The Fiestas in Honor of Santo Cristo del Amor

Location: Santa Elena, Yucatan

This is the beginning of the of a two week religious celebration in Santa Elena.

At five in the morning people gathered in the church with the occasional rocket going off outside the massive church doors.
The cavernous church echoes the sound of the blast.

Santiago says that when he was a child the church was full, now there are only several dozen people here. He fears that in a few years this part of the ceremony may die out completely.

We decide to go up to the top of the roof by means of an ancient spiral staircase. In the old days they used candles.

We light our way with our cell phones.

The wedge shaped steps are four inches thick and embedded in the stone walls. We stop to explore the balcony in the back and the upper side chambers along the side, then we head up onto the roof.

The steps are sturdy, except the second step from the top is missing, and it is a long way down.

I have come this far, a simple scary missing step is not going to stop me.

I ease myself up to the roof and look out over the city. There is not much to see in the darken city, but it is wonderful to be here just the same.
During the wars, this is where they placed their lookouts. There are some big iron bells up here. In the old days they would ring them for celebrations such as this one. I am right next to them.

This morning I am glad they are silent.

We head back down the stairs to the processions.

At the bottom the ladies are offering a drink of finely ground corn, sweet potato, and water. I think it is an acquired taste, but the tamales they give us are excellent.

Then we head over to one of the village houses where there is a statue of a saint that the ladies are singing to. Other ladies offer the celebrants more tamales and a hot coffee and cinnamon drink.

I much prefer this over the liquid corn and sweet potatoes.

Then they add some slats to the statue of the saint and start a procession with the celebrants and a small band of drums and trumpets. They take this saint to another house with another saint and sing outside with the musicians playing.

Again cinnamon and coffee drinks are offered along with tamales.

Then both saints are taken in a procession the the church, with the musicians and the occasional rocket being fired.

In another house in the village they now start the slaughter of the pigs.

The pig is on a rope harness and tied to a tree. The pig-sticker deftly stabs it with a knife. In a minute or two the pig dies from blood loss.

These are not smooth pink city pigs. These have a heavy coat of hair.
They then proceed to remove the hair from the pig. This is an involved process. They pour water over the pig then use knives and a blowtorch for the hair removal.

They killed four pigs this morning. The killing and hair removal are done with the curious addition of the musicians playing in the background.

The pig stabbing and dead pigs was not an easy thing to watch.
But I had some bacon that morning, and felt if I was going to be a meat eater, I should be able to watch the process as to how a living animal becomes food.

I vow to pay homage before each meal to creatures that provide me sustenance.

At the end of the hair removal process, I returned home for a short rest.
My camera battery was dead and did did not get much sleep the night before. I took a bit of a nap and returned.

I missed the hog butchering, but was able to see butchered pigs hung up in a Maya hut, and watch them make sausages and fried pork rinds.

I now see why they spent so much effort on removing the hair.

Pork rinds have always been one of my favorite foods, and it gave me a strange sense of satisfaction to munch on them while remembering the live pig I saw earlier in the morning.

There were about three times as many people for the feasting as there had been been for the procession. And they were playing salsa music on a boom box rather than the drum and trumpet live band.

The next day there were going to provide a feast for the poor of the village.

What’s in a name?

Location: Santa Elena, Yucatan

No one knows what Santa Elena was called when the ancient Maya were building their stone temples here a thousand years ago.

But I spoke to Don Felix an 83 year old Maya elder.

He said that the name for the town 400 years ago was Tac-si-lee-lun-ka which meant town of low intelligence, and proceeded to tell the story of a man who got his hand caught in a jug, and rather than break the jug decided that the correct solution was to cut his hand off.

The anthropologist in me thinks that the town may have been called that, but this is a name given by enemies or rival towns. “What town is that?” “Oh, that is the town of the stupid people.”

Much like today if you ask a sports fan what is the name of their biggest rival, you may get a rather unflattering nickname for the team and their fans.

I doubt if the local people referred to themselves in such terms.

200 years ago it was known at the place of the fertile soils, (or central city) Noh Ca Cab.

Then came the caste war. Civil wars tend to be very brutal on the local level, and the Yucatan was no exception.

Warriors from the rival village of See-boo-che came to the town at night and set fire to the houses where the villagers were sleeping. When the villagers ran out of the house, they were shot, the men, the women and the children. Many of the villagers fled into the forest.

The warriors then burned the entire village.

The people of Noh Ca Cab then made a retaliatory raid on the village of See-boo-che, burning their houses and shooting their men, women and children.

When they returned to No Ca Cab they said we did not want this fight, we have had our revenge and we want no further part in this war.

The leader of the village said we must have a new name for ourselves.
We will call ourselves Santa (Holy. For we are a humble and holy people.) Ele (burned) Nah (houses). In other words the humble and holy people of the burned houses.

The people of See-boo-che relocated their village further away and said “We are the same people as Santa Elena”

Life is a banquet. Be sure to take in a swallow.

Location: Santa Elena, Yucatan, Mexico

I took a motorized tricycle to Kabah today.

My favorite part was stopping at the small caves along the sides of the road.

I saw no bats in these caves but did see dozens of cave swallows swarming in the interior. These are curious creatures whose nests are built out of mud and attached to the ceiling of the cave.

The Center of the Universe

Location: Santa Elena, Yucatan, Mexico

Part of my job as in innkeeper is to chat and swap stories with the guests.

During one evening of a night of mutual story telling, a lady turned to me and said, “Perhaps you are in the center of the universe. You don’t need to travel, the travelers come to you.”

So I studied up on what scientists had to say about the center of the universe.

The most excepted theory is that when the big bang occurred, everything did not start at one point and expand like a bomb going off, but that everything started at once and the space between matter started to expand and is still doing so today.

There was no single starting point.

Furthermore no one has been able to find an edge and many are not even sure that there is one. So as far as the center goes, the analogy they give is that it is like asking which point of the surface of a sphere is the center of the surface of the sphere?

The answer is none of them or any of them.
Take your pick.

If the universe is truly edgeless, then you can declare any place you like to be the effective center. So when people ask you if you think you are the center of the universe. You can answer, “Maybe not ‘the’ center, but I am ‘a’ center.” But, don’t get too cocky …so is the jerk that cut you off in traffic, and that whiny lady, and the big obnoxious dude.

Perhaps this means that you don’t have to go anywhere to find wisdom, if you want to attract it, wisdom will come to you.

Some interesting questions.
Why, don’t you drop in for a chat.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Location: Santa Elena, Yucatan, Mexico

The people of Santa Elena love parades, and I love watching them.

But other creatures seem oblivious to the spectacle.

I observed a chicken so intent on its metaphysical quest to cross the road, that it was unaware of the invasion of elves and moose on the streets of Santa Elena.

Again there are more questions than answers in the mysterious villages of Mexico.

Oh the Places You’ll Go!

Location: Planet Earth

A friend of my posted the list of the American states that they had visited, and wanted others to post the states that they had been to, on, or through.

I declined to participate.

They say that travel broadens. Sometimes it does, but sometimes it more like collecting Pokemon. For example, in a remote area in the Southwest there is a place where the states of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico meet. Aside from being a political boundary area, the site has little to distinguish it from the vast deserts that surround it. Nonetheless, thousands of tourists, pay the admission fee to view and photograph the site simply to be able to say, “I stood on four states at once.” I visited this with my parents in my early teens. I think I was impressed at the time, but now it seems like a rather absurd thing to do.

By all means travel to experience the local food, customs, and scenery, but if you just look around, there are plenty of wonders to be found not from home.

What am I saying? Travel. Travel. Take a life changing journey. Discover the wonders of the planet. Come visit us in the heart of the Yucatan.

On the other hand visiting the Arizona meteor creator has left me with a profound sense of the fact that the earth is not the only place in the universe.

Every time you make a discovery, you find another mystery underneath

Location: Santa Elena, Yucatan

Xkanelcruz, Sabaché, Sacnicté, Mulchtzekel, Hacienda Tabi, Xkichmook, Rancho Perez, Kom, Santa Rosa Xtampack, Tohcok, Itzimeté, Almuchil, and Xkochkach

These look like alien names from a science fiction novel, but these are all ancient Maya archaeological sites that I have visited in the last three days.

The Maya not only built great lost cities, but a host of remote manor houses, temples and villages. These places are all within an hour and half from my house, and there are hundreds more that I have not seen. They were built between 450 AD and 1200 AD. Many sites are now piles of rubble, others are partially collapsed, and some look like they are waiting for their owners to return after a long vacation.

They all have their own decorative and architectural features, and each has its own story as to why it was abandoned. I am still trying to wrap my mind as to just what was going on here a thousand years ago.

When is the best time to photograph birds?

Location: Santa Elena, Yucatan

My Daughter-in-law just challenged me to a bird photographing competition. Bird photography is a little different than shooting archaeological sites.
For one thing, archaeological sites don’t mind sitting still for a few centuries, and they don’t fly into the underbrush just before you aim the camera.

I accepted the challenge and I woke up this morning an hour before my alarm was to go off and was out stalking for birds in the early morning light. I got so engrossed in bird shooting that I failed to remember to head back and turn off my alarm.

Meanwhile, back in the bedroom, my wife had just returned from international traveling last night and was looking forward to some long deep sleep.

Maybe some day she will forgive me, (but I did get a nice picture of a flycatcher.)

Archaeological Discoveries

Location: Santa Elena, Yucatan


I have finally visited the archaeological site of Nohpat near Santa Elena. I was surprised at the extensiveness of the architecture. I climbed a pyramid that was 150 feet tall from the base. Its sides are aligned East West – North South and there is a cut at the top facing East that would be in line with the sun at the equinox. There were numerous other structures. They say there are over 200 structures here. There is a sacbé (ancient Maya paved road) here going in one direction to Uxmal and in the other direction to Kabah.

This was not a climb where the stone masons have stabilized each stone in the last century. Nor could you could get to the site without having the path cleared by machete. I previously mentioned that exploring Kiuic was a bit off the beaten path. Here you feel like you have stumbled into an entire city that looks like it has been abandoned for over a thousand years.

Well Okobi che’en Nohpat

We looked at the mouth of a well that was visited by Stephens and Catherwood, and used a thousand years ago. It follows a natural fissure in the rock and goes down who know deep. They offered to get some ropes and lower me down. I said, let me think about this.


A site near Nohpat it was excavated by Román Piña Chan with some restoration work done in the 1960’s, but over the last fifty rears, the forest has overgrown the site. It is most famous for a mural that has been removed to a museum in Merida. I do wonder about the practice of restoring a site, and then letting it return to the jungle.