March 24, 2017: Compared to our Mexico travels the year before, our time in Calderitas was more focused on daily living and making new friends.
One thing that stood out about the southern Yucatan was the presence of flowers just about everywhere, especially bougainvillea (bugambilia in Spanish, a more entertaining word). [click to enlarge]
Little things in daily life stand out as similar to the U.S., with a Mexican twist. We encountered this Campbell’s flavor, flor de calabaza (squash flower). We bet you won’t find that at your local supermarket.
Maricasa was full of surprises. One afternoon we heard a loud croaking noise coming from outside, maybe giant frogs? No, tucans!
The occasional sailboat passed in front of the house.
And we had frequent duck visitors.
Maricasa was built as an off-the-grid house. Today, solar panels and batteries have been replaces with grid power, but the low energy ethos is still in place. Maricasa is not air conditioned. In fact, there is very little glass, mostly screens and storm shutters. Water is heated by the sun. You can see the two methods used in the pictures below. The black tank is warmed by the sun, and the reflectors are there to add a little boost. This works great, so long as it’s hot and sunny, and you don’t really want that hot a shower anyway. The other solar heater stores water in an insulated vertical tank which looks much like a traditional water heater, but water is then fed down into the black, glass covered field where the sun makes it quite hot. The water then circulates back to the tank via convection. When it’s cold and rainy, you might end up taking an uncomfortably cool shower. Otherwise, this system works very well.
The two white tanks are the cold water supply. They are on the roof to provide water pressure. It is a common practice everywhere we’ve been in Mexico for buildings of all types to pump water to tanks on the roof to provide pressurized water. Presumably city water supplies are not highly pressurized. In addition, many large buildings, such as hotels, will receive potable water deliveries from large trucks that pump the water to tanks on roof. Although many civic water services now advertise that the local city water is potable, Mexicans don’t drink it, preferring purified bottled water, largely purchased in a 5 gallon (20 liter) reusable “garrafón.”
Amazing as it seems, this area is so dense with remnants of the Mayan civilization that the vast majority are not deemed worthy of (or lack funding for) official or academic attention. Wandering around small ruin mounds in this area, we find a profusion of small pottery shards almost everywhere, some with patterned grooves hinting at a decorative design. Maybe some of the fill used to construct these walls and platforms consisted of refuse like broken pottery, or maybe there were trash heaps by them, or maybe these building were abandoned in a hurry. Who know? Other relics that have been found in this neighborhood, including out on Tamalcab Island, include pieces of more elaborate ceramic vessels, a profusion of decorative ceramic beads, stone and obsidian blades, and obsidian cores from which the blades were worked.
Nearby at Ichpaatun, there are unexcavated ruins. Luis took us on a forest hike to see them. [click to enlarge]
These ruins include structures that have not been restored. [click to enlarge]
They also include caves which have clearly been worked into occupied spaces.
There are even surviving remnants of wall paintings.
In more recent times, locals harvested sap from the chicozapote tree to make chewing gum (chicle). This tree still bears the telltale marks of the chicleros’ machetes, though it has been several decades since artificial gum put the chicleros out of business. Interestingly, new producers have recently restarted the production of natural chicle-based gum, claiming a number of positive qualities, many of which are actually legitimate.
Anyway, Luis is no chiclero, but any Mexican man worth his salt takes his machete when hiking through the forest, as well as a file to keep it nice and sharp.
Nearby here is the ruin site of Oxtankah, which we mentioned in a previous post. What we’re calling this neighborhood was once outlying parts of this same Mayan city. INAH looked at these surrounding areas several decades ago, but thought only the city center was worth excavation and restoration. And considering the huge quantity of high quality archaeology sites that have been developed in this country already, it’s clear that these kinds of decisions are frequent and necessary. There are only so many archaeologists and so much money to go around, and major new discoveries are being made almost monthly, it seems. Most of these minor remnants are destined to erode away, or be destroyed to make way for the present inhabitants of these lands.
While in Calderitas we spent a few pleasant evenings a local Italian restaurant, Piazza Maggiore. They make a mean neopolitan pizza (arguably the best crust we’ve had outside of Italy) and have weekly live music. Good times.
We weren’t the only gringos in town. There are a number of expats who live in the Chetumal area, either year round or just during the winter. Those that we met are from the U.S. and Canada. People come here for lots of different reasons, perhaps largely because it is possible to live well here on a lot less money than in their country of origin. There are also the benefits of year-round warm weather and a welcoming and fun culture.
A number of the expats we’ve met here originally settled in Belize and relocated to Chetumal and the surrounding area. Belize has an active program to recruit foreign retirees. The ex-Belizians we’ve met express dissatisfaction with the availability of basic services. They cite examples like often finding unavailable basic goods (think eggs and toilet paper) in local markets. They were regularly traveling to Chetumal to shop and ultimately decided that they were better off on the Mexican side of the border.
We took a field trip with some of those expats, visiting Mayan ruins at Kohunlich.
We visited this site once before a few years ago, before we started this adventure. It’s best known for these giant stucco masks. They are in amazing condition.
We took a couple of other field trips near the end of our stay. We went to the manatee sanctuary, on Laguna Guerrero. You’ll note the absence of manatees in these photos. [click to enlarge]
This sanctuary used to be home to a single male manatee named Daniel. He was rescued when just a few days old and lived at the sanctuary for years. More recently, the sanctuary released Daniel and he returns periodically, but increasingly infrequently. When we visited, he had not returned for more than a month. We wonder how long the manatee sanctuary can survive without its manatee.
We also went out to to coast to say goodbye to our friends in Mahahual. We finally got in a little snorkeling at this lovely beach. Not pictured: biting flies at this lovely beach.
And Laura had dinner with a new friend.
Calderitas was a really nice place to spend the winter. We’ll miss it and our new friends.
Thanks for checking us out!