More Wanderings in the Yucatan

Day Trips from Progreso, Yucatan

If you have a rental car and if you’re lucky enough to have friends to share the driving and the cost, there are great places to visit within a few hours of Progreso.

Day Trips

Sisal, a beachside Puebla where we understood many changes were taking place, was one of our destinations. Easily combined with a trip to Celestun to see the flamingos, Sisal has been “discovered” and real estate is reputed to be flying off the shelf. Worth the drive as the beach is pretty, there’s good swimming and several beachside restaurants serving local seafood. The history of Sisal is interesting too and was the port from which the heinequin rope was shipped to all corners of the world.

Sisal Pier

Celestún, another town easily reached from Progreso has been a favorite of mine over the years. I’ve probably been about three times to take the launcha through the mangroves to see the flamingos and other birds. Boat tours leave from the beach in the center of town, or a shorter option is to take a boat from the lagoon as you enter the town. No need to book ahead or even try to find a boat, they will find you. If you are a bird watcher I’d say this day out is a must, I have never been disappointed and have seen a variety of bird life including pink herons and lots of pink flamingos.

Pink Herons
Pink from Camarones

Cenote San Ignacio is a cenote with an above ground pool, gardens, a restaurant and an underground cenote that is beautiful, clear and refreshing. One of my favourite cenotes, it offers change rooms, an above ground pool, a restaurant and of course the underground cenote. A quaint little Puebla, San Ignacio is a good place to see the old style maya homes with adobe covered rock walls and palapa roofs. 

San Ignacio Cenote

Xzamal My first visit to Xzamal and I have added this to my must do list for future visits to the Yucatan. Xzamal is notable for its profusion of yellow buildings. The Pope visited (1973) a particularly famous and sacred Franciscan Monastary here and in honour of his visit and as a sign of welcome the people painted everything yellow. The Padua Monastary is large and an interesting example of early colonial architecture built on top of the ancient Maya town that preceded the Spanish. Apparently it has the largest open atrium outside of the one at the Vatican and around the atrium are statues of Saints who are said to have performed miracles.

The madonna wears a crown, gift from the Pope.

From the walls of the Monastary you can look across the main square with it’s yellow arches to Kinish Kak Mo, a smaller and easily accessible Maya pyramid. The meaning of its name translates to “macaw of the solar fire face”. We were able to climb right to the top for a great view of the surrounding area. The Yucatán is as flat as the Canadian prairies so you can see quite a distance.

Main Square
Kinish Kak Mo
Entrance to the Pyramid
View of the Yucatan from the Pyramid

On the recommendation from a friend we dined at a fantastic restaurant called Kinish, where they serve traditional Maya cuisine including cochinita, a pork dish marinated with sour orange juice, wrapped in plantain leaves and cooked underground.

Progreso and Merida After my friends left for home I immersed myself in life in Progreso. A friend living in Chelem got me aquainted with the beaches there and in Chuburna, communities adjacent to Progreso. It was often windy but the water was warm and we all swam and enjoyed the beach in relative solitude, which of course in the time of COVID is advisable. Of course Merida is close and movies, bowling, restaurants and a jazz club rounded out my last days in Progreso. Next stop Puerto Escondido.

Chuburna Beach

A Month in the Yucatan: Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead, a colourful, festive and joyful way to show love and respect for deceased family members.

As in years past, I started my Mexican Adventure by returning to the sea side town of Progreso in the Yucatan. This year for the first time I made it to Mexico in time for Dias del Muertes, a celebration in which death and deceased loved ones are honoured. Things were scaled back somewhat due to Covid but there were still some interesting things to see and do.

Symbols of the Day of the Dead: Skulls, Calvera Catrinas, Offerendas & Papel Picados

If you haven’t seen the movie Coco I highly recommend it as a fun and touching way to acquaint yourself with Mexican culture and especially the believes and practices around the Dias del Murertes.

Dias del Muertes is actually several days in duration with a day dedicated to children, and then one for adult relatives and ancestors. Similar to our Canadian Halloween, people dress in costume and walk the streets admiring each others costumes. Adults and children alike participate. There are generally musical & cultural events and each community celebrates in a different way but all have in common a visit to the cemetary to spruce up the graves of lost relatives and to invite them to return to this realm by offering food, drink and special treats. Elaborately decorated altars can be seen in private homes, (called offrendas) to welcome the spirits.

Family Home Oferenda
Costumes often include Marigolds

We spent a few days visiting various locations that we heard would be interesting examples of the festivities. One evening we went to Merida and sat in a restaurant to watch a pasado of costumed families followed by a cultural performance in a square at the end of Paseo de Montejo.

Perhaps the most interesting event for us was a visit to a pueblo called Pomuch, where we walked through the local graveyard. The tradition here is to open the boxes of the deceased and clean the bones, leaving them on display, free to roam, for a few days before they are returned to rest in peace. Unlike Halloween which is a dark night of terror and mischief, Day of the Dead festivities take place over two days and are colourful, festive and joyful, with the point being to show love and respect for deceased family members.

Cemetaries are Cleaned and Decorated

A mish-mash of indigenous and christian beliefs the symbols of the Day of the Dead are important and include calveras or skulls. One of the most ubiquitous symbols of the Day of the Dead came about when Diego Rivera, Mexicos beloved muralist, painted a stylized skeleton in one of his murals. Dressed in a large feminine hat, Rivera named her Catrina, a poke at the rich. Sugar skulls abound and food items like pan de muerto, or bread of the dead is often shaped into bones and skulls. Other sweets include tiny dough teardrops to symbolize sorrow. Of course there are drinks too including pulque, a sweet fermented drink made from the agave. Of course costumes are important as festivities normally spill into the streets and public squares at all hours of the day and night. Faces are painted to resemble skulls and the Calvera Catrina. It wouldn’t be Mexico without some noise and costumes often include shells or other noisemakers to rouse the dead and keep them close during the fun.

Calvera Catrina

To represent the wind and the fragility of life Mexican’s use layers of paper, piercing it with a hammer and chisel points to form elaborate patterns. The Papel Picado is draped around homes, streets and restaurants and adds to the festive atmosphere that permeates the day of the dead.

Certainly this celebration of death wasn’t the same as in other years without the pandemic but Mexico being Mexico there was still lots to see and do even without the large scale celebrations and gatherings that are the norm.

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