For our final day in Mérida, we arranged a custom tour through Mayan Ecotours. We chose this approach because we wanted to see the caves at Lol-Tun, the ruins of Uxmal and, time permitting, a hacienda. The group tours we found did not offer this combination and while we could have rented a car for a DIY approach, we also wanted a knowledgeable guide for the day.
Mayan Ecotours charged us $223 US for the day, plus admission fees, which was very reasonable. They were a bit lax in getting the trip officially booked, and it wasn’t until a few days before our departure that we had it booked and paid for.
At precisely 9 AM their van pulled up and we were greeted by Israel, our guide for the day, who was well informed and absolutely delightful. On the drive south toward Lol-Tun we passed the Ecomuseo de Cacao and hearing us discuss it, Israel suggested that we stop on the way back.
My wife is fascinated by caves, and the visit of Lol-Tun was one of her highlights of our entire trip. It was just us, Israel, a couple from South Africa and the cave guide, who works for tips. There is much Mayan history to be learned on the tour, and it was well worth the drive. The cave features two hollow stalactites that when pounded, seem to utter the words “Lol … Tun.” And while I don’t buy the claim that the final room was one that the guide “never shows to anybody but was making an exception” for us, particularly because it came just moments before he was due his tips, it was a fascinating experience.
On our way from Lol-Tun to Uxmal, we did indeed stop at the Ecomuseo de Cacao, where we witnessed a Mayan cacao ceremony, performed by five men in white garb. I felt a little guilty that they were performing solely for our benefit, but noticed a sign on the way out that these ceremonies are regularly scheduled and we happened to arrive just in time to see one. And on the way out we were also shown how the ancient Mayans prepared their cacao beverage, complete with a sample. We were free to flavor ours with a choice of authentic seasonings. I found a pinch of chile was delicious.
On the drive toward Uxmal, we were repeating the chant we heard during the ceremony and joking with Israel that we should look for it on CD or at least on YouTube. I wished later we didn’t repeat this chant, since it turned out to be a prayer for rain—a prayer that was granted moments after arriving at Uxmal.
We initially told Israel that we were determined to tour Uxmal even in the pouring rain, but when lightning struck the caretaker’s house just behind us he implored us to wait at least until the lightning had ended. While waiting I noticed that everyone at Uxmal seemed to know Israel by name. When the storm had subsided to a reasonable degree we pressed on with our tour. Uxmal was one of my major reasons for visiting Mérida, and I was going to climb the Grand Pyramid even in the rain. Sidestepping many flooded areas, we walked around the grounds for about an hour and a half, listening to Israel’s descriptions of each of the many building complexes. Uxmal did not disappoint, even with the uncooperative weather. By the time we left it looked as if the storm was ready for another wave, which indeed it was, starting again as we headed out.
Israel got a phone call and he asked if we still wanted to stop at Hacienda Ochil. Due to the weather and now late hour they wanted to close if we weren’t coming. We assured him that we did want to stop, and it was nearly 5 PM by the time we arrived. Our intent was to see the hacienda itself, but it seemed as their expectation was that we were stopping for dinner. We were seated in the restaurant, where we decided to order a little something to tide us over until we returned to Mérida, where we had planned dinner at Casa de Frida. So my wife ordered some cochinita tacos and I had my first longaniza de Valladolid, a very smoky sausage flavored with achiote. We wondered whether they were disappointed that they had stayed open for two people who ordered only appetizers. While waiting for our food I snuck off and took a few pictures of the grounds. It was still raining when we got back to Mérida at about 6:30. We were quite pleased with our day and in retrospect we were glad to have hired a tour, since driving those back roads in the pouring rain would have been more adventure than we were seeking.
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