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?

 

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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

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.

Plaza

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).

Vertigo!

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.

Huehuecoyotl is mischief making…

Courtesy of Pixabay

Huehuecoyotl is one of the many Pre Colombian Gods of Mexico.  The translation is very old coyote.  He is an auspicious God and is generally beneficent but can be a prankster.  I have decided that he will now be my spirit guide when I go to Mexico next week.  He has already started mischief making…

After my amazing list of resolutions, (I have done more than one #2 every day – yippee), I have a short gap before my first work contract and have decided to go to Merida in the Yucatan next week.  It’s a solo visit – I don’t think Teddy is ready for one of my Spanish speaking, taking the local bus and arguing with taxi driver trips.  My last trip to Merida was a disaster but despite that I longed to return in more clement weather.

Booking the flight was easy.  I used air miles and there were a few seats left.  The flight is just over 2 hours so there are many commuters back and forth between Texas and Mexico.  One of the problems with my last trip was that I was staying in a beautiful old building with all the problems that come with that.  This time I decided to choose a generic chain hotel so that at least there is another room to go to…

Huehuecoyotl had arranged for British Airways to send me an email reminding me that I had to use my Avios points.  Ah ha, thought Kerry, I can book a hotel in Merida and save money.  I chose the Wyndham but when I received the final confirmation, I realized that they had not used my points and cash but just cash.  Wily Coyote!  The only option was to phone British Airways.  They have a free number in the States but you are speaking to someone in England.   A very nice lady with a well enunciated English dialect answered the phone promptly – wow! It was such a relief to speak to someone who immediately understood my accent.  I have no idea what the problem is in the USA – I speak clearly and you have all watched Braveheart/Outlander, haven’t you???

As soon as I explained what had happened, she indicated that it would be complicated to sort out so I would be on the phone for a while.  One hour…but at least it was free.  Long story shorter, the first booking had to be cancelled and then she attempted to do it again.  Coyote was having fun because there were two Merida Wyndhams on the BA website, one in lower case and one in upper case.  I assured my new friend that there was only one Wyndham hotel even though they had different addresses!

Right in the middle of all this, my gardeners arrived.  I apologized and said I would have to carry the phone outside while I spoke to them. “Hola! Como Esta”, “Bien, y Usted?”  Then there was some bad Spanish when I tried to explain that I needed a brick stand for the Casa de Gatta (Katniss).  The nice lady said, “Do you live in Mexico?”  Well, if you ask a Trump voter, they might say yes, but really we live in the bilingual metropolis of Houston.  I used eastern Europeans in England as an example.  New immigrants always do the jobs that no one else wants to do.

Back to the strange website; neither the UPPER CASE nor lower case Wyndham would take my money or booking.  Likely they had no rooms left – welcome to Mexico!  Finally I decided that I would just completely cancel all bookings with British Airways and ponder what to do next.  The nice lady was very apologetic and had even reduced the price before I was banished from that hotel.  We bid each other goodbye and I wondered if she was going to tell someone about her strange conversation.  What was even funnier, in the middle of all of this, Toffee had a poo (great resolution) in her litter box and started caterwauling for me to clean it stat!  She was so loud that I had to apologize for that noise whilst escaping to the other side of the house with computer and phone to get away from the noise of the gardeners.

So, I sat thinking about a possibly ill-fated trip but was so amused by the whole situation that I decided to just do a Booking.com.  They allow you to cancel close to the trip time and you don’t pay until after you arrive.  They were problematic the last time (my hotel was not available and didn’t find out until the night before).  Maybe Huehuecoyotl would help out?  I chose the first one that had a great review and it is a 17th century mansion – uh oh.  The hotel immediately confirmed my booking in Spanish – excellente and it is so beautiful that I could just photograph that building.

I am going next week and Teddy is looking after the gattas.  Wish me luck and hope that my puppy God wants to play nice.

Colorful Merida

San Juan de Dios

Despite my shortened trip to Mérida, I was quite enchanted by the city. They enjoy using color as you can see in the old building above. I tried to research it and I think it may have been a hospital.
The more recently renovated buildings included this lovely candy colored street (below) leading up to Mérida Cathedral.


I particularly like the dappled sunshine on this pink bar and restaurant (below). You can see some of the cyclists meandering around the hot streets.



This busy little colored row of streets was part of the Barrio of Santa Lucia. I love the ‘Muerte’ lady.