One Magical Day

We left our B&B at Santa Elena after breakfast, ready for a day of adventure in our rented car.  Good thing we were ready because it was one full day.  It seems that everywhere you look in this region you will spot ancient pyramid structures.  The town of Izamal  has 3 of them in the midst of town – it could be right beside a house!

Our first stop was at Labna,  I love the ruins that are so quiet, it allows you to feel the peace, the energy, and to just listen to the birds.  This is one site believed to be very important as it housed around 3,000 Mayans in the 9th centre.  Don’t miss this on the Ruta Puuc as the architecture is truly Puuc style and very interesting.   They were well known for their cisterns, at their peak they had 60 around the city.  As many ruins as we’ve seen I’m always impressed with what they were able to do in ancient times with so few tools.  There is something about wandering around these structures without crowds of people that allows you to feel the vitality of civilizations past.

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Just loved the magnificent old trees, Vivi loved the natural swing!

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These beautiful structures were spread over quite a large area, and they haven’t even restored it all.  In 2006 they completed the restoration work we were able to see.

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No, we aren’t allowed to climb on the structures, but I think sitting for a photo is okay ……

 

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So many years later, the structural integrity of this building was still intact.  The only restoration needed was in the arch and stairways.  Obviously a brilliant civilization to be able to accomplish all this.

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It was hard to tear ourselves away from this beautiful setting. BUT, caves are waiting!

Loltun Caves “Grutas de Loltun” were just down the road, and an amazing experience.  That road though!  After driving miles in the Yucatan it is so refreshing to drive down a road with something to look at – lined with lush orchards, banana and palm groves.

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Yes, we are going down in there.  Some of us under duress.  (no, I’m not looking at you Vivi)

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It is necessary to take a guided tour through the caves.  Our guide, Ricardo, was full of information, including the fact  that we would only be seeing 2 k of the 10 k trails.  They are very protective of these caves, and understandably so as they are the most important cave system in the Yucatan Peninsula.

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Can you see why we didn’t want to tell Vivi why we were so far underground?  These stalactites were enormous!  No stalagmites form here as the minerals get washed away during the flooding in rainy season.

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This particular stalactite is hollow!  The cave structure received it’s name from this. When you hit it in one area it makes a “lolllll” sound, and a second area makes the “tunnnnn” …. lollllltunnn.  We were able to replicate this ourselves, and felt the reverberation right through us.

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The light is coming from a hole above.  Mayans didn’t live in this cave structure, but rather used it for worship, or protection from either animals or enemies.  They would also use it to drive animals to it, who would then fall to their death in order to be eaten.  Standing here, surrounded by energies from civilizations past, it was one of those moments both Vivi and I thought would be imprinted on us.

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These hand prints on the walls are just some of the evidence found here – a treasure trove for archeological studies.  Evidence has been found that has been carbon dated to over 2,200 years ago.  That boggles my mind.

Same day, can you even believe it is the same day?  We are off to cenotes.  You know Grant, when we’ve got a rented car it is not going to sit around …..

Just outside of Izamal is a series of cenotes called Santa Barbara.  In the Yucatan peninsula there are over 6,000 cenotes – natural sinkholes.  They are formed when the limestone bedrock, forming the roof of an underground cavern collapses, exposes the ground water underneath.  Not when a meteorite struck as some believe …..

This one in particular is fun to go to, as you can choose to walk between the cenotes, ride a bike, or get pulled by horse on a rail track.  You know with Vivi we are always going to go the horse route, as with Hayley, Sloan and Stella when we were here last.

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Seated on a cart, these little horses pull us along at a pretty good clip to a series of 3 cenotes.

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The water is crystal clear and so refreshing.

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Some cenotes have quite a large opening above to let in light, but others just have an opening large enough to have a ladder going down, and enough room to climb it!

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This cenote is largely an open area, just look at the roots on the trees above us stretching for water.  In rainy season they are underwater.

At long last we are ready to find a place to stay in Izamal.  Only 70 k from Merida this entire historical district is painted with a bright, vivid yellow giving the city a nickname of “the yellow city”.  This is a beautifully quiet little place, lovely to walk around.  Right next to a home you might see the remains of a pyramid.  The town centre has 3 pyramids around it that are easily accessible.

We found an amazing little B&B to stay at.  Juan and his staff were amazingly friendly and attentive.  Not only was the place a beautiful spot to relax, it was quirky enough to have us wandering around looking at it all!

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This Franciscan monastery is at the centre of town.  There are so many images of Mayan gods in the town, on the ruins, that it provoked the Spaniards to build this large structure overlooking Izamal.

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These beautiful little carts and dressed up horses are available to use as a taxi, or to just have a tour of the area.

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We loved this beautiful little spot!  Viv and Wilson had the blue bungalow, and we had the pink.

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The owner, Juan, was very friendly.  This is the jungle room, and the entire room is painted like this!  Incredible to view, but I’m not sure how restful ….. I might have been apprehensive about getting attacked!

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And ….. that’s a wrap on a simply magical day.  We finished at Kinich Restaurant, traditional Yucatecan food.  This dish of chicken on a white bean puree, with tomato and nut sauce was lip smacking good.  That glass of green hovering on the edge of the photo is a Chaya drink, an herb somewhat like spinach.  Delicious and refreshing.

Time to return the rental car to Merida, so we headed to Progresso first for lunch, and a search for some flamingo winter resting grounds.  We did find them but not close enough to be photo worthy.  In spite of that, we loved seeing them in the mangrove – so beautiful and graceful.  This was the moment I wished for a real camera instead of my phone! Maybe someday.

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The 7 km pier at Progresso is ready to welcome cruise ships …….eek.

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I don’t understand why Mike hasn’t insisted I get a selfie stick yet.  Maybe because he knows Grant won’t carry it?

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Crabster Restaurant – how’s this for a mile high crab & shrimp burger?

After this we returned the car to Merida, staying for one night at a slightly sketchy hotel with a quirky host …… Grant blocked the doorway with his pack!  Funniest part was trying to find it, we got to the right address but no hotel.  So off we went, walking down the road with our bags.  Eventually I phoned the hotel and got an English accented Canadian who said “oh, are you the people with bags that were at the door”????  Should have been our first clue and kept us walking but it all adds to the adventure.  Or, so I tell myself.  Its time to hit the beach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oaxaca

Oaxaca is a beautiful city, full of amazing restaurants and many beautiful buildings.  The zocalo always has something happening.  Whether it is families socializing or protests underway it is lively.  We’ve been a few times now, and will be a few more I’m sure.

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The zocalo is the heart of all Mexican communities, big or small.  Families gather, young people “court”, vendors sell necessities like balloons and ice cream, and music is everywhere.  At any time of day the zocalo is entertaining, but Sundays are particularly lively.

We had a great place to stay in Oaxaca this time, loving AIRBNB for granting us access to these places – so nice to have a place that feels like home to relax and enjoy while being able to explore whatever area we are in.

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We have explored the ruins of Monte Alban a few times, and are always amazed at the sheer size of it all.  Originally home of Zapotec people, these ruins are still being uncovered.  This visit we explored Atzompa, newly discovered!  Seriously, Mexican officials and archeologists must be suspiciously looking at every hillside and wondering what is underneath.

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We took a collectivo taxi up to this area, about 8 km from Oaxaca itself, and then continued uphill to explore the ruins.  It is crazy that every time you think you have reached the top you only uncover more terraces.

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From here you can look across at Monte Alban – they were all part of the same community, and the vantage point is incredible.dsc03249

dsc03241The ever present ball court …. maybe we find them so fascinating because of the soccer similarities … you can use any part of your body except your hands.  Authorities are divided on whether the loser or winner was sacrificed ….. it is a great honour to be sacrificed though so I guess it is all depends on your point of view.

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The flora …… Honestly I don’t often take so many photos of flowers in Mexico but the flowers alongside the ruins and the road leading up to it were just stunning, and I couldn’t help myself.

From the site, we walked down the road (2 km) to the nearest town in order to get a taxi back to Oaxaca.  You really don’t ever know what you are going to encounter along the roads in Mexico.

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From livestock to world renowned potter …. this roadside gallery was a real surprise.

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It was only 2 km from the archeological site to the town, but it was hot!

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Every year we try to bring back a couple of “Servin” mugs … the pottery is a marvel – wonderful to hold, perfect for coffee or tea and so beautiful.fullsizeoutput_4759

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It seems like there is a cathedral on every corner in Mexico, and it is likely true.  They are absolutely beautiful, and regardless of your religion it is a wonderful spot to just sit and take a moment … maybe just to realize how lucky we are to travel.

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We toured the Cultural center and once again, we marvel at both the building and the art it houses.  dsc03213

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This is the ceiling …. seriously …. this much effort going into the ceiling.  dsc03221

dsc03212Yes, more ceilings …. how on earth did they do this?

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Every floor had an area where they had outside space – no doubt to reflect and appreciate your environment.  This one overlooked the ethnobotanical gardens below.

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As for the food ….. oh my goodness ….  eating in Oaxaca is a foodie dream.  We had outstanding food here.dsc03234

Origen Restaurant – the food here is without doubt picture perfect and the flavours live up to the image, I’d encourage anybody to eat here.

In fact, every meal we ate in Oaxaca was outstanding.  We kept saying “that was the best, I’d like to eat here again!”  We need more time in Oaxaca to do that.

However, it is time to move on ….. time for Mexico City!

 

Oaxaca!! 17 Nov 2014

We made it onto the flight to Oaxaca – I tell you – Interjet airline is the bomb. Loaded on time, lift off on time, big seats (compared to Air Canada) – a quick beverage of any kind, along with snacks, refills, and boom – touchdown in Oaxaca. Love it.

The taxi bounced over cobblestone streets to find our apartment – Casa Del Barrio. Oh My Gosh. Love it!! Turns out to have 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms a cozy living/dining area and a fully functioning kitchen. Not to mention 3 little decks! One off the front entry way, another off the kitchen and a larger one with hammock and outdoor dining set off the living room. That may all sound huge, but it isn’t – just very well organized. We will easily spend our week here!

Waiting outside Casa Del Barrio in Oaxaca for our host - Ricardo

Waiting outside Casa Del Barrio in Oaxaca for our host – Ricardo

We no sooner hit the streets and I was reminded why I love Oaxaca so much – streets are clean, wide, smooth and sidewalks are not only existent but they are well maintained. This beautiful old Colonial city has it’s Centro Historico designated as a heritage site and they have looked after that very well. The old buildings are just beautiful – so colourful and completely kept in traditional ways.

Everywhere you look - beautiful, well maintained buildings with flowers

Everywhere you look – beautiful, well maintained buildings with flowers

Our wanderings took us into the central zocalo where they were in full long weekend festive mode – booths set up everywhere. Browsing the stalls we made our way to one of the mercados – and thankfully for us they still had a few vegetable vendors working – most were already in festival mode and closed down. We stocked up on fruits and vegetables for a couple of days as well as huevos (eggs), wine and beer.

The fruits and vegetables are just amazing - we can't get avocado this good at home, and the tomatoes only taste like this in the summer!

The fruits and vegetables are just amazing – we can’t get avocado this good at home, and the tomatoes only taste like this in the summer!

Naturally we also bought Oaxaca string cheese

Naturally we also bought Oaxaca string cheese

This morning Grant had us all on the road by 10:00 (yes, late for us) and we hailed a taxi to take us to Monte Alban – an archeological site first occupied around 500 BC – and at it’s peak probably around 350 – 700 AD. The Zapotec Indians occupied the top of a hilltop, and from that perspective you can see up and down all 3 valleys in the area, creating a Y. It is huge!

Monte Alban This incredible site just goes on forever - so beautiful

Monte Alban
This incredible site just goes on forever – so beautiful


No sooner do you climb a structure, and you see that it stretches out in front of you on another terrace altogether. Even at all sides of the developed or explored structures you can see remnants of ruins that haven’t even been touched. It is incredible to think of a nation of people that have still left such evidence of their existence that it can be pieced together all these years later.

Resting on top one of the climbs

Resting on top one of the climbs

Even Vivian is smiling after the climb!

Even Vivian is smiling after the climb!


Even Lonely Planet calls it one of the most impressive ancient sites in Mexico, and it is easy to see why, with it’s 360 degree views. Over 150 decorated underground tombs have been found in this site, although they aren’t available to view.

Just a few of the many carvings depicting the glories of battle wins.

Just a few of the many carvings depicting the glories of battle wins.

We waited for a taxi to materialize at the top for a while, without success. Eventually one of the vendors flagged down a young worker from Monte Alban, and he gave us a ride down to town, for slightly more than the taxi out – a great deal since we didn’t see a taxi all the way back to town. I guess everybody was in festival mode in the city!

On arriving back in town we decided to eat Mexican style – Comida. This was a full meal – tortilla soup, bisteca with onions or chipotle (thinly pounded steak) that was presented with beans and guacamole, watermelon water, and finished with coffee and a brownie. 65 pesos. Yes, that is the equivalent of less than $5.00 Canadian. After all that exercise, sun and food – we retired to our home for a siesta. I think siestas came about after eating their big meal at this time of day ….

After siesta we went to La Biznaga for dinner …. Grant and I had eaten there years before, and honestly – the only thing I could really remember was the flan with mescal sauce ….. it was still on the menu! We enjoyed it just as much tonight …. yum yum. However, the biggest surprise was Wilson ordering a chicken dish with chappulines! (yes, grasshoppers) He thought they were pretty good!

Wilson loved his chicken dish - in a guava sauce, served with a big bunch of chappulines (grasshoppers) - so good!

Wilson loved his chicken dish – in a guava sauce, served with a big bunch of chappulines (grasshoppers) – so good!

Only in Mexico ….. a fancy restaurant, fabulous dinner, followed by our favourite dessert - flan with caramel mescal sauce and crunchy pecans and coconut - then wash up in a bathroom that looks like this!  How can you not love this place?

Only in Mexico ….. a fancy restaurant, fabulous dinner, followed by our favourite dessert – flan with caramel mescal sauce and crunchy pecans and coconut – then wash up in a bathroom that looks like this! How can you not love this place?

More on Oaxaca to come – but be assured we are having a great time!

One of the many beautiful cathedrals - all lit up at night.

One of the many beautiful cathedrals – all lit up at night.