Ever seen a Mexican Cenote? Neither had Linda Ross before she arrived in ‘Ik Kil’ on the Yukatan Peninsula in the east of Mexico last year. It’s one of the many things that blew her mind about this destination. Linda knew she would find three of her favourite things; chocolate, vanilla and tequila – so she was always going to love the place, But she was surprised to find how much more there is to love about magical Mexico. Here Linda talks about some of the things that make her so keen to return.
Colourful San Miguel de Allende
Charming San Miguel de Allende, three hours from Mexico City, nestles in a valley surrounded by desert. The city is a bolt of colour with the high adobe walls reflecting the sun-baked colours of the desert and supporting prickly pear and bougainvillea. The orange, ochre and cerise walls paint a brilliant backdrop for vibrant Mexican festivals. In the cobblestone laneways of the historic centre many of the estimated 2000 timber doors lead to private courtyards, filled with lush palms, pomegranates, plumbago, jacaranda and sometimes pools and water fountains.
World-famous wonders in the Yucatán
The Yucatán peninsula is home to some of the most remarkable remnants of the Mayan civilisation, which was at its most dominant and innovative between 250 and 900 CE. The Mayans had a written language, built complex cities, and had advanced understanding of astronomy. This is particularly clear at Chichen Itza, where a giant limestone pyramid is situated according to the sun’s location during the spring and autumn equinoxes. At sunset on these two days, the pyramid casts a shadow on itself that aligns with a carving of the head of the Mayan serpent god. The shadow forms the serpent’s body and as the sun sets the serpent appears to slither into the earth.
As you can imagine Chichien Itza attracts plenty of visitors, so I preferred the relative emptiness of Uxmal (pronounced Ooshmal). Here we climbed pyramids on our own to see the layout of the city and how it worked, and joined the iguanas sunning on the rocks of the city’s ruined walls.
After marveling at the brilliance of the Chichen Itza ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, the dry grasslands gave way to lush forest, which in turn gave way to cenote country (our feature image is of the incredible cenote at Ik Kil not far from Chichen Itza, which is 30m accross and has fresh water 50m deep!). A cenote is a giant circular limestone sinkhole filled with crystal clear water. For both spiritual and practical reasons Mayan cities were always built near one, and the Yucatan has more that 7000 of them! Sunlight illuminates the blue water, small waterfalls create rainbows between hanging vines. Jump in, then float on your back and watch the rainforest circling the sky. It’s an amazing experience and I can’t wait to do it again – definitely packing the cossie for the Mexico and Cuba tour later this year!
The flat dry expanse of the Yucatan grows a great agave renowned for making rope. It’s called Agave sisalana after Sisal, the port town in Spain where the agave was taken and rope factories established. Agave sisalana powered the Spanish armada of the 16th and 17th centuries and Spanish haciendas still dot the landscape here as a reminder that sisal was a vital resource until it was replaced by plastic fibre rope after World War II.
One of the most unexpected highlkights is the boat tripe we took to see the pink flamingos in Reserva de la Biosfera Ria Celestun at the seaside village of Celestún. A real hit with the ametuer wildlife photographer! If there’s time, ask your boat captain to take you to the secret cenote within the mangrove forest at the river’s northern shore.
Plant-hunting from west to east
We travelled from the Pacific Ocean eastwards to the Caribbean Sea, through tropical forests where tillandsias encrusted the overhanging trees branches, and through dry desert plains interrupted by prickly pear and organ cactus. In the west, at Vallarta Botanic Gardens we saw the golden ripening pods of cacao and zigzagging vanilla orchids. The perfumed vanilla orchids bloom in late winter and spring and are pollinated by the stingless, and now endangered, Melipona bee. The green pods blacken slowly into what we recognise as vanilla. It’s not just the bee that’s in trouble. I couldn’t count or even name the thousands of orchids (still living on cut branches) laid out on tables for sale in local markets. They’re disappearing quickly from the wild as families with no other way of making a living go bush to make a dollar.
Another horti highlight were the bromeliads. We saw great poinciana trees simply covered in them so they looked like fuzzy Muppets. We spotted tillandsias, the air bromeliads, clinging on granite monoliths, cenote walls and volcanic caves. High on a volcanic peak we saw a rare pink flowering form, living in a family cluster of nine, in full flower.
Come with us
Linda is leading a tour to Mexico and Cuba in October 2017. For the full itinerary, or to book your seat on tour call us on 1300 233 200.
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