Colonial Cities and Wildlife of Yucatan

What do you think of when you hear the name “Yucatán”?  Maybe sun, beaches, and sand?  Or Mayan culture and pyramids?  Well, all of it is true.

At the beginning of May, we spent a week in the Mexican State of Yucatán.  Yucatán has lots to offer – from impressive archeological sites and historic charm to sandy beaches and beautifully-made handicrafts, such as huipiles (white embroidered dresses) and hammocks.   We started in the capital city of Mérida.  Some of its colonial beauty remains, especially in the heart of the city where the main church and government buildings surround the zócalo.  Paul, another Peace Corps volunteer, joined us for this trip.

Close to Mérida are various Mayan archeological ruins and a Pueblo Mágico (Mexican government-designated towns which retain their cultural charm), Izamal.  First, we headed out to see Uxmal, a beautifully-preserved archeological site with an elegant Pyramid of the Magician, an extensive Governor´s Palace and a quadrangle of buildings with elaborately carved facades.  Now the only residents are iguanas, but the site is so well preserved that one can easily imagine how this ceremonial center looked during its height of power in 875-900 AD.  The sound and light show at night brought to life the importance of the rain god Chac to this site, where rainfall is very scarce, by describing an ancient rain ceremony.  However, there was no rain that evening.

The current city of Izamal was built above and around the great Mayan pyramids in the area.  Many “hills” still exist within the city´s limits, which contain ancient pyramids.  Instead of demolishing the biggest pyramid, the Spaniards built a large Franciscan convent, Convent of San Antonio of Padua, atop it.  In 1993, Pope John Paul II visited Izamal, where he presented a statue of the Virgin with a silver crown.  In anticipation of his visit, the citizens of Izamal painted the town yellow.  Every building in the historic center is painted a golden shade of yellow.  After walking around the town, we decided to see it from a horse-drawn carriage.  The echoing sound of the horse´s hooves and the steel-rimmed carriage wheels though the narrow streets transported us to a time when the Spanish haciendas flourished in this region.

After five days in and around Mérida, we headed west to the Gulf of Mexico and the small fishing village of Celestún.  About 5 miles north of Celestún is an eco-resort, where we spent the next three days swimming in the pools, walking along the deserted beach and enjoying the ocean breezes from the terrace of our bungalow.  Celestún is the winter nesting grounds for the American flamingo, the largest and most brilliantly colored of the six species.  In May, some 100 or so pink flamingos were still there; however, in the winter, there are thousands.  On our way to see the flamingos by boat, we saw cormorants, frigate birds, great egrets, pelicans and mangrove forests.  With fishing one of the main occupations (along with tourism) in the town, we ate some excellent grilled shrimp and fish caught nearby.

It had been a great week in the Yucatán!

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