Tag Archives: mexico

The Death of the Kankirixche Cenote

As the owner of a tour company specializing in off-the-beaten-track adventures I have seen, over the last 10-15 years, a notable increase in tourism traffic to places that used to be quiet, beautiful and often magical.

This is unfortunate but natural, given that

  • a) we have more people in general so there is going to be more traffic everywhere, not only on the heart-attack-inducingly congested Prolongacion del Paseo de Montejo on weekdays around 1 PM
  • b) we have the ubiquitous internet to thank for the massive diffusion of any and all information so now potentially everyone knows where everything is and how to do it or get there
  • c) tourism authorities rack their brains to come up with new and exciting promotions to places that are often not ready to receive the influx of tourism that comes from said promotion
  • d) politicians not involved in tourism but who are anxious to be patted on the back for their social awareness and for helping the ejidatarios and campesinos in becoming better political clients, throw massive amounts of money in their general direction (with plenty left over for splatter to cousins, compadres and family members who carry out their ambitious projects) in the form of infrastructure and development.

Case Study – Kankirixche Cenote

Located between the towns of Abalá (which in Mayan means not much going on here but we like to spend money on lamp posts) and Mucuyché (we’re a rustic pueblo but our hacienda is fancy) the Kankirixche cenote is a large, mostly open cavernous cenote that was absolutely gorgeous, and difficult to access both in terms of the road and also the actual climbing in and out of the water.

You would drive along an extremely rustic and rough former railway trestle, hoping for no oncoming vehicle since this would mean you had to back up from whence you came, and would park under a tree near the cenote. You might find a pickup truck there with diving tanks and other related paraphernalia, and in the water, lots of bubbles and lights from below as you lower yourself down a rickety ladder strapped – in pieces held together by wire, rope and faith – to the roots of a magnificent alamo tree growing out of the middle.

Aside from the divers and occasionally some local kids who arrived by motorbike, the site was serene and lived fully up to how cenotes are described in glossy tourism promotion materials: magical, mystical places full of history and home to aluxes and the spirits of the ancient Mayans.

Fast forward to 2019.

There is now a giant blue government sign marking the turn-off to get to Kankirixche cenote. The sign has the symbol for the cenote, for a restaurant, etc. All very civilized. The road has been somewhat widened here and there, so there is no more backing up except for perhaps a few short stretches, and that is a good thing because there is now a LOT of traffic going in and out.

When you arrived you are greeted by a handful of constantly changing campesinos from nearby Uayalceh, who claim that this cenote falls within their jurisdiction ejidatariamente speaking and so it is they who are entitled to charge you 60 pesos (gringo price) to enter the cenote. There is a rope that is lowered once you have paid so you and your vehicle can proceed. Your laminated “tickets” you will turn in to yet another individual who is sitting under the dilapidated life jacket structure, where you will pay extra to rent those should you so desire. There, is also the rocky parking lot, which is now usually filled with at least 5 cars and vans (on a good day) and up to 20 vehicles on a holiday or weekend.

 

That laurel tree growing from inside the cenote? It is now dead, having been blown over by a chubasco, a small whirlwind storm that hit the area some years ago. Its carcass is still lying there, in the trampled brown dirt and dust-covered rocks. The desolate scene is accompanied by the shouts and shrieks emanating from the water inside the cenote, which you can now access via a rickety wooden staircase and which is covered with clothing, sandals, backpacks and more, all of which belong to the hordes in the water, who are screaming and hollering like there is no tomorrow.

Whatever spirits inhabited these caves have long since departed in disgust, as you might also do upon encountering this disturbing scene. There is no magic here, no mysticism. It is a swimming hole, pure and simple and a very commercialized and crappy one at that.

I haven’t gone into the infrastructure details that are a modern feature at Kankirixche. The powers that be, in all their infinite wisdom and benevolence, have provided the campesinos with everything they need (this is at many cenotes throughout the Yucatan by the way) and that means the ladder access, the life jackets, a massive palm thatch roof structure to be used as a restaurant, accompanied by a fully equipped industrial kitchen with refrigeration, giant gas stove, oven, and even an extractor. There are solar panels on the roof for electricity. There are bicycles for rent – stored in chains among the upturned tables and chairs – that have never been moved except when the palapa restaurant floor is swept which happens rarely as the restaurant is NEVER open. There are change rooms, and bathrooms with composting toilets.

The campesinos have been given all this infrastructure in the form of a handout, with no conditions attached either in the form of repayment (insert guffaws of laughter here) or even teaching these people the basics of business to help them become self-sufficient and therefore actually achieve what was the purported goal of the program. And so, the campesinos could care less about making anything to sell, which means the restaurant is always closed and the entire infrastructure WASTED, sitting there like the white elephant it is, a monument to government waste and unrealized social program potential. The campesinos are happy to extend their hand for more money when something breaks and yes, if they vote for the party doing the handing out, they will receive the money.

On the last visit I made to this once beautiful spot, I was greeted by the usual shirtless men who charged me the entry fee, along with the sight of a family’s laundry hanging among the trees in plain sight. Pots, pans and dirty dishes were strewn among the tables in the restaurant, as were more unwashed pots and pans in the kitchen. Women, presumably the wives of the men, lounged in hammocks hanging in the restaurant. When I asked what they had cooked up that the answer was the same as it always is when I ask this same question: “hoy no cocinaron” Today they didn’t cook. Yes, well, there were only 10 cars in the parking lot at that moment and so it probably didn’t make economic sense to USE THE FREE INFRASTRUCTURE TO BRING A GOD DAMN CHICKEN AND SOME TORTILLAS to make some food for the approximately 100-200 people that would be visiting that day. It’s so much easier to just sit there and collect money.

Are you in a tourism destination or a village on laundry day?

looking back at the giant palapa built with a no-repay loan for the ‘poor’ campesinos thereby dooming them to a continuation of paternalistic handouts and no education or self improvement

Speaking of laziness and lack of planning, it is interesting to note that the garbage that is collected in bins at the site is simply dumped in the underbrush a few meters from the parking lot. Stroll into the forest, such as it is, and follow the trail. You will come upon piles of glass and plastic, as well as toilet paper (used) and evidence of human defecation with the charming sounds (huge flies) and smells that accompany an open toilet.

Yes, that’s a pile of human shit at the bottom left. How about we clean this all up before we go to Berlin to the tourism fair?

Kankirixche cenote is a perfect example of human laziness, blind mismanagement, government misspending and how a pretty tourism spot can be completely and utterly ruined by over-promoting it to the point of surpassing its capacity.

RIP Kankirixche.

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Santiago Market – Itzalana

The Critic knows for a fact that many of the 19 readers of his ramblings have been – probably repeatedly – to eat at the market in Santiago, so he will just post a few photos of the delicious breakfast enjoyed recently in the company of the always charming Better Half and a group of amigos.

Salbut and panucho ‘especial’ which means a ton of turkey meat

Salbutes de asado

Torta Cubana, the only one with no eggs. The Critic is not a fan of things eggy

Torta cubana with agua de watermelon and chaya in the background

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Partners and Brothers Burgerlab

Once upon a time, on a Merida intersection, there was a great property to build a city park. Unfortunately, this being Merida, it became yet another shopping mall, complete with a hotel, a Best Buy, another Walmart (Merida needed another Walmart) a movie theater and the obligatory Telcel store, along with VIP’s, Fridays and some other lesser-known restaurants. Today the Critic will discuss one of these, the interestingly-named Partners and Brothers Burgerlab. Or Burguerlab.

Accompanied by the MiniCritic, the CRC went for a late lunch, around 4 PM which is neither here nor there in terms of dinner or lunch, to try out this burger option in the formerly white city.

Why is it called Partners and Brothers? I had a look at the website to find out more, and found the typical message of FUN! and FRESH! and COOL! with lots of really great English words sprinkled throughout (at the top of the website: HOME / SOMOS / FOOD / DRINKS / CONTACTO – why?) to make it all so much more international. Burger is spelled Burguer and then it isn’t, which shows an impressive eye for detail considering it is in their name. The annoying video on the home page says that at this restaurant, which seems like a clone of the Fridays or Bostons concept, at one point says: enjoy…  partners, with your brothers. Um, OK. I don’t understand, but maybe it’s in English so that’s cool in itself, regardless of any possible meaning. By the way, the video and its ear-worm jingle will continue playing as long as you are on the website, ad nauseum.

The experience was a mix. The food is perfectly acceptable: the MiniCritic had a half kilo of BBQ ribs, which were tasty enough and the Critic had the Louisiana Burger, a monstrously high collection of many ingredients stacked on home-made bread. The bread kind of fell apart quickly, with the juices of the meat and the caramelized onions, but the flavor overall was very good. Home-made chips (as in potato chips) are an option and while they were fine, they seemed to have been sprinkled with either lemon or vinegar and the sour taste was not to the Critics liking. A dessert of apple tart, described in flowery terms as soaked in Jack Daniels blah blah blah, was frankly, inedible. The coffee is of the Nespresso machine variety.

Quibbles?

Service, as is so often the case in Merida, was spotty. The waiter was friendly enough, when he was around. To get the drink order, one must get up to get a waiters attention. Many staff members are lounging about, absorbed in their smartphones and whatever exciting stuff is going on in there.

Considering the place had been open for three hours, you would think that things would be ready for the evening rush. However, sauces in glass bottles on the table were not full and had that look like they had been there since last month, with crusty bits inside and a generally unappealing look to them.

A visit to the bathroom revealed that there was no paper towel in the dispenser to dry ones hands after washing, that in spite of the obligatory cleaning schedule on the door which obviously no one was paying any attention to.

Dirty dishes on the table containing rib bones and burger/burguer carcasses had to be looked at for the longest time until the Critic, on his way to the bathroom, interrupted the waiter who was smartphoning with his compañeros, and mentioned that he might want to clear away the dishes.

That caesar salad! A caesar salad is a caesar salad. If you leave out the dressing with the anchovies, throw in a tomato and sprinkle with pumpkin seeds you no longer have the right to call this a caesar salad. Call it a bloody pumpkin seed salad, or a Mayan salad, or make up another name. It’s NOT a caesar salad for crying out loud.

So overall, this restaurant does not impress. The Critic suspects that it is popular with the drinking crowd in the evenings, especially on the terrace where there is a nice breeze and it is quite pleasant, in spite of the horrific view of traffic and concrete that makes up the area around Altabrisa. Then again, with drinks on the expensive side, including a bottle of scotch you can enjoy with your brothers (or partners) for a paltry $13,000 pesos, the target market might be a bit fuzzy.

Verdict? Don’t bother. Friday’s is directly across the hall from them, on the second floor of the mall, and they have their act together and will provide you with a more predictable American-style food experience. Partners and Brothers is a poor imitation.

 

That habanero sauce really does look disgusting

The room. There are over 30 TV screens all around

Amstel Ultra chelada

The Caesar salad that isn’t

The burger/burguer. You can squish it down so it fits in your mouth. Best part of the experience (the burger, not the squishing part)

Burger accompanied by chips

BBQ ribs, corn on the cob and in the little bowl, mashed potatoes that the MiniCritic said were tasty

This apple tart, in spite of its flowery description on the menu, was pretty much inedible

 

 

 

 

El Museo de la Gastronomia Yucateca

The Critic and BH along with MiniCritic, enjoyed a solid, good, Yucatecan lunch on Sunday at the new-ish and already very popular Museo de la Gastronomia Yucateca. (Note and hola to Jan Morgan: the information on where it is etc. is in the link which is the name)

First of all, this is a gigantic restaurant especially compared with the cramped quarters of the also popular Chaya Maya or others, probably because it is an old colonial-era home of one of the henequen barons from back in the day. So you have a huge interior open-air patio surrounded by terraces and rooms which make up the area for tables. Each of the rooms features a henequen (sisal) based theme that is still being completed and will be finished very soon.

In the back, there is a re-creation of a small Mayan “village” complete with the requisite kitchen structure where two or three mestiza women make hand-made tortillas. Other chozas feature information and displays on ingredients used in Yucatecan cooking. Explanations are in Spanish and English, and the Critic is happy to report that the translations are pretty good. Also in the back yard is the pib area, or cooking pit(s) where the food is cooked, in the traditional way of the Yucatecan pueblos. On this visit, the Critic arrived in time to see, along with a dozen or so other interested diners, the moment when the ‘relleno negro’ was pulled out of the pib, and samples were given out – delicious!

In addition to all this, there is a gift shop and a small museum-like display of artifacts and ingredients typically used in the preparation of Yucatecan food and it is evident that someone took their time to arrange and present all this in an attractive and professional manner.

The food was excellent. Well prepared and tasted as it should. BH enjoyed one of her favorite dishes, a Sunday Merida classic called puchero de tres carnes, MC and the Critic both had queso relleno, which is the standard (for the Critic) by which all Yucatecan restaurants are measured. This queso relleno, complete with capers, raisins and almonds is the real deal and is up there with the best of them. Brazo de reina and a small mucbilpollo or tamal were had as appetizers. The first was good, while the tamal was just OK and lacked the crispiness of the fresh-baked version.

Keep in mind that this is heavy food; very filling and you will need a siesta afterward. Don’t feel the need to try everything the first time you visit. You can come back. And don’t eat this at night, for crying out loud: Yucatecan food is a mid-day thing.

What really blew the Critics mind, however, especially after recent forays into various “fancy” restaurants and their indifferent or just plain inadequate service, was the service at the Museo. Santos arrived at the table to introduce himself and when offering drinks made a smooth, professional, sales pitch that convinced all three members of the Critics lunch group to try the house cocktail. Throughout the meal, Santos was not more than a hand-wave away, in spite of having several tables under his charge. There was no intrusiveness, no slinking up to the table, no mumbling and no arriving with the dishes and not knowing to whom they belonged. So, a big shout-out to Santos – keep it up!

The location will make this place very successful and if they keep up the quality of the food and service, this place should be around for a while. Enjoy the photos!

The least photogenic of any appetizer in the world, these are black beans (l) and sikil pak (r) along with tostadas. The sikil pak is excellent.

Shot of the museum part of the restaurant

Gift shop

Museum from the other side

A little pueblo in the back yard – your clue that you’re not somewhere else is the building poking out between the trees

One of the chozas and the display

Inside the choza: here we have an explanation of recado verde

There’s cooking going on right now, under there.

Pueblo in the foreground with a giant hotel in the background for context

A fizzy but not too sweet opener

Brazo de Reina I

Tamalito known as mucbilpolloI

Mucbilpollo II

Brazo de Reina II

Preparing to uncover the pib

The chef explains what is happening here

After carefully removing the earth, the laminated tin sheet is taken off the pit

With the tin sheet removed, this is what you see. Jabin leaves and branches aromatize the food

A treasure chest, waiting to be opened

Forget gold coins and trinkets. This treasure chest contains something much more memorable

Preparing a sample for those watching

Aguas frescas de chaya y ramon. Yes, ramon.

Puchero!

Queso Relleno!

Public Transportation Prices Drop, Uxmal and Chichen Prices Rise

The powers that be have decided (link at the bottom of the page) that a drop in the price of your local bus ticket is warranted and starting February 16 the price will drop from 8 pesos to 7.50. This represents a huge saving of course for those using the buses, and those 50 centavos will be put to good use elsewhere in the family expense budget.

But wait. Have you ever seen a 50 centavo coin?

There are several versions of this cute coin from Mexico’s glorious past kicking around; little silver-colored things made of some worthless metal that range in size from tiny to microscopic. If you have ever tried, you know that picking one of them up off the ground or floor is a geriatric nightmare. Plus, who actually uses them anymore? Do you really think that when you pay your bus fare with a 10 peso coin you are going to get 2 pesos back AND that 50 centavos coin too? That bus driver, already overworked and underpaid for his 12-hour shift, is going to be very pleased to provide this extra service.

Maybe they will have a redondeo, OXXO-style, to benefit some charitable organization that exists only in the minds of its creator.

Enjoy the new bus fares, everyone!

Meanwhile, the Yucatan’s archeological sites are getting a makeover as new tariffs are introduced, doubling the current entry fee price for visitors. Expect huge and amazing changes as the sites are upgraded. Uxmal, a UNESCO World Heritage site, might even get phone service in 2019!

Just kidding. Of course, there will be no improvements forthcoming. All that money will go the way of the Elton John concert money, for which there was little to no accounting and whose destiny is a mystery still, years later.

Besides the huge increase to see the Mayan sites in the state of Yucatan (one of the few states in the country to charge people an additional entry fee along with the INAH ticket) the folks in the hallowed halls of government have also decided that since people don’t have anywhere else to park their cars, buses, and vans, it would be a grand idea to raise the price there as well.

Parking at one of the sites – and there are no other options for leaving your car anywhere nearby – has gone up by 167% from a symbolic 30 pesos to a whopping 80 pesos. And it’s not like it’s an incentive to use some sort of alternative transportation system to get to Uxmal or Chichen (or Ek Balam or Dzibilchaltun) because there is none.

 

Things are going swimmingly. Happy 2019!

https://sipse.com/novedades-yucatan/gobierno-mauricio-vila-dosal-disminuye-precio-camiones-merida-323741.html

The Casual Restaurant Critic – A Sake Experience at Irori

 

Irori at night

Thanks to the beloved Better Half and her connections, the Critic was able to join BH at the inauguration of the new Roberto Solis project Irori, a sushi bar to rival what Merida already has in that very popular segment.

 

This was not a restaurant visit in the normal sense of the word; there were lots of samples generously served by the restaurant along with sake and sake-based drinks, all of which was not only delicious but much appreciated. The restaurant has been open for a few months now, but this was the ‘official’ opening.

The restaurant is beautiful and is an offshoot of the original and highly successful Irori in Cancun. The sushi bar, in particular, is inviting – ie. you are not staring at the back of a refrigerated countertop fish container – and a real option for those who enjoy sitting there and talking to the chefs as opposed to a table. Chef Solis commented that he will be presenting omakase tasting menus in the near future which the Critic will happy to experience.

Good music, good food, a beautiful room and plenty of beautiful people made this a stand-out event.

Below is a selection of photos featuring some of the people attending, the food served and of course the restaurant itself.

The sushi bar

Rolling up some sushi

A few words

Ribbon cutting I

Ribbon cutting II

 

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Tatemar, Cabo Norte

Tatemar, the latest restaurant from the masters that created the uber-popular Apoala, is in the new La Isla Mall, inside another upscale area known as Cabo Norte. There is a dearth of marine references lately that was only hinted at with the arrival of wind-themed Altabrisa . You have La Isla (the island) and now The Harbour or Via Montejo. All with artificial lakes and a definite Miami look. Very aspirational, to put it nicely.

But the Critic, as he so often does, digresses and spouts commentary on things not related to the restaurant in question.

When you arrive at Tatemar you may recognize a few faces from Apoala among the wait-staff, which will indicate to you that you’re in the right place, and not accidentally in the Brazilian rodizio next door which is always packed by the way.

The restaurant is of course, beautiful and situated in front of the ‘lake’ with what will soon be a condominium background, the setting is very pretty. One thing the developers of this mall and it’s water feature perhaps didn’t contemplate was that water attracts flies. There were some fruit flies buzzing around inside the restaurant to remind one that one was in the tropics – something to think about for both future water-themed mega projects and present-day restaurants where the last thing you want is for your diners to have to be swatting insects away from their pricey entree.

The Critic and his always charming Better Half arrived as a staff meeting was taking place so there was a momentary lull during which no one arrived at the table for any reason, least of all to take drink orders. No one minds sitting out a staff meeting, but throw a few peanuts and a drink to those waiting in the restaurant, would be the Critics suggestion.

Drinks to start: Mayahuel, a Critic favorite from Apoala and BH had the Mezcal Mule. Both were deliciously amazing and pretty to look at.

A selection of tostadas; tuna, shrimp and fish, to start and for the main dish, a pescado zarandeado, split open and cooked on the grill, the robalo (sea bass) was terrific and too big (sizes vary) to finish after the fishy tostadas.

While it’s not cheap, Tatemar is a great place for a fancy night out dinner away from El Centro.

The room (staff meeting underway)

Mezcal collection

Mezcal Mule (that’s a bit of real honeycomb)

The Mayahuel cocktail, with its signature smoking rosemary

Mezcal Mule close-up

Home made salsas verde y roja

Pescado zarandeado

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Kinich yet again

Kinich, in Izamal, is the bomb. Go have lunch there if you haven’t, for some of the best Yucatecan food on the peninsula, served by smiling young ladies in a beautiful thatched roof restaurant.

Smoky longaniza

Salbutes

Sikil pak

Queso Relleno

Relleno negro

Nance and coconut sherbet/ice cream. Flan in the background

The Casual Restaurant Critic at PhoMX Reforma

PhoMX has been reviewed before, here. But that was the other location – this PhoMX is the one that has taken over the space occupied by YoungHee’s kitchen, the Korean restaurant that has now closed.

The service here is great – the Critic would suggest better than the other location and the food seems better too, but that is probably a culinary illusion. If you are in the area, perhaps waiting on a bullfight to start down the road or waiting for Namu Namu to open in the parking lot, or are looking for an alternative to Platos Rotos (reviewed in 2011) nearby – this just might be the spot for you.

Noodles aka No. 23 on the menu 🙂

Appetizer platter, with a few delicious samples

Garnishes for the Critics broth

The delicious broth aka No 25 on the menu, which is really a meal for about 17 people

The iced Viet coffee is worth the visit alone

Feria de la Chicharra in Xcalachen – Photos

Xcalachen (sh-cala-CHEN) is a neighborhood in Merida’s economically challenged southern half, where the real estate folks advise against buying anything as your property values might not as appreciate as quickly as an investment on the northern side of the Plaza Grande.

Once known for its many chicharronerias or chicharra (pork cracklin’s) stalls, the neighborhood, directly next to Merida’s cemetery, fell victim to decay and the lack of economic opportunity. Now, the neighborhood is coming back to life thanks to the efforts of residents and municipal authorities who have reinstated the colonias most famous product: the chicharra.

In addition, there are many colorful and quite beautiful murals throughout the neighborhood, another effort to spruce it up and make it somewhat of a tourist attraction. Interestingly they are not just great art plastered on an available space, but each painting actually has something to do with the owners of the home or wall where they reside.

Today, November 24th, there was another edition of the Feria de la Chicharra, where pork rinds, fried pork belly, local blood sausage, and a stuffed haggis-like delicacy called buche relleno.

A live band was playing cumbias and other tropical hits while the crowds – and many many policemen from Merida’s municipal police department – filled the streets, munching happily on their cholesterol-laden heart-attack-inducing snacks. The mayor of Merida was also on hand, taking many photos with fans and dragging behind him a large and persistent press entourage.

Enjoy the photos – this is what the walk-through looked like today, from murals to pork to politicos, in chronological order 🙂

Hanal

Pixan

The lineup went out the door, on the right

Sour orange, salad and all the ‘fixins’ for your pork rind needs

A cornucopia of heart-stopping goodness

Face painting for the kids too

Merida’s illustrious mayor

Closeup of the Pedro Infante mural

Pedro Infante

Pedro Infante

The mayor and his press entourage

Buche relleno

Detail

Simple and clean

The flaking paint make this deer look almost luminous

Amazing street art!

Cardenal

Kimbomba – traditional Yucatan children’s game