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The Legend of the Makech

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Jürgen and I aren’t the types to spend much time thinking about jewelry. Neither of us owns a single piece, not a ring nor a bracelet, and I very rarely notice the jewelry worn by others. But when the piece in question is a living beetle, it’s a little hard to ignore.

The Yucatan Makech

The Makech is the strangest fashion item we’ve ever seen. These large beetles, found only in the Yucatán Peninsula, have broad shells that can be decorated with gemstones. They feed on sporophores which grow on a specific type of wood endemic to the Yucatán, and can live for up to eight months. Attached to a golden chain, they’re worn as pendants by Maya women and kept as pets.

According to legend, a Maya princess was destined to marry the prince of a neighboring kingdom, but instead fell in love with a noble warrior from her own village. Enraged, her father announced his intention to kill the warrior. The fear-stricken young woman wailed, and pleaded with the king for the life of her beloved. If he were spared, she swore, she would willingly marry the prince as had originally been the plan.

The king listened to his sobbing daughter and consoled her. Her handsome warrior would live. And the promise was kept… in a way. A wizard was called in and, before the eyes of the court, turned the handsome young man into a wretched beetle. Horrified, the princess scooped him into her hands and ran off to her room. She adorned the beetle with the most beautiful jewels she could find and placed him on her breast, so he would always be near her heart.

The Makech is a custom on its way out. Today, it’s exceptionally rare to see women actually wearing one, and finding a store which sells them can be tricky. We asked around Mérida’s Mercado de Artesanias, on Calle 65/58, and eventually tracked down a shop that had a few richly-decorated makeches stumbling around a little cage. I held one briefly. They’re quite large and powerful, and I couldn’t imagine it crawling around my chest all day, even if it were my lost beloved.

Location of the Mercado de Artesanias

Travel Health Insurance For Your Yucatan Trip

The Yucatan Makech
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February 3, 2014 at 6:01 pm Comments (3)

Oxcutzcab and the Ruta Puuc

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Some of the Yucatán’s most impressive Maya ruins are laid out in a convenient row along the Ruta Puuc. Beginning in the village of Oxkutzcab, we made a rough semi-circle to the south and west, visiting caves, an eco-museum dedicated to cocoa, and five archaeological sites, among them the ruins of Uxmal.

The Puuc-era Maya, who flourished between AD 800 and 1000, situated themselves around a fertile valley of the same name (pronounced, by the way, like “pook” and not “pooch”, as we had been saying). The largest of the Puuc cities was Uxmal, though there were other major population centers such as Kabah and Sayil.

With an itinerary that included five archaeological sites, I thought we had planned a comprehensive tour of the region. But that was only until we were shown a map of all the ruins that have been discovered in the Puuc Valley. There are hundreds, and archaeologists are still uncovering more.

We stayed the night at Oxkutzcab, about 90 minutes south of Mérida, a pleasant town and the Yucatán’s citrus capital. With crates upon crates of oranges, lemons and limes packed up and bound for Mérida, walking around the morning market was a rich olfactory experience. It takes place every day in the main plaza of the town, directly across from the cathedral. The prime location underscores the importance of the citrus trade to Oxkutzcab.

With our busy Ruta Puuc itinerary, we didn’t have enough time to properly explore the town. But after visiting the market, we did track down an interesting old railway station, which dates from 1947 and was built in a faux-Maya style, complete with replica masks of Chaac, the rain god. It’s a shame that rail service has been suspended; rumbling through the jungle in an antiquated train would be an unforgettable way to experience the Yucatán.

Location of Oxkutzcab on our Map

No Hidden Cost Car Rental Company Yucatan

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December 23, 2013 at 6:54 pm Comments (3)

A Tour of Mérida’s Markets

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I’ve got one of those brains that appreciates order. I love numbers and logic, and anything organized. I always keep a list of tasks for the day, and often an item on that list will be reminding me to make another list. Seriously. Don’t even get me started on jigsaw puzzles. The challenge of arranging jumbled pieces into a coherent whole? I’m happy just thinking about it.

So, I was a little troubled during our first foray into Mérida’s market. More like, freaked out. It was chaos. Mérida had taken the jigsaw puzzle called “Shopping”, hacked up the pieces with scissors, stuffed them into a piñata, and then hit it with a rocket launcher. I’ve never seen a place as confusing, haphazard, nonsensical, noisy, and absolutely devoid of order.

Even calling the place a “market” is wrong. It’s markets! Three or four markets all loosely clumped together. Maybe there were five. Who knows? It’s impossible to say where one ends and the other begins, and anyway, they’re all spilling out into the streets. Want to buy a shoelace? Right there, next to the disemboweled chicken. D’uh. Down this lane, you can find (in order): yucca-candy, tailor, avocado-lady, voodoo shop, tortillas. How long must it take, before you can make sense of this madness?

Apparently it takes twelve years. That’s how long Rosa Soares, a British-Portuguese expat, has lived in Mexico, and she has an excellent handle on Mérida’s markets. Rosa offers guided visits to tourists, and really knows her stuff. We met her one morning in front of the city cathedral, and followed her around to her favorite spots.

I began the day diligently taking notes on the names of the various spots we visited. But let’s be honest. Although Rosa knew exactly where we were throughout the day, I lost track after about ten minutes. Anyway, attempting to impart specific names and exact locations seems somehow contrary to the anarchic spirit of Mérida’s markets.

We started with a breakfast of panuchos inside one bustling market, and then moved to another which specializes in fruit. We visited a fish hall, then exited onto a road with lunch stalls, and found the dead chickens. And then the live chickens. Rosa knew what every vegetable was, every strange snack. She brought us to a lane of shops where the specialty is sweets, and then out onto the street where we saw a store that makes sauces in bulk.

Eventually, Jürgen and I had to raise the white flag. We had been walking for over two hours, and I had the distinct impression that Rosa could have gone on for two more. For this exhausting tour, she asks for almost no money, insisting that she does it because she loves being outside, meeting people, and helping newcomers become oriented. If you’re interested in an informed tour of Mérida’s most chaotic and colorful side, get in touch.

Location of the San Benito Market (as close to the “center” of Merida’s markets as exists)
Rosa’s Market Tours – Facebook

-Other Great Markets We Visited Around The World: Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Market in Sucre, Vucciria Market in Palermo, San Telmo Sunday Market In Buenos Aires, Jagalchi Fish Market in Busan

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December 22, 2013 at 12:41 am Comments (3)

Eating in Cozumel, Part 2

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During our stay in Cozumel, we adhered to a strict regimen of breakfast, lunch and dinner, every single day, always at a new place. By the end of the week, our bellies were beginning to squeeze through the buttons of our shirts, and we were happy to be done with all the eating. But the meals we enjoyed in Cozumel were among the highlights of our trip.

Eating in Cozumel, Part 1

El Muellecito

Loud music, rock-n-roll decor, and a young crowd hungry for both food and fun are the highlights of El Muellecito (Little Dock). Even though it was a Monday evening when we showed up, we almost couldn’t find a table. There are frequent drink specials which help bring in the crowds, and great retro-rock blasting from the speakers. Perhaps most importantly, the tuna tacos I ordered were incredible.

“What’s that?!” shouts Jürgen.
“The tuna tacos are really good.”
“The music! I can’t hear you! What?”
“I said that I like my tuna tacos! You know… never mind.”
“Okay!”

“How are your tuna tacos?”

La Cocay

La Cocay serves up the best modern cuisine in Cozumel. Actually, it’s the best modern cuisine I’d had anywhere, in a very long time. The creative dishes are tinged with a Mediterranean influence, and we had difficulty deciding which delicious-sounding meal to try. It was so much fun to read the menu that I called the waiter over to ask if there was a sequel.

In the end, we went with the sesame sashimi tuna and the roasted duck breast. The plates were little works of art which I (almost) felt bad about destroying. La Cocay, which is Mayan for “firefly”, is run by an American expat who’s lived on the island for years.

Rolandi’s

Found just below El Muellecito and actually run by the same family, Rolandi’s is much different in terms of style. No loud rock here, just wonderfully prepared Italian cooking. We weren’t that hungry when we sat down, and politely passed on an appetizer. But our waiter wasn’t having any of that nonsense. He first suggested and then insisted we try the octopus carpaccio. “Well, you can bring it out,” we suggested, “but we might not eat it all.” Minutes later, the carpaccio was gone and we were literally licking the plate clean.

The rest of the food was just as good. I had a colorful and rich pasta dish, and Jürgen went for pizza. Having forgotten all that crap about “not being so hungry”, we ordered dessert: Bananas Flambé. Fun to watch, and even more fun to eat.

Kinta

Since it’s owned by the same people who run Kondesa, the super-cool garden restaurant we had patronized on our first night in the city, we had high hopes for Kinta. The two restaurants are similar, both with excellent food and chic decoration, but Kinta is more subdued. While Kondesa might be better with a group of friends, this was perfect for a quiet date.

Kinta bills itself as a Mexican bistro, and its menu is largely based on regional ingredients. There’s grilled shrimp marinated in achiote, scallops served with tomato-corn salsa and cilantro sauce, roasted pork with chiles, mushrooms, almonds, fig marmalade and potatoes… and now my keyboard is covered in drool. Great.

El Mercado

We did a lot of fine dining during our week in Cozumel, at places which cater to foreigners and the island’s well-off locals. It was excellent and interesting food, but not our normal style. So it was almost a relief to have our final meal at San Miguel’s market. Quick and easy snacks like panuchos and empanadas served by no-nonsense women who aren’t the slightest bit concerned about charming us with their breezy style. Nope. Plop your butt down on a stool in this chaotic market where people are buying yucca root and papayas, and munch down delicious tacos as fast as you can.

One thing we realized here, and have noticed in other street joints as well, is that water isn’t always on the menu. I ordered a water, and the guy asked me what kind. Cola? Lemonade? Hibiscus tea? Orange juice? And when I insisted on normal water, he gave me a “weirdo” look, and then had to go to a different stand to fetch it. We would read later that the Maya, both in the past and their ancestors today, are unaccustomed to drinking straight water, always preferring to flavor it.


Jürgen and I were invited guests at most of these restaurants, but of course are sharing our honest opinions. We can wholeheartedly recommend the places listed above, without qualm. For such a small city, San Miguel has an abundance of excellent restaurants… just another reason to stay for an extended visit!

Great Hotels On Cozumel

More Pics from El Muellecito
More Pics from La Cocay
More Pics from Rolandi’s
Another Pic from Kinta
More Pics from the Cozumel Market
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December 16, 2013 at 12:54 am Comment (1)
The Legend of the Makech Jürgen and I aren't the types to spend much time thinking about jewelry. Neither of us owns a single piece, not a ring nor a bracelet, and I very rarely notice the jewelry worn by others. But when the piece in question is a living beetle, it's a little hard to ignore.
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