January 11, 2016: All good things must come to an end.
We were having a really nice time in Mahahual. We could have stayed there indefinitely, enjoying the great people, the sun, the sand, the great snorkeling, the friendly dogs, and just generally the laid back beach camping lifestyle.
But paradise wasn’t good enough for us, so we made plans to head out. On our last night in Mahahual, we had dinner in town with Natalie and their daughter and friend who were visiting for a week or so. After dinner we got some beer and crashed John’s band practice, turning it into a bit of a house party. The practice was at the house of the band’s singer, a Mexican national, and her husband, a fly fishing guide from London. Spending time in a private home while listening to music and talking to a great multinational group of people was a lot of fun, and really made us appreciate how easily people can form friendly communities in new places.
But we were determined to move along. For now. We will be back.
We left Mahahual on Wednesday, January 6th, driving down to Chetumal and then taking the highway toward Escarcega. And that’s where we met ruin:
We decided to head for the town of Xpujil as a base camp for exploring what’s known as the Río Bec area, where there are hundreds of Mayan sites, some excavated, most not.
On the way to Xpujil, we visited Dzibanché (which isn’t part of the Río Bec area). We saw maybe a half dozen other people at the site, including the people who work there. While everyone crowds into Chichen Itza, Tulum, and a few other sites, most archaeological sites on the Yucatan get little attention, despite their sometimes superior merits.
Dzibanché not only had interesting archaeology, but howler and spider monkeys, which we hadn’t expected to see. When you hear a howler for the first time, the imagination runs wild and you feel sure that some enormous monster is about to come crashing out of the jungle. These guys have amazing vocal capacity.
Here’s a video we took at Tikal in 2010 where you can hear howler monkeys. Turn up the volume:
But back to Dzibanché:
Our guide showed us a section of a building that was residential, as evidenced by low platforms that would have been used as couches and beds. Outside of the rooms, there was a little nook the guide said would have held idols and other religious items, so the residents could pray before going into their rooms:
We asked if the Maya still engage in this practice, and the guide told us that they do. That night, we checked into a hotel, and encountered this alcove on the way to our room:
Just next door to Dzibanché is Kinichná. It’s a much smaller site, really just one pyramid, but it’s a big one:
After seeing Dzibanché and Kinichná we ventured on into the town of Xpujil. Deciding it was time for real showers, we found a hotel. It wasn’t fancy, but was clean, had plenty of hot water, cable (which didn’t work), WiFi, all the basics, including a pool (which was closed), for $26/night. The town itself was little more than a crossroads, but it seemed surprisingly prosperous. We spent three nights there.
The next day (Thursday the 7th) we visited two more sites – both were amazing and we’d heard of neither before this trip.
Becán is just a few miles up the road from Xpujil.
At most ruin sites, anything of particular interest that can be removed and placed in a museum for safekeeping has been. Occasionally, they try to preserve interesting detail in place. Here at Becán is an unusually elaborate approach. They’ve build a structure with a glass window to protect well preserved stucco detail with some original paint. This is well over a thousand years old. (Look, tourists! We are not alone.)
After Becán, we traveled a couple of miles to the site of Chicanná. This site really gets no love in the guidebooks. We debated whether to bother driving the two miles from Becán to see it. So we were quite surprised to find the outstanding masks
and scary facade with teeth that awaited us.
Imagine these ruined buildings in their original splendor, covered in smooth stucco and painted bright colors (mostly red).
You can see a little of that original color here:
The next day we walked across the highway to the site bearing the same name as the town, Xpujil. This site also really only had one interesting building, but it was quite impressive:
On the way back from the site, we walked past a police station with this poster on it:
Next to the police station, we stopped for lunch.
As soon as we sat down and plugged into the world, we learned that El Chapo had been captured, the news breaking about the time we were calculating the dollar equivalent of 60 million pesos (even in pesos, it’s a lot of money).
That night, we briefly greeted a couple who rode into the hotel on a motorcycle. They were looking for the reception. We would see them again…
To Be Continued