Tag Archives: maya

Brown People

There is and always has been a palpable racist element in this country and you will see, in the hundreds of interactions the well-to-do Mexican upper classes have with their supposed inferiors, a total disregard for these browner versions of themselves.

Look around. You will see it everywhere.

Privileged kids at private school
dropping wrappers and plastic bottles
Brown People

Dirty dishes in the sink
greasy pots and pans
Brown People

Enemas and bandages
bedpans and injections
Brown People

The Lincoln on Montejo
garbage out the window
Brown People

The traffic accident
blue lights flashing
Brown People

The Barbie Mom
coffee after the gym
Brown People

Babies in strollers
families at the mall
Brown People

The busy executive
car at the valet
Brown People

Gym workout
towels, wrappers, water everywhere
Brown People

The children’s party
the piñata bursts open
Brown People

The drug war rages
who to fight the cartels
Brown People

Fortunes made
henequen industry families
Brown People

A stray shopping cart
supermarket parking lot
Brown People

Political unrest
thugs beating up citizens
Brown People

Morning TV show
the silver-toothed buffoon
Brown People

Why I Don’t Read the Newspaper – a Rant

Today, a copy of the Diario de Yucatan, once Merida’s more serious newspaper, entered my home and once again reaffirmed my belief that it is far better to ignore local news in any form because hearing, reading or seeing what is ‘newsworthy’ is really just depressing and makes one’s blood boil.

Boiling Point 1

In the newspaper, dated Saturday 20 of June, 2015, the Local section had this as their top story: “Elogio de la ONU (Spanish for United Nations) a Mérida.

It turns out that someone from the UN came to Merida for an environmental Expo and made encouraging comments about the potentially ‘great business opportunities’ in the area of renewable energy production that exist in the Yucatan along with the fabulous wealth of natural resources.

Now I am not sure what planet she is coming from – although later she mentions being in the DF so anywhere looks promising after that – but perhaps she didn’t read or hear about the rapid rate of contamination of the peninsula’s ground water thanks to complete indifference by authorities and citizens alike, who have no qualms about disposing of waste into the aquifer. Or read the article by another visitor recently who was blown away by the amount of trash that can be found everywhere in the Yucatan, particularly along the so-called Emerald Coast which was named after a visit to the Yucatan by a direct descendant of L. Frank Baum. Or see how trees are cut at an alarming rate both by those exploiting them for lumber or pulp as well as many developers and residents who regard anything resembling a leaf as garbage and ‘undesirable’. Natural resources indeed. Perhaps she was referring to the abundance of limestone. We sure do have a lot of rocks.

When she mentions that “Yucatan has one of the best environmental strategies in the country” I can only wonder at how bad the other states in Mexico really are. Is there potential for wind and solar? Yes. Is it being aggressively pursued by any government agency? Not that I know of, but then I don’t follow the press on a regular basis so am not up to date on the pomp and circumstance of self-congratulatory official pronouncements. There is an ongoing, energetic program to rid the Yucatan of plastic. Kidding. And the reforestation along avenues and highways is also a priority here. Not. Especially not when there is a billboard that needs seeing.

My lethargic cat has more environmental strategies than the Yucatan.

In the article she also states that Merida has ‘buenas vialidades‘; in other words, a good road and street system. I will give you a minute to pick yourself up off the floor. What vialidades is she talking about, I wonder.

  • The multilane manic madness of the Avenida Itzaes with its lanes that are abruptly repainted at each intersection?
  • Downtown streets with its yellow curbed no parking streets that are ignored by the PAN officials who park their cars in front of their office?
  • The white-knuckle bottleneck that is the glorieta experience at the new museum of all things Mayan?

Many of us who live here would beg to differ and it is only getting worse, as the recent opening of Krispy Kreme on Montejo or a drive through the neglected neighborhoods in Merida’s south can attest.

Boiling Point 2

Second article in the Local section, is the confirmation of the construction of yet another centro comercial aka mall, this one called Uptown Center, following the accepted and malinchista protocol of naming all new and exciting commercial developments in English. Uptown Center sounds so… uptown, after all. and that’s where we all want to be. With a Walmart and a Starbucks, it most certainly will feel uptown. Meanwhile, el sur de Mérida continues to languish amidst potholes, deficient street lighting and dilapidated public transportation. What the hell, they’re poor and their apellidos are cortos so who cares.

This new mall location is a large property and it seems the Ayuntamiento has signed off on it. What makes my blood boil is the fact that Merida does not need yet another upscale freaking mall. What Merida needs is parks and green spaces for its citizens.

Imagine the city of Merida leading the way in Mexico and even North America not because of what was already there (Mayan culture, natural location – see boiling point 1) but because of what its citizens and government did to make it that way. But alas, the general interest is not in having a great, livable and healthy city; the general trend is to have as many Walmarts and Starbucks as possible, covering everything with concrete as we pursue that goal, and THAT will make us all feel like we are living in a great city.

Does this not make anyone else angry? Feel free to comment below.

Boiling Point 3

On the inside pages of the Local section, along with stories of multimillion peso frauds committed without consequence by the mayor of Yaxcaba, the usual tawdry reporting on spousal stabbings and spectacular car accidents, there is an article entitled “The Mayans; a tourism magnet”

The powers-that-be of our fine tourism infrastructure are busy promoting – in England no less – all things Mayan. Among the last names of the fine citizens representing the initiative mentioned are Bravo, Ancona, Franco, Tovar y Teresa, Gomez and others. It would seem to me that including one or two actual Mayans would be an interesting and refreshing twist to these continued efforts to milk the Mayan culture dry, that continues decade after decade, without returning a centavo to the actual Mayans living in the Yucatan today. Of course, there are many ambitious and promising projects that are announced with each new governor, mayor or president; projects with fancy logos and stationery and even official vehicles and uniforms; projects that are promptly abandoned or the funds siphoned off for a new vehicle for the office, or other much-needed accoutrements of the white-guayabera-clad functionaries with their iPhones and shiny black shoes, smiling among villagers who have been screwed over again and again and still pose for the photos, in the hope that maybe this time, the promise might be real.

As I have the opportunity to spend time in the villages and comisarías and ejidos, I see real, emaciated and forgotten Mayans every day and can tell you – without hesitation – that these Mayans do not receive any benefits from these promotional junkets.

International trips where Merida chefs prepare and serve tacos de cochinita and antojitos yucatecos; where miniature replicas of Chichen Itza and other Mayan archeological pieces are expensively shipped and displayed for foreigners who then congratulate the officials accompanying the pieces on the cultural heritage of the Yucatan. The last people to benefit from all this promotion of Mayan-ness, to paraphrase my friend Macduff Everton, are the Mayans themselves.

And that, my dear readers makes my blood boil the most; how about you?

Maybe if I read the paper, listed to the radio, turned on the TV on a regular basis, I would become inured to these myopic assaults on common sense, on human dignity and on the vast potential of Merida and the Yucatan.

Alas, (or fortunately, for my own mental health) I do not.

And so, when a newspaper comes between me and the table, and I see the absolute mierda that is occurring around me in the city and state that I love and have come to regard as my own, I rant. For I am seeing this not as a romantic foreigner who just bought a colonial in Santiago and finds the Luca de Galvez market still charming, but a long-time resident that feels coraje at the potential of the place being squandered so cavalierly.

6 Reasons Why Uxmal is Better Than Chichen Itza

Uxmal is better than Chichen Itzá.

Yeah, I said it.

While all the tour companies and agencies and re-sellers and operators are out to make a buck on delivering hordes of bleary-eyed and sunburnt beachgoers from Cancun, the Riviera Maya and Tulum, those in the know are in Uxmal enjoying what is most assuredly a superior Mayan ruin experience.

Here are the top six reasons Uxmal beats Chichen Itzá, hands down:

1. It’s location. Uxmal is located 90 minutes from Merida and about 5 hours from Cancun which is fantastic. Fantastic because the hordes from the Quintana Roo (Google it) side  of the Yucatan peninsula are not going to show up here, ever. To get to Uxmal from Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Cancun and that all-inclusive hotel, you would have to sacrifice a night of accommodation you already paid for and stay in the area around Uxmal or at least Mérida OR spend the entire day driving. And of course then you would be exposed to all that crime in this country. And all this leads to the second reason Uxmal beats Chichen Itzá:

2. No Crowds. Mostly because of the location, Uxmal never feels crowded. Whereas at Chichen Itzá you will line up for a ticket, line up for a bathroom, line up for a second ticket, line up to get your ticket punched and can not get a photo of a structure without seven hundred other human beings photobombing you, at Uxmal you can play Annie Leibovitz all day and get some truly award-winning photos that will keep you in the money via iStock for years to come. Maybe. There is enough room that whenever a tour bus does show up (and they do, but they are full of Russians, Italians, Belgians, Germans or Poles rather than Americanos) the site is large enough to absorb them and it never feels crowded. Also, if you are going to make a wish (inside joke) there are no lines at the bathrooms, ladies!

3. No vendors. Woo-hoo! If you have been to Chichen Itzá lately you know all about the vendors and how their presence INSIDE the site is an eyesore and takes away from your experience. Nothing like feeling the energy of the the ancient stones with your fellow “crystal people” when suddenly your meditative reverie is interrupted by  a nasal shout from under the trees “CHEAPER THAN WALMART!” Um, OK, good to know since I always shop for my Mayan souvenirs at Walmart. The vendors have their agenda and I am not going to get into whether or not it’s a valid one; we are talking about the experience here, and they are not helping by occupying every shady spot on the site and hassling you every two steps with yet another article of dubious origin that all miraculously cost the same and are made by the same person – the ubiquitous and elusive Juan Dolla. You may get the impression that YOU are Juan Dolla: “blanket, Juan Dolla”; “jade mask, Juan Dolla”; Along with the wood carver next to the table carving his (same) piece of wood for the duration of his day thereby convincing you that those masks and jaguars and calendars are hand carved, there are also the Mayan grannies who have learned some English: “hankie, Juan Dolla”. Uxmal has no vendors inside the site. Period.

4. The structure themselves. While Chichen Itzá is impressive in its size and many buildings are indeed breathtaking, the stonework on each and every façade at Uxmal is so much more intricate and will literally blow your mind, if you are of the artistic bent and are prepared to allow your mind to be blown. Chichen Itzá’s structures feature some carved stone but there was also a lot of stucco, painted and sculpted, which, over the centuries has melted away under the sun, rain and the chisels and pockets of the curious. The stones on the other hand at Uxmal, are still there, probably because the un-enlightened Spaniards did not find it necessary to build anything resembling a city, town or hacienda there.

5. No ropes! OK: just a few. The buildings and structures at Uxmal have far less restrictions and nasty ropes draped around their entirety with the sign “no pasar” or “prohibido el paso” which means you are able to walk around in the jungle, behind giant partially restored pyramids, play Indiana Jones (watch out for snakes and wasps) and/or generally feel like Dora the Explorer in your own way. You can climb the giant pyramid at the back for a spectacular and vertigo-inducing view. At Chichen Itzá, EVERYTHING is roped off, all the cool little pathways into the jungle have the aforementioned rope or chain and forget about climbing up anything to get a look around.

6. The best espresso in the Yucatan. It’s true, in spite of what Starbucks and some of those newly arrived Italianos in Merida might tell you: the espresso at the little cart up against the wall in Uxmal, is probably the best espresso you will find for hundreds of miles around.  Chichen Itzá does not have one of these carts. Boo for them.


Uxmal. What if?

rising is dangerous photo

Rising is dangerous. Really? Physically rising? Socially aspirational rising?

If you visit Uxmal on a regular basis, showing off this wonderful site to visitors and friends, you may perhaps have a few questions as I do. Criticizing is of course, bad and we wouldn’t want to affect anyone’s self-esteem or God forbid offend anyone, so let’s just ask some hypothetical “what if” questions:

  1. What if: When you arrived at Uxmal there was a welcoming smile at the ticket booth and not the burned out, Mr. Grumpy that currently received visitors who wait patiently in line?
  2. What if: The federal and state authorities were to make a leap of faith, move into the 21st century and trust modern computer and accounting software to divide the entry fee so that visitors could pay one ticket and not lineup for two separate tickets, sold side by side by two employees at two separate desks with two separate cash floats and to be punched by two separate employees at two separate ticket-punching stations? This archaic system works well for the government agencies involved, but is the purpose of Uxmal to benefit the government agencies and their accounting or is it to delight the visitor?
  3. What if: You could buy the ticket to enter Uxmal in less than 2 minutes? If there more than 4 people waiting, you can easily spend 10 minutes in the two lineups to get your two tickets from the two employees in the two windows.
  4. What if: If you did have to wait, you could do so in the shade? If larger groups are in line to buy their tickets, you will stand in the baking April sun thinking “is it really worth it?” while you feel trickles of sweat running down the small of your back. The employees are in the shade and so good for them. What about the visitors? Could they not at least have a canopy of some sort to stop them from literally burning? Would this not make their experience better?
  5. What if: You could choose the best guide and not the one whose turn it is? Some guides are better than others, some speak English better than others and some are better with children. But you can’t choose because there is a system in place that makes you take the next guide in line. Great for the guides – and I love them all – but is the visit to Uxmal about the guides having a fair distribution of clients, or is it about the visitor’s experience?
  6. What if: They actually hired someone who spoke English to translate the signs warning people of the dangers in climbing the ruins and respecting the structures? Signs like “not sit” and “rising is dangerous” are toe-curling embarrassments to those of us who live here and take away from the magnificence of Uxmal. Hiring someone’s cousin who speaks no English to translate the signs obviously benefited someone – wink, wink – but how does this impact the visitor’s experience?

What if the powers that be considered the visitors experience when they arrive in the Yucatan instead of spending millions of pesos on snazzy brochures and costly junkets to tourism fairs to promote the states attractions? Doesn’t magnificent Uxmal and all its grandeur deserve more than just to act as a cash cow for inefficient bureaucracies interested only in self-preservation? Ask yourself these “what if” questions on your next visit to Uxmal and think about how much better it could be. Is this the hospitality we want to show our guests when they arrive in the Yucatan? Yucatecans are famous for their hospitality. Is this really as good as we can be?

Huevos Motuleños – in Motul

Is there someone out there who hasn’t realized that Huevos Motuleños are named after the town of Motul; birthplace of Felipe Carrillo Puerto, one of the more renowned governors of the state of Yucatan? Perhaps. The town of Motul actually got its name from the Mayan priest  Zac Mutul, who founded the Mayan settlement there in the 11th century.  But today we are not going to talk about history; we are talking about the eggs. Huevos Motuleños, which has a back story, apparently.

The story, as far I can decipher, is that Felipe Carrillo Puerto asked local restaurateur Jorge Siqueff to make him something for breakfast; something different. And this now iconic Yucatecan dish, served everywhere Yucatecan food is offered (and with as many variations as there are Yucatecan restaurants) is what he came up with.  The version in Motul is probably the closest to the original, and starts with crunchy fried corn tortillas or tostadas, topped with refried black beans, topped with your choice of eggs (sunny side up, runny, scrambled) topped with a unique cooked tomato sauce that has chunks of (should be smoked) ham and peas.

Check out some video (in Spanish) on the subject of this unique breakfast item here and here:

This is how the Critic and his guests had this breakfast one morning a few days ago on the second floor of the Motul market and it is absolutely delicious!

The lady in the Mirador spot (photo below) was very friendly and offered free refills on the horchatas; and as if the eggs were not enough, warm frances (crusty french-style white bread) was brought to the table as well.

Total bill for a breakfast that will keep you energized for the whole day? $40 pesos before tips. That’s a little over 3 dollars, for those doing conversions.

The Montejo Statues “Controversy”

An email from a friend alerted me to the presence of a BBC reporter who did a piece on Merida which focused entirely on the ‘storm in a teacup’ surrounding the statues of the Franciscos de Montejo which were recently unveiled on the Paseo de Montejo, Merida’s wide, Champs Elysees -style boulevard. The interview with a Yucatecan anthropologist, which can be heard here, covers the unfavorable reaction that the statues have received from some sectors. It seems to me that if the BBC was doing their GeoQuiz on Merida, there are about a gazillion other things to talk about, but the statues were the topic of this segment.

In my humble and unschooled opinion, the statues simply put a face to the name that is present on the avenue, a local beer, and of course the Casa Montejo, now a Banamex bank and once their base and home in the city’s Plaza Grande. Undoubtedly, their contribution to the city, besides drawing up the initial plans for how the newly formed capital should be laid out and grow, included a lot of exploitation of and violence against, the existing Mayan indian population. I don’t feel that the statues glorify the Montejo clan, as the history of the Yucatan is taught, to some degree, in every elementary, secondary and high school in the state and so most people are aware of the atrocities perpetrated by the conquistadores.

On the other hand, there is a statue, much larger and more dramatic to be sure, to one of the great Mayan indian warriors, Jacinto Canek, on an avenue that bears his name as well. The difference in the two statues and where they are located may be a subtle clue to the underlying sentiments that prevail in the Yucatan today. The Montejos are on Merida’s most spectacular avenue, where turn of the century mansions line the street and pedestrians stroll under giant shady trees on wide sidewalks; the Jacinto Canek avenue is a noisy, commercial and thoroughly unattractive street, notorious for being the home of the shabbiest strip clubs and where the sidewalk is broken and populated each night by transvestite prostitutes.

Racism is alive and well in the Yucatan – but never talked about – and perhaps the Montejos statues contribution will be a renewed discussion on the lingering effects of that fateful moment in history, over 500 hundred years ago, when the cultures of the old world clashed with those of the new.

Remixto Brunch – Again

Apparently the Casual Restaurant Critic and his Better Half behaved themselves well enough to garner another invitation, this time to the second Remixto Brunch, once again graciously hosted by MexiChica and Casa Mexilio.

There is little to say that the Critic didn’t mention on the previous occasion, except that the heat/humidity was mercifully much more tolerable on this occasion, and the company that joined the Critic and Better Half was truly enjoyable. Oh, and the menu featured the terrific Lechon Benedict as well as a Henwich and Green Eggs and Ham.

In fact, one member of the group, who we shall call the YT Girl, took photos, a la the Critic, which are posted below!

If you have a chance, come to the next one!

Welcome to LawsonsYucatan!

If you have found this then you are on the new William Lawson Yucatan site!

This will be the new repository for all things related to William Lawson and my take on life in the Yucatan, which dates from the NotTheNews days to the elmaloso blog to the Casual Restaurant Critic blog. This is over 10 years of writing about life here. Eventually, it will all be here.

The immediate priority is to get the theme (the look of this WordPress blog) working, and then transfer content from the other online areas and sites to ‘populate’ this one. Sort of a one-stop for all things related to the topic of life in Merida or Yucatan, from a neurotic foreigners point of view.

Comment at will and spread the word!

Dzibilchaltun Museum is an Embarassment

As I alluded to on William Lawson’s Driving blog, yesterday I took some folks to Dzibilchaltun. I had told them about the site and it’s small but well-put-together museum.

I was shocked at the state of the museum: it is literally falling apart around the exhibits. Not that you are going to get hit in the head with falling plaster, but you may stumble a bit on the floor, which is made of wooden slats which have either rotted or fallen prey to an insect invasion, known here as comejen, that make it sag and uneven. Some of the wooden slats have been crudely replaced by someone with about as much skill in carpentry as I have, using approximate-sized replacement unfinished wooden strips nailed down with the flair of an 8 year old backyard fort builder. Other slats are covered with pieces of carpeting; the sag you feel as you step on them makes you feel you are on the dance floor of the Mambo Café.

Looking up, it is evident that the finishing coat of cement has fallen off in places, leaving rebar and concrete roofing material exposed. Also, while you are gazing up that way, note that the illumination is at about 30% capacity ie. 70% of the light bulbs are burnt out or off. In any case, they are not working, and many of the exhibits suffer from this lack of proper illumination.

It seems both a shame and a disgrace that the INAH does not or cannot maintain this building that must have hundreds of visitors each week, especially during this ‘high’ season (and the just finished Christmas holidays which saw Yucatan’s attractions mobbed by tourists both national and international) and now that Dzibilchaltun is on the cruise ship excursion map.

Very embarrassing, and as a Yucatecan – according to the definition proposed by Tony in the Diario de Yucatan a few weeks ago, a Yucatecan is everyone that resides here and contributes, in one form or another, to the political, social or commercial life of the Yucatan – I find it unacceptable that our so-called authorities show such disdain towards this important showcase for Mayan and Yucatecan culture.

La(s) Mestiza(s) Restaurant, Piste (Chichen Itzá) Yucatan, Mexico

The other day the Casual Restaurant Critic found himself in the charming hamlet of Pisté, adjacent to the majestic Mayan ruins of Chichen Itzá, where Sarah Brightman will sing at the end of this month.

Having heard of this restaurant, the Critic stopped for a quick breakfast of huevos con longaniza which seemed to take an inordinate amount of time to arrive. This was, as the Critic later discovered, because the kitchen was taking the trouble to accompany the plate with fresh, thick, hand-made tortillas! A real treat in this age where Maseca cardboard tortillas are the accepted (by some) norm.

Food was good, the tortillas excellent, service fine and the coffee awful.