Wednesday, February 9, 2011


You may travel the world over and never find a stranger or more interesting adventuresome get-away.
After twenty-five years of exploring the back country of Yucatán we find new quests are still abounding.
Here is the real Mexico that tourists miss most.
This route was the key that unlocked the door to a rarely visited out of the tourist loop places and began our three day sojourn.
We boarded a second class bus from Mérida bound for Chumayel with our folding bicycles stowed below. For two hours we sat back whisked along the seldom traveled back roads of Yucatán witnessing the quiet and quaint Mayan villages unaffected by the passing centuries.
Even at our leisurely pace we were packing a month’s worth of activities into just three days.
So, we invite you to come along with us and share this infrequently visited magical paradise through captioned photos.
Above is the municipal building of little Chumayel and the very small street market clearly out of the path of tourists.

Chumayel is clean, quiet and quaint plus it is off the main road and seldom visited. The small village is situated in a typical Yucatecan countryside interspersed with centuries old haciendas and ancient Mayan ruins.
Spanish influence here positively dates from before 1557. According to a map uncovered and copied by the famous explorer and author John L. Stephens on his 1842 visit to nearby Maní that designates the church site you see behind me as having already existed.
This was one of a hand full of churches of Yucatán designated on that ancient Spanish conquistador map. Little has changed here over the centuries in Chumayel except for the coming of electricity and recently paved roads. It is a biker’s paradise as you can see by the conspicuous lack of traffic.
Our little Dahon folding bicycles makes this type of road trip possible and a joyful experience.
In Chumayel this street market was the busiest place in town.
No chain or even convenience stores are here, but hourly bus service links north to Mérida and south to Oxkutzcab.
As small as Chumayel is it can claim to have paved roads of access that make this an ideal place to begin our back country bicycle excursion.
 This is the town meat market. Though the meat is not refrigerated it is indeed fresh. As you can see when the meat hanging in the shop is depleted business is concluded for the day. In the morning this animal you observe tethered to the pole will be converted into inventory for the meat market. In many small towns across Yucatán this type of meat market is a common sight.
After consuming our packed along breakfast in the plaza area we were on our bikes headed for our next destination of Teabo just four kilometers away.
Just four peaceful kilometers down the road we arrive at the outskirts of Teabo. The roads are so quiet you can hear a vehicle coming for many kilometers.

Teabo is relatively metropolitan compared to its rural neighbors.
After biking in the bustling neurotic traffic of Mérida these lovely country roads where chirping birds and the wind in your ears are the only sounds soothes your mind and the fresh flower scented air makes you want to drink it in.
We feel extremely fortunate to have such a wonderful ecologically friendly and healthy environment so accessible to Mérida. These lovely bicycle places are but a short scenic bus ride away. With our folding bicycles one of the nicest things of all is at a moments notice we can change direction and be home from nearly anyplace in Yucatán in about two hours of less.
The tropical climate is another positive consideration which we happen to love. We do however try to do our cycling before the mid-day heat.
Another plus this time of year from November until March is that cold fronts will come through and hold the day-time high temperatures down in the low 20ºC or 70º’s F…ideal for cycling.
This is the vintage colonial church, quiet plaza and diminutive business district of Teabo.
Padre Victor arrived here at Teabo two years ago from the nearby village of Sotuta and earnestly undertook the renovation of this colossal church complex. The project became more than just renovation.  Procuring the funds and assistance needed for restoration from the government that in Mexico officially owns all church buildings and their grounds has been Padre Victor’s toughest job.
Teabo was originally an ancient Mayan settlement. A vestige of the Mayan temples are still very evident on the church grounds and nearby one of the colossal temples is still providing building materials for area construction five centuries after the Spanish conquistadors began their occupation.
Within the Teabo church restoration has been superbly done. Wall painted frescoes, altar pieces and retablos are brought back to their century's old state of splendor.
I will not try to give all the details here or explain the history because it is too involved for this story.
However I do recommend for those of you interesting in learning more to read the splendid field guide and reference book Mayan Missions by Richard and Rosalind Perry.
Truly incredible, the retablos of Teabo have not only survived all these centuries but also the protracted Caste War. In the above photo you can glimpse a close up of some of the fine workmanship that was recently restored.
Here are some of the wall paintings or frescoes that originally lavishly adorned the church and also many of the adjacent buildings of this huge complex.
Here out on the church complex grounds you can clearly see the various stages of restoration work being done. In the distance the red walls of the restored church and some of the different buildings.
Teabo is clean, neat and quiet with little or no rush. Not a single traffic light is needed.
Wood for cooking fires or [leña] is transported in a tricycle or triciclo de carga. The forest is quickly being depleted because of rising cooking gas prices.
The triciclo de carga is used not only for freight but also employed as taxis. They become mini restaurants and purveyors of anything that can be sold on the streets.
Throughout Yucatán you will find many ingenious variations of these tricycles converted to amazingly diverse uses…we continue to be amazed at their creative ingenuity.
Seven quiet kilometers down the road is our next place of adventure.
Today this little settlement has nearly no business.
These people are however self-sufficient producing enough from the small milpa farms to feed them selves but have nothing for export.
Poor to the point of poverty, Tipikal, as you can see, has no extra cash for frivolities like restoration.
Amazingly this church has stood here for nearly five centuries and considering that its condition is remarkably good. The entry gate is of a similar style to those found at the old haciendas across Yucatán.
Thirty years ago when Jane and I first arrived in Yucatán over half of the homes were palapas like the ones you see here…even in Mérida. The palapa was standard home construction for the Maya because all of the materials were available from the land. To this day you will find depictions of these homes carved in stone at area Mayan ruins like Uxmal, thus dating their use back thousands of years.
Five more kilometers down the road took us to the ancient and historical village of Maní. I will not write about Maní here because we have covered that subject extensively on numerous prior visits. See our web site for those stories.
After a brief rest and hydration stop in the shade of the Mani church, we were on our way again.
Eleven kilometers of which most were on a lovely bicycle path adorned by sculpted flowering bushes and we reached our day’s final destination of Oxkutzcab. Thirty-eight kilometers of quiet biking this day was enough for us and it felt good to shower and rinse out our sweaty clothes. Biking we must travel light because the privilege of excess baggage is not an option.
Oxkutcab is covered in the next post.     

A visit to Mani.
Mani field trip starting in Oxkutzcab
©2011 John M. Grimsrud

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