Today we drove south from Izamal around Merida and back to the area around Uxmal. The roads were quite the opposite of yesterday for the most part, scarcely a pothole in sight, and four-lane freeways part of the time. We were around a major city, and on a popular tourist route, so that had a lot to do with it. We had thought about going to a plantation, but missed a turnoff and decided not to backtrack. The northern portion of the Yucatan peninsula has been almost uniformly flat. It was a novelty to actually go over some hilly country today.
We arrived in Santa Elena in the early afternoon and checked into our hotel. Once again we are in a little cottage in a tropical garden. Santa Elena is a very small town that gets tourists because of Uxmal and other Mayan sites in the area. It is near the start of the ‘Puuc Route’ a group of Mayan sites once linked by a road through the hills. We had a relaxing afternoon around Santa Elena and the hotel gardens, making our plans for tomorrow. Lunch was at a place where the meats were flavored with Mayan spices and grilled. We could smell the smoke and see the cook making our lunch, and it t.asted fabulous—all fresh local ingredients.
We found a local shop for a few snacks—like a very small general store. The most popular vehicles here include a three-wheeled cart that can be either tricycle or motorbike powered. There are also several of the ones they called tuk-tuks in India, also three wheeled, but more enclosed and primarily for passengers. We saw a sign at one point that called the manual ones ‘tricitaxis’.
Tomorrow is a sightseeing day in this area, visiting several of the Mayan ruins.
Today we headed out to see some of the smaller ruins in this area. There are several in the general vicinity of Santa Elena and Uxmal. It was such a contrast to some of the others, because we were often the only people there, and it was very quiet with just the birds singing (and the occasional iguana).
First we stopped Kabah, which has a couple of great buildings. First is the Palace of the Masks which is covered in nearly 300 masks of the Chac (the rain god). There are also some 3-D human sculptures, which are rare. Getting up close to this meant climbing something that was more like a stone ladder than stairs; I had to come down backwards. There was another palace building with lots of columns, both free standing and modeled in relief on the front of the building.
The next stops were on the Puuc Route, a road that connects several related sites in these hills. First was Sayil which featured one of the largest buildings. The palace is three stories and 85 meters long. Here too were a lot of columns, and it reminded me of some ancient Greek ruins. I enjoyed the site in solitude while Ruth hiked down to a temple ruin.
Labna was the third site of the day. It was once a city of about 8000 people, and here too the main ruin is the palace. It is one of the largest with 67 rooms and 7 patios all connected by passageways and stairways. Also at the site was a temple tower rising from a pyramid of rubble, and a wonderful arched passageway between two plazas.
After a full round of the sights, we headed back to Santa Elena with a stop in Ticul for a more modern anthropology study—a modern supermarket ‘Super Che’. We found it thanks to a map from the hotel. It resembled a Fred Meyer (if Fred Meyer sold appliances and motor scooters). We enjoyed exploring the shelves and picked up a few things. Then it was back to the hotel to stash some items in the fridge before heading for a very late lunch at a place called ‘The Pickled Onion’. Very good food; I had panuchos, a local item my nieces told me about involving two corn tortillas with some beans between them topped with lettuce, tomato, chicken, avocado, and, yes, pickled onion. Yummy!
The countryside today was interesting with quite a bit of agriculture, orchards, etc. Tomorrow should be an interesting drive as we head to Tulum on the coast, which is about a five hour drive—the beach awaits!