Sunday, August 10, 2014

MERIDA, YUCATAN: THE WHITE CITY










After spending a few years living in both Central and South America I felt it was time to go “home.” My husband asked, but where is home? It did not take me long to respond that to me home was Mexico. But, of course, Mexico is a very large country and could I be more specific? After giving it some serious consideration we realized that one city that we had never visited was the capital of Yucatan and that city was Merida. So without having any true sense of the place we booked our flight from Argentina and arrived back in Mexico at Cancun. From there it was just an easy four hour bus ride to Merida and we were immediately captivated by this enchanted city.

Before we get started, can you locate the state of Yucatan in Mexico?



Hint: it's on the Gulf of Mexico and it is PURPLE!  

For those who don't have the patience to view my album at the end of this post:



NOW FOR A COUPLE OF OPENING PEEKS:



Merida offers amazing entertainment for all to enjoy!


The traditional music and dances are outstanding and beautiful.



The Cathedral on the plaza of Merida.


Traditional horse-drawn white carriages are called calesas and are used in parades and for rides around town by locals and visitors.


The Easter parade is spectacular and the beautiful local women make it even more so!


Maybe it was “blind” luck, but we succumbed to the charm of this city immediately. To me the magic of Merida was the fact that it was such an interesting blend of indigenous Mayan culture, pre-Colombian Spanish colonial charm, vibrant modern Mexican lifestyle, and the exciting contemporary influences of residents from many different countries and different regions of Mexico. Merida was exciting, happening, and yet very peaceful and traditional. A combination that was truly attractive and unique.



The municipal government of Oaxaca is very active in sponsoring a great variety of cultural and artistic events throughout the year.


Merida's cathedral looms over the zocalo (plaza).


The main plaza with weekend vendors selling local arts and crafts.


One of the municipal buildings on the main plaza in Merida which is a great place to watch the world go by!

 A local couple decide to set up "shop" at our front door - welcome!


Many huge mansions were built in Merida at the turn of the 20th century based on the production and huge sales of hemp rope and twine world wide. It was also known locally as "Green Gold" because of the great wealth it brought to the area.



A colorful "mansion" in the Mejorada neighborhood of Merida has been converted to a commercial space.



Don't you wish you could achieve this colorful "weathered look" intentionally?


A sombrero is muy importante considering the strong sun and the clear blue skies!


The blend of old and new influences is everywhere in Merida. The municipal government of Merida is amazingly pro-active in creating cultural, artistic, and entertainment events to be enjoyed by residents and visitors alike. There is something going on all the time. The only issue is trying to balance all the possibilities on a daily basis! One of the annual highlights in Merida is its spectacular Carnival parade just prior to the beginning of Lent. I will be posting more photographs of this amazing event in the future.



Carnival celebrations in Merida are some of the biggest and best in Mexico!


Carnival in Merida is NOT to be missed!


Some lovely young senoritas at the annual Red Cross Benefit Dance


Merida is located in the middle of the peninsula of Yucatan which makes it also a convenient starting point for visiting many of the surrounding areas and attractions. There is something to entice every category of traveler. Within easy driving distance, or by convenient public transportation, a visitor can enjoy restored ex-haciendas, small traditional pueblos such as Izamal, nature preserves such as the Celestun Flamingo Reserve, the beaches on the Gulf of Mexico, the magnificent archaeological ruins of Chichen Itza, Uxmal, and Tulum, the underground cenotes (water “holes”) such as Cuzama and Chunkanan, and the nearby Spanish colonial city of Valladolid, and more. Whew!



The Mayan tradition and lifestyle still thrives and is the very fiber of Yucatan.


Many Spanish colonial churches are built in and around Merida in Yucatan


The Gulf coast is only 30 minutes from Merida when in need of a salt water fix.


The Celestun Flamingo Reserve on way to Campeche.

The marshes at the flamingo reserve are fun to explore by boat and the cool water is delightful!


It's lunch time for the seagulls on the Gulf of Mexico of Yucatan.



Visiting a restored Hacienda outside of Merida is a fun way see the countryside. It also gives a visitor a glimpse of what life was like at the turn of the twentieth century.

 The quiet countryside outside of Merida is very much like it has been for many, many centuries!

 
A visit to a former hacienda which is just begging to be bought and restored to it's former glory! Anyone need a project? 




An abandoned garden in an abandoned hacienda waiting for someone to rescue and restore it. Maybe a B&B?


And if this is not enough, the Caribbean coast including the ruins at Tulum, the Mayan Riviera, and our favorite beach escape is an easy drive away from Merida. Here are a couple of photographs of what I will be sharing in another posting for this area of Mexico.


 The ruins at Tulum with its stunning white sand beach is an unbeatable combination!



Can you guess where this might be? It's less than five hours from Merida!



Just thinking of all the great things to see and do in the state of Yucatan makes me want to get back on the bus and take off for a return visit and most especially to Merida. In the meantime, I will just have to dream of a return!

I remember many, many years ago hearing that a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, I am a believer so following is a link to my WEB ALBUM which has additional photos for this posting.

LINK TO MERIDA, YUCATAN PHOTO ALBUM

I sincerely look forward to hearing from my visitors. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any comments, suggestions, or questions. Until next time, saludos and gracias, Laura



Memories are just a click away!

LAGO ATITLAN, GUATEMALA: SIMPLY STUNNING!



Lago Atitlán is renowned as one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, and Aldous Huxley famously wrote of it: "Lake Como, it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing."

Without a doubt, my husband and I found this beautiful volcanic lake in the highlands of Guatemala to be simply stunning. Consequently, I thought it appropriate to quote the famous British writer, Aldous Huxley, at the opening of this posting since his eloquence so aptly expressed our sentiments. Lago Atitlan so thoroughly captivated us from our two previous visits, we decided to leave our home in the amazing Spanish colonial city of Antigua and move to Lago Atitlan for a completely different living experience.



Local fishermen still fish in the traditional manner using hook, line, and net.

It was time for a new adventure and a new challenge. Ringed by seven colorful and traditional Mayan villages, Lago Atitlan was a perfect setting not only to enjoy a more casual outdoor lifestyle, but also to learn more about the traditional indigenous Mayan culture of Guatemala. So if you are ready, please join me and let's visit Lago Atitlan!



The views of Lago Atitlan with its stunning scenery of volcanoes and blue skies never fail to delight the viewer!

Lake Atitlan is without a doubt one of Central America's most stunning destinations. Located in the Western Highlands of Guatemala the lake is approximately three hours from Guatemala City or two hours from the city of Antigua. The word "Atitlan" means "at the water" in the Nahuatl language. The lake has a maximum dept of 340 meters (l,120 feet), a circumference of approximately 50 kilometers (31 miles), and an elevation at about 5100 feet (1560 meters) above sea level which provides a comfortable temperate climate.



View of Panajachel and Lake Atitlan as seen from a viewpoint on the way down from the traditional town of Solola.

Lake Atitlán was formed about 85,000 years ago from a massive volcanic explosion that formed the existing caldera. Because of that explosion, Lake Atitlán is one of the world's deepest lakes. The lake is endorheic which means it does not have an outlet to the sea. Lake Atitlan's three massive volcanoes on its southern flank are named San Pedro, Atitlan, and Toliman.


Some of the local boats of transport as seen from the shoreline in Panajachel.

Lago Atitlan is also embellished with villages of the Maya people which makes this destination unique and extraordinary! Since there is no road that encircles the entire lake communities are reached either by boat or by roads from the mountains that may have short extensions along the shore. With its Mayan culture, dramatic volcanoes, blue waters, and lush vegetation Lago Atitlan is truly an unforgettable sight.





 Mother and daughter being silly for the camera man on Lago Atitlan!


Local water taxis which service the towns around the lake from Panajachel.

There are traditional villages, each with its own unique personality, located around the lake In these villages the Maya culture is still prevalent and strong with the majority of women and some of the men still wearing their traditional clothing. The majority of the residents still speak their native indigenous language.

             
Check out these amazing men's hand-embroidered pants and shirts from Santiago Atitlan.


The Maya people of Atitlán are predominantly Tz'utujil and Kaqchikel. It is thought that the Mayan Tz'utujil people migrated from Mexico to Lake Atitlan around 900 BC. During the Spanish conquest of the Americas, the Kaqchikel initially allied themselves with the invaders to defeat their historic enemies, the Tz'utujil and Quiche Maya. But they themselves were eventually conquered by the Spanish and subdued when they refused to pay tribute to the Spanish.


Smiling faces of two local Mayan women we met on the shores of Lago Atitlan.

When we lived on Lago Atitlan we chose to live in the the town of Panajachel. We appreciated Panajachel for its location, conveniences, amenities, and lakeside beauty. We found that living just a couple of blocks from the main tourist area provided us with the ambiance and charm of Guatemala that was so important to us. Our neighbors were local nationals and included many Mayan families. We shopped at the local open-air mercado and ate at the small family owned comedors (eateries). It was ideal for our needs.


Ladies visiting Panajachel from Chichicastenango with their wonderful and colorful textiles.


Shop, shop until you drop, drop! 

Having said that, "Pana" as it is commonly called, is the main town and entry to the lake with the most tourists, hotels, restaurants, shops, etc., etc. In my opinion, it is still the best place to base yourself for visiting the other smaller villages around the lake. 



Each town around Lago Atitlan is unique and, time permitting, should be visited. Part of the fun of visiting these towns is the boat ride (either a large ferry to Santiago Atitlan or by smaller water taxis to the other towns). The main point of departure is Panajachel, the "hub" of the lake. The following is a list of most of the villages of Lago Atitlan and a few of the attractions/activities you can expect to find in each of them. Needless to say, you will find many delights and surprises along the way and that is part of the great experience!



Santiago Atitlán: Visit Maximon, the Guatemala folk hero, shop until you drop for textiles and souvenirs, hike up for views of San Pedro Volcano, visit on their Market Day which is Friday. 



Two amigos (are they brothers or twins?) checking out the action in Santiago Atitlan.


San Pedro La Laguna: Climb San Pedro Volcano, study Spanish, hike to nearby village of San Juan, chill with fellow backpackers, eat gringo food, check on the outside world and your emails. This is a very popular place for visitors and expats alike.



The Catholic church of San Pedro La Laguna and its pretty plaza.


Santa Catarina Palopo: a 4 kilometer (2.5 mile) day hike from Pana, hang with locals and experience lake life with traditional Kaqchikel culture. Shop for locally made reed mats, colorfully women's huipils, and men's shirts. There are hot springs close to town and an art gallery.



Lovely Mayan senoritas in their colorful huipils (blouses) and faldas (skirts).


San Antonio Palopó: a 6 kilometer (3.7 mile) hike from Santa Catarina Palopo. Laid back and a simple Mayan Village which is well known for its distinctive ceramics and its traditional clothing including women's huipils and men's head dresses. Nearby are hot springs and a cave used for local ceremonies. Hop a pickup back to Panajachel.




Traditional clothing designs reflect the hometown region of the wearer.


Santa Cruz La Laguna: a small village between Jaibalito and San Marcos which can only be reached by boat with a few lakeside hotels and the main village up the hill. Activities: hang out, chill, relax, eat, sleep, or hike in the surrounding hills. Santa Cruz has the only PADI dive center on the lake. This was our "dropout" place of choice on numerous visits!

San Marcos La Laguna: located on the northern shore of the lake it is a place to meditate, refresh your energy, hike up to the Indian’s Nose mountain summit for amazing views over the lake, sunbathe at "the rocks," or have a picnic at the "sacred place" which also offers excellent vistas. Whew!




   Oh, the joy of being alive on glorious Lago Atitlan!

San Juan La Laguna: the road north from San Pedro La Laguna passes around a head land to San Juan La Laguna (2 km), a traditional lakeside town which is an emerging destination famous for its natural colored dyed fabrics. Look for Los Artesanos de San Juan, the women weavers' association that uses natural dyes in their textiles. Weaving classes are also possible.



    Now this is the way to take on the day!




So to recap what you can do at Lago Atitlan I would say at the least you can: hike, kayak, climb, swim, swing in a hammock, study Spanish, "practice" yoga, visit Mayan towns, eat, eat, eat, and shop until you drop! OR YOU CAN SIMPLY SIT AND STARE AT THE SIMPLY STUNNING LAKE AND ITS VISTAS!

ONE LAST VERY IMPORTANT THING TO DO WHILE VISITING LAGO ATITLAN


Visit the traditional Mayan town of CHICHICASTENANGO on either their Thursday or Sunday Market Day! Photographs of visiting "Chichi" are also included in my Web Album and Slideshow that you will find at the conclusion of this posting.


The Sunday market scene at Chichicastenango can make you feel out of control! 

One of my favorite links to this fantastic area is:
http://www.footprinttravelguides.com/latin-america/guatemala/lake-atitlan-and-around/around-lake-atitlan/

I hope you have enjoyed visiting Lago Atitlan in Guatemala as much as I have. Reliving the memories of our time spent there has made me very nostalgic with a very strong urge to get "back on the bus" to revisit this stunning lake and its special villages and people. But in the meantime I will share my photographs with you and that will have to suffice! The following SLIDESHOW WITH CAPTIONS is of my Web Album with its link below. I hope you enjoy!





BLOG: LAGO ATITLAN, GUATEMALA


As always, I look forward to hearing from my visitors. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any comments, suggestions, or questions either by direct email to me or by leaving a comment on the web page. Until next time, saludos and gracias, Laura


                                                          Memories are just a click away!