Fireworks, Cenotes & ... CHIGGERS!!

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September 27th 2012
Published: September 27th 2012
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Merida, Dzibilchaltun, Becal

Additional maps: Merida, Dzibilchaltun, Becal

We have now crossed the one month threshold in our new town of Merida, Mexico. This is the first time in 8 months that we have lived in one house for more than a month. While not having to pick up and move has nice advantages, it also introduces some new challenges. When we stay in a place for one month and try to visit as much of the surrounding area as possible in the short time we have, we are seldom lacking for things to do. Normally we start by following the guide books and as we see the featured items we usually find that we discover other places or things of interest that warrant a more in depth visit. We rarely lack for things to do and often find that we are busier than we might want to be or often have to rush to accomplish all the goals we have to learn as much as we can before moving on.

Staying in one place for longer introduces a different problem. What do you do when every day is a Saturday? I’m sure it doesn’t seem like something to complain about (and I probably shouldn’t) but it is difficult to get up every day and actually have to find something to keep yourself busy. At some point your fascination with anything wanes and you begin making excuses to just sit around and do nothing. For one day it is nice to sleep in a little and not accomplish much, but if you don’t get up the second day and get busy, we find ourselves getting lazy and less motivated. Laziness is our worst enemy on this trip. If you don’t stay busy and do as much as possible, the negatives of the journey outweigh the positives of the experiences you have and you start regretting that you ever decided to uproot yourself and try to live life in a different way than most people do.

We have had so many encouraging words and notes from everyone that reads our blog and looks at our photos and videos and I think that is what helps us to keep things in perspective. So many people long for the opportunity to travel and see a bit more of the world and everyone’s comments re-inspire us daily to quit our complaining and just go do something! It’s really easy and we are lucky to have a chance to do this. With thatsaid, we did get out and do a few things….

We left off the last blog getting ready to go observe the Mexican Independence day celebrations. We had a great time making our way to the Gran Plaza in Merida. The call to independence (“the Grito”) was not until 11 PM and we honestly got to the plaza a little early. We enjoyed seeing all the families with small children taking pictures of the kids in front of the huge Merida cathedral that dominates the square. The crowd began to grow as the time went by until thousands had gathered to enjoy the several bands that were playing. A large stage was set up and several very good bands entertained the crowd with a good mix of modern music as well as many more traditional songs.

The lights went out and the band stopped and it was obviously getting close to the real show beginning. The governor of the state appeared on the balcony of the beautiful city hall that looked out over the now huge crowd. “Vivas” were said for all of the heroes of the revolution (Hidalgo, Morelos, etc.) with the crowd fervently answering “Viva” after each hero. Then it was time for “Vivas” for Yucatan state and finally 3 “Vivas” for Mexico, each one with a louder reply back from the crowd. Then the bell was rung several times and the crowd cheered for several minutes.

The cathedral was obviously going to have fireworks as many were set up in front. After they were impressively set off for 10 minutes or so and several aerial shots went off above the crowd we all cheered and thought it was a great presentation. However, as it turned out, this was really just a warm-up. After a several second pause, hundreds of aerial fireworks started going off. The entire front of the church was illuminated with smaller sparklers attached seemingly everywhere to the building. Smaller tracer fireworks began to shoot off the roof of the church and towers. It seemed too close compared to anything I had seen in the past and as now thousands of projectiles screamed into the air literally right above our head the entire building seemed to now be exploding right in front of our eyes. Pieces of spent missile fell on the crowd but everyone seemed not to care and only cheered louder. The final 15 minutes of the 40 minute show was a non-stop explosion that could barely be seen through the clouds of dense smoke. Absolutely amazing! Viva, Mexico!

After Independence Day, we decided to get out to see some of the surrounding area outside of Merida. We have seen lots of pictures of Cenotes but had not been out to visit any yet. A cenote is an underground source of fresh water that can be accessed directly above ground or underground in a cave. The Yucatan has no lakes or rivers and in the Mayan days cenotes were the only source of fresh water. While visiting the Maya ruins near Merida and seeing the many monuments to the rain god Chaac, it is obvious the importance the cenotes played throughout history.

The closest cenote to Merida is at the Mayan site of Dzibilchaltun. Dzibilchaltun is located about 20 minutes north of town. While it is a small site compared to Chichen Itza or Uxmal, it is quite popular with tourists on the days of the Spring and Fall equinox. One temple (House of the Seven Dolls) is built so that the rising sun shines directly through the doorway of the temple and illuminates the inside of the temple. We visited the site the day before the equinox and enjoyed seeing all the preparations being made for the tourists that would arrive the next morning. The cenote at Dzibilchaltun is an above ground water source and has beautiful blue, crystal clear water. It is as shallow as 5 feet on one end and 140 feet deep at the other. Divers from National Geographic visited the site in the past and found over 30,000 Mayan artifacts in the cenote, including some bones. It was quite interesting and despite the “closed” signs posted at the cenote, several people were enjoying the warm, yet inviting waters. With the exception of the swimmers, we basically had the site to ourselves, which allows you to more easily imagine what life may have been like for the Mayans when they were here.

We also visited another less known Mayan site called Kabah. Kabah is located south of town, not far from the large Uxmal site. It is nicely restored and has beautiful walls completely made of Chaac, the rain god, figures. Kabah is famous for its large arch that was the beginning of the long royal road that was constructed by the Mayans to connect their cities. The Kabah site is split by a two lane freeway. One side is rebuilt and heavily visited by tour buses, but the other side of the site is completely undeveloped. We enjoyed walking through the tall grass and seeing an un-rebuilt pyramid. We went along a trail (avoiding looking at the yellow keep out signs) and really saw some overgrown ruins. Just as we were totally getting into our Indiana Jones fantasy, out of nowhere an official with the National Archeological and History institute appeared and told us we were in an illegal area. It was still fun and nice to see what it must have been like for the early explorers who found the ruins for the first time. Unfortunately when we got home we paid a price for our explorations when we discovered we had been swarmed by chiggers. If you don’t know what chiggers are, they are microscopic larvae that get on you when you walk in wet grass. You don’t see them or feel them bite, but about 3 hours later, you discover the welts they leave on your legs and ankles. They are way worse than mosquito bites (which we are basically immune to now) and last for several days after biting you. A lady told us that putting limes with salt on them all over the bite area helps alleviate the sting and it seemed to help greatly, although for the next few days we and our house smelled like someone had a giant tequila party.

We also visited an underground cenote called Cenote San Ignacio just south of town on the road to Campeche. It is more of the classical looking Cenote that was accessed by going down some steep steps into a cave. The water was again beautiful. The cave was lit and the water was quite warm. The cave was very humid but made for a nice photo opportunity.

Lastly, we went to a small town called Becal that is famous for its “Panama” Hats, locally called Jipijapas (Hee-pee-haa-paa). Panama hats became famous during the early 1900’s when the Panama Canal was being built. Despite being called Panama Hats, they are actually only made in Ecuador and Becal. The hats made here are called Jipijapas as they are made from the Jijijapa plant that grows locally. The process to make the finest hats is very painstaking and can take as much as 2 months to make a single hat of the best quality. To keep the fibers pliant during the hat making process they are weaved in humid caves that are located in most Becal backyards. We had an opportunity to meet a local person who took us to a master weaver’s house and we watched him weaving the fibers into a beautiful hat. The nicest hats are exquisite and would be a great souvenir if we had a little bigger budget.

We also spent some time this week deciding on where to go after our stay in Merida. We have decided to move for a month to the other side of the Yucatan peninsula to Quintana Roo state and live in the town of Tulum. There are many more things too see in that area which are really too far from Merida to do on a day trip.

We still have many things to do in Merida and the surrounding area and are excited to have one month more here. We just have to keep reminding ourselves how lucky we are and Just Go Do It.

Additional photos below
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28th September 2012

Lazy Days/Daze
Incredible photos as usual--you certainly have an great eye for color and composition! Wonderful adventures, too--congrats on that Indiana Jones exploring (though too bad about the chiggers). I'm also a not-so-young, long-term traveler, and I think we're entitled to some lazy days, reading, looking at the clouds and just being. I do it at home, don't you? We can't be Indiana every day!
28th September 2012

Thanks, Tara!
I can always count on you for a nice comment! I, too, look forward to reading your blogs about your travels; I especially like your glacier pictures! Are you going "on the road" any time soon?
29th September 2012
Cenote Xlacah

What a fantastic life you lead...oh I just live in Merida, Mexico near some Mayan temples...just taking our time...sounds sublime.
11th October 2012

Take heart! I continue to enjoy the "armchair traveling" through your blogs, and the photos you've taken are amazing. Hugs, and Just Do It!! Jane

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