourist loop town of Buctzotz. If avoidance of tourist traps in a place with no traffic lights or franchise eateries is your objective, this could be worthy of your consideration. The area topography is nondescript at best being a low flat plain sparsely wooded by squat scrub that tends to have spiny pickers on everything in the wild. Heading west from here across the rest of northern Yucatan you can expect more of the same uninterestingly monotones low semi arid bush countryside. It makes for good bicycling if you take the seldom traveled back roads but the only sights and points of interest are the small towns with their Mayan and Colonial Spanish structures that span countless centuries. Every day in Mexico is an adventure and after all our years here we find this to still be true.
Our choice of accommodations is simple because of the limited selection. It turned out that this place was just great for us because of the ample spotlessly clean rooms with hammock hooks and natural cross ventilation. “Nicte-Ha” in the Mayan language means water lily. The antiquated but fully functional accommodations brought back to us many fond memories from our first adventures across Yucatan in the days of rail travel.
Civic pride is apparent everywhere you look and the conspicuous lack of motorized traffic makes us long for those tranquil times in bygone years.
Not elegant but elegantly maintained Buctzotz is part of the quiet charm we found awaiting us here out of the main stream of the jet-set world.
Every time we encounter one of these ancient Colonial period Spanish churches we automatically have to think back to the great Mayan temples that went to furnish their building materials.
To the left is an icon of the saint Niño de Atocha
In Buctzotz we were met with smiles, smirks and varying degrees of curious bewilderment, but all were friendly as you can see by this foursome who greeted us with more questions than a thousand wise men could answer.
This is one of a few mamposteria; (stacked stone) constructed buildings from colonial times that still has its roof intact. What holds up these bovedilla or stone roofs are wooden vigas as you can see exposed in the above church ceiling. Even if these vigas are made from the most enduring wood, if moisture is allowed to dampen them they will sooner or later fall victim to rot and cause an avalanche of tons of stone destroying the roof and killing anyone unfortunate enough to be caught under the bombardment. Every rainy season in Yucatan many of these old structures become saturated and even a birds nest blocking up a roof drain can cause huge amounts of water to compound the weight of the already very heavy roof and down they come.
San Isidor the farmer illuminates the nave through a bright stained glass in the west wall of the church..
Buctzotz main plaza is clean, quiet and well shaded, just the perfect place to partake of the unhurried pace of life that seems to have escaped the rest of the world.
Quiet streets coupled with a clean and well maintained town are rare treasures these days.
This is not the Ritz, but for copious quantities of savory Yucatecan style cuisine we hit the jack-pot here in this unpretentious restaurant across from the municipal market less than one block from the central park.
Parking is no problem in Buctzotz and we managed to get stuffed beyond capacity here.
Where in the world can you find streets devoid of traffic these days…come to the out- back of Yucatan and see for yourself?
Being a tourist in Buctzotz you automatically become a curiosity and these young men just had to satisfy their inquisitiveness because strangers were just plain weird here.
Early the next morning Jane and I cycled northwest out of town on deserted streets and into the open countryside still wet from the previous nights downpour caused by the tropical wave that had passed. The air was cooler and fresher but the humidity was so dense it felt like we were biking into a wall of water, believe it or not our speed was actually diminished. Our next stop was here at Dzilam González., a town that hadn’t managed to consume a Mayan temple in the city center after salvaging its stone to build their church and community even after nearly four-hundred years of continuous looting of material. The ancient church suffers from paint pealing apathy and speaks of lackluster poverty.
Destruction and looting since the Caste War of the1840s has left many of these churches devoid of any elaborate adornments as you can see in this meagerly furnished edifice.
Dzilam González apparently lacks whatever it takes to maintain its original pre-revolution, pre-Caste War standard of religious decadence. The local economy must have played a big part in the near stagnation status that now exists here.
Graphic statuary appears to be the standard here. Only with this picture that says more than a thousand words can I convey the message of these above figures.
Looking west out of the main church doors, it is apparent that even with over four hundred years of looting materials from the Mayan temple across the street, it still presents a formidable presence and a monumental message of those original Yucatecan’s.
Still in the city center and conspicuous from everywhere downtown the towering pile of stone remains a powerful reminder of the ancient Maya and their homeland.
Where is all the traffic?
Where are all the people?
This is not off-season in Dzilam González because there is no tourist season here and this kind of quiet tranquility would drive many to positive distraction. We enjoy it just the same knowing that there is still someplace on the planet like this out of the loop, off the main road that we can easily get to by bike and bus from our home in Mérida.
The Dzilam González government building has got all the paint. It still feels strange to find a town of this size with no traffic lights and little or no street commotion…we like it.
Biking down the road our next stop was at Dzidzantún that actually has made its mark in media hype. In the book Mayan Missions by Richard and Rosalind Perry you will find a wonderful descriptive account of the history, construction and art work laid out along with interesting sketches that make their book a must-have Yucatan travel guide. The book will get you to the places that made real history and are out of the tourist loop.
Over the years Jane and I have passed this huge structure often, each time exclaiming that one day we would return to investigate. The Mayan Missions book finally got us here.
The huge church was dedicated in 1567 and completed by 1580.
These frescos you are seeing here were recently restored and refurbished. Take a close look at the exotic art work depicting caricatures of animal/human faces like the dogs face sporting horns and human eyes. This is fascinating stuff that may have been painted by Mayan artists centuries ago. The churches of Yucatan were all constructed using Mayan slave labor.
Touted to be the largest church in Yucatan this single room is an incredible 250 feet long. Like most other mamposteria (stacked stone) buildings from the early colonial period this roof finally took a trip to the ground. A flat provisional roof was put on but that was a real esthetic setback to the classic style of the original design.
Over the years the building has been severely looted and vandalized but this stone piece was evidently just too heavy and massive to be disturbed.
Token restoration like this gives an inspiring sensation of the original ornate intricate artwork that adorned the entire structure.
This photo represents the position and size of the ornate art work.
In this photo Jane gives a scale of size to these lovely ancient frescos and the mammoth dimensions of the walls. It stagers the imagination to contemplate the colossal size of the Mayan temple required to furnish the materials for this enormous church that is over two hundred and fifty feet long just on the inside of the nave.
In this document it is not possible to do justice to this incredible building completely constructed of stacked stone. Here is a view of the adjacent cloister which is but a small part of the building complex. Come take a look for yourself.
In the town of Dzidzantún were located many of these distinct water wells with their large cylindrical cone topped gantry supports used to fasten the pulleys for retrieving the water. This style well was unique to Dzidzantún and now a large old hacienda is being restored adjacent to Dzidzantún named San Francisco and this well is a part of that restoration project.
We bused back to Mérida from Dzidzantún in time to have lunch at home.
It was a lovely out of the tourist loop trip and we continue to search for similar excursions, so stay tuned!
John M. Grimsrud