CALKINI, BECAL, HALACHÓ, CHUC HOLOCH AND NUNKINI BY BIKE AND BUS
Calkini is located seventy-five kilometers southwest of Mérida on the old Spanish highway known as the Camino Real half way to the capital city of Campeche. Calkini’s only claim to fame is that it has been a half-way point for nearly five hundred years.
Prior to the Spanish conquistadors arrival here in 1549 little Calkini was a major hub of the Canul Maya with an enormous temple at its center. The Canul Maya emigrated from nearby Mayapan to the north in 1441 after that city was abandoned because of a civil war.
These Canul Maya were believed to have originated in the Peten jungle of Guatemala and were mercenaries for one of the ruling families of Mayapan, the Cocom’s who were one of the last hold-outs against the Spanish conquistadors.
Though the Spanish overran and plundered Calkini and seven adjacent Mayan towns making it their second largest Yucatan city by 1588 they were never successful in overpowering neighboring Uxmal.(1)
To this day Uxmal, just thirty kilometers to the east of Calkini submerged in a dense jungle interspersed with Mayan milpa farms has no signs of the conquistadors ever having successfully intruding there.
This is a very interesting and unique bicycling area that is definitely out of the tourist loop.
In order to best enjoy and get a good prospective of this matchless area I recommend that you travel to Calkini by second class bus that will take you on a two and a half hour scenic tour through the small off the main road Mayan villages along the way.
Catch this bus to Calkini at Mérida’s TAME terminal located on Calle 69 between 68 and 70. We nearly always return home on the rapid direct bus that makes it back to Mérida in about one hour. (Note; one consideration is the fact that the second class buses have no toilet facilities onboard.)
In the central plaza of Calkini across from the bus terminal Mayan ladies sell their home gown fruit.
Calkini is a clean quiet town with nearly no motor vehicles and only two traffic lights. In the above photo you can see the neatly kept central plaza and the city municipal building perched upon the base of an ancient Mayan temple that also is the base for the adjacent huge church complex.
Immaculate Calkini’s lack of street trash is amazing especially after leaving Mérida.
This new horse cart, the same as those used for centuries has just returned from the jungle with a load of firewood, leña delivered to a bakery, panaderia in downtown Calkini
The lady manager of the government sponsored “ISSSTE” store of Calkini makes a fashion statement. These stores are usually located in areas where privately owned stores don’t adequately meet the local needs. This store happens to be built into the side of a Mayan pyramid directly in the city center.
Here on a typical side street of Calkini you can see in the background the public school artfully painted with cartoon characters and the patio that Jane is standing on is composed of facing stones harvested from an ancient Mayan temple. Note the lack of motor vehicles and the amount of street traffic.
In our quest for a bicycle route the 24 kilometers from Calkini through the jungle to the Mayan ruins of Uxmal (2) we encountered this lovely lady. Doña Ana who has lived on Calle 23, the route to Uxmal all her life and is the caretaker of a small chapel on that same street a half kilometer from her home.
The conversation gets animated with Doña Ana as she expounds about the wild jungle.
Doña Ana explains to Jane that a guide will be required for transiting the jungle/milpa trail to Uxmal and her brother might be available. Another word of caution was not to travel in the out-back with only two unarmed persons because it is too dangerous. A machete for snakes and a mountain bike with fat puncture resistant tires and extra tubes are recommended also because of all of the thorny vegetation that most certainly will cause flat tires.
Bread and sweet rolls make the rounds of the city streets in the afternoon at coffee time.
This is the Calkini government building that is built upon the city center Mayan pyramid that it shares with the Church complex and the ISSSTE store. The building is constructed from materials taken from the pyramid and like the rest of the city is neatly kept.
The reason you don’t see any tourists is because there are none.
Our hotel Milo, one of four in Calkini is clean airy and bicycle friendly
Calkini abounds with photo opportunities unchanged since colonial times.
The Calkini church was begun in the 16th century and added onto in the 17th and 18th centuries. Read about the fascinating history in the recommended book Mayan Missions.
Jane and I can ride our bikes off the street and directly into our room and Hotel Milo.
Our first stop on our 40 kilometer Calkini area bike trip is in the little town of Becal that is distinguished for Panama hats make from a tender young palm leaf known as Jipi. Other interesting novelties like the miniature trinkets that include minute Panama hats of Jipi used as earrings are sold here. Twenty-five years ago Jane purchased a set of those little Panama hat earrings that she has loved all these years and now came back to renew them. Only young eyes can perform the intricate work of weaving these miniature items.
The ladies that weave these Jipi items do their work down in damp caves beneath the city where their materials will not dry out while they are being worked on and they invite visitors, so come and take a look.
This is one of several shops selling Panama hats and other Jipi trinkets in Becal.
Little Becal is tourist free and has no stop lights which has a great appeal to Jane and I as we do our five town bicycle loop tour.
Bicycle traffic out numbers all other here and this biker had to stop me to tell of his twenty years living in New York City where he left because he claimed it was no longer safe.
Jane and I found the hidden Becal municipal market a couple of blocks off the main street and had our taco breakfast there. It was just ho-hum but we got fed and for a town that doesn’t cater to tourists it was nice to find a selection of eateries.
Gold leaf and ornate painting adorn the Becal church also built from material reclaimed from a Mayan temple.
The central plaza, zocolo of Becal proudly displays their claim to fame, Panama hats.
Crossing the border back into Yucatan on our five city loop trip the departing sign says; “Campeche the hidden treasure of Mexico, we await your return.”
The border guards between Campeche and Yucatan have real fire-power but turn out to be jovial and friendly, to us bikers anyway.
Our next stop is quiet little Halachó with no stop lights where they are having a street-fair that takes over the downtown. There are few motor vehicles in town
Little Halachó has an exquisitely appointed and meticulously kept church called “Santiago Matamoros” which means literally; St. James the Moor slayer. I have to give it to the Spanish for being up-front when it comes to their xenophobic hate-mongering. They carried on a nearly 700 year war ultimately driving the Moors out of the Iberian Peninsula and still keep the battle fervor hot.
Here you can see Santiago Matamoros, St. James the Moor slayer triumphantly in action as he treads beneath his gallant white steed a dead or dying Moor.
Polished to perfection the Santiago Matamoros church does not put on an ostentatious show to attract tourists.
Read the fascinating history of these ancient churches in the book; Mayan Missions.
The central plaza and government building of Halachó viewed from the old church.
This old man boasted that his father had come to Yucatan to put down the revolution back in the 1910’s from the state of Gurerrero on the Pacific and stayed here in Halachó.
From Halachó our bike tour took us still further off the beaten path to an even smaller Chuc Holoch, a strictly Mayan town of very friendly and inquisitive people who seldom see foreigners.
This gathering featured homemade local foods for sale in this small zocolo park. You will notice the two distinctively different dresses of the ladies. The traditional huipil, a white smock type dress richly adorned with hand embroidery covering a protruding lace trimmed slip is warn by the mestizas, Mayan ladies. The other ladies, known as Katrina’s ware traditional western style clothing and are considered citified.
Jane and I quickly became the main attraction here with our big screen digital cameras that instantly captured these lovely ladies in their innocent seldom visited village. It is hard to find these isolated little gems of naive child-like people uncorrupted by big city.
This stop at a molino or tortilla shop know as a tortillaria in Chuc Holoch was almost worth the value of the whole trip because of the exquisite fresh hot tortillas toasted to perfection that were as good as they ever get.
Jane and I have our ears tuned to the distinctive sound of the burner that fires these automated tortilla bakers and instinctively purchase a quarter kilo to immediately eat lightly sprinkled with salt and rolled. Out in the countryside like this it is common to get corn tortillas that are made from locally produced corn from a real Mayan milpa.
This is a genuine treasure of Yucatan.
In the cities you more than likely will get maseca tortillas made from pre-ground corn flour of unknown origins and age. I call them, tortilla de cartón or cardboard tortillas.
Still out of the tourist loop we stop at quaint, quiet and clean little town of Nunkini.
Prominently displayed in the center of the Zocolo Park of Nunkini is this exceptional work of art depicting a strikingly beautiful Mayan woman proudly holding their staff-of-life, corn.
The busiest intersection of Nunkini has a sleeping dog in the street and tri-cycle taxis waiting for customers under the shade of a giant cieba tree.
Nunkini like most towns in this part of the world have their street venders selling home grown fruit and often home cooked local items such as pork or chicken tacos or tamales wrapped in banana leaves known as vaporcitos.
If you have a peso or two you will always find something interesting and delicious to eat here.
Gliding back onto Calkini we complete our 40 kilometer five town outing and before the bikes are put away for the evening we had covered 50 lovely and quiet kilometers. Check out the amount of traffic on the city streets.
It is well worth the effort to find these isolated out-of-the-way places that make bicycle touring truly a joyous event.
Our hotel Milo was so quiet that we can hardly believe that we are still in Mexico, let alone the Yucatan.
In the morning we boarded the direct ATS bus back to Mérida and were there in about one hour.
After two nights and three action packed days it seemed like we had been gone for three weeks.
This end of the world has more interesting adventuresome places to explore than you will be able to see in an active lifetime…so what are you waiting for?
1 MAYAN MISSIONS by Richard and Rosalind Perry
2 Check Google Earth to view the paved road from Calkini to Xnolan and the dense jungle from there to Uxmal. Only a trail covers the last 12 kilometers and is unmarked.
John M. Grimsrud Feb. 2009