A snuggle of Fruit Bats

How many cute wee faces can you see?

I always loved the names for groups of animals but the real name for a group of bats is a cauldron of bats. That is just superstitious nonsense – look at those cute little furry faces!   I think there is at least three of them – a mama and two babies, perhaps.  On my very first internship at Chester Zoo in England, I helped edit the zoo magazine which pictured a Dominican Republic fruit bat which the zoo had saved from the edge of extinction. Fruit bats are terribly important to our ecosystem. Their guano or poop fertilizes both the soil and the fruit trees. What would we do without our guavas or bananas or fruit bats?

Just as I was leaving Jaltun Parque near Celestún in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, my guide, Senor Ortega, pointed out the fruit bats nestled in the palm tree. I tried so hard to get a great photograph but this was the best I could process.  When we lived in Cairo, we were woken up by a strange thumping in the back garden.  All we could see in the dark were fallen guavas but then we made out the faint outline of fruit bats knocking the guavas out of the tree and picking them off the ground.  When we lived in our first bought house on an estuary in North Wales, my mum’s cat Tibby came to visit and was terrified by the strange ‘birds’ that flew right at her with their radar.  We have bats in our back yard but go to bed too early to see them…sleepy Teddy and Bunny.

The park also had some orchids

Red Orchid

White Orchid with purple center

The spiny tailed iguana pictured in the last blog lives in hollowed out logs.

Can you see his little face?

Green heron

This is a slightly better shot of my pensive heron with the terracotta water below.  Celestún is an isthmus and just before you reach the beach area you cross over the first body of water.  It looked so tranquil.

What was he fishing for and with what?



A real glimpse of the Yucatan jungle

Pensive Green Heron.  I think this is my favorite ever shot

Angel, my driver in Merida, was intuitive about what I was enjoying.  I got very animated about nature ‘naturalis’ and he suggested that we go to Celestun the day after visiting Mayapan and Dzibiltchaltun archeological sites.  Celestun is famous for its large flocks of pink flamingos that live on what is now a nature reserve.  It is a small beach town situated on an isthmus in the Gulf of Mexico, right around the corner from the Caribbean.  The night before I excitedly googled the area and was concerned about the small boats that take you out to see the flamingos (fear of water in small boats).  Additionally, some of the articles mentioned that the influx of tourists was affecting where the flamingos nested.  They keep moving further away from humans.  I knew the beach would be magnificent but noted that there was a small Nature Park, Jaltun Parque Recreativo, just before the town.

This was a common black hawk. Common for the Yucutan… There was a nest close by.

Angel looked at me quizzically, as he had never gone there before, but followed his GPS and we arrived at a scrubby bit of jungle.  I looked at it uncertainly not knowing that this was going to be the cherry on the cake in Mexico.  No one spoke English but the gentleman who guided me had his wildlife book in both Spanish and English.  We excitedly chatted and I discovered that he was an Ortega – my cousin!  It takes me a while to get my eye in, when hunting for critters, but my guide was an expert.  He could identify every bird song, every tree and all the critters. It’s amazing how you don’t really need a common language when you are in tune with nature.  I perfectly understood that he was telling me about the wonders of nature – one tree, very close to another, was very toxic but the other provided the antidote.  Most of the animals were in the jungle but there were a few in small caged areas.

This is an African tree, planted by birds!

One of them was the Yucatan spiny tailed iguana.  I asked Senor Ortega if I could hold it and he explained,with concern, that they were very fast and I would have to hold it firmly behind the neck.  As an expert lizard catcher, I eagerly held out my hands.  It was a chilly winter morning in Celestun and the poor wee thing was cold.  I snuggled it into my sweater for warmth, delighting in the opportunity to be up close to an indigenous critter.

Carpenter Woodpecker Stop tapping so I can get a decent shot!!!

My guide was delighted at my derring-do and we walked into the jungle where he heard a carpenter woodpecker.  We tracked it down and he was more excited than me!  I knew my camera wasn’t up to a good shot because the woodpecker wouldn’t stop tapping but patiently waited for my guide to get just the right shot!  He was terribly impressed by my ability to track quietly and see birds.  Ah, that native DNA comes in handy at times…

Morelet’s Crocadillo

This is a shot of a Morelet Crocadillo  just gently basking in the stream.  I have seen many alligators and crocodiles but that might have been my only opportunity to see this particular crocodile that is found only in Central America.  Just call me Crocodile Kerry…

A special treat was to pop my head inside the boa’s enclosure and take a shot while they were both hissing at me.  When I got back to the car, tired and happy, Angel looked horrified at my shots of serpientes and shuddered!  Off we drove, along the road into Celestun.  It struck me afterwards that I had been cuddling all sorts of critters and it didn’t even cross my mind to wash my hands.  This might be why I got a parasite in Egypt.

More shots to follow of the Yucatan jungle

Courtship by an Angel…

I saved my most surprising tale from Merida for just before Valentine’s Day. As you know, I had a marvelous driver, Angel, who I paid to drive me all over the Yucatan. We are both naturally chatty and speaking different languages didn’t stop us. I had a Spanish/English book and he had Google Translate when we were in cell phone range. When we first met, he asked me if I wanted to travel in the front or the back. It would have been weird to have been in the back, as though he was limousine driver, so I jumped in the front.

We learned a lot about each other over two days. He showed me photos of his pretty wife and children. They had been married for 14 years and he was astonished that I had been married for 35 years (so am I…) I think he thought I was in my mid 40’s and I would have guessed he was in his late 30’s. On the first day, we chatted about my Mexican Spanish heritage and I told him about my mum and dad. He asked me if I was famous which perplexed and amused me. I think it was because I told him I was a writer and my mum was a model. As many of you now know, being a published writer doesn’t necessarily make you ‘famoso’ or wealthy.

By the second day, we had got into a good groove with our Spanglish banter. I was feeling good and I put on some mascara and lipstick. Maybe he thought it was for him? Both days I just dressed in t-shirts and leggings because the rural Yucatan areas are quite conservative. My expeditions were into potentially dusty and dirty areas, so no point in being glamorous. He was very intuitive about what I would enjoy and had asked all the right questions. Yes, I wanted to see unusual pyramids (no turistas, por favor) but I got most excited about handling an iguana and seeing fruit bats. Curiously, when I showed him my photograph of the Carpenter Woodpecker he knew immediately what it was. Perhaps he had worked in another field before driving.

I make a good traveling companion, if my health is good, and I could see that he enjoyed all the laughter. He told me that I was a really nice, funny person. There are police checkpoints all over the Yucatan and I said, “Lento, Policia!” which means ‘slowly, police!’ Angel wasn’t speeding (he was an excellent driver) but he thoroughly enjoyed my mime of what I do when I see the Texas police, braking really fast. They seem less afraid of Mexican police than we are of Texan ones…

About an hour before we returned to Merida on the second day, he told me that I was very pretty. I laughed and said, ‘Pero vieja (but old)’ “No, no” he insisted “Muy bonita”. Finally, I just accepted the compliment. Then he asked me if I liked to dance and my face lit up. Salsa is my favorite, I shared, and it is very popular in Houston. “Do you have lots of boyfriends?” “No!” I squealed, “I am married.” “Did I have lots of boyfriends before I married?” I explained that I married at age 21 but yes, I did have lots of boyfriends. Of course I did!

So, after beautifully predating courting me for 2 days he came up with the final stunning question, “¿Haces trampa?” which means do I cheat (on my husband). Another squeal of NO from me followed by delighted giggles. I have had plenty of propositions even in recent years but I was beginning to think I was getting to my ‘best before’ date. Then I explained that even though my husband was REALLY old, he was very romantic, telling me he loves me most days and that I love him.

We reached the hotel, having previously organized that he would pick me up for my early flight the third day. He ran around to open my door (please take note, Teddy) and we shook hands while Angel looked at me with big brown eyes. Just at that moment a few Europeans appeared across the road. One of the men shouted in broken English, “You should take her!” Angel didn’t understand what he was saying but I thought, “He very nearly did.”

I was a little anxious about the atmosphere on the ride to the airport the following morning, after my rejection of my suitor. He usually turned up early and I was pacing at the hotel door. Then the red car turned up and I ran out with my suitcase. A woman got out of the car – he had sent his wife!! She was really very pretty and charming. One of his little daughters was in her school uniform, for an unusual school run via the airport with a strange blond lady who spoke bad Spanish. It is not the first time that a much younger man has approached me, even when they know my age. I am complimented and fascinated. Perhaps some of the ageism has disappeared from society. Maybe a good figure and a fun personality negate the age barrier? Keep it coming, guys, because it makes me feel fantastic!

PS. Before anyone mentions hashtags, bear in mind that no boundaries were crossed. I was perfectly comfortable and he just asked me questions. As to whether he was a cheater; I am not sure. It was curious that he showed me his wife and children immediately. Perhaps I just enchanted him and he saw a once in a lifetime opportunity with a quirky white cougar who might be really good in bed….

Dzibilchaltún and the Temple of the Dolls

Temple of the Dolls

Try saying that when you have had a couple of glasses of Mexican Rosé…  Dzibilchaltún, (Dzeebeelchaltoon is the pronunciation and it translates as ‘the place with writing on the walls) is a Maya archeological site close to the city of Mérida in Yucatan, Mexico.  Seven small clay or stone figurines were found at the Temple of the Dolls which led to the name and it is built under the ruins of a previous pyramid.  The city has been continuously occupied for 3000 years.  It was exciting walking towards the Temple along the ‘sacbe’ or white road wondering what type of religious processions took place there.

The white road

The cenôte is likely the reason why the city was situated in that location and it is one of the largest, deepest in the Yucatan.  Dzibilchaltún was a wealthy port, close to the Caribbean and local salt production.  Archeologists have studied just a portion of the site and have found up to 8000 structures – it must have been a buzzing city with a peak population of about 20,000 to 40,000 people, even larger than Mayapan.  Dzibilchaltún was not as remote or quiet as Mayapan but still relatively quiet with many local visitors, some expats and non-tourists just like me!  Throughout the ages Dzibilchaltún has changed from a city to a town to its current status as a village.  It began to decline in popularity after the rise of Chichen Itza.

Dzibiltchaltun Cenote

water hyacinths at cenote

When the Conquistadores arrived they used the local stone from previous structures to build a 16th century chapel which is now also a ruin.

remains of 16th century chapel

Eight stucco masks of the Rain God Chaac were found in the Temple of the Dolls.  The Yucatan has no natural lakes or rivers so rain is still much needed to fill the cenotes and water crops.  My upbringing in Scotland has given me enough rain to last a lifetime…  At the equinoxes the sun shines right through the entrance to the Temple of the Dolls creating a fantastic effect.

Remains of a pyramid at Dzibiltchaltun

Tunnel into Pyramid

Little flash of red in jungle

On a final side note, my Mexican Rose wine was quite delicious and went well with the food in Yucatan, which is hearty.  The Spanish brought wine-making to Mexico and most of it comes from Baja, just below California.

Mayapán Ruinas – sshhh!

Temple of Kukulcan

Although I have been to the Yucatan area of Mexico a few times, I have never visited the famous pyramids. I have visited Tulum, the youngest Maya site, as you can read in an older blog. As much as Chechen Itza fascinates me, my almost phobic fear of too many tourists, has made me avoid it. Before this rapidly organized trip to Merida, I researched travel blogs to see how easy it would be to hire a driver to reach some of the more remote archeological sites. Apparently it was as easy as negotiating with a taxi driver, especially since I only wanted to go for 4 hours at a time.


After I arrived at my newly renovated hotel, I asked the receptionist about a driver. She told me that a driver had just handed in some cards. I said that websites had indicated that 800 pesos was reasonable for 4 hours. When she called him, he counter offered 1,100 pesos which is about $60. That seemed fair and he arrived very promptly in a very clean new red car. He was a charming young man, perhaps in his late 30s, rejoicing in the name Angel Ku. Ku is a native name meaning frypan. He had a little English and I had bad Spanish but we communicated perfectly well. I explained that I didn’t like crowds, so off we went to the Mayapán Zona Arqueológica, not to be confused with the town of Mayapán.

Carving detail

The archeological ruins were in excellent condition, it cost just a few pesos and there were about 20 other visitors in what was once a city of 17,000 people. Between the 1200s and 1400s it was the capital of the Maya, situated about 30 miles south east of Merida and 70 miles west of Chichen Itza. Mayapán had about 4000 structures within the city walls and many more outside, presumably for workers and farmers. One of the most attractive temples is the Temple of Kukulcan – it is the light version as the temple at Chichen Itza is more intricate and structurally sound. The limestone used at Mayapán is an inferior grade, perhaps all that was available in that location? It is believed that the founder of Mayapán was King Kukulcan (aka Quezalcoactl) after the fall of Chichen Itza.
There are some unique elements to the site with so many rounded buildings and no ball courts. This is the Temple Redondo –

Temple Redondo

View from Redondo to Pyramid

There were 26 cenotes (sinkholes providing water) around the city which perhaps explains the high population or vice versa. It has a central plaza which was surrounded by government buildings and houses of nobles. Other houses within the walled area encircled patios. Mayapán has a rather bloody history with shafts filled with sacrificial victims but at some point it was an important center of trade all across Central America. A wide range of foods were eaten and grown; there is some evidence of slaves which suggests wealth of the nobility. There is some evidence that there was a death cult. I mused if a large population and perhaps a catastrophic weather change might have contributed to the fighting with other tribes and the ultimate demise of Mayapán but that is pure supposition on my part. All great empires fall eventually, take note USA.

Inside the round tower

It was utterly magical to be in a pyramid city, almost alone with endless acreage of jungle right beside the site. If I had walked into the jungle, I might never have been found again. The photograph below shows how steep the pyramid climb was but it was so worth it! You really had to go up on hands and feet. On the way down I sat on my bottom and climbed down that way. If I had stood up, the steepness would have terrified me. It amused me that the teenagers just copied what I did (and they were a tad slower).


It was blissfully quiet with no signs of any current habitations. If you visit, there are no facilities at the sight – no restrooms and you can only travel by car, bus or local bus. Please don’t tell too many people… La belleza estaba en la tranquilidad – the beauty was in the tranquility. There are no vendors, just some staff and it is still being excavated by archaeologists.

panorama of Mayapan

Kerry musing

Huehuecoyotl is my new best friend…

My gorgeous four poster bed in Merida…note the mosquito net

Doesn’t it look gorgeous?  The tiles are original from the 17th century mansion.  The French owners have recently created this boutique hotel and coordinated everything with the tiles.  The back wall is the palest dove gray as is the new futon beside the bed.  The lamps were made of local limestone and I am taking the photograph from the stairs (yes two levels) in my suite leading to the brand new bathroom.  It was exquisitely designed with local stone in the huge shower.

So far, so good, eh?  The bed was rather hard but the bedding was lovely.  The mosquito net was not for decoration and the fumigator turned up on the second day (it smells of roses, Senorita…).  I look like I have had measles.  Eventually I caught one of the little f***ers and my blood oozed out of it.  The exquisite shower had only cold water.  On one fortuitous occasion I had a tepid shower – yay!  I was offered three other rooms which barely had a trickle of still cold water and realized I had the best room.  My French fellow guests had a trickle of cold water for their whole stay. Dirty froggies…🐸.  I know that is terribly un PC but it’s one of my resolutions.

The menu was translated by French people into English and they need not have bothered.  There is a local Maya language spoken and I have no idea what the menu said.  I ate dessert and breakfast with unidentifiable fruit.  I rarely spoke English to anyone.  Everyone at the hotel spoke French including the staff.  My driver’s English was as good as my Spanish and yet we talked for hours each day.  Google Translate helped with certain words until we were out of cell phone range.

THIS WAS THE BEST VACATION EVER!!!  I don’t know why but I loved every second of it, even my Eco toilet which means no paper down the drain (there was a little lidded bucket for the poo smeared paper).  It felt like glamping or glhostelling.  The day before I left I had received bad news about four friends with health and other problems.  I was so upset that I momentarily considered not going.  The saddest news was the death of our fellow blogger Pan otherwise known as Linda, beautifully memorialized by John Ray and Osyth. If you click on John and Osyth’s names you will see their posts about Linda. My head still has an image of her dog guarding her dead body for two days.

My mental health must be stronger than I imagined and I decided that life really was too short.  I compartmentalized all my bad news, got on the plane and prayed at every church that I saw in Merida.  I got lost twice in the pitch black but kept finding churches so perhaps Huehuecoyotl had an auspicious plan.  The beauty of nature and the kind, warm people of the Yucatan soothed my soul and provided much needed balm.  I have many stories to tell but I have a busy week helping friends and doing paid work so it may be a week or so before I share more.

I climbed a pyramid!

This is a shot from Mayapan, a huge Maya city that has NO tourists! My various DNA tests did not show that I am part mountain goat…all those years hill-climbing with my school friends, Katharine and AnneMarie have left me with a core strength. There was a small group of local school teenagers who struggled to keep up with me…

Most importantly, may Linda rest in peace. She was a loyal, funny and delightful blogger friend that I will miss.

Are your DNA results correct?

Before beginning a series of posts about San Diego, I wanted to share a recent revelation about my original DNA test results from Ancestry.  Many of us are surprised at how diverse our ancestors were but I already knew, from census records, how varied my ethnicity was.  My results just didn’t make sense although I am aware the DNA is still a mystery with varying estimates even from siblings.

These are my original results which I featured in a previous post Our Ancestors.

A shameless excuse to show off my new winter boots courtesy of DSW and my torn jeans…

Africa (north) 2%
Middle East 2%
Europe east 1%
Europe west 3%
British Isles 19%
Iberian Peninsula 5%
Italy/Greece 2%
Asia east 1%
Native American 4%
Ireland 60%
Scandinavian 1%

Since then, I have excitedly tried to find out more about my ancestors but could never understand why I had so little Spanish given my maiden name was de Ortega and I can trace my ancestors from California via Mexico back to Spain.  They were conquistadors.  Spaniards rarely have 100 % Iberian DNA which includes Portugal.  So many invaders and immigrants from Italy, Greece and North Africa left their mark.

My British cousins have created family trees on a European website, MyHeritage  and I read that I could download my original DNA results from Ancestry and upload them to MyHeritage.  There is no cost but you do have to subscribe to MyHeritage.  A few days later, I had yet another exciting reveal and the results are below –

Irish/Scottish/Welsh 53.9 %
Scandinavian 9.1%
Iberian 26.8 %
Greek 1.2%
Italian 0.9%
Balkan 1.1 %
Baltic 1 %
Central American 4.4%
North American 0.8 %
Chinese/Vietnamese 0.8%

Now we are talking – 25 % Iberian – yay! Even more exciting, they can now differentiate between North and Central Native American. I am mostly Mestizo native described below courtesy of MyHeritage. The largest population of Central America, spanning from Mexico to Colombia and Venezuela, is of Mestizo descent – a mixture of Spanish, Native American, and African ancestry. Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, interestingly, have a greater Caucasian population, representing European migration. In contrast, indigenous Central Americans are Mayans, the descendants of the advanced Mayan civilization of pre-Colombian times. Ancient Central American civilizations produced many important innovations, including pyramid construction, complex mathematical and astronomical observations, early forms of medical surgery, accurate calendar systems, and complex agricultural methods. In contemporary society, many people with Central American ethnicity have settled among the nations in South America, reaching as far south as Uruguay and Argentina.

This now makes more sense because although I can trace my North American native ancestor, Mourning Dawn, it is many generations back. When I was tracing back my family in Mexico, I found an ancestor with the name of Xoptoval Ortega born in 1626 in Celaya, Mexico – a Maya name I suspect? Mestizo is sometimes used as an insult in Latino Spanish, meaning mongrel, but I could not be more proud of my 57 varieties. Now I know I am genuinely of Mexican descent. On a funny side-note I recently got a call from one of my first cousins on my father’s side. We have only spoken once but he fascinates me because he looks most like my Dad and even sounds like him. As we were chatting, he mentioned that he had asked one of our great aunts from the Ortega side if we were Mexican. She had a fit and insisted we were 100% Spanish… I mentioned my recent DNA results to my cousin and he hung up on me!!! He really did and I doubt he will ever speak to me again. Mexicans are feisty…

So what other mysteries were revealed.  I am Viking!  Teddy would love me to look exactly like Lagertha in the Vikings series.  Sadly for him, I just look like the Viking Irish – fair, blue eyes and a distinctive short nose.  Did you know that Scandinavians still call outlanders, “long noses”?  Much of Ireland was invaded by Vikings who settled for generations, trading Irish slaves to the Scandinavian countries.  Yeah, there were plenty of nasty human traffickers before America.  I have only inherited Celtic DNA (Irish/Scottish/Wales) but I know I have English ancestors.  God is good –  I am just kidding, English friends! The little bit of Baltic makes sense being so close to Scandinavia but the Balkan DNA is curious – the Balkans stretch from Turkey to Greece incorporating the former Yugoslavia.

My vintage Calvin Klein coat is back in fashion but no matter what I do, I still look as Irish as a potato!


So, why are my DNA results so different?  Time has passed and DNA analysis has evolved with more information on the databases.  I believe that my previous Western European DNA should really have been Iberian and that some of my Irish DNA should have been Scandinavian because my family came from a Viking area in Ireland.  That said, I might be wrong and who knows which results are correct?  The only way to test it would be to use a third company to take a DNA test and I might yet do that.  If you are curious it is very easy to do what I did.  Just subscribe to Ancestry and MyHeritage, download your raw DNA from settings onto your computer and then upload it to whichever company is the opposite.  You might get a nice surprise like me.  Maya maiden, Celtic warrior, Conquistadora and Viking – Kerry is kicking ass!

PS In case you wonder about the location, my hairdresser took the photos this morning.