Carry on up the jungle


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North America » Mexico » Yucatán » Uxmal
November 25th 2018
Published: November 26th 2018
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Ruta Puuc


We are up and ready to leave by 7am. We had intended to walk to the bus station but we are feeling weary this morning so we call an Uber instead. That will reduce our 40 minute walk to a 15 minute drive tops.

Our Uber arrives and takes us almost to the bus station. For some reason the police are blocking off the roads today so we just tell our guy to drop us off and we walk the two remaining blocks to the station. We have plenty of time and, apparently, the road isn’t blocked for pedestrians!

We stop at a little local cafe that is full of people for breakfast. We share a table with a Mexican lady who speaks English. We suss out straight away that she is a guide touting for business. And her charges are pretty steep as she just told us she has just completed a tour (ie I am free now), with two lovely Americans (ie they gave me a huge tip) to the cenotes. She only charged them 450...US she adds, just so that we are in no doubt that it’s not pesos! What? We already know the true cost of a cenotes tour - WITH an English speaking guide! What a pity, I say - if only we had met you a few days ago, but we have already booked a tour to the cenotes and the next day we leave. She gives me her details anyway, scribbled on a scrap of paper...she doesn’t even have any printed business cards. And now she is also giving me her brothers number - he is a taxi driver here and speaks English. :-)

We order our breakfast of fried eggs and bread. It turns up as scrambled eggs with beans and tacos. Not to worry as it tastes delicious. The eggs have been scrambled with ham and tomatoes and have not been overdone so they are not dry. I type into the translator for the waiter...these eggs are delicious, please tell the lady she is a very good cook. He beams at me and soon the lady is beaming too. It never hurts to say thank you! It is probably his wife as this has all the looks of a family run business.

Now our tour guide lady is enquiring where we plan to travel next. We reel off our final four locations and date of departure. Guess what, she also works out of Cozumel so we need to be sure to call her when we reach Playa del Carmen. Everyone quotes different prices, she warns us. Yes, we know...and yours take the absolute biscuit. I smile ingratiatingly and assure her I will be in touch just as soon as we arrive there. I have her paper...that’s another piece of rubbish I need to get rid of!

Having just downed a full bottle of their fruit agua (freshly squeezed orange juice), we decide to make use of the facilities before taking our bus. I enter the loo and see a pile of newspapers in the corner. OMG! Fortunately I have my own stash of loo paper with me. Now I am washing my hands...and I spot the loo roll - ahhh, so the newspapers were for reading - thank goodness I wasn’t desperate. The loo roll is on the wall by the basin, I warn Ian as he goes in. :-)

We arrive at the bus station in good time and there is no sign of the bus. It eventually turns up twenty minutes late. I think we were right to buy our tickets yesterday. The bus is packed...although they do have three spare seats. Mostly ‘farangs’ like us! You can tell a farang a mile off as we are all clutching our pink bus tickets anxiously, wondering if we have come to the right place as there is no sign of the bus. The Mexicans take a far more laid back approach!

We have made sure we are right at the front of the queue because, although the tickets are numbered, we have been pre-warned that’s it’s a free for all. A group of eight friends think they should be on first because there are eight of them. We let them push past but, feigning ignorance, I let them know our seat numbers which we are expecting to sit in. No more back seat journeys for me! They obviously take the hint, taking the first eight seats available at the front, leaving 9 and 10 free for us.

Today we are viewing several Puuc Mayan sites about 100km south of Mérida along a low ridge, all of which flourished between 750 and 950AD.

The journey takes about 90 minutes to the furthest point - Labna - and, as we disembark, we are reminded that we only have 30 minutes here. After 5 minutes walk through the close jungle, Labna’s structures come into view starting with the impressive El Palacio, one of the longest structures in the Puuc region, and recently renovated in 2006. Some of the intricate carvings include a human figure in loincloth, a Chac mask and serpent’s head with a human face peering from between its jaws. We move on to El Arco, an arch, once part of a larger building now long gone, that led between two courtyards. The arch, 6m high by 3m wide, is still well preserved with many carvings still apparent. Next door, is the Mirador, a largely rubble pyramid but crowned by a fairly intact temple. We manage to return to the bus in time, but about a quarter of the passengers are over 10 minutes late. Fortunately for them, the driver is checking!

The next site, Xlapak, is only 10 minutes drive and much smaller, with only one really interesting structure. Above the main doorway, there is a well preserved Chac mask. Chac, the Mayan god of rain, can be recognised by his staring eyes, long blunt reptilian nose, prominent teeth and ear ornaments. Again we have 30 minutes and arrive back in time - this time only three people are late!

Again, the next site is only a further 10 minutes away, set back in more jungle. We are now in the main heat of the day. Sayil has few intact structures, but archaeologists have excavated a number of ordinary dwellings at the edges of the site. The largest structure, El Palacio, has an 85m wide facade complete with Puuc columns, stylised Chac masks and ‘descending gods’. Beyond this there is another partially-ruined temple, remains of a roof ‘comb’ with hints of frieze detail and, furthest into the jungle, a stelae bearing a relief carving of a fertility god with an enormous...if rather weathered, something.

Back from the jungle and on to Kabah, straddling the main highway on cleared ground. The sun is now fierce as we cross the open space to the first pyramid structure known as the Palace of Masks - the entire facade being covered in over 300 masks of Chac or sky serpents. To the rear of the structure are two ‘atlas’ figures - 3D human figures designed as supporting columns. Next to this is another palace pyramid structure with intact Puuc columns and motifs.

Finally, we move on to Uxmal, the main Mayan site in this area. We only have 1 hour 40 here, rather than the two hours promised. This is because those wretched people were late earlier. We have to catch up on time! Fortunately, the site is fairly compact so this should be enough. The city’s history is uncertain, other than it was at its height 750 - 950AD, and the use of many of the buildings can only be guessed at so most still have the fanciful names attributed by the first Spanish visitors.

We start at the Magicians pyramid - at 35m the highest structure here. Said to have been built in one day by a dwarf with supernatural powers, hence the name magician, the pyramid was constructed in phases over 400 years by building over previous structures in a similar way to the Templo Mayor.

The ‘nunnery quadrangle’ was so called because of the 74 small rooms overlooking all sides of the inner courtyard. All of the interior facades have stone latticework, ornate masks of Chac and carved serpents - examples of close-fitting mosaic. The Spanish thought the rooms looked like nuns cells.

Heading across the site, we pass the Temple of Turtles, arriving at the base of the Great Pyramid. Faced with a very steep set of steps, this 30m tall pyramid was dedicated to the Sun, and with this afternoons heat, we decide to give climbing a miss.

To the west is the dovecote, named from the elaborate comb on its roof. This was probably another palace. From here we move to the ‘cemetery’ group of an enclosure and pyramid on a platform. Known as the cemetery because of the number of skull and bone motifs, the pyramid is totally overgrown and almost obscured.

Our last stop is at the Governor’s Palace, actually three buildings linked by Mayan arches, with its Jaguar Throne on the platform in front.

This has been an exhausting day but well worth it. Our bus whisks up back to Mérida where we pick up an Uber and then, back at our hotel, race for the shower!


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