The ruins at Ek Balam, near Valladolid, Yucatan


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Page 5: Ticul, the Puuc Route, and Uxmal, January 31 - February 2.

Of course the first 40 minutes of the ride to Ticul involved finding our way out of Merida into the countryside. We started out just as we had a couple of days before on our short loop ride. We passed through several small villages. The photo below left is in Uayalceh. Many of the homes in villages like this are in the traditional Mayan style. Below right, bicycle cart in Sacalum.

The problem with the ride to Ticul was sun and heat. In the very beginning we were headed generally southeast, and then due south, so the sun was in our faces the entire time, and there were no clouds for relief. Also, there was a mild headwind, nothing terrible, but enough to slow us down and make the ride that much longer. We stopped in the shade at various villages, but by the time we reached Ticul, we were both fried, and Barbara was nearly as red as a cooked lobster!

We first found our way to the hotel that's supposedly the best in town, and it was perfectly fine, but it was right in the center of things, and this is a busy, noisy place. Barbara hoped for something quieter and greener, so despite my grousing, we searched out Posada el Jardin, and were we glad that we did! The grounds of this posada are shady and the room we got was basic but clean, with a separate kitchen area and two good beds. Better yet, there was a pool just outside with surprisingly cool water. Just what we needed!

Our room, at left, was tucked behind a fig tree, just a few yards from the pool. As far as we could tell, there was no one else at Posada Jardin, and we promised the friendly owner we'd put something on Trip Advisor about how much we liked it.

On Tuesday we pushed on to Santa Elena, via Oxkutzcab and the Puuc Route, about 75 kilometers or 47 miles. Don't ever let anyone tell you that the Yucatan is all flat! When we headed south from Oxkutzcab and climbed into the Puuc hills, there were a few short stretches that must have been 12 degrees at least.

About 7 kilometers south of Oxkutzcab, we stopped at the Grutas de Loltun, the largest caverns in the Yucatan. You can't go in without a guide; we were joined by two Hungarian couples and went on our one-hour walk underground. The caves were quite impressive, but of course it was difficult to get photos without lights or a tripod. These are the best I could do:

The Caverns of Loltun are the biggest in the Yucatan. They were carved by a river through the limestone. Both Maya and pre-Mayan people used them as a source of water and clay. At one point the Mayans fortified part of the cavern as a defensive position in a war agains the Spanish. Below right: Paintings of hands were done on a cave wall; we saw similar hand painting later, at Uxmal.

For the next 20 miles or so, we rolled through the Puuc hills, passing three archaeological sites along the way. We stopped and rested at one of them, Labna, but decided not to go in because we're spending too much on entry fees. The road was well paved, extremely quiet, and gently rolling. The only problem was that even the gentlest of hills can be a miserable experience in direct, 90 degree sun! But all things considered, this was quite a pleasant ride — green, little or no litter, curves and occasional hills — more like cycling in Vermont than anyplace else in the Yucatan!

We arrived in Santa Elena in mid afternoon and headed for Bungalows Sacbe, where we had a basic but clean room with a terribly hot shower, and a cold-water pool down the jungly path. The grounds are green and attractive, and we both fell asleep in the hammocks.

We stayed at Bungalows Sacbe for two nights so that we could spend time Wednesday at Uxmal. It was wonderful, literally, full of wonders. The buildings were more graceful and beautifully decorated than those at Chichen Itza.

The Magician's Palace is the most imposing structure at Uxmal. The stairway is lined on either side with faces of Chac, the Rain God. Unfortunately climbing the steps is now forbidden.

Below: Visitors are still allowed to climb the Great Pyramid, but it is steep going.

We made it to the top — and back down — in one piece. (That shouldn't be taken for granted. Rules against climbing most of the pyramids at ancient ruins in Yucatan were implemented just after another American geezer tumbled to her death at Chichen Itza a few years ago.) The Palace of the Magician, the Nunnery, and other structures are visible behind us.

Below: A view of the Magician's Palace from the pyramid.

This is another structure at Uxmal, not yet restored, called The Dovecote. We thought it was one of the most beautiful. There were many more.

Remember the hands on the walls of the Caverns of Loltun? Below left are hands on the underside of an arch at Uxmal. These hands are "positives," that is, the hands are painted against a light background. The hands in the cave were "negatives," blank silhouettes outlined by a darker color. Apparently this had to do with the contrast between the underworld and the world above ground.

Below right: There were more iguanas running around Uxmal than there were tourists — and there were many tourists.

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