More on Tourism in the Yucatan

Staying on-theme with the tourism comments in the previous posts, I wanted to quickly give you my impressions on the state of the art facilities at Ek Balam.

Ek Balam is one of those Mayan archaeological sites that is not in the same league, promotion and money-invested wise, as say, Chichen Itza and Uxmal, it’s more famous cousins. Along with Mayapan and places like Aké, it is a site seen by far fewer visitors and usually only on the itinerary of the more die-hard Yucatan explorer.

There is, however, some government involvement in the restoration and running of Ek Balam and so we have the caseta de cobro where all visitors must stop and pay their fee to enter the site. Presumably the entrance fee covers basic maintenance and the salary of the sour-faced employee who has no knowledge of basic math (addition and subtraction) and is allowed to have no change on hand for breaking anything larger than a 20 peso bill. Also, and in spite of being a government-run site, which should imply some sort of amiable exchange rate for the almighty dollar, the rate offered is considerably less than that provided by the banks.

The highlight of the awful, unpainted concrete monstrosity making up the entrance is – as is so often the case – the bathroom. Maybe I have a bathroom fetish but as a resident of the Yucatan and occasionally charged with the responsibility of ferrying relatives and friends to these ‘touristic’ places, I feel enormously embarrassed at the crude-ness of the facilities provided to the tourists our government is trying to woo.

Please look at the photos below. This is the welcome, as in the case of the previous post on Progreso, that tourists and visitors will have should they require the use of a bathroom. Next to the toilet, please note the traditional waste paper basket containing used toilet paper. Heaven forbid that they should make the effort to actually install a proper septic system that can handle toilet paper! And after your precarious hovering experience – note the absence of any toilet seat or something to hold onto when you are in fact, hovering – with the toilet, you can proceed to the modern ‘sink’ and dip your fingers into that charming little plastic dish of brown liquid soap, where unknown hands have dipped before you.

This primitive set-up would be fine if perhaps, I was camping, although I have seen campsites with outhouses that look more hygienic. Or visiting someone who was very poor.

But this is a federally (INAH) and state (Secretaria de Turismo or Cultura) run attraction. They spend all kinds of money, not so much the INAH but the Tourism people, on ads and campaigns and and and to get people to come here. Then, when they do, they offer them this.

Yes, the Mayan civilization was very advanced and has left a cultural legacy that has endured for thousands of years. Those days, however are gone.

In the absence of anyone in government building or doing ANYTHING these days to make the Yucatan more attractive or even a better place to live for its inhabitants, these Mayan sites are a cash cow for the mindless, unimaginative and self-serving bureaucrats that run them today. They should be turned over to the private sector and all the leeches living on the proceeds of the Mayans remains should be forced to get a real job.

2 thoughts on “More on Tourism in the Yucatan

  1. Hi William,

    I haven’t been to Ek Balam yet, but I did go to Mayapan, which largely conforms to your descriptions, especially the restroom facilities. This was especially annoying to me as I was suffering a mild bout of turista the day of the visit, and had to balance over the seatless throne, and was fortunate to have brought my own tp. I can at least say it was a lot better than many Pemex bathrooms I’ve had the displeasure to visit.

    Still, I had a great time at Mayapan. The site is nicely restored, adequately maintained, and little visited. The whole time I was there I had the place to myself, except for an archaeological crew working off in the corner. What a pleasant experience compared to the low bazaar that Chichen Itza has become, and it even compared favorably with a visit to Uxmal, just because there was no one else there– I mean I had the entire city to myself for hours.

    Now whenever I run into people going for a visit to the Yucatan, I encourage them to go to at least one small site. No one’s ever told me they regretted it.

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