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Sotuta de Peon

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During the Yucatán’s henequen boom, there were close to a thousand haciendas (plantations) in operation across the state. Today, they’re nearly all in ruins. And in the area surrounding Mérida, only one still manufactures henequen: Sotuta de Peon. We joined a tour of the hacienda which led us through a mansion, the factory, a Maya house in the agave fields, a cenote, and ended at a restaurant serving up Yucatecan specialties.

Hacienda Sotuta de Peon

Our tour started in the hacienda’s main residence, which was filled with antique furniture and framed, faded photographs of the family who once lived here. Like all other henequen plantations, Sotuta de Peon closed up shop after the introduction of synthetic fibers in the mid-twentieth century. It was only recently purchased by a local businessman, renovated and restored to working operations.

Outside the mansion, we were introduced to the henequen-making process. The fiber comes from the leaves of an agave plant, similar to that which produces tequila. We saw both the old, labor-intensive method for producing the fiber and then moved to the more modern machinery. I use the term “modern” in a relative sense; these massive, roaring machines date from the early 1900s. We watched as stacks of henequen leaves were deposited into the machine, which broke them and “combed” the fiber out of the plant’s flesh.

Next, we boarded a cart hitched to a mule and set off into the fields where, at the top of a hill, Don Antonio was awaiting us in his palapa. He’s been living and working at Sotuta de Peon for most of his life and, since retiring from field work, has become a part of the hacienda’s tour. After explaining the process of cutting henequen, he showed us around his home, expressing his wonder and gratitude about his lot in life. Years ago as a simple henequen cutter, he couldn’t have imagined that he’d ever meet so many people from all around the world, and he seemed as interested in us as we were in him.

After saying “ka’a xi’itech” to our new friend, another short mule ride brought us to Sotuta de Peon’s cenote, where we had an hour to swim and enjoy a drink at the mobile “Wagon Bar”. The water was warm, and the underground cenote was more beautiful than we had expected. During our three months in the Yucatán, we saw many cenotes, and kept waiting for one to disappoint us. But it never happened.

Our tour ended with lunch in the hacienda’s restaurant. The food was excellent, and the prices reasonable. The tour itself, in fact, is a major bargain considering everything that it entails. If you have time to visit just a single hacienda during your time in the Yucatán, you’d be well-advised to make it the Sotuta de Peon.

Location on our Map
Sotuta de Peon – Website

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February 15, 2014 at 4:06 pm Comments (0)

The Cenote Siete Bocas

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Underwater Pictures Were Taking With This Camera

The road leading inland from Puerto Morelos has just one thing on its mind: cenotes. Sign after hand-painted sign exhorts you to visit Cenote Las Mojarras! Cenote Boca del Puma! Cenote Verde Lucero! Without prior information, it’d be impossible to know which to choose, so we made sure to get a recommendation. And those we talked to were in agreement that Cenote Siete Bocas, or the Seven-Mouth Cenote, would be unforgettable.

Cenote Siete Bocas

Siete Bocas is found at the end of a long and poorly-marked dirt path leading off the main road. We were overjoyed to see that ours was the only car in the parking lot, and a woman immediately came out to greet us. She told us a bit about the cenote, and then asked for 250 pesos (about $19) apiece. For a cenote, that’s quite steep. I looked around but couldn’t find the normal price listed anywhere, so we had more than a sneaking suspicion that she had sized us up before inventing the figure, but whatever. We weren’t in the mood to haggle, and handed over the cash.

Luckily, the cenote was amazing; easily worth the price, however inflated. As its name implies, this is one large cenote with seven small entrances that have opened in the earth. Because of high water levels following a long period of rain, two of the bocas were closed during our visit, but it hardly mattered.

We started at the first hole, and jumped off the subterranean platform into the cave. With light pouring in from above, the water was a deep, beautiful blue, and the cave itself was both scary and exciting. We swam slowly around, discovering a passage which led to Boca #5. I swam around the back of a huge stalactite and into a section of the cave that received very little light. Just as I was about to turn around, a bat flew out of darkness and past my head.

Bocas #3 and #4 were connected by a small passageway. You could climb down a ladder into #3, but #4 required a leap of faith. This was a huge, perfectly circular hole where the water was extremely deep. I gathered my courage and made the jump, holding it together until the very end, when I couldn’t resist letting out a shriek of terror (or a bellow of virility, however you want to interpret it).

Siete Bocas is especially popular with cave divers, and it’s not hard to see why. With scuba equipment, you can explore the entire underground lake and with seven sources of light pouring in, the view from the deep must be unreal.

Location on our Map

We Stayed In A Great Affordable Place In Puerto Morelos

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February 4, 2014 at 2:06 pm Comments (0)

The Three Cenotes of Chunkanán

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Hundreds of cenotes pockmark the earth of the Yucatán Peninsula. Fed by subterranean rivers, these pools once served as sources of fresh water for the Maya, but today they’re primarily used for fun. We visited three amazing cenotes on a popular tour leaving from the village of Chunkanán.

Three Cenotes of Chunkanán

Our trip began in front of the restaurant Dzapacal, where we hopped into a cart pulled by horse along old railway tracks. The restaurant wasn’t hard to find; it’s the only large building in this minuscule town. Chunkanán was once home to one of the Yucatán’s many henequen plantations, and has struggled to survive since the collapse of the industry. The tracks along which our cart was being pulled had been used to transport the fiber to the port of Sisal on the Gulf Coast. After a short ride of about ten minutes, we arrived at the first cenote: Santa Cruz.

At each cenote, our guide allowed us as much time as we wanted, and we took full advantage at Santa Cruz, which we had all to ourselves. This cave was lit perfectly and we were able to float on the cool water, looking up at the stalactites and the swallows that circled them.

The second cenote was near enough to walk to. Dzapacal means “short throat” in Mayan and shares its name with the town restaurant. Without a guide, we would have walked right by this hole in the ground and completely missed it. To get to the water, you have climb ten slippery meters down a pair of ladders. The pool itself is narrow but extremely deep at nearly 33 meters (100 feet), and swimming down here was terrifying. So far from the surface and swimming in a hole that extends endlessly into the earth… who knows what ghastly creatures lurk in the deep?

Three Cenotes of Chunkanán

We hopped back on our cart to reach the third and final cenote of the day, Chelentun. There was quite a crowd when we arrived, but no bother. At over 100 meters (300 feet) in length and 40 meters (120 feet) deep, Chelentun is big enough to share. We dove in, and I went straight down until my ears started to hurt. The water is amazing, stunningly clean and clear, and glows bright blue when hit by the sun. You might think that the water of a subterranean river would be freezing, but it’s actually quite pleasant.

We can’t recommend this tour enough. Be warned, though. To reach Chunkanán, you have to pass through Cuzamá, a neighboring village which is trying to steal the cenote business. Jealous of the success of Chunkanán’s tour, Cuzamá started up its own “Three Cenote” package. Guys with red flags lurk on the road and will aggressively wave you down, even forcing you off the road. They direct you into their parking lot, and will lie about their tour being the only one. We had to be very insistent, even rude, before we were able to continue on to Chunkanán. It’s an awful practice, especially since struggling Chunkanán truly depends on these tours as nearly its sole source of income.

Apart from that bit of unpleasantness, we loved our time in Chunkanán. After the tour’s conclusion, we enjoyed an excellent lunch in the restaurant, and then hired a kid to take us to the ruins of the town’s old henequen plantation. A really fun day out, not far from Mérida.

Location of Chunkanán on our Map

Great Hotels In The Yucatan

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January 15, 2014 at 3:02 pm Comment (1)
Sotuta de Peon During the Yucatán's henequen boom, there were close to a thousand haciendas (plantations) in operation across the state. Today, they're nearly all in ruins. And in the area surrounding Mérida, only one still manufactures henequen: Sotuta de Peon. We joined a tour of the hacienda which led us through a mansion, the factory, a Maya house in the agave fields, a cenote, and ended at a restaurant serving up Yucatecan specialties.
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