Friday, November 28, 2008



The Yucatecan hammock is the most versatile, most easily stowed and comfortably sensible furniture item that is
perfectly suited to tropical living and you can easily take them anywhere.
Yucatecan hammocks lend themselves well to an easy going laidback atmosphere that goes hand in glove with the
natural ambiance of ecologically friendly tall shade trees or cool high ceiling open-air tropical dwellings. For all the information about hammocks that we think you need to know, check out our website:

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Ticul to Abalá, Yucatan

This blog continues our journey from Ichmul, through Peto and on to Ticul, Sacalum, Mucuyche and ending in Abalá.
At Peto we made a miraculous connection and in less than five minutes of our arrival there we were on another bus headed north to Ticul.
We arrived in Ticul before dark and went directly to the Posada El Jardin Cabañas our favorite lodging. The cabañas are located conveniently just three blocks from the bus terminal on Calle 27 between 28 and 30. As their business card claims; “For Nature Lovers”, Large Rooms, tranquil atmosphere, patios, terraces and gardens. Well, we can roll our bicycles directly into our large and commodious quarters. What we like the most besides the jungle atmosphere in the city is its location so convenient to marvelous bicycle roads both in the Puuc hills with the many Mayan ruins and also north toward Mérida.
Another plus to the Cabañas El Jardin is its close proximity to this lovely little unpretentious cocina economica restaurant Zazil, also on calle 27, where we enjoy lavish dining at the best bargain price in town. We are repeat customers.
Here I am with the owner of Zazil, José Gonzalez Rosado and his lovely wife who also happens to be the one to put together these extravagantly presented feasts we keep returning to enjoy.
Six A.M. and Jane and I are taking our departure in the cool early morning air from the El Jardin Cabañas headed north in the direction of Mérida. This is our fourth day out on the road and we have been enjoying a complete news-fast of no TV, radio, newspapers or even conversation pertaining to world events. This is just part of the reason that we have big smiles this early in the morning.

Jane and I make our first stop of the morning at this little out-of-the-way town of Sacalum and have our over-the-road breakfast of whole-wheat tortillas buttered with peanut butter and filled with Jane’s own muesli. Three of these give me enough staying power to make it until lunchtime.
This is downtown Sacalum, in Maya known as Land of the White Earth, which is also written up in Richard Perry’s book Mayan Missions where he describes the huge stone outcropping where the strange church is perched..
Little Mucuyché is one of the haciendas that John L. Stephens visited and wrote about on his 1842 visit to Yucatan.
Page 83 volume 1; Incidents of Travel in Yucatan by John. L. Stephens;

Hacienda Mucuyché
This is one of the most unchanged wild places in the Yucatan peninsula and it is very close to Mérida. Here is an excerpt from their book “Incidents of Travel in Yucatan” page 83;
After breakfast the cura left us to return to his village, and we set out to continue our journey to Uxmal. Our luggage was sent off by Indians of the hacienda, and the major domo accompanied us on horseback. Our road was by a bridle path over the same stony country, through thick woods. The whole way it lay through the lands of the provisor, all wild, waste, and desolate, and showing the fatal effects of accumulation in the hands of large landed proprietors. In two hours we saw rising before us the gate of the hacienda of Mucuyché (Figure 4). To the astonishment of the gaping Indians, the doctor, as he wheeled his horse, shot a hawk that was hovering over the pinnacle of the gateway, and we rode up to the house.
This pen and ink drawing by Frederic Catherwood depicts the Hacienda Mucuyché that greeted Stephens and Catherwood after their two hour horseback journey across the overgrown Mayan sacbe road from Xcanchakan.
I had been looking for the sacbe road route from Mucuyché to Xcanchakan that was traveled by the explorer and historical author John L. Stephens on his 1842 trip to Yucatan and I was told that this lady, Doña Canita with her ornate earrings was the one who knew all about local travel. I asked Doña Canita if it was possible to traverse this old sacbe road that has become severely overgrown since Stephen’s 1842 passage. She said; “you can make the trip by horse, but not with your little ‘caballito’”. The little caballito that Doña Canita was referring to was my little bicycle. I had tried this route from the other side and found her to be correct and upon inspection of the Mucuyché side my respect for her advice was confirmed…Doña Canita was indeed road wise.
The day turned hot by 11 AM and we made the decision to bike the ten kilometers to the tiny town of Abalá and catch whatever transportation to Mérida presented itself first.
Again the pleasure of our Peto trip was in the adventuresome journey. (Above is the tiny church of Abalá taken from our speeding colectivo taxi headed for Mérida.)

Ichmul, Yucatan

The following are jewels of the jungle we encountered on a short side trip from Peto to the town of Ichmul where you are even less likely to find tourists. The only things we found in Ichmul to buy were fresh corn tortillas and soft drinks.
Ichmul was and still is a garrisoned military outpost that dates back in time to the beginning of the 60 year Caste War that began in the 1840s.

This never finished church is a product of that war that doesn’t ever seem to go away. The above carved in stone message dates from the Mayan occupation here.
The church was never completed and what you see here is as far as construction ever went.
Read about Ichmul; Place of the Pyramids in Richard Perry’s book Mayan Missions pages 146 and 147. You will find the story of Ichmul fascinating and therefore there is no need for me to tell you more than to get the book and read it. It makes an excellent field guide.
This sleepy tiny town has little to show but the old and older because nothing of significance has happened here since the beginning of the Caste War that began in the 1840s when the town was abandoned completely. Only recently have people began to repopulate Ichmul.
This unfinished church with its ornate embellishments dates from the1800s when the famous Mayan sculptor Pascual Estrella created this now weather-worn artistry.
Surrounding Ichmul are literally thousands of undisturbed Mayan ruins in the jungle that are in the ever so slow process of being pulled down by the vegetation whose roots pry apart the stone work and bring it down. This unfinished church undoubtedly has had some care in the last two centuries or it too would be taking its first steps of returning to the earth.
Ghosts of this abandoned jungle town are silent now with more than two centuries of forsaken desertion.
Find out more about this relic called El Santuario in Richard Perry’s, Mayan Missions.
If you superstitiously believe in symbolism then take a look at this church tower with a vulture perched atop that was recently struck by lightning that sent large pieces of the dome exploding away. Is there a message here for us?
At Ichmul at least you don’t have to be bothered with hordes of tourists or anybody else. as we found out public transportation is limited but still very convenient.
Relics or monuments to the past Ichmul was stifled and abandoned for two-hundred years. Now a new highway is being blazed past town that is sure alter this tranquility.
These two cast iron cannons memorialize the 60 year Caste War that dispersed the town.
What is happening in Ichmul hasn’t changed much since the Caste War when the red military garrison building in the background was first occupied. As you can see the military is still here. These three soldiers are not as sinister as they appear. They were in fact quite friendly and jovial considering the fact that they were on a high alert because of drug gangs operating in the area. Everyone is a suspect in this type of environment and so we guarded our actions because we didn’t want our heads blown off.
The building on the left is the city municipal building where you as a stranded traveler can apply for lodging and the mayor will find you a roof to sleep under.
The afternoon became hot and eating options in Ichmul were nil, except for hot tortillas and thankfully we already had our fill of them.
Jane and I decided on a strategy of taking the first transportation out of town no matter which way it was headed as it had become too hot to bike and the road to dusty from construction work.
In a few minutes we were seated in air conditioned comfort and headed back to Peto.
At Peto we made a miraculous connection and in less than five minutes of our arrival there we were on another bus headed north to Ticul. For more, see our post Ticul to Abala, Yucatan


Peto is not the average tourist’s intended objective.
Jane boards the packed to capacity narrow gauge train to Peto with its 1890s vintage wooden coaches that were still rolling in 1985. The toilet was a hole in the floor.

The adventure trip to Peto makes Peto worth while.

Twenty-five years ago Jane and I disembarked Mérida on the narrow gauge train for one of our most memorable Yucatan adventures…we still have the original time-tables and tickets.
We set off from Mérida aboard one of the last narrow gauge trains still operating in the world headed into an unknown realm departing for the end of the line.
Back then Peto enjoyed a thriving export economy based on chicle, used in chewing gum which was extracted from the sap of the towering zapote tree forest surrounding this jungle area and also wild bee’s honey.
Riding aboard that long forgotten relic of the past that made 6 scheduled stops where there was only a foot path from the jungle, the conductor told Jane and I that he had been working onboard this train 26 years and that we were the first foreigners to ride it all the way to the end of the line at Peto.
(Read more about the history of transportation in Yucatan on our web site page Yucatan Roadways.)
At Peto the entire train just pulled to a stop for the night in the serene city center blocking intersections.
We were in another world so quiet it made you want to whisper. This sleepy colonial hamlet was dimly lit by sparse incandescent street lamps while the faint aroma of spicy wood smoke from neighborhood cooking fires trailed through the pristine jungle scented evening air.
Occasionally a dog would bark or a distant car started that could be heard putt-putt-putting slowly along and then silenced. Tranquility was at its optimum here.
We dispersed on foot with the rest of our fellow passengers into the eerie dimness of Peto’s silent night unhindered by traffic save the occasional bicycle.
The first of the two hotels in town was fully booked and the second had but one room remaining…we took it. The night clerk proudly signed me in as Mr. John and went out to get us a bar of soap, something normally not included in the accommodations inventory.
My first impression of our startlingly stark room was that it must have been of pre-Mayan origins. The stacked stone structure known as mamposteria was in the evolutionary process of returning to the earth from which it had undoubtedly originated untold centuries beforehand. It appeared to be leaning in six directions at the time if that is at all possible.
In the corner of our primeval room stood a small battered gray baked enamel wash basin on an ornate antique metal stand undoubtedly forged by a blacksmith eons before. A single pipe dangled down from the ceiling with a garden spigot valve to fill the washbasin…there was no drain. We deduced that in order to discharge the wash water you merely pitched it out the barn door sized window that had no glass or screen, where the birds were free to flutter in and out. Some discretion was in order because of a make-shift movie theater set up next door where a bed sheet was stretched in the trees for the screen and several rows of wooden benches were placed directly beneath our window.
A single bare light bulb equipped with a pull string hung starkly at face level and our bed was a metal four-poster with a lumpy-bumpy mattress of questionable origins.
One toilet with no seat and a huge gate valve to flush it satisfied the needs of the entire hotel.
On a large spike in that bathroom, driven into the cement wall were neatly impaled quarter sections of the Diario de Yucatan newspaper; that was to be our toilet tissue.
This experience was not for the fainthearted luxury lover, but then this is what true adventures are made of. At least there was this one remaining lodging in Peto for us.
The years have passed and it was time to re-visit Peto again. As before, just the trip getting there would make Peto worth while.
Here is what the explorer and author John L. Stephens had to say about Peto in his 1842 classic book; Incidents of Travel in Yucatan;
Page 180 from volume 2
Peto is the head of a department, of which Don Pio Periz was jefe politico. It was a well built town, with streets indicated, as at Mérida, by figures on the tops of houses. The church and convent were large and imposing edifices, and the living of the cura one of the most valuable in the church, being worth six of seven thousand dollars per annum.

(Also from Stephens 1842 book, volume 2, page 173 the reproduction of a Spanish map dating 1557 makes no mention of the existence of Peto.)
Look over our bike and bus route using the LUS second class bus that departs from the Noreste Bus Station located on Calle 67 between Calles 50 and 52 in Mérida). It took us on a scenic out of the tourist loop back country adventure route to Peto. Here is the map;
The following travel log story is told with captioned photos;
Consider this; all of the towns depicted on this map have daily public transit and most have several per day that will transport you and your bicycle to Mérida or many other destinations.
This is downtown Peto in 2008 where most street traffic is still un-motorized. Though the pace of life here is still unhurried, the noise level has skyrocketed and their export economy has changed from chicle and bee’s honey to migrant laborers who journey to the U.S. to bring back hard fought for green-back dollars.
Peto’s municipal market is still a family type enterprise as you can see here even a toddler gets into the act.
The streets of Peto speak volumes of the old and new where here a centuries old colonial dwelling houses a store hawking numerous plastic Chinese imports.
Little Peto has been a military outpost since the days of the 60 year Caste War that began back in the 1840s but the military is still here and now it is to control the drug gangs or “narcos” as they are now known in Mexico.
Our first night in town we find a superbly located hotel in the city center. The bare-bones basic San José is definitely not scrubbed to death but boasts cable T.V., hammock hooks and indoor first floor bicycle parking. We off-load our packs and venture out in search of the best meal in town.
This cocina económica in the city center did not cater to tourism but provided us with a huge ration of frijol charros or pork and beans. In a cocina económica usually only one dish is prepared each day and when it is depleted, they close. You have the choice of eating in or carry out. Most of the trade is carry-out and nearly every Yucatecan home relies on a neighborhood cocina económica.
This is our frijol charros or pork and beans that come with all the tortillas you want.
From Peto this lovely little paved bicycle path leads out of town to a very quiet back road that will take you to Xoy, Chaksinkin, Tixmehuac and finally Tekax. This is a lovely jungle route past ancient haciendas, tranquil Mayan villages and intriguing missions, which Jane and I plan to do soon. Richard Perry’s book Mayan Missions is a good field guide on this route.
Perry gives a lengthy description about the, Virgen de la Estrella, “Peto” church but was not as impressed as we were. Jane and I found this to be one of the most formidable and massive ornate examples of dedicated attention to detail that we have encountered in Yucatan. You must come and pass your own judgment.
From the choir loft some perspective can be gained of the mammoth size of this structure that is nearly four meters thick. The Mayan temple that the materials were salvaged from had to be colossal. Recent restoration work has been carefully done but is still lacking.
The following photos were taken from the dizzying height of the roof top and I get dizzy with thick socks on!
Looking east from the church roof top you will see near the center of the photo behind the ball court a structure that was part of this church complex and it by itself consumed a monumental amount of building materials. Below is a close-up of that structure that gives the appearance of being built just to consume tons of stone.
Nearly four meters thick walls still stand but the roof has long ago returned to the earth.
Looking south west from the church roof you can easily discern the Puuc hills near to the town of Tekax far off in the distance. The above jungle previously consisted of zapote trees from which the chicle for chewing gum was extracted. The fruit of this tree is wonderfully savory and also known as custard apple. Those lovely trees whose wood is among the hardest and most enduring of all woods of the world became too irresistible for the greedy timber barons who have harvested then almost to extinction.
Looking down the roof you get a perspective scale of size with Jane at the other end.
Peering down from the base of the bell tower on the front façade, the altitude is apparent.
Looking west across the zocolo park the view of tree tops is far below.
This is downtown Peto’s business district where motor vehicles are in the minority.
As you can see Jane and I go to great lengths to get these interesting photos especially when you consider that I get dizzy with thick socks on.
This building represents a huge amount of rock and when you consider that all of the building materials previously went to build a Mayan temple and were taken down and then reconstructed into this colossal church; the back breaking man hours of toil becomes unfathomable.
The church is named; “Virgen de la Estrella” or virgin of the star and for this reason the façade is adorned with numerous stars like this one that perforates the wall.
This is where some of the lumber from Peto’s zapote forest wound up. These ancient hand hewn steps form a spiral staircase leading from here at the roof top all the way down to ground level.
After a few turns going down this spiral staircase it is as dark as being in a closet with the door closed and we had to feel our way along in the pitch darkness trusting that the steps were all there and well. This photo was taken with a flash and so we got a look at what we couldn’t see in the dark.
I found this Christ with his crown of thorns most curiously wearing a silk lace trimmed mini slip. There just has to be some convoluted story behind this.
Seated with me is Isabel Tec Canto the helpful and friendly church warden and the man who opened the doors to Jane and I so that we could take all those lovely roof top photos.
A recently restored side chapel complete with ancient wooden vigas; roof beams.
This must be a modern innovation, smokeless electric candles that you light by inserting a coin directly into the coin-slot…how very clever conserving all that wax.
Peto’s population turns out in mass for community functions like this cheer-leader competition that lasted several hours with loud speakers blasting everyone senseless.
The following are jewels of the jungle we encountered on a short side trip from Peto to the town of Ichmul where you are even less likely to find tourists. Ichmul is covered in the next post.