For my father’s 50th birthday I decided to surprise him with a tour of Yucatan in Mexico. He found the tickets and tour itinerary inside a tool box that I gave him as a gift. It was the best birthday gift I could give to my dad who has always been very supportive of me. I noticed that a year after mom died he has always kept himself busy with work as a carpenter and other personal things, which I totally understand. I was also busy with my work as a Stock Broker but for my three week vacation that year, I decided to spend it with my loving father. From this travel we both discover a brilliant city rich with ancient temples and influences of Native American Culture on its people. Our father and son bonding time in Yucatan that year was so memorable, it was a happy experience that is one for the books.
It was a cold Monday evening when we left Miami International Airport for a ten hour Delta Air Lines flight to the Rejon International Airport in Merida, Yucatan. After accomplishing all the necessary papers at the immigration office we hailed a cab to get to Hotel Julamis. We enjoyed a nice breakfast and a latte at the central courtyard filled with bright colored Bougainvilleas hanging from its balconies. The owners gave information about the places we intended to visit. After our breakfast we started our tour with a visit to the Grutas de Calcehtok, they are wonderful caverns with such mysticism. We were handed headlamps the minute we entered this cave. It was quite a physical path which involves lots of crawling and getting dirty on our jeans. It was fun to explore this cave that is still in its natural state. Bats were constantly swooping down our heads until we left the cave. We spent a good two hour navigating its narrow paths with a Mayan guide who knows the ins and outs of the cave. After this we head back to our hotel to change clothes.
Then we toured the surrounding attractions starting at the Merida Cathedral (Catedral de San Ildefonso). The church may look unusual outside because it was built as a mixture between a church and a fortress with stones from the Mayan sites. It is a magnificent colonial style building with a well preserved artistic architectural style. The seven foot Black Christ at the main altar was impressive! At night it becomes more beautiful as the towers get illuminated with LED lights. The main square just across this church gets filled with hawkers, especially in the evening.
The next day we head next to the Southern part of Merida to visit the Mayapan Mayan Ruins. The ruins are located just outside the tourist center. It was just my father and I when we arrived here so we enjoyed going around the ruins on its blissful solitude. It is a small temple with cute details and located in the middle of the jungle. There were several buildings in a good state of preservation and a couple of paintings protected by canopies. We climbed the top pyramid that yields a spectacular view of the whole municipality. From here we visited the main street of the city of Merida, the Paseo de Montejo. To enjoy its attractions we took a rented wagon offered at the side of the Cathedral. The driver gives anecdotes or stories of each place we pass through. We saw lavish homes, a real palace, an important monument, beautiful restaurants, and the most visited clubs surrounding the municipality. What I admire most is the mixture of modern and antique. On one side is a quiet avenue lined with old houses and mansions, while on the other side is the modern part that has department stores and night clubs.
The following day we took a bus to get us to the Municipality of Valladolid, the Southeastern part of Yucatan. From here we get to see Mexican craft and culture at CASA de Los Venados (House of the Deer). It was a wonderful experience to enter a restored mansion that houses a stunning collection of art works. Each space offers something special and unique. Every area is an experience, from its warm colors to the extensive range of popular art pieces that are housed there together to create amazing scenarios. There is also a small pool and neat courtyard inside this mansion. A place full of magic and color, it is probably one of the best museum/gallery/art houses we have ever been in Yucatan. Then we head next to the Convent de San Bernardino de Siena. We enjoyed our quick visit to this monastery and church. Outside we strolled in the gardens, and took pictures of the church exteriors. Inside we checked out its main altar and the small but interesting indoor museum on its chapel. Not to be missed!
After a quick lunch of tortillas’ and burritos at a Mexican Restaurant on the road we passed by a chocolate factory named Cacao, aside from the little tour on how a chocolate is processed we get to try each of the mixtures which has a quite intense and interesting flavor. Being chocoholics, we bought six boxes of their homemade chocolates. Afterwards we explore the underground lake attraction called the Xkeken Cenote. By noon the swimming area of this cave becomes charming as the sun filters through the hole and illuminates the whole cavern. We enjoyed a good swim and snorkel fun on its clean, cold waters. My father and I stayed seven days on this municipality to fully enjoy all of the beautiful and therapeutic waters of its underground lakes. The waters were liberating and rejuvenate our spirits!
The highlight of our three week stay in Yucatan was a visit to the famous Chichen Itza. We started our tour with a visit to the 7th wonder of the world called the Kukulcan Pyramid. The temple offers an interesting history about Mayan culture. It represents the highest expression of fusion between the Mayan and Toltec cultures. It was best we got there early to minimize queuing and take uncrowded photographs. Getting there and seeing the pyramid gives a unique energy, an indescribable feeling! Too bad we could not go up the temple, it was closed to preserve it from further deterioration but this real beauty was worth seeing! Later that day we spend time solving an old mystery at Gran Juego de Pelota (Ball Courts). It is a magnificent monumental structure that is very well made; I admire the echo between the buildings. Our guide explained that this was once a stadium for a ball game where the winner’s head gets cut off as part of the pagan ritual. The wall carvings around the spacious arena give a puzzle, doubt, and uncertainty as to what really befell the early settlers who fought for the deadly ball game. Did they sacrifice to win or lose? The answers cannot be found inside the attraction itself.
The next morning April 21, I greeted my father with a happy birthday as we enjoyed a healthy breakfast at the hotel; I hug him tight as he was teary eyed as he thanked me. Then we head for our last tour in Chichen Itza by visiting the imposing temple called the El Castillo Pyramid. For us, it was a magical place. It’s totally different from the pictures we saw on books and the internet. I felt being catapulted in time, back into the era of the Mayan people. Getting there was like being part of an exceptional civilization and to think that it was built over a thousand years before the modern times “discovered” this temple. Indeed, it was a marvel and huge testament of a once great culture. This great pyramid regarded as a sacred temple lies behind an astronomical observatory at Chichen.
We feel proud to have the opportunity to have contact with the past cultural civilization of Yucatan. I was happy my father found his renewed strength. We can’t wait to go back there again.