some of the flamingos in Celestun are bright orange

Rio Lagartos is not the only place to see flamingos. In February and March the largest concentration is in the lagunas around Celestun, a small fishing village on the northwestern tip of the Yucatan peninsula. The concept is the same: rent a small boat, and tour the water for 1,5 a 2 hours, mostly at high speed. Except that here things are much more touristic, and far better organised with a central ticket office, so the boat cost us more than twice as much.

We are early, only the third boat to leave, but soon, many more appear, all on their way to the area where the flamingos have gathered. And indeed, there are many more here than in Rio Largartos: especially when the sun comes out, another fabulous spectacle.

The flamingos is really the big thing. Lots of them, dancing, feeding, quietly enjoying themselves, it seems (see video below). As for other birds, we see a lot less of them than on our earlier lagoon trip, although a group of the pink spoonbills are a nice surprise. The best part is kept for the end, when we turn – again at high speed – into a little canal through the mangroves, where thankfully our boat driver does slow down, and we enjoy a kind of magical tour in between and just underneath the encroaching trees (see the other video, below).

the main attraction in Celestun, large flocks of flamingos

always a funny sight, with their long necks

quite nice flying, too

or like this one, showing all he or she has in full flight

once more, flamingos, against the early morning sun

these are a group of pink hornbills

quite interesting birds, as well

and there is always a fish eagle present, somewhere

the channel through the mangroves, see also the video!

and in the middle of nowhere, another cenote

paradise for cormorants

who frequent the water, so to speak

and need time to dry, afterwards

The trip ends with a visit to a cenote, deep inside the mangrove forest, where we get off the boat for a little stroll across the board walk. Altogether a nice little trip – it is always fun to be on a boat and see the world from the water.

Subsequently we spent most the day like most of people do here. We arrested a table in a beach restaurant, ate a copious fish lunch, dipped in the sea a little, and got badly burned on the beach chairs. There are worse ways to spent your Saturday, wouldn’t you think?

and the jetty, almost abandoned

except for the more fanatic fishermen

and the occasiona pelican family

some n all sorts of position to most comfortably scratch



a gate in the Convento de San Antonio de Padua, in Izamal, the yellow city

The reason we were late in Chichen Itza was our decision to visit Izamal on the way, and have lunch there. Izamal is known as the Ciudad Amarillo – the Yellow City -, and as soon as you enter, it is obvious why. All the houses, many of which are probably of colonial origin, have been painted yellow and white, like the convent that dominates the town. This is the Convento de San Antonio de Padua, built by the Franciscans between 1553 and 1562, once again on the ruins of a Maya temple. The convent’s church is not particularly beautiful, the frescos on the outside next to the entrance are faded and poorly visible, and the convent itself cannot be visited, as it is still populated by nuns. But the main attraction of the structure is its size, especially the size of its forecourt, which is apparently the second largest colonnaded courtyard in the world, second only to the Vatican.

really, the whole town has been painted yellow

a wooden window is allowed a white frame

the small Capilla de la Santa Cruz

more yellow, contrasting with the busy balcony

There is not much else to do in town, apart from a few smaller chapels and the Parque de Los Canones – and in any case, we haven’t got time, we need to move on to Chichen Itza. But good for some nice pictures.

and the huge Convento de San Antonio de Padua, at the main square

entrance to the the second largest colonnaded courtyard in the world

this is how the collonaded part of the courtyard looks

the convent is actively being used, still

and inside the convent, there is even something non-yellow!

the most important building in Chichen Iza is the Castle, also called the Pyramid of Kukulcan

For us tourist-avers travellers Chichen Itza is a nightmare. According to what we heard from other people, trying to beat the crowds is not an option: by eight in the morning there is already a substantial queue, and in any case, from the Yucatan Country Club we have a two-hour drive to get to the site. Yet, according to all those people we talked to, Chichen Itza is also a must on the Maya route. This was one of the biggest Mayan cities, certainly on the Yucatan peninsula, from when it started as humble village in the 6th C AD to its abandonment, the reasons of which are still not understood, in the 15th C. By then it had been transferred from a purely Mayan settlement into one significantly influenced by the Tolmecs, a people that came from the Mexican highlands. One of the effects of Toltec influence is the introduction of images of their God, Quetzalcoatl, called Kukulcan in Mayan language. The great pyramid, the dominant building also known as El Castillio, is referred to as the Pyramid of Kukulcan. It is in the older part of the city where one finds the images of Chaac, and his laughing nose, and the exuberant decorations that are so characteristic of the older Puuc style of building – hopefully we are going to see more of this later.

another view of the Castle, with in the back the Temple of the Warriors

the Temple of the Warriors

one of the top structures of the temple

same temple, from the side

with lots of decorations in stone

as well as sculpted figurines

this is part of the Temple of a 1000 Pillars

where the pillars have been intricately decorated

with individual carvings of people

Anyhow, back to beating the tourists. A little known – and admittedly slightly risky – strategy that we applied successfully in Coba earlier, is to come late, say around 3 am, when the tour groups that have to get back to Cancun and the like are leaving again. And indeed, this worked brilliantly. We could drive and park, in the shade, all the way up to the entrance, where the queue had dissolved by now, we got our tickets immediately, and walked in without further delay. Against the flow, as most people were on their way out. Which allowed photos without too many people in front, and – as a bonus – with the brilliant late afternoon light in the back.

The downside? We should probably have left ourselves an extra half hour. As usual, we do take our time, which in the end meant that we did not get to see a few of buildings; the large ball court and nearby platforms had been closed by the time we arrived there, which is a pity, but you can’t win them all, I suppose.

In the mean time we had a fabulous visit to all the other structures of the site, from the impressive pyramid to the temple of the warriors, the 1000-columns square – with fabulously decorated individual columns -, the observatory and the older, decorated buildings called the Church and the Nunnery (names given by the Spanish, to be sure). Not to be missed, indeed – although we could have done without the hundreds of tourist souvenir stalls that have been allowed to operate inside the premises, something we have not yet encountered anywhere else.

and I love this one!

some of the walls have hieroglyphs written on them

a large sculpted wall, made of individual blocks

the Observatory, with an unusual round tower, required to observe equinoxes and the winter solstice

what is called the Church, part of the older, extensively decorated part of the site

with decorations like this one

and enigmatic forms like these

the sides of the building, too, have been decorated

sculpture of a king, above the door

and further intricate decorations on the walls

we missed the large ball court, this is a smaller one to the back of the site

and a last view on the Castle, in the late afternoon sun light

one of the arcades around the Zocalo in Merida

Yucatan’s capital is Merida, a sizable city in its own right, with a quite attractive historical centre. We make our way to the Zocalo, the city’s central square, and we start our trip at the market south of here. This is supposed to be the biggest market in Yucatan, and indeed, we wander through a maze of stalls, selling all sorts of things, from food and drinks, plastics and Tupperware to colourful fruits and vegetables and wonderfully smelling spices. Somehow, spices here smell different, sweeter, from those in other markets, in Africa or Asia.

one of the many market corridors

spices carefully packed in plastic

and more colourdul vegetables, neatly stacked

empty crates behind the market

one section of the market sells religious artefacts… like this dollar-covered skeleton

street musician in one of the backstreet behind the Zocalo

typical low rise shopping street in the Merida market area

Outside the markets are more shops, in short pedestrian streets and under the colonnades of what looks like colonial structures. There is a lively atmosphere in town, not only in the shopping area, but also in the backstreets that are lined with simple, one story houses, protected by grills in the window. Some are well maintained, others are almost falling apart, but it looks a lot more real than the over-developed Calzado de Los Frailes in Valladolid.

more shops under a covered arcade

where it is very busy, indeed – in the shade

and this is the type of shop you find there

another typical street in old Merida

the Zocalo, with the cathedral on one side

the entrance to the cathedral

Back at the Zocalo we admired the four sides, each with their own specific building. The San Ildefonso cathedral, with its two white bell towers, dates from the 16th Century, and apparently has been built on top of a Maya temple, as was customary at the time – this is how you demonstrated your superiority over the subjugated people. The church is not particularly attractive, the huge inside minimally decorated. Grave stones are testimony to the important citizens that were buried inside, in the 19th Century.

three crosses outside

inside the cathedral the 19th Century elite has been burried

de Casa de Montejo, from the 1540s, the front still largely original

with intricate decorations over the door

and more brutal ones higher up on the facade

just in case you missed it, the Spanish conquistador resting his feet on the skulls of locals

The most important building on the Zocalo is the Casa de Montejo, the oldest house in town, from the 1540’s – although now only the front entrance is original, the rest has been reconstructed at later dates. The front is especially remarkable for the frieze of Spanish conquistadores with their weapons, and the chopped off heads at their feet. The chief conquistador was Fernando the Montejo, who conquered the ancient Maya city of Tho, whose architectural remains made him think of the Roman ruins in the Spanish city of Merida; voila, the name for the newly built city. Apparently, the descendants of Montejo still lived in the house until the 1980s (!).

the outer walls of the Casa de Montejo

the municipality building, pink

and the inner courtyard of the state governmental palace

with is adorned with an extensive collection of murals

not only the arcades, also one of the main reception rooms is covered on four sides with murals

Next on the square is the pink-painted municipality building, not accessible, whilst on the fourth side is the Palacio de Gobierno, a green building with a colonnaded patio. The building itself is nice enough, but what makes it special are the extensive murals on the ground floor and upstairs, as well as the series of murals in a large hall in front. These have been painted in the 1970s by local artist Fernando Castro Pachego, depicting the history of the Mayas before, and especially after, the contact with the Spaniards. Very powerful images, most of them, well executed in an appealing style – also staying with a Mexican mural tradition from the 1930s of which I hope to see more once we get back to Mexico City.

One block away from the Zocalo is the Parque Hidalgo, with the façade of the Arte Nouveau-like Grand Hotel, and the much older, 17th Century Iglesia de Jesus, which, unfortunately, is closed. This one, too, was built on an ancient Maya temple.

one of the paintings in the room, called “Sale of the Indians”

with details of the salesmen, or the buyers

and of the children that were sold with the adult slaves

as everywhere in Mexico, in Merida one can also find all sorts of artefacts

one of the stately homes along the Paseo de Montejo

with equally elegant entrees

On the way out, a little further from the centre, is the Paseo de Montejo, a stylish long street with several examples of early 20th Century houses, built for the rich sisal barons, the men who dominated the sisal production and trade, at the time called the ‘green gold’, which provided the wealth of Merida, and the greater Yucatan area. In the country side there are still several haciendas testifying to this once important product, that has since succumbed to industrial, artificial replacements. In the end we never managed to visit any of the haciendas, but the comparison with the caliche exploitation in Chile, and its early 20th C replacement by fertilizer, is inescapable.

showing how ostentatious they actually were

at night, the houses along the Paseo look even nicer

many are in use as restaurant


and this is the most famous one, the icecream shop Colon, from 1907

one of several pools in the Yucatan Country Club near Merida

For the next few days we make Merida our base. Or more specifically, the Yucatan Country Club, a fabulous development with bungalows and apartments between Progreso and Merida. Friends of ours that we know from long ago had recently bought one of those fabulous apartments, and invited us – no, had insisted, that we stay with them. Who are we to refuse? So we enjoyed the most comfortable accommodation so far, including home cooked food, exquisite Mexican wines, and great company with lots of valuable local knowledge. This is the icing on the cake, when travelling.

this is one of the better Mexican wines we had

frustrated golfers unable to play on the Jaguar Golf Course

The complex has several swimming pools, Jacuzzis, a gym – not for me, of course, but still. And it has a great golf-course, the 18 holes Jaguar course, past three cenotes and, apparently, including Maya ruins. And with fairways that look like the greens we have at home! Unfortunately, members and the guests of members only, and as we haven’t convinced our friends yet to become a member, the course stayed out of bounds for us, except for a little, illegal stroll out of sight of the nervous guards.

On our last day, a Sunday afternoon, we have a late lunch in the clubhouse, a rather upmarket affair, for the Mexican elite, no doubt. I am not sure everybody here is a keen golfer, many are probably only a member to be seen. At this time of the day, the restaurant is reasonably full, but the club house is abandoned, and there are very few golfers on the course. Such a pity, a great golf facility almost unused, and that for the Sunday. And we are not allowed to play!

entrance to the exclusive Jaguar Golf Course clubhouse

golf course including cenote hazard

the perfect fairways

immaculate greens

the lounge of the clubhouse, sadly empty on a weekend afternoon

and there are lots of other pools

Chicxulub and a haphazard geologist, looking away from the crater centre!

We didn’t come to Chicxulub for lunch, of course. Sure, the restaurant was nice enough, the food, too, and the scenery entertaining, with pelicans providing for their own lunch – frequently diving vertically into the water, trying to catch whatever they eat.

the pier, sticking far into the Gulf of Mexico

pelican diving

and plunging into the water

fishing is the main excercise in the village

But the real reason to come to Chicxulub is that here, allegedly, crashed a meteorite into the earth some 66 million years ago, ending about 75% of the life then existing. Mass extinction, it is called, and it has occurred more than once in the earth’s geological history. But this one, at the end of the Cretaceous period, is so much more alluring because it ended the life of the dinosaurs, too.

and this is the centre of the village, centre of the volcano, too, marked by a sculpture of … a dinosaur

if that wouldn’t have been enough, murals spread the word

Unfortunately, there is not much to see from the impact crater itself, which is buried under a kilometre of limestone, and is in any case for more than 50% offshore. But geodetic measurements do show a slight subsidence towards a supposed crater centre, confirmed by gravity measurements and other geophysical data. And that centre is in Chicxulub – Chicxulub Puerto, not the Pueblo -, coincidentally right in the middle of the town square. And Chicxulub would not be Chicxulub, if it wouldn’t make the most of its fame, although admittedly, not many of the attractions have anything to do with the meteorite impact. Rather, it is the dinosaurs that – understandingly – appeal to the imagination of the tourist. Several wall paintings, lots of different dinosaur sculptures, and a real Sendero Jurasico – ignoring the fact that the beginning of the Jurassic preceded the end of the Cretaceous by some 135 million years.

the Sendero Jurasico, with a variety of dinosaurs

some of them barely keep their heads above the water

another one, trying to escape the Sendero

and this one, on the edge of the Jurasic path

just somewhere in Chicxulub, a wandering dinosaur

the Meteorite Museum in Progreso

once again protected by a life size specimen of a dino

and inside, not just an artist impression, no, a moving artist impression – see the video below

and this is a veru unlikely specimen, didn’t move, in fact

In nearby Progreso they also try to benefit from the impact fame. There is a real Museo del Meteorito, with a few samples of meteorites – probably not from the one that can be found at 1000 meters deep – and a selection of fossils, most if not all of them replicas, I think, from throughout the geological history (including trilobites, that died out at the end of the Permian, 252 million years ago, so completely irrelevant for this particular museum). Next in the museum is an artist impression, in the form of a film, of what the impact would have looked like. Hilarious, at one stage you see several tall dinosaurs just falling over after the meteorite has landed (first video, around 30 sec.), followed by lots of thunder and fire, of course. But most of the museum visit is, once more, dedicated to the dinosaurs, in the form of many moving models, shaking their heads and wagging their tales (second viseo). Altogether, far removed from any scientific reality. But that’s not what I came for, of course. I have just been to the most famous crater in the world, and that is enough for the – admittedly dormant – geologist in me.


and the next one:

the beach in Progreso

Progreso is a humble, but well established beach town, also along the Gulf of Mexico coast. Mostly Mexican tourists, I believe, which immediately changes the atmosphere, away from the aggressive targeting of the Gringo dollars. I say humble, because so far there are just a few hotels and restaurants along a pedestrian boulevard, and some more in the streets further back from the beach. The only big thing in town so far is the jetty, which extends no less than 6.5 km into the sea, allowing not only large freight boats, but also the cruise ships to dock. But from driving to here along the coast, it is clear that this Costa Esmeralda, on the way to Progreso, is going to be the next big thing. Like earlier, you almost don’t see the sea from the road, but there is lots of construction going on, big hotels, big apartment buildings. Land is still offered for sale, but many plots have already been developed into gated communities, with beach villas, condo’s, clubs. And obviously, there is more to come.

the pedestrian beach front in Progreso

low key beach facilities

and the 6.5 km long jetty by night

hotels under construction along the Coasta Esmeralda

some are almost ready

the Laguna Rosada – but not very pink – behind the coastal road

not sure what this is, other than a bird in the lagoon

and more birds, we have seen this one before

Behind the coastal strip, like in Cancun just a thin sliver of land, is the Laguna Rosada, the pink lagoon. Mostly poorly visible, too, hidden from view by more shrubs, but wherever there is an opening, it shows an expansive water body, more brown than pink, with a bird population not so different from that near Rio Lagartos.

the salt works, basin after basis

the salt basins, with sticks around to prevent dirt into the water

some of the basins are brown

these look like seagulls, except that they are a lot smaller

or a stern, perhaps? I am no specialist on birds

And here, too, are salt works, although on a lot smaller scale than what we saw in Las Coloradas. We are welcomed by four friendly guys who work the basins, but have all the time in the world for a chat. And they don’t mind us wandering off between the ponds, watching some of the birds. But these ponds never get as pink as in Las Coloradas; they obviously don’t contain enough of the micro-organisms, which is why the workers have surrounded the ponds with wooden sticks. These, they say, keep the sand out when the wind blows, another way of creating clean salt. We bought some, to try at home.

wheel barrows are the biggest means of transport I could see around, here

the main plaza, surrounded by buildings

a small building in the corner of the plaza

platforms at the side of the central plaza

decorations, although not very well preserved

well, except this creature, and lots of his kind

and there is nobody

amongst the rocks and palm trees

the Spanish conquistadores built a smal church next to the site

Just behind the salt works is another Maya site, Xcambo. Back to the Indiana Jones-mode, with hardly any other visitors, except that this, rather small, site has been heavily restored, a bit more visible than in many other places. The advantage is that you get a nice impression of a largely complete Maya square, surrounded on four sides by buildings and pyramids. Which you can climb, too, although they are not as high as the one in Ek Balam. It is just a cute little place, really, and enhanced by the ruins of a little chapel, obviously built afterwards. Further away in the jungle are more structures, so there is enough to discover still.

And if this wasn’t enough, we also crawl through the jungle, along a heavily overgrown path, to a nearby cenote. Just to have a look, not to swim – we have left our gear in the hotel. Overwhelmed by mosquitos we rush back to the car, and to a beach restaurant in nearby Chicxulub.

the track to the cenote

and the cenote itself, not for swimming

Rio Lagartos is famous for its flamingos

Due north from Valladolid is Rio Lagartos, a small fishing village at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico. Somehow, a relief, after Valladolid. Much smaller scale, much more relaxed. What strikes us immediately, is the colour pink, everywhere. The bases of lamp posts, the edges of the pavement, several houses, the little church, even some people’s bicycles have been painted whole, or partly, pink. Rio Lagartos is trying to make clear that this is flamingo country.




there is an abundance of pink in town, to make the connection with flamingos

houses, pavement, and the murals all indicate one way: flamingos

well, and pelicans, of course, they are everywhere

not just the houses, also the balconies

they stress that Rio Lagartos is flamingo country

the municipality office, with an interesting tower

more murals, on the subject of fishing

and another mural, whole wall covering

lots of other tourist boats, the ones to beat to reach Panch first

We have come here for two things: a boat ride across the lagoon to see birds – including those flamingos -, and perhaps some crocodiles, and to see Las Coloradas and its pink basins, part of a large commercial salt works. And it is easy to arrange: just ask in your hotel, and the owner will have a cousin with a boat, or in our case – we still had to have lunch – another family member with a restaurant, who has a cousin with a boat. In other words, within an hour of arrival we had had lunch and were on the water, on our way to the lagoon.

and more birds fishing

heron fishing


The lagoon is big, and we need to get to the other end for the coloured basins, so the boats speeds across the water. Little chance of bird watching, although we do spot several of the larger water birds, fishing themselves. Whenever I want the boat driver Luis to slow down he shouts, over the noise of the engine, that we will see more of those further up. In reality, we need to beat the others to arrive at Pancho, first. Pancho is a huge crocodile who lies motionless under some of the mangrove branches – I am not even sure whether he is alive, or has been stuffed; apparently he is always in the same place. Luckily, we see a few more crocs, and Luis bought some fish to have them open their mouth. I realize that I have seen many crocodiles in my life, but never one swimming. They look so elegant when the slide into the water, from a sand bank, but actually swimming is something else, with their four legs struggling to stay afloat.

and there is Pancho, the big croc

another crocodile, haplessly swimming

or feeding himself with fish from Luis

you’d say that these jaws can handle more than just fish

a spoonbill, pinker than a flamingo!

more pelicans, the white version this time

congregated on a sand bank

or taking a ride with Luis, in our boat

seagull, too, take the easy way

In the end we do slow down, for the pelicans, the herons, the egrets, the ibises, even a beautifully coloured spoonbill. The pelicans decide to invade the boat, no fear for us humans whatsoever (and neither do the seagulls, who also catch a ride for some time). And at the end of the lagoon, there are the flamingos, lots of them, gracefully walking in the shallow water. It takes a bit of convincing to get Luis closer – you know, shallow water; a lousy excuse really, as moments later he does move closer, no doubt not wanting to jeopardize his tip at the end. So finally we do get nearer, and it is a beautiful spectacle. The birds are more orange than pink, fabulous.

and thee they are, the flamingos, ‘dancing’, as it is called

more orange than pink, if you ask me

but equally attractive – and curious, in this case

more of the same, feeding and flapping

more of the same, landing

and in the air they are equally graceful

by the way, pelicans can also be beautiful, flying

Next are the coloured basins, supposedly pink, but there is too much wind for a good view, the water surface is too disturbed. These are basins created by the salt works further on, where salt is still being won by evaporation. The pink colour of the water comes from micro-organisms that feed on particles suspended in the water, thereby ultimately producing a cleaner – whiter – salt. Incidentally, the flamingos also feed on these micro-organisms, which gives them their pink colour, too.

the salt works at the far end of the coloured basins, here coloured with flamingos, too

fish eagle – I think, maybe a young one

a mangrove black hawk

and the smallest of all, black-and-white kingfisher

On the way back we need to slow down our friend Luis several times. As far as he is concerned, he’ll go straight back, ignoring the fish eagle we spot in a tree, or the kingfisher that is resting on a branch in the water. But ultimately he listens – once again fearing for his tip, no doubt – and we end up with some more fabulous shots. Whilst just being on a boat is actually already quite nice, in its own right. No regrets.

close up of the salt works, behind the fences

salt mountain nicely contrasting with the pink lake

equally contrasting, the water colour of the ocean

Before moving on the next day, we drive once more to the salt works, trying to get a better view of the pink basins. We arrive at Las Coloradas, a village created for the salt works, I believe – and not particularly attractive. But we are here for the basins. The water is much quieter than yesterday, and the colours are much better, not in the least against the stark blue sky. The salt operations themselves seem quite impressive, too, but they keep behind the fences. Private property. Not for tourists, unless you sign up for an expensive tour of at least two hours, which disagrees with our further plans today.

and another view of the pink lake, against the blue sky

traveling by ourselves, not in a fast speedboat, provides opportunities to see smaller birds, too

the stairs up the main pyramid in Ek Balam

Ek Balam is an impressive Maya archaeological site, and former major Mayan city, north of Valladolid. Its main structure  is a 32 meter high pyramid, with 106 steps: I know, because this one you are allowed to climb – which may be part of its tourist attraction.

And a tourist attraction it is. We were, once again, early to beat the crowds, but by nine there were already plenty people on site. Who all paid the pretty steep entrance ticket of in total over 500 pesos per person, well over 30 US$, made up by several agencies, federal and state, who all want to have a share of the pie. A far cry from the 75 pesos we had to pay in the Rio Bec area, where we were often the only visitors.

the entrance arch, stand alone

lesser temples around the South Court, also climable

the obligatory ball court, same at every site

But Ek Balam was worth every penny. It is a fairly compact site. Yet, it contains quite a few buildings in addition to the main pyramid. There is an entrance arch, a round palace, a ball court and several temples. I will spare you the details of Late Preclassic to Postclassic, with its demise as major centre in the Late Classic period, save to say that the place had been occupied from perhaps 500-600 BC to 1100 AD.

As said, the most spectacular structure is the main pyramid, or acropolis, and not only because of its stairs. On the sides at the base remnants of the Maya hieroglyphs can be deciphered, and about half way up is the burial chamber of one of its prime rulers, called Ukit Kan Lek Tok. The entrance of the chamber is decorated with a range of friezes, and with sculptures of several figures; I don’t know all the details – and if I would have known, I would have forgotten, by now -, but it is pretty impressive, given that this is all mostly original, not restored.

By the time we left, it was a lot busier at the entrance of the site, even more tourists then when we arrived; so we did manage to beat the real crowds!

the base of the main pyramid, a sizable structure

Mayan hieroglyphs on the outside pyramid wall

the main burial chamber, the outside full of decorations and statues

one of the secondary burial chambers, decorated

one of the prominent statues

and one of the tiny ones, above the door

looking down the stairs, a rare moment without anybody

and the view from above, across to the South Court

On the way to Rio Lagartos, our next destination, we briefly stopped in Kilik, another small town, where somehow lots of horses and their riders had congregated. As it turned out, they were preparing for the last day of their fiesta, which included a trip with about forty horses through the countryside, before lots of dancing in the evening. The horses were beautifully harnessed, with special saddles, reigns and all the paraphernalia necessary; the riders less so, mostly boots and a Stetson, with the exception of one of the amazons, who probably went for the beauty contest, next to her visibly proud father.

horses are being brought to Kilik for the grand local

riders and horses, mostly out of the sun, preparing for the trip

one of the amazones, and she knows it

and they get them young!

saddle and stirrups

a corridor in the Ex-Convento de Santo Domingo, in Uayma, just outside Valladolid

Time to leave the Caribbean Coast behind. Before hitting the colonial town of Valladolid, we drive to the village of Uayma, where we have a look at the Ex-Convento de Santo Domingo, nowadays the village church. An incredible building, originally built for the Franciscans in the 17th C,  burnt down in the 19th C, and rebuilt in 2005. It is expansively decorated with bright-coloured rose motives and the occasional double eagle – referring to the Habsburgs, apparently. Beyond the church are the convent buildings, an attractive courtyard, and a beautiful chapel with wood-carved sculptures. A nice surprise!



the Ex-Convento de Santo Domingo in Uayma

extensively decorated on the outside

and with the same theme, less expressively coloured, inside

it is still an active church

including an attractive side chapel

decorated with wooden sculptures

and another one

this is the courtyard at the back of the ex-convento

entrace to the hacienda where the San Lorenzo Oxmal cenote is located

the cenote, pretty deep and open to the air

one of the creatures present at the hacienda, an iguana

This is also – still – sinkhole country, and nearby is the San Lorenzo Oxmal cenote, this one open to the sky, but nevertheless 27 meters below surface level. The attraction here is the long roots from surrounding trees, that reach almost to the water level; and the rope that can be used to swing from a jumping platform to above the water, inviting all sorts of adventurists to attempt somersaults and other incomprehensible moves, which invariably end up with landing flat on the water. The obligatory life vest is probably more to protect people from belly flops than from drowning. For the rest there is not much more to do than floating around, hoping to catch a bit of sun, whilst staying out of the way from the jumping crowd. My travel companion loves it; I have to admit that the interests of my travel companion and myself are not entirely aligned when it comes to cenotes.

one of the highlights in Valladolid was eating poc-chuc – barbeque – in a local restaurant

San Bernadino de Sienna convent in Valladolid

Valladolid itself is a largish town, but with a rather compact old centre. It is promoted as a colonial town, and the large San Bernadino de Sienna convent, one of the oldest in Mexico, built in 1552, testifies to this. But for the rest the ‘old town’ is quite drastically restored. The mostly small, square, single story houses along the Calzado de Los Frailes have been nicely painted in a variety of pastel colours, and have been given over to tourism functions: boutiques, bars, restaurants, souvenir shops. And there are in fact quite a few tourists in town. Slightly disappointing, perhaps because our expectations were sky high.

the Calzado de Los Frailes, a narrow street from colonial times

houses have been patched up, though

tourist fare for sale – I still regret myself I didn’t buy it

the church in the centre of Valladolid, the Templo de San Servacio

one of the old buildings along the main square

again, with a attractive corridor

in the square, dressed-up people celebrating, or entertaining tourists

the local traditional costume is colourful

and so are the local girls

a small museum in Valladolid contains local dresses, but also a collection of masks

each of them special in their own way

to the extend that we could have those at home, too

like this one, quite an original piece

or this, an unmistakable Latino mask

the church by night

and the church door

and the San Bernadino de Sienna convent by night