Day Two: Chicaná and Becan

What a shemozzle!

At 8:00, our group arrived in the dining room of the Hotel Del Mar for breakfast, only to be shuffled outside to the pool area where makeshift tables had been set up to accommodate us. The buffet breakfast looked sadly lacking – cold scrambled eggs, hard white toast, wilted fruit and waxy cheese. Not what I expected at all.

But we took the confusion in stride. Five large groups were all leaving at the same time, and we understood that full occupancy does not make serving meals an easy task. The poor waiters were running in circles trying to keep up with the needs of the crowd. One bunch of tourists was behaving particularly belligerently. I felt sorry for the staff. They stoically endured the group leader’s verbal abuse, and I thought the manager should have stood up for them.

This hotel definitely needs to establish a better system for getting everyone on their way with a better quality meal and smoother luggage handling.

Our blue bus
Our blue bus

But no matter… we filed on board the blue bus, and headed southward along the Gulf of Mexico to Champotón. The coastline is exceptionally beautiful and virtually uninhabited for long stretches. At one point, our driver stopped and we all piled out to take pictures of pelicans feasting on the innards of the “catch of the day”.

Pelicans in Champotón
Pelicans in Champotón

WOW! There were so many of them!

We then veered inland towards Escarcega. It seemed amazing how much the topography had changed in the 300 kilometers we’d covered since leaving Merida. We started out with lowland scrub and now we could see much denser vegetation and rolling hills. The changes continued all the way to our next stop, the archaeological site of Chicaná.

In Maya, Chicaná means “Serpent Mouth House” or “House of the Snake’s Jaws”.

The site was discovered and named by Jack D. Eaton in 1966 during a reconnaissance of the area prior to the formal start of the National Geographic / Tulane University archaeological study centered at Becán. The ancient name of Chicaná is not known. It seems that Chicaná must have been dependent upon the much larger city of Becán.

Chicaná is a good example of a blending of the Chenes and the Rio Bec styles of architecture. Chicaná features facades that portray the open jaws of Itzamná, the Maya creator god.

At Group A, Structure II, the door is made to look like the mouth of the god. On each side of the door itself are the gaping fangs of the serpent. The facade of Group D, Structure XX also portrays large fangs. On the shrine atop, we saw stone masks depicting the over-sized twisted snouts of the rain god Chaac.

All of us felt awed by this well-preserved, elaborate example of Maya artistry.

Just five kilometers further along the road, we came to Becán.

The ceremonial center of this ancient city is protected by a moat 1,731 meters in circumference, 2 – 4 meters deep, and with a variable width of 3 to 25 meters. There are seven bridges that cross over the moat, and connect the 19 most important buildings of the 26 acre site. These seven bridges are the only access through a very large swampy area around the ceremonial center of the site. Beyond this point, there are other pyramids and temples, many of which also feature large rain god masks as the central decoration. Forty-five steles were found at Becan, but unfortunately no dates are legible.

In addition to the distinctively ornamented buildings, Becan has a ball court with the same characteristics as those found in other Mayan cities.

We were supposed to visit X’pujil this day, but we all decided we’d seen enough. We felt so-very-ready to get settled into our rooms at the Eco Village Chicaná.

Our rooms at Eco Village Chicaná
Our rooms at Eco Village Chicaná

The property features gardens filled with endemic plants, and trees festooned with orchids We all worried about the safety of the rickety wooden steps leading to our rooms, but we felt too tuckered out to be very inquiring. Some of the group headed for the pool and others for their hammocks. Others went directly to the dining room.

All seemed well, until we discovered that Adelaide’s two bags had not managed to make the trip with the rest of the luggage.

The “repatriation” of the lost suitcases proved to be my major concern for the next night and day… Check in tomorrow to see how it all turned out.

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Day One Continued… The City of Campeche

The city of Campeche is located on the Gulf of Mexico, almost 200 km southwest of Merida. It is the capital of the state of Campeche

In the early days of the Spanish colonial period in Mexico, there were three principal cities, Valladolid, Mérida and Campeche.

Campeche, was settled in 1540 by Francisco de Montejo, “El Mozo”, the son of Mérida’s founder. For the next two hundred years it was the most important commercial port on the Peninsula of Yucatan.

The wealth traded in the city, attracted pirates and buccaneers, including famous ones such as Francis Drake, Jean Lafitte, and John Hawkins. In response, the colonial government fortified the city with a hexagonal wall and bastions, many of which still stand today. These give Campeche a unique ambiance.  In addition, there are over one thousand restored buildings, walls, gates, bulwarks and forts that date back to the colonial times. For this reason, the city was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999.

Originally, the Spaniards lived inside the walled city, and the Maya occupied the surrounding barrios of San Francisco, Guadalupe and San Román. Today, these neighborhoods still retain their original churches, cultural centers and market areas. By the gate that served as the city’s only access by land, Puerta de la Tierra, original supplies and other artifacts from the 17th century can be seen.

Because Campeche is a small and compact city, it is best to explore it on foot. And although our group had done MUCH walking at Edzna… after settling into our hotel, that is precisely what we did.

Nightfall in Campeche
Nightfall in Campeche

We strolled up Calle 59, admiring the sculptures, and taking note of the restaurants we could visit a little later on. I spoke with a few of the local residents who told me that they had originally opposed the closing of their street to traffic. They feared business would suffer and that it would be impossible for them to access their garages. But they have found their trade has doubled, and the police are happy to lift the barricade to let them in and out of their parking spaces.

How I wish that Mérida would follow suit! For years the various mayors and administrators of our city have tried to close the Plaza Grande and Calle 60 to vehicles but the powerful taxi and bus unions, along with the merchants, have stopped all attempts. They should visit Campeche and see the boon that having a pedestrian mall has proven to be…

What a sight it was to watch the sun set from atop the city’s walls! Afterwards, tired and hungry, we enjoyed a meal on Calle 59, but could not summon the energy to amble along the boardwalk that follows the city’s shoreline.

An excellent reason to return another time…

Be sure to check in tomorrow to read about our next day’s adventures, as we journeyed deeper into Campeche’s Mayaland.

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An Amazing Archaeological Adventure: Edzna

Jorge groaned when the alarm rang early last Tuesday morning. “What time is it?” he asked.

“Time to get a move on,” replied I. “Thirty people will soon be waiting for us in Parque Mejorada.”

Last fall, we’d agreed to lead a fundraising trip through Campeche and Quintana Roo’s lesser-visited archaeological sites. The money we’d raise would benefit the International Women’s Club’s scholarship program.

I had planned to blog about the tour as we went along, but the Internet gods did not cooperate. So, here I am… better late than never.

***

Feed the cat… get the last minute packing done… eat breakfast… make the bed… shower! I wondered if we’d get out the door in time.

We pulled into the park at 8:20… just as the group members began climbing up into the blue bus. We hustled on board too, and within five minutes, the door whooshed closed. We were off!

Everyone settled into their seats and watched the Yucatecan countryside whiz by. It is not the most attractive landscape… dry grass and spindly trees, for the most part. But after an hour or so we could see the Puuc hills and the vistas grew broader.

After another hour and a half later, we arrived at EDZNA, the first stop on our Amazing Archaeological Adventure.

Edzna is located at a crossroads of pre Columbian trade and cultural influences. The roof combs and corbelled arches are reminiscent of those seen at Yaxchilán and Palenque. But several other buildings are of the Puuc style.

Located in a valley, we observed the remnants of a highly sophisticated system for channeling and retaining water.

Edzna was occupied from around 600 BC, but it took until 200 AD before it developed into a major center. It reached the pinnacle of its importance during the late Classic period, between 600 and 900 AD, and gradually waned in status until being all but abandoned in the early 15th century.

One member of the ruling XIU family is the personage who founded the city of Uxmal, where similar hydro systems can be seen.

Enjoy the slideshow, and visit this site again tomorrow. I’ll be writing about our stay in Campeche.

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Where were you… in ’72?

During that auspicious year, I returned to Canada after assistant teaching for two school terms in Peru. My newly acquired Spanish language skills helped me land “my dream job” with a Canadian airline. In those days, few people flew around in private planes, and Canadian Pacific Airlines (CP Air) was the carrier of choice. I met many famous and infamous, sports stars politicians, businessmen and entertainers.

When old-time movie icons like Red Skelton, Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra boarded the plane, a respectful buzz would flow from the cockpit to the back lavatories. I remember folk singer, Joan Baez and contemporary crooner, Neil Diamond graciously signing autographs from their seats. Pierre Elliot Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada at the time, usually flew “up front”, but if it was fully booked, he settled into Economy with everyone else. He did not expect anyone to vacate their seat for him. However, a loyal Liberal party member would usually insist on doing so.

Air travelers dressed up for their flights, except for the students waiting for a seat in the newly introduced “standby class.” CP Air served meals on china and used sterling table ware, crystal glasses and linen napkins in first class. The employees and airline crews bent over backwards to make sure the passengers were comfortable and happy.

I quickly became used to the coming and going of the celebrities, but the day Burt Reynolds bounded into the departure lounge, every woman there almost lost it.

A few months previously, he’d been the stand in for Johnny Carson, host of the popular late-night talk show. Helen Gurley Brown, author of Sex and the Single Girl and editor of Cosmopolitan was his guest and at some point in the evening, Brown challenged Reynolds to pose for a nude centerfold in her magazine, and he agreed.

The day after the Cosmo issue hit news-stands, he was besieged by women asking him to sign their copy. Gurley Brown said: “He had been a movie star, now he was a celebrity.” And Burt made Cosmopolitan notorious. His photograph pushed the magazine across a threshold, and “something” changed forever

Back in ‘72, no one would have tolerated the officious treatment we are now subjected to in airports and on flights. People stalk celebrities to the point where they need body guards. Where are the world leaders like P.E.T?

Today, no one would look twice at the photo of a man (with his arm positioned “just so”) Instead they are lining up to see 50 Shades of Gray.

I wonder… is our world a brighter place or has it actually gotten grayer?

Telephone scams in Mexico

I received an email today from one of my favorite readers. She had been targeted by a “virtual kidnapper,” and the experience shook her to the core.

I could relate because I too have received similar calls. Yes, plural.

The first time, the caller began by telling me that I have a lovely daughter. I thought the comment was a bit strange, but I have heard similar ones before – I assumed he was the father of one of her friends. I thanked him and asked who was speaking. He then put a sobbing young girl on the line, “He-e-e-elp me Mamá. They are hurting me-e-e-e-e. He-e-e-elp me.”

The caller claimed he was a ZETA commandant, and demanded I pay up or my daughter would be murdered. My panicked screams brought my husband running. He listened for a couple of seconds, then took the phone from my hand and hung up. He took out the cell phone, and we called our daughter. No answer.

As it turned out, she was at the movies and had her cell phone turned off. I swear, the hour when we couldn’t speak with her seemed like the longest one of my life.

But, once burned, twice shy. The next S.O.B that tried to scam me got an earful.

People from all sectors of the population are targeted by these criminals. It is a horrible experience, and even after the drama is over, we remain shaken.

But there are steps we can take to protect ourselves.

  • Get caller ID
  • Screen your calls. If you don’t recognize the number, let the answering machine pick up
  • Use a mechanical voice on your answering machine
  • If you have caller ID, write down any unrecognized numbers.
  • Hang up if you do pick up a rude or threatening call
  • Never provide information about yourself or your family.

Even if you are sure the call is a hoax, you will be shaken until you locate your friend or family member. Whether done as a prank or an attempt to extort money from you, the perpetrators want to exploit your fears.

If you do actually believe someone has been kidnapped, keep the caller on the line as long as possible. Listen and take note of the demands, tone or accent of the caller, background noise, and any other important information that could assist the police. Do not tell the caller where you live or agree to any money transfer.

To report real or fraudulent calls, police from the states of Yucatan, Quintana Roo and Campeche may be reached by dialing: 066. As well, a special number has been established to report telephone extortion: 088.

 

 

Writing and Intercultural Living…

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