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Street outside our hotel in Merida We flew into Mérida , the capital city of Yucatán state. I expected a sleepy backwater, but instead found a handsome colonial city of almost one million. Our hotel was the Casa del Balam (house of the jaguar) near the center of town. The hotel entrance is on a narrow street and unimposing by modern standards. But inside is cool and welcoming with lush plantings in the tiled courtyard lobby. We met some folks later who stayed at the Hilton near the airport and we felt we were in a far better spot.
Hotel Casa Del Balam courtyard

We stayed in Mérida several days sightseeing in the city and taking day trips out of town. I had read in the guide book of great places to buy hats and hammocks in Mérida, so this was my quest on one of our walks. A local lad attached himself to us and led us to his choice of hat shops. This shop was on the edge of the market area in the center of the city. We did purchase two pretty good Panamas, but they had no hatbands and were not yet ‘formed’ into the cool shape. So in pursuit of another vendor who would ‘form’ the hats, we followed our lad onward into the bowels of the market place. It was a twisted path, and each corner we turned the passage became narrower, the light dimmer, and the air more humid. At last we came to a small stall and the boy called out a man who was finishing his lunch. He was a rough looking character soaked with sweat to the point where his shirt was encrusted with salt, and he regarded us with resentful eyes. We were feeling a bit our of our tourista depth, but since we were there we tried to establish a price for forming the hats. I had the idea of paying 30 pesos, but he wanted 40 pesos so we said no thanks, disengaged from the boy, and hastened our exit.

It was a fascinating market place with merchandise including hand-forged tools, exotic birds in cages, and birth-control pills. Something for everyone. We finally stumbled across the hat shop I had read about. We were a bit hesitant, but presented our unformed purchases from the other store. They were most obliging and for 40 pesos performed the requisite forming.

We had heard of a fiesta in one of the squares, so in the evening we walked quite a long way through town. It was very quiet, and when at last we came to the square, it was dark and there was no fiesta in sight. We did see a small cluster of people in one corner. In any respectable US city this would have been a drug deal or something equally sinister, but we nosed in anyway and were surprised to find a dog training class. A young man was instructing a group of locals on the finer points of controlling their doggies.

Uxmal ruins with Pyramid of the Magician in background, Our next stop was Uxmal where we stayed in a nice hacienda-style hotel located on the grounds of the archeological park. They had a large swimming pool which I tried. There were a few sunbathers but few people in the water. I began paddling around but soon noticed a small flock of birds in the trees nearby. They had been hanging back initially, but they soon began swooping down at the water, taking a small drink, and swooping back up. They avoided me, but it was a bit unnerving and I soon got out of the water.
Pyramid of the Magician, Uxmal

Uxmal’s Pyramid of the Magician is spectacular. It’s quite steep and the steps to the top are very narrow. The complex is quite extensive with various buildings and temples.
The Nunnery, X motif of coiled serpents

Temple of the Warriors, Chichen Itza The next stop was Chichen Itza, a more well known and larger complex of Mayan ruins. It was quite hot on the drive to Chichen Itza and I was eagerly awaiting an air-conditioned hotel room and a pool.
Temple columns with pyramid in backgound Again our hotel was located right at the archeological park. But the room they assigned us was not air-conditioned and worse, was close to the parking lot where tour busses were parked with their engines running. I protested and got a room with air-conditioner. But found later that there were electrical problems. The AC kept shutting off, and the lights didn’t work properly. I fiddled with the lights and got them to work. And I was able to get the AC to work intermittently by fiddling with it also.
Pyramid front, Chichen Itza

Later we visited in the bar with a woman who was staying at the Club Med hotel, also on the pack grounds.
Pyramid back, Chichen Itza We walked over to her hotel and had a drink there too, and it seemed very pleasant, at least in the bar.

Temple of the Jaguars, Chichen Itza

To me, the most interesting part of the Chichen Itza complex was the Temple of the Warriors, with its many columns. The pyramid is spectacular however, and larger than the Uxmal pyramid.
Kukal Kaan (plumed serpent) and Chak Mool (reclining figure)

The reclining figure at the right is Chak Mool, famous for being the altar for human sacrifices. There's a handy flat place on his belly, sort of a chopping board.
Cenote (sink hole), Ronda and guide

This picture is Ronda and a guide at a Cenote, or sink hole. These are natural holes that collect water and were used as cisterns by the Maya. Supposedly this was a 'sacred' Cenote where virgins were thrown in.

From Chichen Itza, we went to Cancún. Cancún was a gross disappointment. It’s nothing but a strip of high-rise hotels. We had tried to book a small hotel, but the one we got had several hundred rooms. Although comfortable, it had no charm. We walked on the beach and did see some smaller hotels and private homes tucked in among the high-rises. We looked for snorkeling spots, but it was too far to walk to the places we read of, and I was not eager to take a taxi to go snorkeling. We took taxis on other Cancún excursions however and saw the ‘other side of the lagoon’, Cancún City. This is the non-beachfront area where the locals live and which looks like a real city, albeit funky.
Mayan ruins on Sheraton grounds, Cancún

We took a day tour out of Cancún to Tulúm, down the coast a bit to see the ruins there. The attraction of these ruins is their location overlooking the sea. It’s not a large complex, however, and it’s quickly overwhelmed by the tourists like us brought in on busses from Cancún. The high point of this day tour was a stop at a Xel-Ha lagoon where we snorkeled among tropical fish. Then we were outta there. The Mayan stuff was great, but you can keep Cancún.

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