Tag Archives: Yucatan

Sunday, April 5, 2020. On Chimeneas and Backyard Firepits

Not every day can be an update on the coronavirus, since we are stuck at home and the only thing that is updated is on CNN, BBC, CBC, and AlJazeera.

Should I mention Al Jazeera? Red flag for US immigration? Hola señor ICE. Stuck at home sounds negative. So much self-doubt. Oh, stop already.

Back in the carefree days before I became such a curmudgeon, I was in a high school production of My Fair Lady. One of my castmates who, for the purpose of this article I shall call “Susan”, and who brilliantly played Eliza to my Schwarzenegger-esque Dr. Dolittle back in the day, has asked why I light a fire in the mornings – what’s that all about since it is certainly not for keeping warm? A valid question and one I will try to explain.

Once upon a time some years ago, I was at a vivero, which is a nursery where plants are sold. The kind of place you go to when you want something to stick in the ground around your house, like arecas or flowers that will eventually dry up and die but what the hell they look nice for a while so you buy them.

Too pessimistic, the dead flowers?

Among the all the pretty plants arranged in orderly rows which always appeals to my Teutonic instincts, they had on display some clay pots and in tucked in amongst those, was a chimenea. A chimenea (chimney,  for the monolingual among us) is a clay pot with a hole in the front, and a chimney spout on the top. The idea is that you toss in wood or burnable things in the front, enjoy the fire, and the smoke comes out of the top. It’s for the outdoors, so mostly aesthetic but it can serve as a warming element in colder climates, I would imagine. Anyway, the thought of having one of these intrigued me so I bought it and took it home, which was fun as it took up the entire back seat of my car and sloshed back and forth at each traffic stop.

Jeez I hate it when I am uploading a photo of a chimenea and WordPress comes back with http error. I do not have the energy or desire to investigate further so I guess people will have to do a Google image search themselves. Or click here. It’s the one that is described as chimenea rustica.

Once set up, and some branches for firewood procured, I began to enjoy the ritual of preparing a fire in the mornings – when it is relatively cool here – and this was especially handy in 2002, when a hurricane – Wilma I believe – hit the Yucatan and there was a lot of material (fallen trees, branches, piles of dead bougainvillea) to be burned in that chimenea. So much in fact, that all the heat generated ended up cracking the clay and eventually, the pot succumbed under its own weight.

I missed my morning fire. Drinking my coffee on the back terrace watching the woodpeckers, the parakeets and the grackles was just not the same without those flames and the smell of wood smoke. A look around our yard yielded an unoccupied shallow clay pot (a base really, for a larger one) and I set it up on some stones in the place where the chimenea had once stood. This lasted for a while and then disintegrated as well. A conscientious search through several Merida viveros resulted in zero hits for a new chimenea. It was time to go to Ticul.

I guess now I am going to have to explain Ticul here, people are not going to understand the significance. This is going off on a tangent.

Ticul, a small town about 90 minutes from Merida, is famous for its shoes and its pottery. It is also the original home of Los Almendros, once Yucatan’s premiere Yucatecan food restaurant. There is good clay in the region and a dozen or more crafty-minded people make clay planting pots both large and small. They also make garden ornaments like clay pink flamingos and clay fluorescent green frogs (dubious tastes abound) which are sold in small locales along the street. The shoes, incidentally, are locally made and while they are not Jimmy Choo, they are cheap. And that is a good a reason as any to buy them, apparently. As for Los Almendros? They sat on their restaurant laurels for way too long and were overtaken by other, far better Yucatecan food options like Kinich, Teya, La Tradicion and even Chaya Maya and MUGY.

Why am I writing about restaurants? This is not the Casual Restaurant Critics column; he is always butting in and trying to get attention. 

Along with the manufacture en masse of planting pots and colorful kitschy clay creatures, there are a few high-minded individuals who dedicate their time and energy to the fabrication of Mayan archeological replicas, ranging from small pots and whistles to enormous Chaac (Mayan rain god aka Tlaloc in central Mexico) faces and detailed calendars. These are sold to hotels, boutiques, and serious collectors.

I am really rambling here, have to rein it in. Rain it in. Reign it in. No, rein is right. Right as rein. The mind wanders.

I ended up ordering a chimenea from one of the former (manufacturers of clay pots) paid my deposit and left. Some time later, more than a few months since I had forgotten about it, I went back and although I was sure they would have long ago sold my piece and kept the deposit, there it was. The owner remembered me, remembered the chimenea, even had a copy of the deposit receipt.  Again, a gigantic sculpted pot rolled back and forth on the back seat of my car, on the drive back to Merida.

Es cierto! Este viaje lo hice con Mus. Que mala memoria tengo. It was the day we went to Uxmal and ended up on a hilltop in Ticul, having some great Yucatecan food and enjoying an amazing view. 

Being of a rather delicate clay, this pot lasted less than a year before cracks appeared and it also fell upon itself one morning when I was stuffing in a particularly stubborn piece of firewood.

Getting to the end now, I can almost feel it.

Finally, I broke down and had some albañiles (bricklayers, construction workers) come and build me an actual fire pit with blocks and cement which I now enjoy on a daily basis. This is what you can see sometimes in photos posted on social media.

Lighting and enjoying the fire has become an inescapable pleasure of my morning, a moment to sit with my Better Half, enjoy our fresh coffee and watch the birds in the backyard.

 

 

April 3, 2020 – Yucatan, Mexico

While not the end-all-be-all of on-the-ground reporting from Merida, the capital city of Yucatan, it’s my experience and I plan to maintain some sanity by writing about it.

I feel presumptuous. I also wonder how many other paragraphs I can include with so many hyphenated phrases? Do all my thoughts start with I ?

April 3 seemed like a good a day as any to pay my electricity bill. In case you don’t know, electricity in all parts of this country is provided by the monopolous (invented term) Comisión Federal de Electricidad, an almost state-run enterprise much like Pemex. The CFE – as it affectionately referred to – is it’s own universe and it could care less about your financial situation or something as trivial as a virus. So, no concessions – so far – from this giant company in terms of postponing, reducing or condoning any payments. The payment is not due for another week or so, but given the increasing emphasis on staying the hell home, I thought I would get it out of the way, as I cannot imagine being stuck at home with no electricity which would also cut the modem, water and so on.

I sound socialist. Do I sound socialist? Elitist for wanting wifi and water?

I stopped at the sad Gran Plaza mall – sad with so few cars in the parking lot and only the Soriana grocery store open for business. The official decree issued by our governor (of Yucatan) and mayor (of Merida) is that non-essential businesses remain closed and that includes malls. Inside the malls, however, are often banks and other services and those are allowed to open and access to them is permitted.

Getting into the mall is through one entrance only. This entrance is guarded by security personnel in masks and gloves, who are separating people into the various lineups according to what they plan to do. Electricity, cellular, banks. Each service has its own lineup and you are allowed access as people leave so as not to accumulate crowds.

Mantenga su distancia, por favor!” It’s early, so he still says por favor; I suspect that nicety will be dropped as the 40-degree day progresses.

I learn from the questioning man in front of me, that the CFE in all its wisdom has closed its payment machine-only locale and one must therefore either pay it at a bank or some other location. I don’t have the printed version with me, so the bank is out. Confirming that the CFE is indeed closed “sí está cerrado Papi”  I head back to the car.

I later – and thanks to the astuteness of my Better Half – find that I can pay the bill at an OXXO convenience store, as they are able to scan the bar code directly from the image of the bill on my cell phone. Who knew? Probably everyone in the universe except me. In the very busy OXXO store, an employee was in charge of reminding people to stay apart, at least one meter apart and look for the markers taped on the floor. Some people were wearing masks, most were not.

Writing this reminds me of the press conference yesterday or whenever where Trump says the CDC recommends wearing masks but that he is not going to but that that is what the CDC recommends. Tremendous success with the masks. 

The other items on the Things to Do Once You Are Out and About list were bread and gasoline.

So, the next stop: Pan y Kof.fee. Before leaving the house I had placed an order on Facebook and lo and behold it was ready to go when I showed up. In case you don’t know, this place has the most amazing bread; the baguettes are truly a beautiful thing to behold (and eat warm with butter) and so now our freezer is full of them, cut into thirds and wrapped tightly to keep them as fresh as the pandemic will allow.

As the credit card machine did its thing, I chatted with the young lady who was handing me the bread through the wrought iron protectores.

Está terrible” she said “lo que está pasando en Ecuador

I nodded and concurred that it was a terrible thing. I had just heard about their body disposal problem and the intensity of the virus there, especially in Guayaquil, from my friend Mus with whom I had chatted that morning via WhatsApp.

I hope Mus doesn’t mind that I mention him here.

Finally, gasoline at the Pemex station on the Merida-Progreso highway. As is the case all over the world, gasoline prices have dropped significantly. Good news for the tourism industry!! The bad news? No tourists.

Our messianic señor Presidente in his continued delusional state insists that the lower gasoline prices are thanks to him; he apparently believes that no one has access to news other than his and won’t notice that the world’s oil prices have dropped dramatically.


There was a lineup of cars. This particular gas station, part of the El Roble franchises (Abimerhi and La Gas are two other large and omnipresent gasolinera chains in the Yucatan)  have the best prices by at least a peso and sometimes as much as two pesos, which means folks are lining up to get their cars filled at these stations. Currently, the price is at 12.99 a liter, way down from almost twenty pesos back in January.

As a side note, it is worth noting that gasoline stations in Mexico are notorious for magically delivering less than the amount shown on the pump. It is amazing how much ingenuity is harnessed in this country for the purpose of beating the system, at any and all levels. More on the gasoline situation- en español of course – on the Por Esto website here.

Some readers might not understand how much that is, so I should probably explain to them. With the exchange rates, in January gasoline cost about four dollars a gallon. Now, again adjusting for the exchange rates it’s at about $2.50 a gallon

I waited for my turn and asked the female gas pump attendant (the concept of self-service goes against our I-pay-you-so-serve-me Latin American culture) how her day was going. She said she was hot, and the scorching wind blowing leaves and dust through the gas station made it feel like when you open a convection oven and get a blast of hot air. I can just imagine how she feels being out there all day moving between two lines of cars, pumping gas non-stop with the added risk of contagion from a potentially sick or infected client.

She also mentioned Ecuador. “Será que vamos a quedar como ellos?” she half-asked, half-wondered almost to herself.

I told her that probably not, we had things way more under control and would she like some hand sanitizer?

Tengo, gracias” she replied. I paid and tipped and headed back to the safe refuge of my home to cut and wrap and freeze my supply of baguettes, ciabattas and a couple of loaves of something hopefully delicious.

Should I have mentioned the ciabattas? 

 

 

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Carnes Concepción – Temozón

“In the town of Temozón
you will find Carnes Concepción…”

This was going to be a rhyme as those two words seemed to make sense in that context, but the Critic will continue as normal since poetic inspiration is at a virus-infused low point at the moment.

A search on this blog revealed that the Critic has never written about Carnes Concepción, one of several smoked meat options on the highway to Ek Balam or Rio Lagartos when coming from Valladolid.

A must-stop for lunch, the smoked meat (pretty well all pork) and longaniza is justifiably famous and mouth-wateringly delicious. If only the Critic wasn’t socially distancing himself at the moment he might take advantage of this lull in his regular activities to drive over and eat something.

Why Carnes Concepción in particular? On one occasion the Critic forgot his phone there and did not realize it until he was in Valladolid. When he raced back to the restaurant, the kind ladies had found and kept the phone for him. This has earned them the Critic’s undying loyalty and anytime he is in the area with guests, a stop at Carnes Concepcion for lunch is a must.

On the occasion that these photos were taken – a Monday – there was frijol con puerco (pork and beans) to be savored. When you go, order the mixed platter which has everything on it and take whatever you can’t eat home. Smoked pork or longaniza is great chopped into your scrambled breakfast huevos the next day!

Some serious smoking going on back here

Smoked pork close-up

The garnishes/complements for the Frijol con Puerco

That’s smoked pork in there.

Longaniza – the smoked sausage Temozon is famous for

.

 

What’s your favorite ice cream place in Merida?

What’s your favorite ice cream place in Merida?

Arte Helado! Lemon Pie ice cream. Yum.

Here’s the Casual Restaurant Critic’s – their Pay de Limon is most amazing!

Arte Helado Campestre

Customer Service Tales

In a short span of two days, I had three memorable customer service experiences which I think are typical of Merida, a city not known for its outstanding customer service whether it’s retail or restaurant. Perhaps some of you have had similar experiences? Read on.

The Dry Cleaners

Pre-wedding (not mine, one I had been invited to)  and I had some shirts to clean so I stopped at a previously unknown-to-me dry cleaning operation at the Uptown shopping mall. I stopped there because I rarely if ever visit the dry cleaners and so my criteria for selecting one is if I see it on the side of the road or not. This one was there, with a parking spot to boot, so I stopped.

In I went, holding my two items of clothing and standing behind a woman who was in the process of leaving her clothing. No one looked up or acknowledged my presence in any way. The space was small, so the young woman behind the counter knew I was there, I was sure, and the other lady who was wandering around behind the counter unsmilingly definitely looked my way at some point before quickly looking away without so much as a growl.

I was there for a while, while the counter lady and the customer lady negotiated what was cleanable and what was not. I was growing increasingly impatient as one does when one is ignored, but finally, after what seemed like a Pleistocene length of time, customer lady departed leaving me face to face with counter lady. She looked up and then at my shirts.

Digame?” she asked, finally acknowledging my presence.

¿Digame? What is she? A Venezuelan phone operator?

I asked her if she had any idea of what it felt like to be invisible. Her response came in the form of a bovine stare and silence.

“It would have been nice if at least you had said hello when I came in” I remarked.

Es que estaba atendiendo a la señora

Of course, I hadn’t noticed. Silly me. And imagine the effort and coordination it would have taken to continue attending one client and saying hello to another! I ask too much. There wasn’t much more to say so I left my shirts, took my receipt and left.

Thank you, Tintorerias MAX. Never again. Well, one more time, to pick up the shirts.

The Camera Store

It had been almost a week since I left my Canon camera to be repaired and maintained. When I went to pick it up, the person behind the counter informed me that unfortunately, it was not ready.

I was more than a little mortified since it was my daughter’s wedding and I kind of needed to have the camera that night, but I held it together as best I could.

“Is there nothing that can be done? I had hoped it would be ready for tonight. It’s my daughters wedding you see.”

Déjame hacer una llamada” the employee said and went into the back room.

Although I have been coming to this place for many, many years now and know the owner quite well. I could understand that things were what they were and if it wasn’t ready, it wasn’t ready.

Le vamos a prestar una cámara” I was told when the employee emerged, smiling, from the back room.

Once I picked up my jaw from the floor, I thanked her profusely and signed the receipt for 20,000 pesos of camera that they were lending me in order for me to be able to take photos at my daughters wedding. Who does that anymore? I was impressed, big time.

You have my business for life, Victor and Digicentro.

Home Depot Stop

I have 10 minutes to run in and buy a faucet, a simple garden-type faucet, as there is one at the house which is not closing properly and so, water is running all the time, which means the pump comes on all the time… but I digress.

10 minutes.

I rush in, only to find that the aisle that has the faucets is closed, as a forklift is working in the next aisle over. There is an employee standing next to that little fence they put up.

“Can I just rush in and get this faucet?” I ask, showing him the one I had brought from home.

No, porque están trabajando al lado” replies the employee.

I point to another customer, in that very same aisle, looking for something.

“What about him – does he have magic powers or something?”

No, de hecho le estamos esperando para trabajar.

OK, while you work/wait could you perhaps pop in and get me one of these? You know where they are, it’ll only take a minute.

He does. Comes back with several models.

Tengo este que es cromado pero es de medio, el suyo es de tres cuartos. Tiene que comprar un adaptador. Y tenemos este otro de tres cuartos que no necesita nada.”

I don’t like the 3/4 inch one because it looks like a gas valve shutoff thing. OK. I am ready to buy the adaptor and the half-inch version, in chrome.

Miraculously, the forklift stops working in the next aisle and I am able to enter this one to peruse the faucet offerings. I quickly find exactly what I am looking for and am in the cashier line-up, not before showing the employee what it was I had been looking for. He shrugged and said “Oh” and that was that.

Home Depot, no worries and as the Terminator said, I’ll be back.

 

 

 

A Second Visit to Maya de Asia

The Critic loved that duck so when another opportunity arrived to go eat at Maya de Asia, well, he was all over that idea. This time with the MiniCritic and BetterHalf to better sample more dishes (besides the aforementioned duck) the late lunch early dinner was great.

With the first-date wow factor somewhat diminished, the Critic had time to notice other things besides the mostly spectacular food. The waiters are somewhat professional and friendly enough but they don’t seem, well, happy. Perhaps they get shat on a lot or they are practicing their all-black-uniform ‘cool’ thing, but they don’t seem to be having a particularly good time. Yes, it’s a job, but in a nice place with a great kitchen and whatnot, you would think a few more smiles would grace the faces of these servers.

The other thing the Critic took notice of was the weird bathrooms on the second level. The restaurant is so expansive and grandiose, that these mini bathrooms seem like an afterthought. It’s almost like – as Mini Critic pointed out – that perhaps the architect was so concentrated on creating an award-winning design and interior treatment that he or she forgot about the bathrooms and this was the only space left. Who knows.

Enjoy the photos and don’t let potentially sad wait staff or a climb to the bathroom put you off. Try this place and enjoy the experience, which is totally worth it.

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Soberana Steakhouse

The discrete Soberana restaurant, tucked into the bottom of the Santa Lucia hotel, might be overlooked with all the more visible eateries in the Santa Lucia square across the street (60) but it shouldn’t be.

Chef Andrés Zapata has created a meat-lovers menu and even sells some of the rubs that have made him somewhat of a local legend in the local culinary scene. That and his personality which displays none of the dickiness of other more diva-like chefs, make him one of the most sought-after personalities when it comes to events featuring barbeque, grilling and the like.

On this visit, the Critic had been invited to sample the new menu and in the absence of a recuperating Better Half, the Critic invited a second critic to help try the new meat offerings.

Frijoles Puercos

The first item to grace the table was a small bowl of beans, cooked non stop and served with black corn chips. The thing that makes these beans decadent (they are called Frijoles Puercos) is that when cooking up meat in the kitchen, the pot is always on the back burner and chef Andrés throws in whatever meat juices are bubbling up and left over, resulting in extremely flavorful and deliciously fatty beans. Cholesterol warning in effect.

Chef Andrés taking a momento to crack a joke. This Critic has never seen Andrés in a bad mood, ever.

Rubs to take home

Soberana’s take on Mac & Cheese

The Critic let the chef decide, although anything off the menu was available to try. First up? The Mac and Cheese. It could use a tiny bit more cheese but the creaminess and the addition of caramelized “million dollar” bacon was amazing.

Smoky fish tacos on Panela cheese tortillas

The second appetizer was smoky fish tacos served on panela cheese “tortillas” Anyone familiar with dieting and panela cheese knows that this is a cheese-like substance, far removed from anything resembling tasty cheese. An interesting and probably healthy concept, but as far as flavor goes, eat the topping, skip the cheese.

Salsas

Main course – picaña steak, prepared tableside by the master grill chef himself.

For the main course, and to share, the picaña beef steak, cooked to perfection. The flavor of this cut was truly mouth watering and this is the steak the Critic highly recommends you order. Andrés will prepare it with it’s juices , at your table.

Preparing the Picaña

Delicious!

Prices are reasonable and this is a good alternative to mix things up a little in Santa Lucia. You can eat in the restaurant or enjoy a limited menu on the park itself, where there are some tables and chairs set up so you can have your conversation drowned out by the musical acts, if that is your thing.

Sublime, Stimulating, Serene. Kayaking in Progreso

deck view with mangroves

This is the dock from where you will depart into the mangroves. This is on the leeward side of Progreso, just off the highway to Yucalpeten/Chelem, the bridge and the marinas.

Maybe it’s the fact that I didn’t go to Brazil this year, but I found a recent trip through the mangroves by kayak to be a mostly relaxing and somewhat challenging adventure that reminded me much of what I miss the most about Amazonas.

The water is shallow, there are birds to be watched and the single-person kayak was easy to handle, even through the cramped tunnels of the mangrove forest that are literally meters away from the Progreso-Yucalpeten highway (you can hear the cars) but it seems like you are in another world entirely. In fact, you can imagine being in one of those cars speeding along and looking at the bush on the side of the road and not even thinking that there could be this whole other environment just inside.

The highlight for me was the relief of paddling in open water after the twisting and manoeuvering of the tunnel which presented multiple challenges to get the kayak through; in one case having to charge at full speed to go OVER a large mangrove branch, which our guide thankfully helped with.

The water is shallow, so you never feel you are going to drown, and unlike the Rio Negro, there are no piranhas to nibble on your fingers when you are pulling the kayak along using roots, branches and fallen debris, the paddle having become totally useless and stuck between legs and arms, along the length of the kayak.

Progreso has more to offer than cantinas and cheap massages on cruise ship days. Kayaking in the mangroves is definitely one of the more sublime and rewarding activities you can undertake, to work up an appetite for your freshly fried fish lunch at one of Progreso’s seafront restaurants a little later in the day. Enjoy the photos!

Thanks to SEFOTUR for the heads up and invite on this, the idea being to better get to know what sorts of activities there are for visitors to the Yucatan coast. This one is highly recommended!

reception desk, kayaks, Progreso

Here is the reception area where you will pay and decide what it is you want to do. There are night kayak tours and motorized fishing tours also available.

A look at the mangroves

These usually mark a natural fresh water spring many of which sprout up in the salty sea water, creating the brackish environment that birds love (think food)

Local celebrity Andrea from Yucatan Today, accompanying our little group on what was an official FAM trip

Into the tunnel

Traffic jams in the mangroves

Mangrove roots

More traffic

On this little island you can see birds (if you come early or late) and enjoy sinking into thick muddy quicksand up to your waist. It’s also nice to walk around for a bit after the mangrove tunnel kayak experience.

 

What is That in There?

Refrescos

Unmarked mysteries in the fridge

What the Hell is That?

Explaining some of those mysterious things lurking in that fridge.

If you are traveling in the Yucatan, and stopping here and there, especially in the smaller towns and villages along your route, you will perhaps see unusual things (along with the usual assortment of commercial brand soft drinks) in the corner store refrigerator that you might not have at your Seven Eleven back home. Here is an example (photo) of such a fridge and a brief explanation of what it is you are looking at, top left to bottom right.

Top Shelf

  1. Flan Casero. This means home-made flan and when I asked the young lady what it all had she said “huevo… y no sé que otra cosa” which means that she knows it has eggs in it, and that’s the extent of her knowledge of this version of flan. Flan is flan, so no need to go any further with the explanation, I think.
  2. Flan Comercial – this is flan from a box. Jello brand makes a flan that you add water or milk to and voila. That’s what’s in this larger cup.
  3. Those white liquid bottles are horchata. More on that when we get to the main horchata section.

Second Shelf

  1. Jamaica. Pronounced hah-MY-cah, this is an infusion made from a plant very similar to rosehips but much stronger. With fantastic diuretic and antioxidant properties, jamaica, along with its pale cousin horchata, are the most commonly found drinks along with sodas, in any self-respecting taqueria. Note that it is sweetened, as the original version with no sugar will make your tongue curl.
  2. Cebada. Cebada (seh-BAH-dah) is a drink made with barley. It’s kind of a strange, acquired taste kind of drink and those barley bits are a bit like bubble tea with the rubbery tapioca balls, and personally I am still struggling with it. But hey, it’s a drink with a source of fiber built-in.

Bottom Shelf

  1. Horchata. The rice (and sometimes almond) drink that accompanies jamaica in every fridge where Mexican food is served. There will be sediment on the bottom, which is a good thing. Give it a shake or two and enjoy it’s almond/cinnamon taste. Again, very sweet and most times made from concentrate. If you find the home-made version, marry whomever it is that made it because this is a true delicacy and becoming more and more rare in the world.
  2. Tamarindo. The fruit of the tamarind tree is a paste and it is extremely sour. Mixed with sugar, it becomes an excellent base for sherbets and drinks. Mixed with sugar, salt and chile it becomes the ubiquitous Mexican candy that will certainly give you the runs when you first try it.

There are other things in the fridge as well. In this case, as it was a taqueria, there was a giant tub of raw meat on the floor of the fridge. Do not be put off by such apparent disparate refrigerator ingredients and be thankful that you don’t live in a land where nanny-state laws prohibit such practical solutions to every-day restaurant problems.

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.