The third ancient city which we visited on our trip along the Yucatán’s Ruta Puuc was Sayil. Long since abandoned to the jungle, this extraordinary site is still paying silent testimony to the magnificence of the Maya civilization.
One of Mexico’s biggest cave systems is found just south of Oxkutzcab. With woolly mammoth bones and evidence of human presence dating back to the Pleistocene Age, the Grutas de Loltún (Caves of the Flower Stone) served as a refuge to both the Maya and to those who came before them.
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 tiny Gulf Coast town of Celestún was about as remote as possible, but to reach our hotel, we had to continue past its final shack and along a ridiculously bumpy dirt road for another half hour before reaching our hotel. Xixim is truly the back of beyond, and when we pulled into the parking lot, we knew the wearying trek was about to pay off.
Walking home after lunch in Mérida, we encountered a funny old dog nervously guarding the doorway to an antiques store. It was skinny, small and completely bald, save a few whiskers sprouting from its head, and I wondered aloud how old it must be. “A year and a half”, came an answer from inside the store. Wait, this thing was a puppy? Indeed, as I took a knee, it bounded over to me full of playful energy. I reached out tentatively and touched my first Xoloituzcuintle: the Mexican Hairless Dog.
It’s a considerable hike from the center, but the Parque Centernario (Centennial Park) on the west side of Mérida certainly warrants the effort, or the cost of a taxi, if only to visit the city zoo, which hosts a surprising number of exotic animals.
The Plaza Grande is the heart of Mérida, and an exhausting day of sightseeing can be had just by touring the buildings which surround it. After visiting the city cathedral on the east and the Palacio del Gobierno on the north, we cut straight across the plaza to check out the Casa de Montejo on the plaza’s southern edge.