Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Wanderings: Ranch Country

Carnaval, with its orgy of music, dancing, extravagant costumes and parades, lubricated by plenty of good food and beer, ended Tuesday. I had planned to write about Carnaval this week, but other things came up and I did not get down there much. I walked to the Paseo de Montejo for about an hour one night, drank one beer and enjoyed the spectacle, and that was all I managed.

On Tuesday, when an estimated 400,000 - 700,000 people were enjoying the last blast of Carnaval only a few blocks from my house, I was not home. I was rumbo a Izamal, out Izamal way, once again looking at land that is for sale. I like Mèrida, but think more and more of having a little hideaway somewhere quiet, with more room for fruit trees and space between me and my neighbors.

I'd been on the property, a section of former ranch land, a few days earlier, then asked permission from the absentee owners to go back out, inspect the property lines, and get a little farther into the brush. With a larger property, it's the only good way to know exactly what you are getting. This is a nice piece of land, with an old house, working windmill and well, a cave, some corrals and many beautiful arched gates (photos). It also has an aguada, or surface lake fed by an underground water source, like a cenote, but not down in a cave. The property is attractive; I'll not say much more or publish the more revealing photos that might identify it because it is private property and I had permission only to walk around as a potential buyer.

I'd wanted to go out again because what I had seen on the survey plat, on Google Earth, and in person on the first visit left me with a lot of questions. The survey was confusing and the proportions did not coincide with the satellite images on Google or what I had seen. And, it appeared that a section which the owners indicated was included in the property sale and which I had looked at on the first visit was excluded in the technical description with survey points, distances and compass directions which accompany the plat. Then, I was just curious to see more of the area. I invited my friend Victor, a great companion in exploration, and very knowledgeable about the region, to come along. We packed food, water, camera, maps, hats and short straight machetes, or morunas, in the car, and headed out the highway.

Since it was a holiday for many, early traffic was light, and in 15 minutes we had filled the tank, passed under Mèrida's Periferico and onto the divided Mèrida-Cancùn highway. Forty-five minutes later, we turned onto the ranch road, which winds through leafy glades and pastures, until we reached the turnoff we were

looking for. We parked near the house and shouted, "buenos dias," to warn the worker who is sometimes present that he had company. No one was home and the doors hung wide open, so we were able to peek inside the two ample rooms of the old house. The floors were piled high with ears of dried corn and sacks. A hammock hung in the middle of one of the rooms, and two hats and farming implements sat on a bench. In the other room there was more corn, votive candles, and a shrine with cross in one corner.

We looked briefly at the house, which is in habitable shape but needs some work, and inspected the windmill. It was working, and the watering troughs in the old corral were full. There is a big, round stone water tank in back of the house that would make a superb rustic swimming pool some day, when it's cleaned up, trees growing inside are taken

out, and the cracks repaired. The land is rocky, but appears to be fertile enough to support an orchard and garden. We opened a gate and walked through one of the ancient arches, to the aguada, its periphery shaded by large, old trees, the water glowing a bright

algae green in the morning sun. Large turtles sunned themselves on rocks. We startled a pair of zopilotes, vultures, and they soared above. A large hawk I had seen on the earlier visit did not make an appearance, but smaller colorful birds swam and flew and sang. I began to imagine a trail cleared around this small lake, with places here and there to rest and view the wildlife. This is exactly the type of place, in this flat land of no rivers, where wildlife congregates. Besides birds, deer, other mammals and the reptiles they call "cocodrilos" all ought to present themselves, if one has the patience to wait for them. We continued, cutting through brush at times, partially around the aguada. Many interesting varieties of trees, cactus, and flowering plants grow in the area.

However, we soon started running into things that raised questions. We found shiny new barbed wire and a corridor brushed out as if someone was planning to keep animals there or marking a property division. There was sectioned-off area full of cattle, with a house and well, on land the owners indicated is part of the sale. A man on a bicycle we met there said that these sections of the old ranch had been divided and sold off some time ago. Was there a communication problem with the owners that led to me receiving wrong information, or have people moved onto the land? Invasions are not uncommon in Mexico; if someone uses and lives on land long enough and the owner does not take measures to have them leave, the user can gain legal possession. The man asked me if I was the owner of the ranch parcel with the house and aguada; he said no one had ever seen the owners, and people thought they were letting good grazing land go to ruin by letting it grow back into brush and trees. This started looking to me like a situation that might encourage an incursion.

I should say my understanding is that this sort of situation is not very common around Yucatàn, and doesn't happen at all when owners are around and the land is in use. It is not a conflicted area; the man who told me these things was friendly and pleasant, and there was no undertone of discomfort or resentment. He was just telling me the way things are. In fact, if what the man said is true, we were trespassing on land owned by his son-in-law when we met him, and he did not ask us what we were doing there or even tell us we were on his family land until I started asking about the property boundaries. We talked a little more, then said thank you, shook hands, and went on our own ways.
As we walked away from the meeting, my hiking boot blew out. A large section of sole suddenly became unhinged, tripping me and making it hard to walk without lifting my right foot high into the air with each step. Victor, a country boy, selected a nearby vine, chopped it down, and neatly bound my boot together. It wasn't pretty, but I could walk. I decided we'd had enough for this day. After waiting without luck a while for the owner of a neighboring ranch who might have been able to clear up some of my questions, we were back on the divided highway.

Suddenly, an aggressive-looking white convertible loomed up in my mirror and passed at very high speed. I couldn't believe my eyes, but on the rear of this vehicle I spied the flying-B badge. Just minutes back I'd been hacking through the bush with straw-hatted Mayan campesinos and picking ticks off my pants, my boot bound up with a piece of vine, and now passing me was the latest-model Drophead Bentley Coupe, worth a quarter of a million dollars, maybe, and more commonly seen in places like oil-rich Arab states, Southern California, or perhaps the motorways around London and autobahns of Europe. Probably some wealthy empresario zooming to Mèrida from Cancùn; another world. I prefer this simpler, more interesting, though sometimes untidy, one.


  1. Thanks for sharing Mark. The land I am looking at in Sonora is selling for $100 an acre. What is this land selling for?

  2. Asking price on this one works out to about $366/acre. It would be less without the aguada, house, windmill, well and arches. It's also close to a divided highway for easy access and would less if more remote. The market is all over the place: you can find land for much less, and you can pay many, many times that price. Locals often pay a lot less than foreigners.


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