A Travellerspoint blog


The Great Chichén Itzá Bazaar.

sunny 35 °C

For hunters of bargain-basement tourist trinkets in the Yucatan there is no better place than the Chichén Itzá bazaar. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of stalls laden with all manner of Mayan flavoured products shelter from the scorching sun under umbrellas of palms and banyans.
Enthusiastic stallholders eagerly informed us in broken English that the variously sized and vibrantly painted pottery dishes had each been individually hand decorated by their ancient, arthritic, Mayan grannies. We wanted to believe them, despite the fact that every stall had identical pots which had obviously been knocked out in a pottery manned by robots. However, unlike Mexican DVD’s which all appear to be fakes, some of the goods on display in the market were the real McCoy. But even when we spied a guy sitting behind his stall carving a face mask or a Mexican jaguar, (the cat not the car), we still couldn’t tell the difference...
Were these tasseled blankets painstakingly hand-woven by Jose’s ageing grandmother in a thatched cottage like this one in rural Yucatan…?
or were they spun up in a few seconds by one of Mrs. Chow’s relatives in Shanghai? And what of all the embroidered blouses and dresses? Could they possibly all be hand-stitched…?
But wait. What is that giant stone thing peeking out from behind the clothing stalls?

Goodness - It’s a pyramid, but not just any pyramid. This is the Kukulkan Mayan pyramid which has been named as one of the new 7 wonders of the world. We had been so sidetracked by the plethora of souvenir stands that litter the grounds of Chichén Itzá that we had almost overlooked the pyramid – rated as one of top 100 sights in the world to see before you die. Here’s a clearer shot…
But where are all the tourists? Buying little plastic models of the pyramid in the market of course. Who wants the real thing when you can take home an exact miniature copy to put on the bookshelf? But there is more to Chichén Itzá than a 1,500 year old pyramid. There’s an ancient observatory…
An ancient market hall…
And a ball court where the ancients used a ball made from a human skull wrapped in rubber to play a game similar to basketball, (without the Coca-Cola and hotdogs)

Chichén Itzá is, according to the tourist guides, a must-see place, one of the last great cities of the Mayans, but we can’t help feeling that much of the hype is driven by the thousands of vendors who vie to fleece the tourists and, in the process, turn this important archaeological site into a zoo.

Posted by Hawkson 15:40 Archived in Mexico Comments (3)

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)

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