Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Wanderings: One Day to Dzemul -- Afternoon

I wrote last week (previous post) about the first part of this short trip, a day dedicated to wandering and exploring in the Yucatàn countryside. My friend Victor and I spent a morning making our way to the pueblo of Dzemul, and after lunch headed out in search of the beach.

Instead of driving directly to the coast, we decided to stop off for a few minutes on the outskirts of Dzemul at Hacienda San Eduardo, an operating hennequen (sisal fiber) hacienda that appears to be in beautiful condition. A huge proportion of the old haciendas in Yucatàn have been divided up, some abandoned and often the buildings fallen into ruins, and most of those that are not in decrepit condition have been turned into guarded, private estates or hotels, spas, meeting centers, and other types of businesses and tourist attractions. Many are sumptuously redone and feature lush gardens, gourmet restaurants, pools, golf and tennis, wireless internet and all possible modern amenities. The reality of the haciendas was that despite grand and imposing architecture, most in their day were fairly remote, rustic, and not particularly luxurious places to stay. For this reason I think that San
Eduardo probably gives a better impression of what a hacienda looked like in the old days. It is a functioning plantation, and like any working ranch or farm, is a practical place and not primarily dedicated to luxury or leisure. We stopped several times to walk and look at the architecture, the old railroad, and a gorgeous, spirited dark-brown mare tethered outside a home. Hacienda San Eduardo seems friendly. I plan to make another visit and ask permission to go inside and see how they work the fields and process the fiber.

Shortly after leaving San Eduardo we were on a newer highway which bypasses Dzemul and just outside of the pueblo begins to curve northward toward the coast. Destination: Telchac Puerto, a little fishing village, sprinkled with summer homes, that I had heard of but never visited. Nearing the coast, we began to catch the rich, salty aroma of the mangroves. Suddenly the trees thinned out and we were crossing the estuary that parallels large stretches of the northern Yucatàn coast, separated from the open Gulf of Mexico by barrier islands or ridges of dunes, upon which are constructed most of the beach side towns.

I had my eyes focused in the distance, looking for rooftops, tall coconut palms and other telltale signs that we were nearing the coast, when suddenly I heard, "WOOOOOOW, LOOOOOOK!" and promptly pulled the car off to the shoulder of the road. "Que lindo, flamencos!" Hundreds, possibly thousands of hot-pink flamingos dotted the water, stretching from the edges of the road off as far as we could see.

To see so many of these beautiful birds in one place is a stunning experience, and to happen upon them without expecting to makes it much more exciting. But my friend kept Ooooo-ing and exclaiming in such an extended way that I asked him why he was so excited. He replied simply, "I have never seen real, wild flamingos. Only on TV and at the zoo." I expressed my surprise that he, a nature fanatic and lifelong resident of the area, had never seen these birds before. And, even as I blurted the question, "Why not?" and Victor began to explain, I realized that I already knew the answer.

A foreigner with the right attitude living in a new environment for a few years can begin to feel very at ease and comfortable in a new culture. You can learn the language, learn about the customs and fit in to a large extent. However, it is impossible to get completely out of one's own cultural and socio-economic frame of reference. A Mexican or another Yucatecan probably would not have asked, "why not?" My somewhat incredulous question was strictly based upon my own privileged experience. Although a school teacher like I am, Victor grew up in a hard-working family in a small inland pueblo, where they have never had a refrigerator or a car. Victor and his family financed his education through hard work, and sometimes his father would sell off livestock when tuition came due. American-style middle-class vacations, closing up the house and piling the whole family into the car for a trip, aren't a reality for much of working and rural Mexico. My instinctive assumption that because the flamingos are within an easy drive of his home that Victor would have had opportunities to see them was false, and after all this time living among Mexican people I should have known better. Lesson learned.

After our wonderful bird-watching experience we were a little disappointed by Telchac Puerto. It is the rustic, sleepy type of beach town I prefer, with a few little seafood restaurants, fishermen, and mostly dilapidated beach homes. However, there has been some strong weather and a bit of coastal erosion in the area, and when we arrived it was breezy, chilly, and the beach at near-high tide was covered with a thick layer of seaweed. We decided not to try swimming.
We did walk a little, watched kids fly kites, and enjoyed observing pelicans and cormorants fish among some old pilings. A couple of the restaurants looked interesting, and one had good live music, but since we had eaten, we decided to sample these attractions on another occasion. Soon I put the car in gear, and as we left the puerto on a sandy access road along the beach began to talk about the ride home, including the promise we had made in the morning to stop in Baca and check on prices of baby coconut palm. Once again I was abruptly stopped by an exclamation from the passenger seat, "WOOOOOW, LOOOOOK! COCOS!" There, between two boarded-up summer houses, in a narrow, coconut palm-fringed lane full of weeds and dried-up palm fronds, lay dozens of fallen coconuts, many of which were in the first stages of sprouting. Since this was a public right-of-way, and much of the debris, including the coconuts, appeared to have been tossed over the walls of the nearby homes as garbage, we assumed anything found here would be fair pickings. We gleefully loaded up the back of the car with sprouting coconuts. Some of those are now in my back yard, and the rest happily putting down roots on Victor's land back in his home pueblo. Passing through Baca on the way home with a little "moooo" and a chuckle, we didn't need to stop.


  1. Que lindo y interesante. Love the pictures of the sprouting coconuts. Jeanne

  2. How long have you lived in Mexico? I appreciate your introspective observation, that we are always part of our original culture. It sounds elementary, but your example of the application is eye opening. Cheri


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