Saturday, February 27, 2010


 (In Yucatán, Mexico, a mestizo is a person of mixed Spanish and Mayan parentage.)
Monument in Chetumal, Quintana Roo dedicated to Gonzalo Guerrero, his wife Zazil Ha and their children

   This fascinating story actually begins with the birth of Gonzalo Guerrero back in the early 1470’s at Palos, Andalusia, Spain.
   Trained as a military combatant he fought to drive the last of the Moors out of the Iberian Peninsula by 1492 ending eight centuries of Islamic occupation. Then he took up his next position of soldier/sailor on Columbus’s first ocean crossing expedition aboard the small open carvel vessel, Niña.
   This soldier of fortune’s story did not reappear in the annals of history again until 1511. Gonzalo set sail in good weather from the Gulf of Darien on the Colombian coast of South America north bound with looted treasure and slaves.
   What happened next is one of the worst nightmare stories that could happen to anyone.
   Forty year old Gonzalo was plummeted into the sea aboard a makeshift raft with no food or water, one of eighteen men and two women to survive the wrath of a hurricane that dismasted his ship and sunk it.
Only eight lived to make landfall, having to resort to cannibalism in order to survive.
   Salvation did not happen. The group of eight survivors were apprehended and enslaved by their Mayan Cocom captors on the Yucatán coast.
   Four of these survivors were sacrificed and eaten immediately. The others were caged and fattened for a future festival of flesh feasting. The fattening gave the remaining four the strength to escape to the Tutul Xiues tribe of Mayas who were enemies of the Cocom’s.

(An interesting fact of logistic history; in the recorded accounts of the first encounters of these Europeans arrival in Yucatán it was noted that hammocks were in use by the natives.)

   Tutul Xiues made slaves of these surviving Spaniards. Due to extreme hard work and exhaustion only Gonzalo Guerrero and Geronimo de Aguilar survived.
Geronimo de Aguilar kept his religion and cultural ways but Gonzalo Guerrero took up the Mayan ways and became a military advisor and trainer teaching the Maya the combat tactics of the Spanish.  It has been speculated that this Spanish combat training gave the Mayan people of the eastern jungle part of the Yucatán peninsula the ability to drive out the conquistadors. The Mayan of the Quintana Roo region, (eastern jungle) have never been completely subdued and it wasn’t until Méxican federal forces put down the protracted Caste War in the early 1900’s that this area became a territorial part of México.
   Gonzalo Guerrero left a lasting legacy with his newly adopted countrymen.
   Next Gonzalo kills an alligator attacking his master and gains his freedom from slavery. He then engaged in ritual mutilation and tattooing that included piercing his ears and cheeks. These acts assimilated him into the Mayan way of life.
Gonzalo next took a Mayan princess named Zazil Ha as his wife and was given the temples of Ichpaatún north of Chetumal, presently designated on maps as Oxtankah.
   Chetumal Bay has been a major route of commerce since the days of the ancient Maya because it linked sea-going trade routes to rivers incorporating man-made canals. Lamanai is one of the three most prominent Mayan settlements that remained continuously active through the post-classic period and even after European arrival that is linked by river/canal to Chetumal Bay.
   In 1519 Hernán Cortez arrived at the island of Cozumel and attempted to rescue the two Spanish survivors, Geronimo de Aquilar and Gonzalo Guerrero from the Maya.
   Gonzalo Guerrero replies; “I married a Mayan woman, have three children, am chief and captain, taken their ways with tattoos, pierced ears and scared face…this is my place.”
   Gonzalo’s daughter was rumored to have been sacrificed in the cenote at Chichén Itza to end a locust plague.
   He eventually met his fate in battle against the Spanish invaders. 
   Geronimo de Aguilar went with Cortez and took a job as translator.
   For centuries Gonzalo Guerrero was despised by the Spanish for being a traitor, defector, and renegade. He was a man, who had fought against his countrymen, turned his back on his land of birth, society, renounced his faith and denied Christ.
   After the independence of Mexico a change took place; strangely some Mexicans descended from the conquerors now began to feel a real passion for the Mayan culture. From the Maya one name that symbolizes the struggle in opposition to colonial imperialist power and a struggle for freedom was Gonzalo Guerrero.
   Ultimately Guerrero would go from villain to hero and from traitor to a champion of freedom.
   The Mayan ruins and Church at Oxtankah in the jungle north of Chetumal, Quintana Roo, Mexico have been restored and memorialize this extraordinary man and his wife, Zazil Ha, the parents of the first mestizo. An adjacent lagoon in the area of the Oxtankah ruins near Bacalar bears his name.

   On the prestigious Paseo de Montejo in Mérida a monument now commemorates his memory. Donated to the city of Mérida by the founder of Akumal, Pablo Bush Romero who was also the president of the Explorers Club of México this bronze monument sculpted by Raul Ayala is perched atop a stone pedestal at the north end of Paseo de Montejo.  
   Remarkably this monument to one of the most noteworthy Spaniards to ever venture to the New World, Gonzalo Guerrero, his wife, Zazil Ha and their three children sits between eight lanes of bustling traffic.
There is no sign of recognition or plaque of explanation and few people if any that pass here are ever aware of the incredibly fascinating story behind this first Spaniard to integrate into Yucatán.
   The symbolic sculpture of Gonzalo Guerrero attired in his Mayan clothing with his wife Zazil Ha behind cradling one of his infant children while another of his three mestizo children plays with a Spanish conquistador war helmet tells much of this epic story.
This sculpture of Gonzalo Guerrero is a part of the monument in Chetumal dedicated to the Cradle of the Mestizo.
John M. Grimsrud ©2010

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Faces of Carnival - 2010

Click on the link above  to view our web page: Young Faces of Carnival - 2010              

Monday, February 1, 2010

Ticul Plus Muna, Dzan and Maní

We first came to Ticul by narrow gauge train in the early 1980’s and little did we know at the time that this relic of the past narrow gauge train, one of the last remaining in the world was soon to vanish. At that time we saw pottery works and countless ladies shoe shops where the shoes were made and sold.
On our many return trips over the years we have gradually discovered the numerous fascinating treasures that Ticul and its friendly people have to offer.
Ticul, 82 kilometers south of Mérida or about 50 miles is known as; “The Pearl of the South”. Besides a number of strange and interesting things in the city, Ticul also has its unique geographical position adjacent to the remarkable monuments of the past depicted in the above oil painting.
From left to right across the top of the painting; The Puuc Route (Puuc is the name given to the hills in the region) with five distinct Mayan temple sites and also the Grutas de Loltún, “caves of Loltún”; next is Ticul’s pink marble Mayan style arch built by the notable stone carver Rómulo Rozo who also built Mérida’s Monumento a la Patria on the prestigious Paseo de Montejo boulevard; next is one of the most impressive Mayan temples ever built, Uxmal.
Depicted across the center of the painting are; Ticul’s main church started in 1591 that took nearly fifty years to complete, in the center are the town craft people, the shoe maker and potter, on the right is one of the many area Mayan temples.
Across the bottom is the huge hacienda of Tabí, one of the most prestigious of Yucatán and it is flanked by typical Mayan clay figures of the pre-Columbian era.
On the north side of Ticul at the city entrance is Arte Maya with probably the best quality Mayan reproductions to be found anywhere. The showroom there is well worth the stop; it is simply extraordinary.
Arte Maya began here back in 1974 and has produced reproductions of indigenous sculptures of such high quality they are used in the nations leading museums.
The same family has continuously produced the very best class of workmanship here with the ultimate in attention to detail. Above is the entry to the showroom.
Naturally talented Lourdes Gonzalez is a big part of this family operation at Arte Maya and proudly continues reproducing the very finest in Mayan art.
Down the street from Arte Maya is the shop of Señor Mena where bigger than life statuary is sculpted that ultimately finds its way to the local street corners around Ticul. Fifteen years of dedicated work by Señor Mena has made Ticul a photo-op attraction not to be missed.
This night time exposure photo is taken from the plaza looking at the 1591 church.
Art is everywhere in Ticul. Dance rehearsal in the decoratively painted plaza band-shell tells a lot about the city pride of this very clean and prosperous city.
Perched atop a prominent hill overlooking Ticul is this distinctive Mayan style arch that was constructed by the internationally famous sculptor Rómulo Rozo back in the 1950’s
The president of Mexico even arrived for the dedication
Carved into a corner stone of the Ticul Mayan arch is the name of the stone carver, Rómulo Rozo, who left his distinctive creations all across Mexico.
The distinctive pink stone of this arch and the “Monumento de la Patria” (Monument to the history of Mexico) on the prestigious Paseo de Montejo Boulevard in Mérida came from a quarry on an adjacent hilltop on the road south to Santa Elena. The stone for the monument was transported to Mérida on the old narrow gauge railway train.
The Ticul Mayan arch is so famous it is plagiarized in wall painted advertisements.
A view looking away from the Ticul Mayan arch and into the rolling hills of the Puuc region will give you some idea of the narrow back roads and isolated open spaces of this semi-arid tropical forest region of northwestern Yucatán.
At age seventy-five Arturo Gutierrez actively works in his shoe manufacturing business and even made a splendid repair of Jane’s shoes while we waited. The remarkable thing about Arturo is that he as a little boy recalled Rómulo Rozo the famous stone sculptor, how he dressed and his stone cutting shop where he trained area men into the sculpting trade. Most amazing of all is the fact that the stone cutting shop of Rómulo Rozo was in this very same building.
This is the shoe manufacturing shop of Arturo Gutierrez where Rómulo Rozo previously did his stone cutting. The bicycles belong to the employees of the shoe shop.
One of Rómulo Rozo’s most widely plagiarized works of art is this little figure that they refer to here as “Pancho”. The sculptor originally named it El Pensamiento or “The Thinker”.
Above: El Pensamiento photo from Wikipedia
Sculpture by Rómulo Rozo displayed in the Museum of Art in La Paz, Bolivia.This is the image that was plagiarized after it was shown in an exhibition in the National Library in Mexico City in 1932.When it was on exhibition, somebody placed a bottle of tequila in front of it, took a photo and it was widely circulated in newspapers around the world as the drunken or sleeping Mexican…an image still thought of today.
The variety of paint jobs and size of “Pancho” seen endless…all the shops sell them.
This Mayan lady with her white as snow clothes asks for help for food. We have found that in the Mayan villages when we take a break for a rest stop, the generous people are always offering us food. They will rarely take money for the food.
Mayan food is mostly vegetation, nutritious and delicious like these salbutes.
We had lunch at a “cocina economica” (Economy kitchen) – the pork was delicious and the price was right!
Considering that this Ticul church was begun back in 1591 and took nearly fifty years to complete, it has been kept in remarkably good repair.
The old church is spotless like the rest of Ticul.
Moorish style arches and architecture were brought to the New World by the Spanish.
Ticul sets a high standard for cleanliness and preservation.

We next made a side trip west to Muna, a small market town dating from the 1600’s that was a cross-road with straight Mayan sacbe roads leading off in four directions. The elevated stone work of these Mayan roads is still plainly visible in and around Muna.
This colonial hand carved pulpit pictured above has miraculously survived the centuries.
The Muna market is traditionally Mayan and this lady is the local medicine vender with a herbal cure for nearly all ailments.
A view from a municipal building in the central plaza contrasting the old and the new.
Our next bicycle trip took us east on a lovely and quiet road to the small town of Dzan.
Winter time in the Yucatán countryside is ablaze with vibrant wild flowers that supports a huge honey industry.
Bicycling on the quiet road to Dzan is literally like taking a breath of fresh air richly scented and perfumed by flower blossoms.
With an overcast sky the multitudes of wild flowers seemed to be ablaze with dazzling luminescence.
We arrived in Dzan in time to see a very noisy pageant leave the church with sky rockets exploding as they went.
Down the road at Maní we stopped at one of seven chapels there and across the street was a tortilla shop or molino that lured us with its inviting roasted corn aroma. We had our morning coffee and sprinkled salt on the hot tortillas.
Sitting on the altar of the little chapel is this neatly decorated work of art of unknown age.
The chapel was impeccably clean and well maintained like the rest of the area. We had no competition for seats and the shelter came just in time because a cold rainy drizzle settled in.
No gold or rich adornments are found here but the Mayan people are the treasure.
At the chapel corner in Maní we left the pavement to visit this new development. Under the roof are wood logs that house the hives of small black stinger-less Mayan bees that produce a much prized honey.
Padre Luis is making a Mayan style village that is soon to be finished.
The 1547 church in Maní is getting a major make over of paint and plaster and does not look its age any longer.

The rain persisted. A truck came along and offered us a ride to Oxkutzcab and we happily loaded our bikes and climbed aboard. It was still raining in Oxkutzcab so we folded out bikes and caught the next bus to Merida. Two two hours later we were home in Mérida in our warm dry house. …the pleasure of biking and busing in Yucatán…it is great!

John M. Grimsrud ©2010