Sunday, December 20, 2009

Kilometer 50, José María Morelos, End of the Road

After three hours by luxury bus from Mérida, Jane and I arrived at the ADO, Auto Transportes de Oriente restaurant and terminal where we disembarked with our folding bicycles.
We were now in the state of Quintana Roo at the town of José María Morelos, formerly known as just Kilometer 50. This is half way between the capital cities of Mérida, Yucatán and Chetumal, Quintana Roo, which is just about its only claim to fame and its reason for existing.
Sixty years ago, in 1947 a young German journalist, Lilo Linke, made this journey leaving Mérida by the only transport of the time, a narrow gauge railway train that first took her to the end-of-the-line town of Peto in the state of Yucatán, an all day adventure that made several scheduled jungle stops where only a trail came to the railhead. Peto had just two hotels then and calling them austere, bleak bear-bones basic would be heaping praise upon them.
Here is what Lilo Linke had to say about her 1947 train ride;
The little train rattled along between henequen plantations and fields of Indian corn. Soon we were covered by the dust that blew in through the open windows. That jungles could be anywhere near was difficult to imagine. Wherever we stopped, fruit was offered for sale. In the afternoon we came to the end of the line, a village called Peto. A single long street led from the station to the market-square and the church.
In the 1980’s my wife Jane and I made the above mentioned train trip and the conductor told us that he had been working on the train for 26 years and we were the first foreigners that had ever taken the train all the way to the end of the line at Peto. We have photos, original tickets and even the time table from that memorable trip which we will be soon incorporating into an expanded story.

Here is what Lilo Linke had to say about the Peto hotels of the 1940’s;
Señor Mendoza had friends at Peto, but they were away on a journey and we were forced to stay at a hotel. In fact we had the choice between two, and Señor Mendoza selected the one run by a toothless Chinese. It was rapidly getting dark—as always in the tropics about six o'clock—but I could make out in the fading light that the sheets on the tumbledown bed were extremely soiled. I remembered how once in Turkey in similar circumstances the hotel-keeper had remarked that only four other people had so far used them. But the Chinaman raised no objection when I asked him to change them. Perhaps the lack of teeth made arguing difficult for him. He whipped off the offending sheets, and to my horror I saw three fat bugs scuttling for shelter. Unperturbed, he shuffled out of the room, to return with a single sheet that was as undistinguishable from the first as one Chinaman from another. With a deadpan face he smoothed it over the mattress. I rushed off to Señor Mendoza's room. He looked at me over the rim of his spectacles when I explained my trouble. "I warned you,” he said. "Now listen: no luxury, all right; no comfort, all right; but no bugs either. I just can't stand them." He uttered a gentle sigh and scratched his head. "The other hotel is worse," he said. "It couldn't be," I replied firmly. "I told him to give you the best room in the house. You even got a wash-basin, he told me. Still, I'll buy you a hammock. What else do you need?"

Believe it or not in early 1980’s, Jane and I stayed in the very same hotel room at Peto after our train trip there…it was the last vacancy in town at the time.
(I describe this train trip and hotel experience in the story; Peto as an end destination, on our web site.)
Day two of Lilo Linke’s trip to Kilometer 50 was by motor vehicle over an unimproved dirt trail to the end of the road in this place that had only territory status because of the animosity and tension still smoldering between the Mayan people and the Mexican government. The fifty plus year Caste War had raged and this was part of the front line of battle.
Here is what Lilo Linke had to say about her 1947 trip from Peto to Kilometer 50;

We were off in a "taxi", one of the ancient cars one can get for hire anywhere in Latin-America where there is a semblance of a road. We were six passengers with our baggage, including some chickens and cooking-pots. The ingeniero came along with us, it was his road. "The fool, my predecessor,” he said, "he let the road funds be pilfered by dishonest clerks and overseers while he drank himself to death at headquarters. If anyone is going to make a profit out of this road while I am here, believe me I'll make sure that it's no one but .myself. And I’ll see to it that whatever happens, the road will be built. I don't believe in individual profits while the country gets nothing in exchange." He said it so seriously that I could not believe him to be a cynic. His attitude, if I understood it correctly, was a peculiar brand of progressiveness adapted to Mexican reality. I could not fail to appreciate its advantages. All along the road the driver was playing the popular game of chasing another car. It was a lorry in which road-workers were piled like upright sticks. The dust their car and ours raised on the as yet unpaved highway enveloped us all in thick clouds often blocking our vision. It all added to the fun. At a place provisionally called "Kilometre 50" our expedition came to a halt. It was almost the end of the road. We would stop there for the night and then continue on horseback. Between us and the edge of the jungle stood half a dozen wooden shacks and a whitewashed wattle building with two rooms. It had formerly belonged to the road camp and was now the school. I would sleep there while Señor Mendoza hoped for hospitality in one of the shacks. All he needed were two hooks to fix his hammock.

Over sixty years later Kilometer 50, now José María Morelos has more than just half a dozen shacks on the edge of the jungle and yes, the road is paved and finished all the way to the state capital of Chetumal.
In the above photo you can easily see that even though this is the main street and highway through town, bicycle and tricycle traffic dominate; there is a noticeable lack of motorized vehicles. In the would-you-believe-it could be true department Jane and I encountered an old friend from Tulum here. He is selling home made natural yogurt from his roofed over tricycle.
Like the rest of Mexico José María Morelos has grown exponentially in recent years and now has over 20,000 inhabitants. The above bust located at the city hall and across from the central park depicts the town namesake José María Morelos who helped lead Mexico to independence in the early 1800’s.
Again José María Morelos is depicted in this huge wall painting in the band shell of the city center park know as the zocolo in Spanish.
The public walls of José María Morelos are adorned with numerous storytelling murals like this one found at the municipal market.
Just opened and inaugurated is the Parador Turístico also situated on the main street where local arts and crafts of the areas Mayan ladies are sold.
Jane and I arrived at the Parador Turístico with perfect timing when the inaugural speeches concluded and it was time to partake of a Mayan style one-pot dinner of chicken, potatoes and rice accompanied by a generous stack of piping hot tortillas…gratis…thank you all!
We were stuffed, happy and satisfied. The friendly group was brimming with enthusiasm.
What originally appeared to be confusion over the provisions distribution turned out to be well organized and everybody was fed and content.
Exquisite handy work, one of the natural talents of the Mayan women was in plentiful supply at the craft shops of the new Parador Turístico. The young director Maricla Dzoi Loeza is drumming up enthusiasm and promoting participation by the local ladies which is what it will take to make a success and develop repeat tourist trade.
Before Quintana Roo achieved statehood it was a territory with tax free status and José María Morelos had shoppers flooding into town from all over Mexico to capitalize on bargain priced tax exempt merchandise. The main street was stacked with retail goods as eager shoppers clamored to make purchases.
The last gasoline station for 225 kilometers on the way to Chetumal was here and many times had no gasoline or sometimes gasoline but no electric service and couldn’t even pump the gas out. Stranded motorists became part of the local economy searching our food and accommodations. Now with statehood there is gas.
Two blocks south of the Parador Turístico we found Hotel Aura Elena; clean, neat, new, bicycle friendly and reasonably priced. We stayed three nights using it as our home base.
Owner of Hotel Aura Elena, Doña Lupita is a politically connected business women, with a retail store in nearby Dzuche and director of tourism for the area. As you can see from the hotel behind her, she runs a very clean and neat operation that is expanding. José María Morelos for its size has an overabundance of hotel accommodations so prices are competitive.
Lots of competition for eating places keeps the prices down and locally produced authentic Mayan style foods are served up that make this stop well worth the whole trip.
Around the municipal market and up and down the main street interesting private entrepreneurs set up mobile street kitchens where they concoct delectable natural dishes.

José María Morelos is still blessed with no franchise chain eateries or hotels and is out of the tourist loop making it a slice of the real Mexico, a place to see before it is gone.
At the small municipal market venders stock the locally produced fruits and vegetables that change with the seasons.
Neat and clean, the municipal market reflects the local pride in their growing community.
Jane and I have lived here in this part of the world for over a quarter century and had never sampled the delectable seasonally produced baked fresh corn cakes or fresh corn tortillas, tortillas de maiz nuevo. Besides being scrumptiously mouth-wateringly delicious these things were nutritionally sustaining.
The problem with the fresh corn was that you can only get these products late in the fall and in the active milpa country far removed from the city life.
The neatly dressed young man in the above photo came into José María Morelos with just these two buckets of fresh corn products to sell and when it was gone, and so would he be gone until the next crop of fresh corn was harvested in the following fall.
Here is a loaf of fresh new corn bread and fresh new corn tortillas. They have a chewy mealy rough ground consistency, a wholesome tantalizing aroma and a flavor that requires no additives. This is a heavenly treasure not found in any mass-marketing establishments.
Situated in the city center of José María Morelos, this unimaginatively designed recently constructed stacked stone church reveals the towns relatively young age.
The church interior is ablaze in dangling doodads and the permanently open upper side vents let you know that this truly a tropical environment.
From in front of the church looking easterly the city’s central park is seen.
The quiet little frontier town of José María Morelos has 175 licensed taxis and 95 tri-cycle taxis like the two you see in the above photo circulating around the park The park also has a veleta or wind powered water pump. There are no stop lights or pushy traffic here where motorized vehicles are noticeably lacking.
Jane and I were told by several people that we needed to check out the lagoon just four kilometers north of downtown José María Morelos easily reached on the neat new bicycle path. Here is what greeted us. The sign says; Private property; for your security do not climb over the wires, open Saturdays and Sundays, DANGEROUS WATER!!!
The bicycle path was very nice but the sign at the entrance to the lagoon did not in any way entice us to enter.
A short distance down the bicycle path we encountered this local gentleman out collecting vines to feed his rabbits and we asked him about entering the lagoon. He told us that we would be crazy to go in there. The attributes of the lagoon were; huge alligators, tall grass loaded with poisonous snakes and to top it off, quick sand. We decided to forego the pleasure.
The bicycle path seemed to have more traffic than the adjacent highway. This young man from Mérida dressed like an Eskimo was part of a team of bicyclers headed for Chetumal over two hundred kilometers to the south. In celebration of the tradition of Guadalupe day on the 12th of December, runners and bicyclers from across Mexico make long pilgrimages carrying torches and statues in adulation to Mexico’s Virgin of Guadalupe.

After three nights and four days at José María Morelos we generated enough adventures to write three stories and will definitely have to return to further explore this wild frontier out of the tourist loop.
José María Morelos is a rare gem like none other and makes a fascinating home base…not for everybody.
Coming soon on the web: our side trips from José María Morelos to Polyuc, Dzula, and the route of the churches that includes Saban, Sacalaca, Huay Max and Tihosuco.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

New to Valladolid, guided bike tours and rentals.

On a recent bike trip around the Valladolid area, we were happy to discover Mexigotours. Plan an extra day in Valladolid and take the tour. It is well worth the time and the price is economical.

Vivyana Hernández Molina and Toon Vande Vyvere, owners and operators of MexiGO.
Tours in English, Spanish, French, Dutch with a guide who speaks Maya.

They take you to the out of the tourist trap places for an unforgettable experience of a lifetime.
The tour takes you to two beautiful cenotes plus a visit to a Mayan home and a couple of villages.

Take a guided bicycle day tour in the heart of Yucatán that is not only ecologically friendly but healthful. Photo opportunities in bird watching country plus sampling authentic exquisite Mayan foods 100% natural are just part of what you will enjoy.
Phones; +52 (985) 8560777 cel: 521 (985) 1082018
Above is one of the two beautiful cenotes that you will visit on the tour.
Jane in front of the MexiGO tour and bike rental office in Valladolid. MexiGO is located behind the cathedral and 1 block from the central park at Calle 43 No. 204B between Calles 40 and 42. For a map, click here.

We have biked to the places on this tour. Check out our website * for stories of some of the places we visited on our trips to Valladolid from Tulum and along the Caste War Route.
* the Valladolid web page is currently being updated and should be ready in a few days.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Twenty-six meters above sea level, seven kilometers south of Valladolid along a quiet paved bicycle path is the little unassuming town of Chichimilá with 7, 500 inhabitants, most of whom speak Maya.
In a zone of cenotes, heavily wooded Chichimilá has fifteen cenotes and could be considered a suburb of nearby full-service Valladolid. Cenote Xlakaj is the best and most accessible of the centoes.
Traditional Mayan food and dress are the standard and the only claim to fame seems to be that the chief martyr of the uprising that led to the protracted Caste War was born here.
In the city center park across from the church is this unpretentious little monument to the city hero
Mayan rebel Manuel Antonio Ay’s arrest and execution in 1847 was a major factor in the start of the Caste War. For Chichimilá, the Caste War didn’t officially end until 1975 when a treaty was signed with the Mexican government.

Everywhere in Yucatán that a church stands there was once a Mayan temple.
This no-frills neglected stacked stone, mamposteria relic of the past structure still has its arched ceiling of wooden beams that has miraculously outlived most others of Yucatán. This was a site of a Franciscan mission and the church was added in the 17th century.
Inside the modest Chichimilá church you can see this has always been a poor little town.
At the city center park of Manual Antonio Ay across the seldom traveled main street from the old church, Jane and I procure some welcome shade to have our afternoon coffee and some corn tortillas lightly sprinkled with salt.
We travel light and pack all we need for our excursion aboard our little folding bicycles.
This is most of Chichimilá’s business district. There is also a building supply and cantina.
Jane and I, out of curiosity, wanted to check out the housing market and these two local men guided us to the only house in town for sale. It was just three blocks removed from the downtown business district, has a palm thatched palapa house, city water, electric and a water well eighteen meters deep. The large tract of land was planted with many kinds of fruit trees.
This slice of paradise required a lot of youthful exuberance to conquer and saintly patience in waiting for things like a phone or internet service. This isolation is not for everybody.

Nearby to Chichimilá is a the cenote Xlakaj. The people of Chichimilá have made improvements to the cenote and it serves as a recreation area complete with cabins, restaurant and access to a swim in the beautiful cenote. Mexigo Tours will rent you a bike if you don’t have one or they will take you there on a tour.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


This off the beaten path and almost suburb of Valladolid is in no way tourist oriented, but has the unique feature of having been totally overlooked and bypassed.
Just a seven kilometer bicycle ride from the central plaza, first going south to calle 49 in Valladolid, then east on that street though a slightly downtrodden neighborhood past several schools you are on your way. Then where the street meanders into the woods and meets a slightly busier roadway you turn east and you get to enjoy rural outback Yucatán. (You can rent a bike from MexiGO bike rentals and tours in downtown Valladolid.)
The above roadway sign greets your entrance to the little slice of nowhere… known as Tixhualactún, “the town tourists miss most”.
The most striking feature when you enter Tixhualactún situated on the quiet as a ghost town central plaza is the huge crumbling old church, La Iglesia del Santo Cristo de la Exaltación or The Church of Saint Christ of the Exultation.
As the falling down information sign states; the church is three hundred years old, you should conserve its splendor and don’t take away any of the building stones.
In a state of nearly total neglect for the past three hundred years the stacked stone, mamposteria structure has lost its massive roof to a cave-in and the walls are in the process of taking departure in different directions headed from the vertical to horizontal.
Outwardly you could easily assume that this three century crumbling structure was totally abandoned, not so, it is actually still functional to a degree.
An interesting thought to contemplate is the reality that the Spanish conquistadors were actually re-cyclers.
All of the building materials used to build this old church and the entire community for that matter were in fact re-cycled from a previous Mayan temple standing here.
The walk of a few steps from the central plaza to this still ornately adorned entry door of the church is on a dirt path lined with knee high clingy weeds.
Peering into the church you are in for several surprises.
First the most striking feature of all is that the entire roof has completely vanished and the sky is the limit so a glimpse of heaven is afforded.
Next the inner walls devoid of paint are starkly bleak and darkly blotched by mold interspersed with occasional outcroppings of rank vegetation.
A tiny persistence of faith is evident here within the open air nave where a tin roofed pole shed sits before the sanctuary altar surrounded by green grass and vacant walls.
A radiant beauty of glorious days in centuries gone by still catches the eye when viewing the ornately adorned arched entry way that seems to capture your spirit.

The Spanish conquistadors overran and expelled the Moors from Spain but also took their trademark architectural designs to the Americas as you can clearly see here in the ogee arch and Moorish pillars of the church cloister.
The mystery here is just what led this particular community that originally erected the monumental church to sink into three hundred years of apathy.
You are looking at downtown Tixhualactún and its silent central plaza and business district.
Though the old church crumbled and its bells fell to earth as you can see they have been resurrected to call in the faithful.

No tour buses or hoards of street venders hawking their hand crafts to camera snapping sightseeing visitors will be found here which in itself makes a little side trip like this well worth while.

Wait! There is more to Tixhualactún. Adjacent to the main plaza is a cenote, in Maya Dzonot. The cenote, a type of sink-hole, that here is in the limestone bedrock actually has flowing water. The water level in the cenote would be at the same level of area wells which is the water table, about eighteen meters down.
Well, Jane and I were treated to a strange display that continued all the time we were there. Huge flocks of bats were swarming, screeching and circling at a hurried pace around and around within the cenote and we were lucky enough to capture this event in a video.
This little girl came to greet us to Tixhualactún on her bicycle that she had received from the government at her school. She was talkative, inquisitive and full of town facts…a pleasant welcoming committee of one.
Dzonot Kaaj - Cenote Kaaj
It was an incredible experience to view the bats flying in this cenote in the quiet village of Tixhualahtún.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Time to get out on the bikes!

Yucatán is cooling down and it is time to get out on the bikes. It is a beautiful time of year to visit Mayapan and the surrounding area.
For ideas as to where to go, check out some of our trips on our website:

Friday, September 11, 2009

Ecologically Friendly

We will soon be back making bike excursions.
In the meantime, we have added new pages to our website: Eco Living Yucatan
Check out this video and then click the link below if you wish to see more.

For more on our Eco Concept House, click here.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

How to Bike and Bus from Mérida, Yucatán

The intention of this listing is to assist those bicyclers who wish to incorporate bus/ taxi transport into their travel adventures in and out of Mérida plus national destinations.

This page was updated on November 15, 2011.  Click here for latest information..

Saturday, June 13, 2009


In a town with more art galleries than Oxxo stores displaying merchandise of questionable worth and dubious appeal, it is at least refreshing to come upon a gem.

The SoHo gallery located on Calle 60 between 41 and 43 features several artists simultaneously. And at this moment you may see the works of one of Merida’s finest artists; David Reed.
David has his impressive collection of remarkable Indigenous faces, here are samples;

Here is the artist himself, the very talented David Reed pictured with Juanita Stein the editor of Yucatan Today Magazine.

Also showing at SoHo are works by Viviana Hinajosa, Manuel Taure Garcia,
Nicholas Lavroff, and sculptures and ceramics by American artist Joseph Kurhajek,

Plus a collection of Cuban art recently purchased in Havana done by young Cuban artists.
All of the works are for sale.