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DZIBILCHALTUN

A Mayan archaeological site 10 miles north of Mérida Mexico

 
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Day 13 - Thursday, February 15, 2018. (Cha-bil-chal-tune)The daily hand-delivered breakfasts are a real treat and today's was unbelievably amazing: fluffy scrambled eggs with avocado slices and sesame seed bread pockets, a  fruit plate of papaya, cantaloupe, and watermelon, cafe au lait and a homemade green energy juice (cucumber, orange, spinach), which sounds crazy but was delicious. Add toast, butter, jam, yogurt, and oatmeal and what a way to start the day.

Public Transportation From Merida to Dzbilchaltun Ruins

After breakfast, we flagged down the San Lucia bus to Centro (center of the city)  for $8 Pesos each ($.42 USD) to get to the colectivo that will take us ten miles north to the small town of Chablekal for another $8 Pesos each ($.42 USD). Chablekal is about 2 miles from the Dzbilchaltun Ruins, our destination for the day. With daypacks stuffed with snorkeling gear, were eagerly ready to snorkel the on-site Cenote Xlakah after a long hot walk around the Dzbilchaltun Ruins.

#1. Santa Maria

Touring the Five Cenotes de Homun

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Chalbekal Motorbike Taxis

We took a motorbike taxi from Chablekal to get to the Dzbilchaltun Ruins for $12 Pesos ($.63 USD). These motorbike taxis are not exactly comfy but they are a blast and very inexpensive plus they are the only public transportation in many of the little towns and villages around Merida.

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Dzibilchaltun Ruins and The Mayan People's Museum

Dzibilchaltun features a fantastic museum, with several artifacts still in good shape. There was also the requisite pyramid that was climbable and boasted a building with the broadest set of stairs, a 100 yards wide in the Yucatan. https://mayanpeninsula.com/dzibilchaltun-museum/

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Snorkeling Xlakah Cenote at Dzbilchaltun

For us, the highlight of the day was snorkeling the Cenote Xlakah at the ruins. Xlakah cenote was completely open, and the water was nearly at the surface. There were lily pads in the middle of the pond with deep dark caves around the outside circumference. One cave was a cylinder 10 feet in diameter plunging nearly straight down practically to China. The sun caught some blue rocks part way down the cylinder, and they just shimmered like a drug-induced hallucination. The whole experience was topped off with schools of gorgeous colorful fish.

Cafe Pop Restaurant in Merida Mexico

Cafe Pop Restaurant in Merida Mexico

Then it was another motorbike taxi ride back to Chablekal, and a colectivo ride back to Merida just in time for supper. We tried Café Pop, a small diner recommended in some blog I had read. We stuffed ourselves with quesadilla bee,f taco fixings with of a pile of tender beef chunks, guacamole, and 10 white corn tortillas, a side order of Mexican rice with a fried egg on top (different but awesome), another side order of black beans with tortilla chips, flavorful salsa, coffee, and a bottle of water. It was way too much food, but it was terrific. The whole meal set us back about $17 USD including drinks and tip.

Parque Santa Lucia in Merida Mexico

Thursday nights are free concert nights at Parque Santa Lucia, a park on Calle 60 with several exclusive outdoor restaurants. These concerts are very popular and packed with people. Fortunately, we found a nice bleacher seat with a direct view of the stage. http://yucatantoday.com/santa-luc-2/?lang=en

 

The first band was a Mexican swing jazz band. While the band played, a professional Yucatan dance troupe performed the traditional Jarana folk dance with the men dressed in traditional whites and women in traditional hipil dresses with lots of added color accents. After the jazz band show, a storyteller came up and told three or four amusing stories.  That is, the crowd was laughing but being in Spanish, we didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. Next up was an unbelievable trio playing traditional Mexican music. One guitar player strummed intricate rhythms on a nylon string guitar. Another player wowed us with insanely fast and accurate solos, also on a nylon string guitar. The third musician laid down smooth bass lines, and chord fills on an electric 6 string bass. All the while they sang perfect 3-part harmonies with the oddest but tightest harmony chords imaginable. They were definitely great musicians, and the lead guitar player was world class.  Jarana Dancers: http://yucatantoday.com/yucatecan-traditions-vaquer-and-jarana/?lang=en.

 

Parque Zoológico del Centenario

Merida Zoo in Merida Mexico

Day 14 - Friday, February 16, 2018. Today I practiced my guitar until 1 pm. It was the first time I played since the St. Croix Casino band gig. I have a folding electric travel guitar that when placed in its travel bag looks a lot like a gun. It has raised a few eyebrows in security lines, but it always gets through in the end. I also have a tiny Vox practice amp that isn’t much bigger than a guitar jack. In fact, the whole tiny unit plugs into the guitar jack and just sits there taking up hardly any room. The amp has effects and a small earphone jack (it’s way too small for a speaker). There is also an input jack where I plug in my iPod with the tracks of the songs I have to practice. What’s nice about these tracks is that all the guitars have been removed while the rest of the vocals and instruments remain.

At 1 pm we walked to the Park of the Americas. This is a four-square-block park built in 1945 with replicas of Mayan sculptures of gods and artworks. Reaching the park involved a four-mile walk through middle-to-upper class neighborhoods. Even here, however, we noticed several abandoned houses, including many former mansions. It is odd that in Mexico, or at least in the Yucatan, there are so many houses and buildings just abandoned to rot away. Doesn’t anyone take them over, or repossess them for resale before they completely deteriorate? Apparently not.

After visiting the Park of the Americas, we headed south to the zoo. We had heard that it had been recently renovated, so we were expecting something cute. The zoo was located on a sizeable well-shaded plot of land that had lots of kiddy playground equipment. There were also many vendors, typical of every Mexican commercial area. After miles of walking in the 90-degree sun, we were ready for some paletas. First, we tried a mamey paleta. Mamey is a pinkish-orange colored tropical fruit the size of a small coconut. It was good, but I liked the flavor of the nance fruit better. Then we tried a chocolate covered coconut paleta. Both were wonderfully cold and satisfying on such a hot day.

The zoo itself took up about 1/3 of the park. It is not the San Diego zoo that has become our ultimate favorite zoo of all time. However, the Merida Zoo was OK. There were excellent monkey displays, lots of cats, a bunch of colorful tropical birds with their enormous beaks, and so much more. Best of all, it was free. https://www.zoochat.com/community/media/categories/parque-zoologico-del-centenario.2486/?page=7

RUTA PUUC RUINS

Pick up free bus tickets for Sunday and check transportation schedule

Delighted with our zoo visit, we headed back toward downtown. We bought a whole mango on a stick that was cut in a way that resembled a flower. It was a perfect way to eat a perfectly ripe mango.

Next, we walked to the TAME Bus Terminal to buy our Ruta Puuc Ruins bus tour tickets. The bus ticket is less than $10 USD each. There are entry fees at most of the sites which totals up to approximately $20 USD each person. So, for $30 USD each, you get a grand all-day-tour bus that takes you to 5 Mayan ruins.

Ruta Puuc has five separate sites of ruins ranging from the tiny Xlapak Ruins to the spectacular Uxmal Ruins. The sites are spread out over a 25-mile area, so a car is usually needed. However, the Oriente bus line has a Sunday-only Ruta Puuc free bus tour of all 5 sites. It isn’t exactly a tour in the traditional sense with a tour guide. Instead, Oriente takes you to each site and gives you time to roam each area. You get 35 minutes at the small sites like Labna, Xlapak, and Sayil, 50 minutes are allotted to the larger Kabah Ruins and 2 hours are given for the ultimate Uxmal Ruins, which is just about all you really need at each site. (Go to tab at top or bottom of webpage > click on Destinations/Mexico > Mexico Ruta Puuc for full-day trip experience. )

El Trapiche in Merida Mexico

Delighted With our tickets purchased and ready for Sunday, we ate at El Trapiche, another blog-recommended downtown diner. We had beef tacos with piles of beef chunks, guacamole, black beans, and a zillion white corn tortillas; two tamales with a tomato sauce, a salsa, and a green chili sauce; washed down with horchata (the delicious cinnamon rice drink)  and an iced Jamaica, a pleasant hibiscus flower drink. https://www.facebook.com/RestauranteElTrapicheMerida/

We walked over 10 miles today, and my Rockport walking shoes were starting to hurt. I hiked all over southern Spain last November with them without a problem. I think they are getting worn out.

CUZAMA CENOTES

From Merida Mexico

 

Day 15 - Saturday, February 17, 2018. Another morning and another excellent breakfast, then out the door for Cuzama. All the Yucatan travel blogs and tourist articles cite the Cenotes de Cuzama tour as a “must-do.” The write-ups talk about riding a donkey-driven cart on rails to three different cenotes.

Public Transportation

From Merida to Cuzama Cenotes

Cuzama is a small town about 25 miles from Merida. The Cuzama cenotes are out in the sticks a couple of miles outside of Cuzama. The best way to get there is, you guessed it, colectivo. So, after breakfast, we hopped on whatever bus listed Centro on its windshield, and off we go to find the Cuzama colectivo in the maze of colectivo stands. We had heard that the Cuzama colectivo is near the Noreste bus terminal, so we go there first. In our quest, a guy promoting a different set of cenotes he claimed was better than the Cuzama cenotes approached us. His photos looked nice, but we didn’t fully understand his Spanglish. I did catch enough to indicate that I’d research it and maybe come back on Monday or Tuesday for his cenote package.

 

We located the Cuzama colectivo just behind the colectivo that the promoter was working. The colectivo was $23 peso each, and it quickly filled up. It took about 55 minutes, with half of the time just getting through Merida. I just don’t understand how these colectivos make any money. The Cuzama colectivo makes about $20 US for each run to Cuzama. By the time they wait to fill up and then figure in the drive time it takes at least 1½ hours to gross the $20 US. Each run probably burns up 2 gallons of gas. Gas in Mexico is not cheap - $1 US per liter or approximately $4 US per gallon. That leaves $12 US gross profit per run. But you have payments on the van, insurance (maybe?), maintenance, and repairs. They might make 5 runs on a good day, which will gross $60 US minus expenses. Is $40 net per day a reasonable estimate?
 

On the way to Cuzama, the colectivo went through the town of Achena. I had read that Achena was a cute little town boasting a thriving market and a Mayan pyramid right downtown. Sure enough, the colectivo drove right by the market and the pyramid. What struck me, however, were the hundred or so motor-taxi's scurrying about town with their passengers.

 

 

The colectivo dropped us off at a desolate spot way out in “no-where-ville.” I wasn’t sure we were in the right spot, but three other people, a sweet Mexican Mother, and her teenage daughter, and a pretty young medical intern from Campeche doing her residency at Merida got out with us. The intern spoke enough English to reassure us that it was the right place. Just over a little hill, we came across the railhead for the tour. For being so heavily advertised I was surprised to see that the five of us were the only patrons there.

There were about a dozen narrow gauge railroad carts lined up in the dirt next to the start of a set of tiny rails that had to have been laid down by the drunkest rail crew ever to lay down a track. A couple of young guys lifted one of the carts onto the tracks while a squat friendly old guy led a small horse, not a donkey as advertised, over to the front of the cart. The cart holds up the 6 people and costs $450 pesos divided up by the 5 of us ($90 pesos each - $5 US). We jumped in, and soon we were on our way.

The cart wildly swayed, bumped, jumped, and screeched as the horse galloped along. I don’t know how the cart stayed on the tracks, but the ride was better than any carnival ride I was ever on. The five of us quickly bonded with laughter and “yahoos” on our way to the first cenote, which was a good kilometer away. The entire circuit was easily 3 kilometers long and well worth the $90 pesos each.

I had read that there were originally three cenotes on this tour, but one had been shut down. To my delight, we were taken to four cenotes, although one was pretty difficult to swim in. The access was so poor that we just climbed down into the cave and marveled at the colorful stalactites and stalagmites plunging into the clear blue water. All the cenotes were of the underground variety with all but one sporting steep stairways or ladders reaching down 30 or 40 feet through tiny holes in the ground.

Standing at the tops of these tall, steep ladders and squinting through the darkness to see where these steps were leading you to, gives one pause at first. The mother took a few moments to gather her courage, but by the end of the tour, she was a pro. Wanda and I, being cenote pros already, went right down.

X'TOJIL CENOTE

From Merida Mexico

 

The first cenote, X’tojil, was a 50-foot in diameter circle of water with an island in the middle set deep in a cave. The water was the typical crystal clear blue. Along the outside circumference were numerous deep caves going off to who-knows-where. It was a fairly plain cenote with few rock formations – sweet but not spectacular. The swim was refreshing and the underworld azure water through snorkel masks was still incredible.

AYUSO CENOTE

From Merida Mexico

The second cenote, Ayuso, just blew us away. It was deep, underground, and on the smallish side but it was gorgeous with beautiful formations and the darkest blue water I have ever seen. To top it off, there was a swing rope that was a blast.

 

SAN FELIPE CENOTE

From Merida Mexico

The third cenote, Sak Paka, had the poor access where we just climbed down to gawk.

The fourth cenote, San Felipe, had the coolest entrance and was the most beautiful of the bunch. The entrance opening was very large, so a sturdy staircase was provided. Once in the cave, you followed a long shaft, including a long wooden bridge, through stunningly colorful formations to reach the small and serenely beautiful cenote. The whole tour took about 4 hours. The total cost, including round-trip bus ride, colectivo ride, and horse cart was $304 peso for both of us. That works out to less than $17 US for another terrific day.

 

On our way back to the Airbnb we stopped off at our favorite tamale cart next to Wal-Mart and discovered there are three different varieties of tamales, so we got two of each. There was a bakery nearby that I had read good things about so we gave Mexico one more shot at trying pastries. Lastly, we stopped at Wal-Mart to pick up some hot sauces and plastic utensils and napkins for the tamales. We took everything back to the Airbnb and pigged out. The tamales were terrific, especially with the hot sauces. The empanada we got from the bakery was tasty. The other pastries were decent but still not up to the Spanish standard that we enjoyed in Spain.

HOMUN CENOTES

From Merida Mexico

 

Day 18 -Tuesday, February 20, 2018. After enjoying another hand-delivered Airbnb breakfast, and feeling better about my ailing feet, we departed for the Cenotes de Homun. Knowing Homun was only 3 kilometers from Cuzama, we took a bus with Centro (city center) on its windshield to get close to the Noreste bus terminal where the Cuzama colectivo parks. We knew we would find the Homun colectivo in the same area. Sure enough, the Homun promoter immediately recognized us with a big smile and confirmed it was the Cenotes de Homun he was indeed pitching.

Homun tour package is $300 Pesos ($15.65 USD) and promises to visit five different cenotes including a chicken or pork supper at the family restaurant, Las Palmas, at the end of the tour. His friendly son (all of 15 years old) would be our moto-taxi driver and guide. Entrance fees are separate and paid at each cenote. I showed him my list of cenotes recommended from Yucatan Today magazine, and they matched up with his list. The colectivo is $30 Pesos each ($1.57 USD), and within fifteen minutes, the van was full and ready for the hour drive to the to the Homun.

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Moto-Taxis at Homun

from Merida Mexico

The smiling Homun promoter made sure we got off at the right place – right in front of his small family restaurant, Las Palmas, where our moto-taxi was waiting. His young and friendly son proceeded to take us on a wild bone-jarring ride several kilometers down a rock-strewn country path to the first two cenotes - we loved it! Halfway it rained hard with a driving wind. The small canopy over the moto-taxi does not provide much shelter. Thankfully, it was a warm rain and didn’t last more than five minutes. Although his dad spoke some English, our young driver didn’t know any English, and we didn't know much Spanish. No worries, we relied on lots of hand gestures, head nods, smiles, and the Google Translator app. It was great fun.

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#1. Santa Maria

Touring the Five Cenotes de Homun

Santa Maria Admission -  $30 pesos.
The Santa Maria cenote turned out to be an adventure trek into a beautiful cave filled with stalagmites, stalactites, and narrow entrances. The interior environment was warm and humid. (I did think of the Mayan women making sisal hats). After a bit of traveling under and around, we arrived at a small cenote with a bright blue pool to dip into. It was mesmerizing and photogenic, but we passed on swimming in this one. Our young guide seemed to promise bigger cenotes ahead.

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#2. Yaxbacaltun

Touring the Five Cenotes de Homun

Yaxbacaltun (ya-bahk-al-toon). Admission - $50 Pesos ($2.61 USD).
Our young tour guide was right, the Yaxbacaltun cenote was incredible. We took a stairway 30’ down through a small hole in the ground where a gigantic Alamo tree was also growing. About a third of the way down the ladder, the entrance opened up into a vast cavern with large formations. We landed on a large wooden platform in the middle of the water where a swing rope dropped you into the deepest part of the jewel-colored water. Snorkeling was hypnotic. Yes, we enjoyed swimming and rope-swinging in this cenote for a long time.

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#3. Bal-Min

Touring the Five Cenotes de Homun

Bal-Min (bahl-min) admission was $50 Pesos ($2.61 USD). The Bal-Min cenote was another small cave with a sturdy set of stairs and just big enough to accommodate another large Alamo tree. We landed on a large island in the middle of the cenote. This cenote had beautiful cave formations that provided great snorkeling.

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#4. Tza-Unjun-Kat

Touring the Five Cenotes de Homun

Tza-Ujun-Kat (Ta OoHoon Cot). Admission was $50 Pesos ($2.61 USD).

This cenote was my favorite although Yaxbacaltun with its swing rope was a very close second. The underwater formations were mesmerizing and we spent a long time exploring all of its nooks and crannies. 

 

Las Palmas Family Restaurant

Homun Mexico

Our young guide also brought along a mask and snorkel and enjoyed snorkeling as much as we did. It got late, so we decided to pass on the visit to the last cenote, Santa Rosa, which turned out to be unfortunate.

 

Back at his father's restaurant, Las Palmas, we were ready to eat. The restaurant was just a couple of plastic table and chairs under a canopy in front of their house. The Mrs did the cooking, and the husband (our driver) was the waiter. The food was awesome. We started with a bowl of excellent chicken soup filled with bow-tie pasta, carrots, and other veggies. Next, we each got a charbroiled half chicken on a bed of rice with vegetables and shredded lettuce. On the side, 20 hot tortillas and a strange but delicious spicy sauce. We wrapped the rice, lettuce, and a few drops of hot sauce up in the tortillas and took one bite of the tortilla and one of the chicken. It was delicious.

$700 Pesos ($43 USD)

Total Cost for Homun Day Trip

The cost: $120 pesos for the colectivo to and from Homun. $230 pesos for admission fees into the cenotes. $300 pesos for the bone-crunching ride to the cenotes plus the dinner. $50 peso tip for our 50-year-old guide. Total: $700 pesos ($43 US). Not bad for another spectacular day.

When we returned to Merida, we walked through the wild and chaotic market to reach the bus stand to catch the Carranza metro bus to return to the Airbnb. Sadly, Wanda’s laptop screen started to go erratic. That will make journaling our trip difficult.

Tza-ujun-kat Cenote

Homun Mexico

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Day 24, Monday, February 26, 2018. (za-oo-hoon-kaht)  We wanted to snorkel one more time, in our favorite nearby cenote Tza-Ujun-Kat in Homun. We didn’t want to do the whole moto-taxi tour. Instead, the plan was to snorkel cenote Tza-Ujun-Kat then eat at Las Palmas which is just a ½ block away.

The plan worked great. Cenote Tza-Ujun-Kat is beautiful underwater and ideal for snorkeling. The temperature outside was a hot 90 degrees, and the cold cenote water was refreshing. It was fun to see the look on Las Palmas owner’s faces as we strolled up to get another chicken and rice dinner. I raved about their chicken soup with the bow tie pasta, so they gave me an extra bowl. Sweet! All-in-all, it was another terrific day in the Yucatan Peninsula.

When we returned to Merida, we purchased our round-trip bus tickets to Celestun for Wednesday. The 2nd class Oriente bus was the only bus company servicing Celestun. That means we would get to see every little town and village along the way. We topped the evening off with a paleta from “Jugos, Helados Y Paletas Janitzio,” a shop at Plaza Grande known for the best paletas in the area. Their selection was endless and burst with pure fruit flavor.