Saturday, February 12, 2011

Ruta Puuc - Three lovely days in Yucatán

Three lovely days in Yucatán.
We invite you to come along with us on our bike-bus tour where we will share this eco-friendly adventure through a captioned photo story.
Beginning in Mérida after our five kilometer bike ride to the Tikal Restaurant for their breakfast special, we next boarded the 9:30 AM Lus bus at the Noreste terminal at calle 50 y 67 bound for Oxkutzcab. Our folding Dahon bicycles were stowed below and before we reached the outskirts of bustling Mérida the bus was full.
This three hour Sunday morning bus trip is a perfect starter for your Yucatán back country sightseeing adventure.
We traveled the back roads of Yucatán, entered the quaint colonial villages and got a first hand look at the colorful local population, many of whom would be our traveling companions.

Just twenty kilometers out of Mérida at Acanceh we had already left behind the big city rush and our back country sightseeing adventure was just beginning.

 Bustling open air markets, festive circus carnivals, wooden scaffold bullfight rings,  jubilant marching processions, street venders, people powered tricycles (triciclos de carga),  and more all generated a cacophony of bizarre sounds commingled with a tantalizing olfactory enticement of regional cooking generating uncontrollable mouth watering temptations.
This is the real Yucatán that tourists miss most!
Our meandering back road bus route next took us to Tecoh, Telchaquillo, Tekit, Mama, Chumayel, Teabo, Tipikal, Maní, and on to Oxkutzcab.
We are not strangers to these fascinating places and you can see them all in more detail on our web site. We invite you to take a look.

Oxkutzcab is the hub of many interesting adventures that are far too numerous for one visit. Again visit our web site to glimpse these possibilities. They include the market/food court, restored colonial church, hill-top hermitage chapel, plus side trips to the Grutas Lol-tun.
We recommend a taxi to go up to the Grutas Lol-tun and then bike back down the hill making sure that your bicycle brakes are in good working order.

Something else we also find a lot of fun is to rent a tricycle taxi [tricitaxi], (people powered not the motorized kind), by the hour to sightsee the city.

You will find this a fun thing to do everywhere you go in Yucatán.
Yucatán is a strange and interesting place that makes for an outstanding photo opportunity.
This story presents another side trip adventure possibility.

Day two of our journey begins before 7 AM when we roll out of our convenient hotel Trujeque across from the city center park with our fully provisioned Dahon folding bicycles bound for the local taxi stand adjacent to the tortilla shop, “molino” , (west side of the main market).
There was no set or posted prices for our destination of Labná so haggling would be required. This can be a lot of fun if done in a good natured way. Six taxi drivers joined in the negotiation and price quotes began to fly around - 100, 200, 150 pesos were mentioned and I suggested 50. Oh no! The banter goes on and someone suggests 120 pesos…we nod yes and were on our way.
Jesús, our taxi driver, and Jane survey the packed and stacked cargo as we ready ourselves to depart Oxkutzcab. One of our folding bicycles would go inside and the other was lashed along with empty orange crates in the trunk. Jesús had come to town with those orange crates full earlier in the morning.
Jesús had an interesting story to tell. He and his family had left the little fishing village of Champotón, Campeche thirty years earlier when the fishing industry collapsed from over fishing and petrol chemical pollution. Jesús has a heritage of large families and was one of eighteen with thirteen children of his own.  His mother died at the age of 102.
He must have had some pangs of conscience about the fare or actually got to like us because he pulled off onto a dirt road and picked us a bag of fresh oranges, which were a welcome supplement to our cross-country diet. By the way the angelic aroma of orange blossoms in the Puuc Hills this season makes you want to drink in the sweet air and linger.
Here south in the Puuc Hill we were just far enough away from the semi arid northwestern Yucatán with its low spiny scrub and coastal ciénegas used since ancient times by the Maya for their sea-salt production. Here in these beautiful rambling hills of dry jungle form the transitional land between the northern semi-arid Yucatán and the steaming – teaming tall jungle of Central America. Notice the tall trees
Here we were high up in the Puuc Hills at Labná where we would have our breakfast in the peaceful jungle tranquility before the gate opened at 8 AM. As you can see we travel light on our three day excursion. For this day’s travel we did however pack along eight liters of drinking water and 500 ml. of suero, a solution of essential bodily salts necessary for survival when heavily perspiring. All pharmacies stock this product and have it in flavored liquid form and also in envelopes of powder to mix with water.
Jane is unfolding her bicycle, a process that only takes twelve seconds.
Labná in the early morning is worth the effort. Here you can glimpse the ornate stone work of the ancient Maya and their style of arch building.

Jane framed by the famous Mayan corbelled arch of Labná; You can see that the hand work involved in building these structures where each stone was manually shaped and sized to fit before the advent of machinery or even iron cutting tools was an effort of unimaginable proportions.
These buildings had been plastered and ornately painted.

Jane with Felipe Zapata the overseer and manager of Labná; He is from Oxkutzcab and his cousin owns a new hotel there that we had visited the previous week.

Our next stop is at the Mayan ruins of Xlapak, a short way down the peaceful road from Labná. On the back of my bike is the bag of oranges that were a gift from our taxi driver.

These intricately carved stones were in a style unique to this area. We met a man some years ago that maintained that if you imbibed enough of the hallucinogenic morning glory seeds that you too could envision this type of sculpture. He added that if you only ate four seeds that you would feel good, but if you took forty you would begin building pyramids…we never tried.

Our third stop for the morning and our coffee break.
Sayil is impressive and of a similar style of nearby Uxmal which is connected by a straight paved sacbe road as were all of the Mayan temple sites.

Back on our bicycles and a short way down the lovely and quiet paved road where the only sounds were birds chirping and the passing wind in our ears we come to the Mérida-Campeche cut-off.

The Mérida/Campeche bus you see here passes several times a day. There is however no bus service along the Ruta Puuc road we had just traversed.

Pointing to the Ruta Puuc at the Mérida/Campeche cut off intersection these sign give you the kilometers to each of the Mayan ruin sites.

We spotted some shade and went to soak it up at the Yucatán/Campeche border inspection station. The friendly inspectors were from Mérida and proved to be jovial.

With a straight smooth road and a slight tail wind Jane and I were doing at times 38 kilometers per hour heading north to Kabah…biking at its best.
We would recommend that if you are interested in visiting these lovely Mayan ruins that you spend the night in Santa Elena and bike to Kabah very early in the morning. This place is just too good to rush through. You can then leisurely enjoy what this place has to offer without the competition of hoards of tourists that disembark their tour bus with only thirty minutes to climb over everything and snap their photos. You will be richly rewarded for your efforts with an unforgettable memory.
This is what you see when you enter the gate at Kabah…there is a lot more to this place.
Here is the smooth road that sizzles you along all the way from the Campeche cut off to Santa Elena. Jane got a few second head start on me and she is just a small distant speck in the above photo. I had to huff and puff to catch up.
Our rest stop at Sacbe Bungalows in Santa Elena is the perfect place for quiet, tranquility and convenience.
After a cool-me-down shower to take the day’s road stress out of our bodies Jane and I relax in the unhurried jungle atmosphere ambiance.
Cycling options here are great. We recommend visiting nearby Uxmal by loading your bicycle aboard the bus that passes Santa Elena at 7:30 AM. That way you will arrive early, beat the crowd and have plenty of time to leisurely cycle back to Santa Elena for lunch.
The Kabah trip eight kilometers south should also be started early to capture the jungle morning ambiance in the Puuc Hills at its finest time.
Another cycling option from Santa Elena is north to Ticul and beyond. A note of caution; make sure your brakes are in top operating condition before you start down the Ticul hill. If you have any doubts we recommend that you walk your bike down.
We invite you to visit our web site for more detailed stories of bicycling and exploring this one of a kind magical tropical paradise…Yucatán and beyond.
©2011 John M. Grimsrud
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello John - what a strange small world. I just stumbled upon your blog, as my wife, daughter and I are coming to Valladolid, Merida and Isla at the end of March. We love to bike and intend to do some biking around the area.
I started reading your blog and then looked up your books (and bought your first one) because as it turns out my wife and I will be taking a one year sabbatical and leaving from the great lakes to do the "great circle tour" - not entirely different than the beginning of your path long ago. Would you be willing to talk or corrrespond with us regarding A) your adventures via bike in the Yucatan and B) boating adventures? My email is All the best, John