A Travellerspoint blog

February 2012

On The Wild Side of the Yucatan

sunny 33 °C

There are no rivers in the Yucatan despite the torrential tropical downpours every summer during hurricane season but, for millions of years, underground aquifers have carved an extensive system of caves into the soft limestone. Massive stalagmites and stalactites give testimony to the age of these caves in Loltun…
It was a slow day at the caves – so slow that a couple of guides almost came to blows as they fought to win our business. They started at $50 but by the time we stopped them they had bargained each other down to just $5. They were so determined that if we hadn’t stepped in they might have paid us to take the tour. Once inside we were enthralled by the sheer enormity of the cathedral-sized caverns and the seemingly endless miles of tunnels…
Unfortunately, pictures cannot convey the sheer wonder or enormity of these caves. But as we neared the surface, daylight brought it into focus…
These giant holes were blasted by an enormous meteorite that struck this area 65 million years ago and wiped out the dinosaurs – or so we were led to believe. But then we took a boat trip through the mangrove swamps in Celestun…
James’ daughter was dwarfed by the alien tentacles of the mangrove roots, and then we arrived at a cenote…
“Come on in – the water’s lovely,” cried a group of Americans who were swimming among the fish in the clear fresh water, and we were very tempted…
“Wait!” yelled James’ daughter. “What’s that monstrous creature that has just slithered into the water?”
It’s a dinosaur – an eight-foot long crocodile had joined the Americans for an afternoon dip and those guys dived out of the pool faster than they dived in. Great fun was had by all - including the croc....

Posted by Hawkson 07:24 Archived in Mexico Comments (2)

Flying Fantasia

sunny 34 °C

Today we witnessed one of nature’s greatest spectacles in the unpolluted coastal air of the Gulf of Mexico and were so enthralled that we were inspired to eulogize the vibrancy of colour and life in prose.

We cut a sandy-yellow scar as we race across a shallow aquamarine lagoon, sending waves of whitewater into the surrounding jade-green mangroves. High above us frigate birds soar in ghostly silence, their slender black wings sharply silhouetted against the indigo sky…
Glossy ebony cormorants flap their stubby wings with an air of desperation as they chase across the water at knee height in search of unseen prey, while statuesque marble-white herons stand motionless waiting for lunch to swim their way. Comical pelicans, wearing feathery brown coats and sporting enormous beaks, crash headfirst into the waters as if overbalanced by their weighty appendages, while agile gulls in a multitude of size and grey/white hues whirl and dive in an aerial ballet as they snatch at anything resembling food…

And then the flamingoes: At first, just a smudge of rosé on the aquamarine horizon as we tear across the plankton-rich lagoon in our speedboat…
But then wave after wave of almost unbelievable pink begins to divide, first into flocks, then into individual birds. This is a “Wow!” moment of epic proportions…
Nothing prepares us for the sight of thousands of these spectacularly coloured birds – and in amazing close-up. We take picture after picture…
And then we leave, knowing that we have witnessed one of the earth’s most beautiful sights. Pictures simply cannot do justice to this experience. The flamingos of the Yucatan should be on everyone’s bucket list. Come soon but, in the meantime, perhaps you would like to offer some poetic words to describe these breathtaking scenes...

Hasta la vista

Posted by Hawkson 09:05 Archived in Mexico Comments (6)

Surviving Armageddon

Merida's Mardi Gras

sunny 32 °C

We survived – not the cataclysmic arrival of a giant meteorite that we had been erroneously led to believe would destroy the world this week and signal Armageddon - we survived the Mardi Gras festival parade in Merida on Sunday…
The noise was deafening. Huge boom-boxes thumping out Latin rhythms drowned out the sound of enormous diesel generators and the excited yells of over a quarter of a million spectators. Here’s just a sample of the crowd…
And here’s a selection of the thousands of elaborately costumed dancers…


It was … difficult to describe - an unmissable event. However, having spent six ear-shattering hours under a blistering sun amid a throng of yelling festival aficionados and screaming kids, perhaps our greatest relief is that we no longer need to go to Rio for Mardi Gras. Most of the floats were advertising vehicles for food and drink and the crowds went wild as free goodies were thrown to them. It’s amazing how aggressive people can become over a free bag of Tostitos or a cheap chocolate bar. Here’s some of the floats…
As for the prediction of the end of the world: we have now learnt that, according to the Mayan calendar, on December 21st of this year all peoples of the earth will cease wars and will live in peace and harmony for ever more. While we would like to be as optimistic as our Mayan hosts we think that the prospect of a giant meteorite destroying the earth is far more likely than world peace, so James won’t be making his usual Christmas cake this year.

Posted by Hawkson 16:52 Archived in Mexico Comments (2)

Mayan Mexico

sunny 34 °C

For our first couple of weeks in Mexico the weather was a touch hit and miss. It was warm, but the sea was rucked by strong nor’westerlies and at times the sky was greyer than a Gabriolan February. However, since our English guests arrived last Monday it has been entirely a hit – downright hot in fact. So what could be more refreshing than the pleasantly cool freshwater pool, (called a cenote), at Dzibilchaltun…
Not only can you cool off in the clear water but you can get a free pedicure from a shoal of very obliging small fry…
But we are not here to take the waters. Dzibilchaltun is an ancient Mayan city built about the time that the Romans were stomping all over Europe. This pyramid is about 2,000 years old…
Time for a little local history. Unlike the Romans and ancient Egyptians whose records survived in the relatively dry atmosphere, the hot, humid jungle of the Yucatan quickly swallowed the Mayans’ buildings and ate everything, including the limestone carvings that depicted their life and rituals. Therefore, little is known of the origin of the Mayans – they may have originated in Asia, or might have descended from the races of Columbia or other Andean countries. What is known is that were, and still are, very short, small people, who are not easily provoked to war – a sensible strategy if the biggest chap on the team is the size of a grade 5 Canadian schoolkid. There are claims of human sacrifice – especially that of children - and while it may make sense for a four-foot nothing Mayan warrior to pick on a five year old, the chances are that these claims are exaggerated to titillate the tourists. How’s this for theatre seating circa 300 AD…
By the way - great news! We had been led to believe that the world would end next Tuesday, but the astronomical observatory at Dzibilchaltun predicts that we are safe until December 21st 2012 – Yeah!
Hasta semana proxima, (See you next week after all).

Posted by Hawkson 17:51 Archived in Mexico Comments (5)

Meridan Meanders

sunny 32 °C

Merida was a large Mayan city when the Spanish arrived in 1542 and used the ceremonial pyramids as the foundation for the first Christian cathedral in the New World. Here’s the façade which faces onto the main square…
And here’s the view across the square to the cultural centre…
At its core the city of Merida is as Mexican as it comes. A wealth of colonial buildings surround the central plaza, and the adjacent streets are lined with Mexican restaurants and small stores selling traditional local products and thousands of dodgy videos – all latest releases are just $2 each…
Sunday is market day, when the square bustles with women in traditional Mayan dress, music blares from every corner and stallholders try to catch the eye of locals and tourists alike. Prices and provenance vary – even the most traditionally decorated Mayan artifact may be discretely stamped, “Made in China.”
There is a vibrancy in the air as happy families wander the pedestrianised zones or cycle along roads which are barred to traffic every Sunday. But the traffic in Merida isn’t at all unruly – most motorists willingly stop at pedestrian crossings and few take chances with amber lights. Almost all roads are one-way streets and there are police officers controlling most busy junctions. Horse-drawn carts have no problem navigating the historic centre…
Away from the centre many of the buildings on the wide tree-lined boulevards are as modern as any in North America or Europe. Costco, Sears, WalMart and other big named retail brands have set up shop here along with all the usual American fast-food suspects. The short, stocky Mayans seem to have a natural propensity for obesity so the last thing they really need is encouragement from the fat cats of Burger King and McDonalds. We avoid the multi-nationals and try to support local businesses - where prices are about half of Canadian prices for most things - so we were surprised when we took a quick peek into Costco and discovered that they charge exactly the same as they do in Canada. The store is almost identical in design and layout to our Costco at home and for a few moments we thought we had been dreaming and had woken up in our local store. Then we stepped outside into the 30 degree heat and came back to earth.
Merida, with a population of one million, is the capital city of the Yucatan, and we will be returning in a few days to participate in one of its major attractions – the Festival of Mardi Gras and the Mayan New Year.
Hasta Luego

Posted by Hawkson 09:34 Archived in Mexico Comments (3)

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