Friday, March 10, 2017

Izamal and Merida: Take 2

Two places that we visited that we didn't feel we did justice to were Izamal and Merida. We wanted to go back to both, and one morning, with Barb and Ed along, we headed back to the yellow city of Izamal. While trying to find a place to park, one of the tourist policia got our attention and directed us to a parking spot. Immediately, as we got out of the car, he peppered us with questions. Had we been here before? Yes. Did we know why the city is painted yellow? Ummm...no. Did we know why it had the white trim? Ummm...no. Did we know about the significance of the colours of the flag. All right, all right! We'll take a tour. A quick tour around the monastery and we'd be on our way.

Maintenance work is ongoing. The monastery was one of the first in the western hemisphere and was completed in 1561. When the Spaniards invaded, they forced the Mayans to dismantle part of a sacred temple (pyramid) here and build the monastery on top of it. They were determined to convert the Mayans to Catholicism.

Looking down on the city square. The building with the arches is where we had lunch on our previous visit with Joanne.

And behind the arched building is a statue of monk Fray Diego de Landa. When the Spaniards came and tried to convert the Mayans to Catholicism, he burned all of the Maya scripts, and then feeling remorseful, tried to write all he could remember of the ways of the Mayan people. To this day, they aren't sure if some of the customs are true or the way they were written from his memory.

This magnificent tree is the ceiba tree, the most sacred tree of the Mayan people.

Our guide took us around to the back of the monastery, which surprisingly was not painted yellow. Today there are only 8 monks at the monastery.

Signs of Catholics...

And of the Mayans, side by side. They used the base of the pyramid as the foundation for the monastery so this idol remained intact.

People make pilgrimages to see Our Lady of Izamal. A statue was brought from Guatemala when the Spaniards invaded to try to stop the Mayans from praying to idols. Miracles began happening in her presence and to this day people come to light candles and place photographs of those needing miracles.

Inside the church, our guide asked us if we saw anything wrong with the three kings. Although one of them may have been black, it is believed that it was Balthasar and not Melchior as shown here.

Many thought-provoking statues...

The church’s original altarpiece was destroyed by a fire believed to have been started by a fallen candle. Its replacement, impressively gilded, was built in the 1940s. At the altar is the statue of Our Lady of Izamal. When the Pope visited in 1993, he presented her with a silver crown. Sorry for the bad photo...our guide was on the run and so we were.

No time to spend admiring the stained glass...

A sun dial at the top was used to tell time...

Our guide...when you see a tourist policia wearing a white shirt and black pants, it indicates that he speaks English.

People to this day touch the cross as it is considered a place of healing.

Saint Clara and Saint Francis of Assisi. She was one of the first followers of Saint Francis.

At some point the 16th-century frescoes inside the entrance of the sanctuary were completely painted over. For years they lay concealed under a thin layer of whitewash until a maintenance worker who was cleaning the walls discovered them.



And with that fast-talking tour over, we headed outside to the horse and carriages to take a tour of the town. Oh yes...why is the town painted yellow? To symbolize the corn. The colours of red, white and green on the flag symbolize the blood of those who fought for Mexico's independence, the white is for purity and and the green is for hope.

The colourful carriages...

It was hot! Nice to sit and get a small breeze...

Barb and Ed were in front of us as we clip clopped around the city.


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As we got outside the core of the city, we noticed that some of buildings were no longer yellow. These are newer buildings, but have been built to fit in with the architecture of the older ones.

Because people found the numbering of the streets confusing, businesses began putting up animal symbols so they could be found more easily.

Our driver spoke some English,  which was nice, and did his best to explain some of the sites as we clopped by...

We didn't realize that there were so many pyramids (temples) in Izamal. Because they haven't been restored like those in Chichen Itza or Uxmal, they don't get as much tourist traffic.

This Mayan woman is typically dressed as you see many of the ladies here with a white cotton dress which is worn over a slip that has lace on the bottom. Many of the slips with lace are very intricate and can be expensive.

We were clopping around the city looking at the various pyramids. We weren't stopping, and it was hard for us to peek our heads out, so we were just enjoying the ride and as much of the commentary as we could understand. The house on the left with the fence was monstrous and new.

Our driver stopped at this pyramid and hopped off to take our photo. You can tell he's done this a few times. You can see why we couldn't see too much, but the shade of the carriage was a welcome respite from the sun.

A steer to help identify the building...

He pointed out this cenote, which I had no desire to climb into.

And yet another pyramid...they all looked alike from what we could see and he wasn't stopping anyway, but it did make us realize how many there had been.

And back into town...because all the buildings were yellow, it was hard to get your bearings.

Lovely cobble stoned streets...

And then we did stop at this pyramid, which he told us to explore and take our time...

Ed and I started hoofing it up the stairs. Jim waving below...

This was one of the most important pyramids constructed between 400 and 600 AD. Its base was 200 m long by 180 m wide and it was 34 m in height. It was built in dedication of the sun god, Kinich Kakmo, and daily offerings were placed on it.

Almost 2000 years later...the Mayan were incredible architects and builders.

This was my "aha moment" when I walked around the side of the pyramid. This is what they looked like before they were uncovered. Amazing! They would have just looked like big hills and yet hidden underneath were these amazing constructions.

Did I say it was hot? We have seen some amazing things over the years of travelling with Barb and Ed.

Clopping back into the city...this gives you an idea of the size of the monastery.

We sat outside for a moment and looked through one of the arches...what did we see?

This guy painting...without any sort of safety harness that we could see. Oh my...once again one of the many things that would never fly in Canada.

Mmm...we were hungry. I had read good things about Kinich restaurant, so we headed there for lunch. How pretty...


I probably should have warned someone I was taking a photo. Barb and Ed looking one way and Jim the other. The restaurant was lovely and cool. As usual we struggled to figure out the menu.

This is always my go-to meal...panuchos. Tortillas with beans, layered with lettuce, shredded chicken, pickled onions, avocado and tomato. Yum. The funny thing was when Barb asked for the dessert menu, the server brought a complete menu...in English! We checked out all the things we could have ordered if we had known what they were.
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They bring your bill in this purse that you place your money in. Your server brings it to the cash and then returns with your change in it. A system that works for them.

With a last look at the beautiful trained bougainvillea, we said goodbye again to Izamal. It's a lovely city full of traditions and history.

A few days later on a Sunday, Jim and I decided to go back to the capital city of the Yucatan peninsula, Merida. It's a fast growing city with a population of about 800,000. On Sundays, the streets around the main plaza are blocked off and people enjoy the downtown area on foot or on bicycles.

The cathedral was built in the late 1500s...

And this time we were able to go inside the cathedral as there was a mass underway...

There are many vendors and kiosks set up around the plaza. We came out of the church and spied...churros! A huge bag full for $1. These tasty treats are deep fried dough with sugar and are often served with chocolate or dulce de leche. Straight up for me. They were delicious!

Here we are with the government offices in the background...

The house of the conquistadors with the Spaniards standing on the head of the Mayans...

Many people enjoying the traffic free streets...

In front of the government building, there was entertainment in the form of dance groups, clowns and buskers. We found a spot in the shade during a break and enjoyed our churros and a mango sorbet.

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The beautiful architecture of the government offices...

We were heading back to the car when we were approached by a man who wanted to know if we wanted a tour bus ride. When we said no, he told us about a shop we should visit and, with no expectations, we wandered in. It was full of beautiful items and we enjoyed our visit there. This guy in particular was special. Jim was looking at shirts and was joking about having a "cerveza belly." Manuel told us that he had been sober for 16 years and this started a discussion about AA. He was a genuine person and it made the visit that much more enjoyable. Are the items more expensive than in other stores? Probably. Are they nicer? Definitely. Either way, it was a nice experience.

Paseo de Montejo...one of the most beautiful streets in Merida filled with grand homes of the era when the sisal industry was booming.

The sculpture with its tribute to Mexico's history is still hidden behind scaffolding as it was when we first saw it about 6 weeks ago.

We drove down the malecon in Progreso on our way home. It wasn't a cruise ship day and it was still filled with people, music, and kiosks. This is purely Mexican families enjoying a beautiful Sunday afternoon at the beach.

And a lovely sunset...

A great return to two wonderful cities. I feel like we did them a bit more justice this time.

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