Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of Rum

Location: Fuerte de San Miguel, Campeche, Mexico

One of the interesting aspects of American pop culture is we that view pirates as folk heroes.

The people of old Campeche would not have shared our views. They were a wealthy city but were raided, sacked and burned by English pirates, Dutch pirates, and French pirates. They built a seres of forts and defensive walls in the late 1600’s, many of which are still standing today.

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This fort now houses an interesting archaeological museum.

A Maya Penthouse

Location: Edzna, Campeche, Mexico

Archaeologically the site is most famous for its series of canals and reservoirs.

Curiously these are not part of the tourist accessible areas. But you can see the magnificent Temple of the Five Stories.

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If you were impressed by the number hand cut stones that were used to build Mayapan, then you will marvel at the vastness of the stone steps and terraces at the grand plaza of Edzna.

This was a huge urban center and its demise still remains a mystery.

Dinner at Home

Location: Santa Elena, Yucatan, Mexico

Our tour group ate at the Flycatcher Inn, I have a particular fondness for this place, well, partly because I am the owner.

We served some traditional Yucatan dishes.

I have to admit that I was a bit nervous. The people on my tour had been eating Yucatan food all week. How would we measure up? What if they found it disappointing? I should have had more faith in our staff. Even the fussy eaters finished their plates, and several said it was the best food of the excursion.

I dropped off some gifts and dirty laundry, kissed my wife and headed back on the bus.

The “Old Timer’s Club”

Location: Uxmal, Yucatan, Mexico

My wife has been coming to the Maya country for over thirty years, and if you give her the chance she will gladly tell you tales of when Cancun only had three hotels and there were no crowds in Tulum.

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Now, at Uxmal, I am officially a member of the Old Timer’s Club.

You see, back in my day (last year) there was an official path to the Old Woman’s House and you could explore the Temple of the Phalli. Now the path to the Old Woman’s house is overgrown and the path to the Temple of the Phalli is barricaded, making it now a Forbidden Temple.

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Those who are fond of the phallus motif will have to look elsewhere. Fortunately in the local Maya Puuc architecture you will find them popping up in the most unexpected places.

The Hall of Masks

Location: The Canton Palace (Old Archaeological Museum), Merida, Yucatan, Mexico

The museum here has a wonderful exhibit of tribal and folk masks.

Perhaps if the know-it-alls who advise other folk to “just be yourself,” could see these masks, they would understand that taking on another character or entity can have very strong cultural and spiritual meanings, and sometimes you can be something so much bigger than your ordinary self. The masks are both artistic and evocative.

City of the Dead

Location: Cemeterio General, Merida, Yucatan, Mexico

The cemetery in Merida takes up several blocks.

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I am used to the cemeteries in the USA where grave markers tend to be of natural stone such as marble or granite and are separated by a carpet of grass. In Mexico they are boxes constructed of concrete and often painted in bright Mexican colors. Many of them have a crucifix or angel on top, giving the impression of a flock of Jesus’s rising to the sky. A number of the local families gather here at this time of year to clean and repaint the graves.

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I am told that during the Day of the Dead, some of the families sleep by the graves in the cemetery at night. But because of some logistical misunderstandings we were not able to do this.

Then again, I am not sure how I would react if some local family invited me to sleep next to their dead grandfather at night.

I am sure it would be interesting dreams.

Looking for a sign

Location: Gran Museo del Mundo Maya, Merida, Yucatan, Mexico

The museum has some nice exhibits, but bad signage has always been one of my pet peeves (I cannot understand why airports like LAS give arriving passengers only vague hints as to where to find their luggage or the parking garage).

Once you enter into a chamber of this museum, there are no marked exits to get out, handy maps, or signs in any language saying this way to the next exhibit chamber. There are guards standing by the doors to verbally direct you, but this is of little help if your primary language is English or Mayan.

The museum is also an architectural curiosity.

It is oval with a lot of empty space in the interior and the outer structure is criss crossed with grey and bright green support beams. The architect says that it is modeled after a ceiba tree, but the locals say that it had structural problems and needed extra banding to give it strength. They call it the strapping tape building.

I like the locals interpretation.

Off the beaten path

Location: Kiuic, Yucatan, Mexico

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I find this to be one of the more charming of the Maya sites. You need special permission to visit, and there are only jungle trails between the structures. A number of the buildings have been partially restored, but the site becomes interesting precisely because the grounds have not been manicured.

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Coming across each building group in the jungle remains a delightful surprise, and gives each view a special sense of discovery.

Observing the Observatories

Location: Mayapan, Yucatan, Mexico

The ancient Maya had a pattern of building vast cities of stone with temples, ball courts, palaces, dwellings, observatories and monuments. The Maya would live there for a few hundred years, and them abandon them. The construction of these cities and ceremonial centers seems even more astounding when you realize that they only had stone tools to quarry and carve the rock, and no animals or carts to help them move the stones.

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Mayapan was the last Maya urban center in the Yucatan, and was abandoned just before the Spanish arrived. Some call Mayapan a reflection of Chichen Izta and point out the carvings are less ornate and the architecture is less sophisticated. But, Mayapan was at onetime a vast complex with over 3,500 buildings, and here the main buildings are close together, you can climb the pyramids, and there are much fewer crowds.

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I have been to Mayapan before, and have a huge archaeological field report on the site. My goal here was strictly photographic. Each visit is different. I shoot digital infrared and the differences between morning, noon, and evening can be dramatic. The clouds also play an important role.

Where are the Panama hats made?

Location: Becal, Campeche, Mexico

This afternoon we stopped by Becal, the place in Mexico where generations of the locals have been making quality Panama hats.

There is a special palm that grows here whose fibers excellent for hat making, but the air is too dry to weave the fibers without breaking them. Fortunately the rock here is relatively soft, so they do the weaving in underground caves.

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They still make excellent hats, but sadly, as in many areas, the local craftsmen are being undercut by the cheaper and less quality products form China.

Those of you who know my fondness for headgear will not be surprised to know that I did my part to help the local economy.