Monday, March 14, 2011


One of the all time best one-day Yucatán get-away excursions we have found.
This is an easy and pleasurable trip if you take advantage of a tail-wind and cold front. We are down-wing sailors. (With a northerly wind start from Izamal. Contrarily with a southerly wind begin your trip from the other end at Kantunil.)
To maximize the pleasure of this adventure we recommend taking the Centro bus that departs at 6:45 AM from their terminal on Calle 65 two blocks east of the main market, adjacent to and east of the Casa de Pueblo.
There are faster ways to get to Izamal but this quiet back road route, though slow, is a pleasant look at Yucatán that most tourist miss.
Our bus route took us east first to Tixkokob, famous for hammock makers, while the early morning shoppers were still packing the quaint colonial streets.
Being a local bus we were steadily acquiring more and more passengers heading to the remote villages that lay ahead. As we passed our next town of Cacalchén the road narrowed perceptibly and each of the upcoming towns in turn grew smaller and smaller heading to Bokobá. Tekantó, Tixcochó, Teya, and Tepekán, were all typical quiet quaint Mayan villages where many of the homes were palapa thatched huts commingled with the remnants of colonial era haciendas. At rural Tepekán we made our final turn and headed into Izamal on a road as straight as a die and we knew that this roadway had to be a remnant of an ancient Maya sacbe road built countless centuries before.

As tourist end destinations go Izamal is one of Yucatán’s finest and well worth a day or two of your time to explore and get to know. I have mentioned previously the book, Mayan Missions by Richard and Rosalind Perry as an indispensable field guide. You will want the book because it answers a multitude of questions explaining history and gives intriguing facts regarding Mayan temples as well as the mysterious old Yucatecan churches.
Izamal has a rich Mayan and conquistador history. Huge temple pyramids are still part of the town. A 16th century Franciscan monastery is situated atop one of them. The statue in the photo above of Bishop Diego de Landa faces the monastery he directed to be built. He is the man responsible for destroying the Mayan books. Take a carriage ride, it is memorable.

Yucatecan free enterprise provides us with fresh tropical fruit. Sweet mandarin oranges helped make our trip a pleasant experience.

On the road to Kantunil: We love the fresh air, quiet and rural nature we found along this seldom traveled road.

 Down the road from Izamal we arrive at the small village of Cuauhtémoc where the ruined church of Pixilá stands upon the mound of a ruined Mayan temple.
As you can see little Cuauhtémoc is rural and on the verge of being desolate. Time has silently passed by here with little notice.
This is the unhurried main street of Cuauhtémoc where we can hear a car coming from kilometers away. The contrast to Mérida’s push and shove commotion makes us want to whisper.
Some attempts at restoration and upkeep are visible to this 18th century church which was a satellite of Izamal dedicated to the Virgin of Candelaria.
Still roofless. the Pixilá church was originally built with a thatched roof.
Amazingly the forlorn little old church is in use. Some attempt at restoration is evident in the side chapel and altar that are freshly plastered and painted. They have a long ways to go.
Rural tranquility is viewed from the arched church doorway into the side yard now a pasture for this horse.
As we visit the hushed little village it is hard to imagine a time when enough eager souls diligently put forth the effort to construct this church.
A plaque above the front door is inscribed; Se acabo año 1797, “Work was finished in the year 1797”.
Horses nibble fresh green church yard grass, a product of recent rain.
The church of Pixilá is indeed forlorn. After more than two hundred years of deterioration someone is making attempts at restoration. This seems to be moving ahead at a pace similar to the rate that the mail is delivered in Mexico.
Continuing south down the quiet road with a tail wind, we arrive at quiet and clean Sudzal. There is a beautifully pleasant overpowering aroma of orange blossoms filling the fresh country air and it makes us want to drink it in. It is a shame we couldn’t take a photo of the perfumed fragrance. Observe the thousands of white blossoms hanging over the wall that will soon become oranges.
Time and nature relentlessly pull down the works of man.
Sudzal is conspicuously devoid of visitors and traffic. The 16th century church has been renovated with a new roof and paint job.
Other than some power poles, the vista around Sudzal has changed very little over the centuries. These gems of the past are becoming few and far between but here along this road are several towns still bypassed by the hurried tourist crowd. It makes for a perfect bicycle day trip.
The Sudzal city building and church seem abandoned with little street traffic and just the few chickens and turkeys left to pluck unhurriedly their way along. Jane and I have found another slice of bike paradise.

Xanaba though on the way to Kantunil is barely a wide place in the road. The rural countryside is little disrupted by its presence.
This place seems to be made to order for cross-country bikers like us who positively love the quiet bucolic countryside.

The only asphalt road in town surrounded the church and as you can clearly see the quaint country setting picks up where the pavement ends. The view down this city street perhaps hadn’t changed in centuries along with the pace of life.
As small and insignificant as Xanaba was this centerpiece of town on the main road put on a fresh and maintained appearance.
A surprise awaited us when we ventured south headed into our day trip’s next stop of Kantunil.
A real bicycle obstacle course awaited us. Evidently the transportation department had taken little notice to the fact that bikers may want to pass between these two towns. Just before entering Kantunil we encountered the new approach to the toll road, it was barricaded with a huge barrier accompanied by a no bicycles sign. We had to hoist our bikes over the obstacle, pass through the woods on a small walking path and then ascend a high drainage curb in order to traverse the next two lanes of highway. We persisted.

Persistence prevailed and we arrived at the outskirts of Kantunil.

This little town had every appearance of being upscale. It is on the bus route to Mérida!

Below, the church of Kantunil

Jane enjoys the shade of the meticulously kept city park along side the bust of Miguel Hidalgo, a Mexican priest and leader of the Mexican War of Independence in 1810. Notice that the parking problem in the city center is nearly non-existent because of the conspicuous lack of motor vehicles; bicycles prevail.

This lovely morning was made even better by connecting with the Mérida bound Oriente bus that arrived with perfect coordinated timing.
We stowed our folding bicycles below, climbed aboard in air conditioned comfort and I didn’t awaken from my profound snooze until we were rolling into the Mérida bus terminal.
After this outing we were able to scratch one more road trip off our list. As it nearly always happens when we remove one trip from the list we add two more. Well, with this trip we added four new ones as we passed numerous side roads that need exploring.
Twenty five years of cycling around Yucatán and our bicycle adventure list continues to grow larger.
If we could find a better place we would be there.
So, stay tuned as we keep scratching bicycle adventure excursions off our ever expanding list.
©2011 John M. Grimsrud
Related links:
Bus terminals of Mérida


Mayan Missions by Richard D. Perry

Bicycle Yucatan

Map of area - Mérida to Izamal and Kantunil
Click on map to enlarge.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011