Tag Archives: mayan

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.

 

Sikil Pak – a Traditional Mayan Dip – Recipe and Rant!

The other day I was showing some lovely people the bustling market in Uman, when it occurred to me that I would like to buy the ingredients for making sikil pak, the traditional Yucatecan pepita de calabaza dip that I adore on crispy corn tortilla chips, to attempt to recreate this at home. Asking a vendor or two for the correct ingredients and quantities I bought the ingredients for one batch:

  • one bag (about the volume of my two hands put together) of pepita molida aka toasted and ground squash seeds
  • three ripe local tomatoes (not the round ones, the oblong ones)
  • a bunch of fresh, pungent cilantro

Today, I made the dip and to me, it turned out absolutely scrumptious and since I didn’t have any corn chips lying around that weren’t soggy from all this humidity, I used Salma brand baked corn crackers, crispy and slightly toasty-burnt.

Here’s the methodology:

  • Turn on your heating element and stick a grill or iron pan on it. Set the tomatoes in the pan or on the grill and go check your Facebook timeline or something else that will allow the tomatoes enough time to properly toast, burn and smell up the kitchen.
  • Between liking photos and putting smiley face comments on your friends Facebook pages, turn the tomatoes this way and that, to get all the sides roasting and burning.
  • Once the juice is bubbling out of the tomatoes and the skin is blackened on 3/4 of each tomato, skin those suckers (I used tongs and it comes off really easily) and cut off the hard ends where the tomato was attached to the vine and toss them (the tomatoes!) in a bowl. The skins and ends go into the compost.
  • The cilantro, roots and black leaves removed, gets tossed into the bowl as well.
  • Use one of those hand blenders, stick it in the bowl and grind away (with the blender that is) until you have a puree consistency.
  • Pour in the pepita. All of it, go ahead. Now with a spatula, mix it all up until it becomes a thick, creamy, totally un-photogenic dip.
  • Add some salt to taste.
  • I also added a squirt of Habanero salsa that I had sitting around to give it some kick.

And voila – Sikil Pak! Now dip those Salma crackers in there and gobble away. Yum!

As I was eating I thought it would be interesting to see what the actual recipe is for Sikil Pak and a Google search in English brought back many results, and the following is my personal favorite weird version where something simple and delicious and easy to make is turned into a ridiculous gourmet event that in no way resembles the original.

The Tasting Table website (http://www.tastingtable.com/entry_detail/chefs_recipes/8783) is a ridiculously fun example of this. First of all the photo: the dip shown is green, and looks more like parsley-infused hummus than any Sikil Pak I have ever seen.

Second, the description states that chef Mike Isabella spent 8 years (EIGHT YEARS!) researching and that, combined with his love of margaritas, has resulted in his take on the “Aztec” dip. Aztec? Really? I guess that’s what 8 years of drinking margaritas will get you; Aztecs, Mayas, Incas, Totonacas, whatever. Hic.

The ingredients for this researched-for-eight-years take on the “Aztec” dip include shallots, garlic and jalapeño peppers, sauteed in canola oil. It gets worse as he whips in olive oil and infuses it with citrus zest. Because when you are a famous chef, you know at some point something is going to get infused.

Geez Louise – sounds like you need a Martha Stewart kitchen to whip this “Aztec” version up. Call it Mike’s Pumpkin Seed Dip; call it the Isabella Aztec Smoothie; hell, call it Frank, but for Chaac’s sake don’t call it Sikil Pak.

A Google search en español brought up this website, which is, in my never humble opinion, the real deal.

http://deliciasprehispanicas.blogspot.mx/2012/09/salsa-de-pepita-ha-sikil-pak.html

I have just finished eating my quick and easy version and I highly recommend it and thankfully, my rant has come to an end!

Happy cooking!

 

Casual Restaurant Critic visits the Santa Rosa Hacienda

On a recent trip to Maxcanú, the Critic along for the ride noticed signs for the hacienda Santa Rosa (a Starwood-run luxury hotel) and decided that a stop might be in order, to both see the hotel and if possible, have something to eat there.

Familiar with the strict entry procedure at Temozon, another Starwood hacienda, the Critic was surprised that the gardeners out front just said “adelante” when asked if he could pop in for a look. It turns out that all the guests had left and the Critic was the only non-staff person in the hotel.

In spite of this, the outdoor restaurant was set up with fresh flower arrangements and cutlery on each table, ready in case someone (like the Critic) showed up hungry. A friendly receptionist ushered the Critic to the table and a very friendly and deferential waiter proceeded to take the order. If you, dear reader, have been to the Temozón hacienda for a meal, you know that the waiters are not at all at the same luxe level as the place they are in and the food they are serving. Here at Santa Rosa, the service definitely and happily is.

IMG_0981

Homemade bread and butter (two kinds) were brought out and the bread, lo and behold was warm. Delicious.

IMG_0982IMG_0979

A pasta dish was ordered – spaghetti in a chaya pesto sauce with fresh cherry tomatoes and some parmesan cheese. Simple, pretty and very tasty.

Spaghetti w Chaya Pesto

Spaghetti w Chaya Pesto

The bill came to $215 pesos, which was the pasta and a glass of refreshing jamaica.

The thing that made the meal exceptional was the service and the fact that they were perfectly happy to serve just one person when they could easily have closed the place while they awaited more guests. It is a very civilized place to have a meal if you are in the area exploring and the receptionist said that meals are always available, but to check first, in case the hotel is full or there is a special event like a wedding.

More info on the hacienda Santa Rosa on the Starwood website here.

 

 

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.

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!

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.