See You All in February!
In the wee hours of tomorrow morning, my flight leaves for Guadalajara, where I will putter around for three hours, and then take another Volaris flight to Mérida. I will drive to the airport with Martine, and Martine will drive back by herself. (She’s not coming with me because she is allergic to anti-malaria medications.)
During my absence, I will not blog. Instead I will go into experiential mode to get something to write about when I return in February.
Incidentally, today is my 75th birthday, which is a milestone for me. My father died at the age of 74, so I had always wondered whether I would outlive his span of years. It appears that I already have, so that is one less morbid imagining. To spend the time after my birthday in a place I love (Yucatán) can only lengthen my life, no?
The Service Area of ADO First Class Buses
There have been many changes since I last visited Southeast Mexico. Among other things, Autobuses de Oriente (ADO) has merged with Ómnibus Cristóbal Colón (OCC) to pretty much monopolize first class bus service in Yucatán. I remember the days when I had to ride the rackety old Unión de Camionéros de Yucatán (UCY) second class buses with their broken seats and cracked windows. There are still a number of second class carriers, but UCY is no more.
Before going any further, allow me to clarify what first class and second class mean. First class buses directly connect larger cities and do not allow passengers to board or alight from a bus between its origin and its destination, unless the city is of a certain size. A bus from Mérida to Mexico City would typically be first class, stopping only in larger cities en route such as Campeche, Ciudad del Carmen, or Coatzacoalcos.
Second class buses connect small towns with larger cities, or with other small towns. When I go from Mérida to Izamal or Uxmal to Campeche, I will have to take a second class bus. The fare will be less per mile, the passengers poorer, and the bus less deluxe. Most importantly, the trip will take longer because passangers can board or exit anywhere they want.
There is also another class of bus usually referred to as combis. These are multi-row vans connecting even smaller cities. Typically, they do not leave until they are full.
ADO Bus at Station Platform
Instead of renting a car, I will travel around Yucatán and Campeche states almost entirely by bus. In some cases, I may join a tour organized by a local travel agency, but only to visit some ruins that are harder to get to via public transportation. When I return from Mexico, I will hopefully have some stories about bus travel in the Sureste region, as well as scads of my own photos.
A Norte Storm Lashes the Gulf Coast of Yucatán
A Haibun is a uniquely Japanese medium in which prose and haiku poetry are interspersed. I will attempt to memorialize some of my travel experiences using the Haibun genre from time to time. My intent is to follow the style of Matsuo Bashō:
White-clad Maya point and laugh
Paper boats bobbing in the street.
It was November 1992. I was in Yucatán with Martine and three friends from work: George Hoole and Jin and Christine Han. On the last day but one of our trip, the peninsula suffered a storm called a norte, because it originated in the United States and gathered strength as it crossed the Gulf of Mexico. The streets of Mérida were flooded: There was no walking without wet stains halfway up the leg. We were staying at the Posada Toledo, an old mansion turned hotel, near the center, worried whether our return flight the next day would be able to take off. Jin Han lightened the mood by carefully folding paper boats and setting them adrift in the street. They aroused considerable hilarity among the passersby.
Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694) in a Print by Hokusai
I cannot help but see myself in this haiku by the great Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō:
Another year is gone—
A travel hat on my head,
Straw sandals on my feet.
Two weeks from today, I will be in Mérida, Yucatán, reacquainting myself with the world of the Maya. In many ways, Matsuo Bashō is the poet of travel. His book, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, is the ultimate vade mecum for a traveler. The record of a 1,500-mile journey through the main Japanese island of Honshu, it captures with great beauty and subtlety the joys and sorrows of a life on the road.
The sound of a water jar
Cracking on this icy night
As I lie awake.
The extreme conciseness of the haiku form can lead to poetry that is brilliant—or banal. One has to somehow put two ideas together (as the ice and the sleepless traveler) with an absolute minimum of embellishment. Ah, but when it succeeds!
On the withered grass
Shimmering heat waves rise
One or two inches high.
I will, as usual, travel with a blank notebook. I would love to compose haiku relating to my upcoming journey to Mexico. It’s possible, but, alas, not likely. Even though I don’t usually go out evenings (except in Mérida), I will probably find myself too busy reading from my Amazon Kindle, which is fully loaded with hundreds of works of literature and history.
Archway at Entrance to Santa Elena, Yucatán
I am frantically trying to get reservations to hotels in Yucatán—much later than I usually would. It is all due to the problem with my left knee. I wanted some assurance that it was not the beginning of a condition that might rapidly get worse. As a result, I am making reservations a month or so later than I usually would. Unfortunately, a lot of the places I wanted to stay have already been booked, even for such a small town as Santa Elena, which is midway between the ruins of Uxmal and Kabah. I may have to spend big money to stay at the Hacienda Uxmal at the ruins, where I stayed twice before in 1975 and 1992—that is, if I can.
No doubt I will find something. It’s just a little more work than usual.
The Luxurious Hacienda Uxmal Across the Street from the Ruins
The Pyramid of the Magician at Uxmal in Yucatán
I may have to delay my trip to Mexico until I know what’s happening with the pain in my knee. To refresh your memory, there is some sort of muscular pain in the crook of my left knee, initially diagnosed to be a Baker’s Cyst or some sort of tendonitis. With luck, I will be able to go at some point in January, unless the condition requires surgery.
In all, I have been to Uxmal twice, in 1975 and 1992. Both times, I have been impressed that it is the most beautiful of Maya ruins. It is built in the classical Puuc (named after the range of hills where it is located), with smooth rectangular limestone blocks interspersed with images of various Maya deities. It looks even better today, after archeologists have cleared away much of the foliage. Below is an image of the same structure around 1840 when Frederick Catherwood drew it:
Frederick Catherwood’s Illustration of the Pyramid
The city of Uxmal was occupied only up to some point in the 9th century AD, when it is speculated that drought made the ruins in the Puuc Hills uninhabitable. There are no above ground rivers in the limestone peninsula that is Yucatán, and the underground rivers would have required digging through hundreds of feet of rock. Instead, rain water was collected in chultunes, underground storage chambers that circled the ruins.
I was sold on Uxmal from the very start. The van that took me there stopped close by the Pyramid of the Magician. The driver bowed his head and did the sign of the cross upon setting eyes on the pyramid. It is still considered a sacred site by the Maya, even though they have not inhabited it for over a thousand years.
Mérida at Night
There are a handful of cities with which I have fallen in love over the years. They include Edinburgh, Scotland; Paris, France; Budapest, Hungary; Lima, Peru; and Mérida, Yucatán in Mexico. Mérida is widely known as the White City for the whitewashed look of its buildings. I don’t know if they have any “glass box” high-rises that have been built since 1992 (when I was there last), but I am willing to bet there are none.
I vividly remember arriving there for the first time in November 1975. The taxi ride from Manuel Crescencio Rejón Airport to the Hotel Mérida on Calle 60 was an entirely new experience for me. We passed a huge Coca Cola bottling plant on the road to the airport and a large number of single-story homes that seemed to be open to the street. I saw families sitting at their dinner table as if there were no fourth wall.
It was warm and humid: We were in the tropics. Everything looked so different. Then as we passed the Zócalo, I saw the scruffy looking old cathedral of San Ildefonso, and the large central square with its confidenciales (S-shaped love seat benches).
Confidenciales: Love Seat Benches in Mérida’s Parks
The next few days were an education for me. I decided to take a few tours, but I was up to the challenge of trying my Spanish. I went through a Spanish-only travel agency called Turistica Yucateca and spent two days traveling to such obscure Maya sites as Acanceh, Dzibilchaltún, and Mayapan with an English speaking guide named Manuel Quinones Moreno, who had his own automobile. I played chess with him at the ruins of Dzibilchaltún, losing all my games. We even visited an old henequén hacienda where rope was manufactured. You may recall that there used to be a kind of rope called sisal, named after the Port of Sisal in Yucatán from where the rope was shipped across the world.
I have nothing but happy memories of Mérida, and I look forward to renewing my acquaintance with the White City.