2001-08-21

Izamal, Yucatán, México

Took a trip a few towns to the east this morning, to Izamal. While Mérida is known throughout México as the White City, Izamal is referred to as the Yellow City due to the preponderance of yellow buildings. With a population of 15 000 or so, it’s much quieter than Mérida, and horse-drawn carriages are still used as transportation by some of its residents. The two big tourist attractions here are the ruins of Kinich-Kakmó, one of 12 Mayan temples that originally stood at the site of this town, and the Franciscan Monastery, one of the first in the New World, built from the stones of the largest Mayan temple in Izamal after it was torn down by the Conquistadors.

The Convento de San Antonio de Padua sits on one side of the Plaza Principal, a block from the city’s bus station. Climbing up the ramp in front brings you to a large flat terrace and the entrance to the buildings themselves. From there, you can enter the chapel, visit the arboreum or climb up to the top levels of the monastery. If you look carefully, some of the stones in the walls and arches have Mayan designs on them — these were part of the temple that originally stood at this location. Facing away from the monastery, you can see Kinich-Kakmó towering over the jungle six or seven blocks away.

Kinich-Kakmó, which is about 200m x 180m, was built between 300 and 600 A.D. and was recently restored. From the top levels, the temple provides a great view of the city. Following a narrow dirt path around the back affords a spectacular view of the surrounding jungle and the vast, Saskatchewan-like flatness of the Yucatán peninsula. All over the place, big, lazy iguanas sunbathe on the rock walls of the temple. Just beside the entrance, at the base of the front side of the pyramid, is a great-smelling tortillería.

We ate at the Kinich-Kakmó Restaurant, and it was delicious though a little pricey. We each had a Montejo beer and lime soup, followed by Poc-Chuc¹ and Rellenos Negros², along with some fresh handmade tortillas. As with many restaurants, homemade tortilla chips and salsas are served with the meal. The total came to about 160 pesos, which is enough to buy you several days worth of groceries at Wal-Mart or San Francisco in Mérida. The main dining area is outdoors under a thatched Mayan style roof (and yes, lots of people still live in traditional Mayan huts — some have corrugated metal roofs these days, but just as many use the traditional palm fronds). The waiters even offer bug-spray if you need it. Fortunately, due to some creative engineering by the staff, you don’t need it. Clear plastic bags of water dangle by threads from the roof and, in the words of the waiter, “when the bug sees his reflection as he gets closer, he sees himself reflected so big and ugly that it scares him away.” It seems to work — we didn’t see a single fly or mosquito during lunch, and there were tons outside. Royal Thai in San Rafael, California does the same thing, so there’s got to be something to it.

Unfortunately, I forgot to bring the memory card for the camera, so no pictures, but it was well worth the trip.

Glossary

¹Poc-Chuc: A Yucatecan dish made with pork marinaded in orange juice.
²Rellenos Negros: A spicy, black Yucatecan soup made from beans, with pieces of chicken and a hard boiled egg bathing in it.

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