A Hacienda, Uxmal, and a Cenote

Wednesday we went on a guided tour of some sites outside of Mérida. While San Miguel has a lot of Canadians and Americans as well as the occasional Siberian, we have been the only Americans on our two Mérida tours and we have been joined by citizens of Australia, Norway, Spain, Croatia, London, and India.

Our first stop on Wednesday was Yaxcopoil Hacienda which dates back to the seventeenth century. The name is derived from a Mayan word for “the place of the green Alamo trees”. It has seen the prehispanic period, the time of Spanish colonization, and the boom years of Sisal production during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The interior has been restored with all original furnishings and it is presently used as a parador and a museum.It has a Moorish double arch entry gate.The main residence building was a series of long rooms with high ceilings for ventilation.Like many wealthy Spanish people they had their own chapel at the back of the residence building.They even had their own theater in a building behind the house. The roof of the theater collapsed so it is only a facade today.The gardens had a lot of beautiful old trees.The sisal factory was located behind the residence. At one time the hacienda had 22,000 acres of land to grow the sisal agave and raise cows. Today the property is less than 3% of that.This is the machine that extracted the sisal fibers from the leaves.

We had a hard time deciding which Mayan archaeological site to visit: Chichen Itza or Uxmal. The former is far more famous, but in reading reviews everyone said it is overcrowded (think cruise ships in Cancun) and that you are constantly pestered by vendors. Uxmal on the other hand is virtually empty, has zero vendors on the grounds, and is more attractive. In a conversation at the pool, we talked to a man who had seen both and strongly recommended Uxmal. That sealed the decision.Uxmal is a purely Mayan design and construction. Chichen Itza on the other hand has the influence of other cultures. The edges of the pyramid have rounded corners. The Mayans believed the world progressed in 52 year cycles, so every 52 years they built a new pyramid on top of the old pyramid. The site was active for over 250 years, so you can see five layers to the pyramid.The other side of the Pyramid of the Magician faces a courtyard. The stairs lead up to a chapel with a large doorway.This is a close up of that chapel. Notice all the intricate shapes and designs on the blocks that make up the chapel wall.This gives you a good idea how steep those steps are. I was very happy that we weren’t allowed to climb them! Notice the twelve heads that line the edges of the stairs.This is a close up of one of the heads. They have noses shaped like the number 2.There were numerous rooms in the buildings forming the courtyard in front of the temple. All rooms had a ceiling like this one.I found it interesting how the ceiling bricks were shaped with an internal arc so that stones could be placed on the arc to hold the brick in place. Considering how long it has lasted, it seems to work pretty well.

The Nunnery Quadrangle was named by the Spanish because it reminded them of a convent. It consists of four buildings forming a square surrounding an open courtyard. Each building has numerous small rooms opening to the front. Each building has different decorations.This building had human faces over the doors with a representation of two headed snakes on either side.This building is known as The Palace of the Governors. It is believed to be one of the last buildings constructed on the site (about 987 CE). I did climb the stairs to the platform with the doorways.From the right end of the platform, you have a nice view of the site. From left to right is the House of the Turtles (there are turtle decorations around the top; and, yes, the women heading toward it is Susan), the ball court with the Nunnery Quadrangle behind it. and the Pyramid of the Magician on the right.Behind the Palace of the Governors is The Great Pyramid which has only been partially restored on this one side. You can see vegetation on the top and the other side.We saw numerous iguanas on the site. We were very happy with our decision to visit Uxmal. I would rate it as the top Mayan site I have seen with many unique features compared to the others.

Our final stop was a cenote, a natural pit or sinkhole formed when limestone bedrock collapses exposing the ground water underneath. There are over a thousand of them on the Yucatan Peninsula (including one in the Costco parking lot). Some are in caves and others are open pools.Ours was in a shallow cave with crystal clear water about four to five feet deep. There were a few fish in the water. The water comes from rain draining through the shallow soil and the limestone on the top of the cave. The cool water felt really refreshing after exploring Uxmal in 95 F heat!

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