On Monday Kongo visited some cenotes in the middle of the Yucatan peninsula. Cenotes (pronounced SIN-oh-te) are sink holes where the limestone crust of the earth has collapsed to uncover the fresh groundwater below. They are all over the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico and are quite beautiful.
They are also quite steamy and humid, which the monkey discovered as he climbed down into a couple of them on a day trip from Cancun. There aren’t any major rivers in the Yucatan and few lakes. Those that exist are marshy. So, if you want to live in Yucatan you’ve got to find a sinkhole. Ancient Mayas built their cities near the cenotes and the literal name of Chichén Itzá for example, means “mouth of the well.” The Maya built staircases from the surface down to the water. Some of these were also used to sacrifice virgins in religious ceremonies. Apparently the Mayan rain god Chaac lived at the bottom of the cenotes and had an appetite for fetching young virgins (what self respecting god doesn’t have a thing for young virgins?) so whenever there was a dry spell, the young ladies went flying. Kongo is embellishing a bit but they have found human remains and jewelry and other objects at the bottom of the cenotes.
One of the young women with Kongo on his journey to the bottom of the cenote remarked that she found the place a little scary. Since Kongo had overheard her talking on the bus he knew that she was in Cancun on her honeymoon so he cheerfully piped up and said, “As long as you’re not a virgin, you’re safe!” She gave the monkey a sideways look and moved closer to her newly minted mate as Mrs. Kongo gave the monkey a sharp jab in the ribs. So much for sacrificial humor and fetching virgins.
When he emerged from the cenote Kongo was met by this fetching señora making tortillas. There’s nothing like a fresh, warm, handmade tortilla pick me up after skulking around in a cave looking for virgins.
And just in case you forgot a piñata for your carefully planned destination wedding, the cenote gift shop had bride and groom piñatas handy to lug back to your dreamy beach setting at the resort.
From the cenote it was a quick trip to the colonial city of Valldolid, and a tour of a tequila factory. This was certainly a bit of Mexican culture that the monkey embraced with relish since tequila tasting was part of the agenda. Kongo always admires the inventive way humans all over the world figured out how to take an otherwise unremarkable plant and turn it into a festive alcoholic beverage. From cane to grapes to rice to wheat and barley and hops to agave plants, wherever in the world man developed shortly afterward he figured out how to make a drink! Kongo always believes that a well prepared martini is the mark of a civilized place and if they don’t have gin or vodka handy, well, there’s nothing quite like a margarita!
We were able to sample tequila from various stages of the distilling process and by the time we had worked our way through shooters of the blanco, joven, reposado, and anejo he was a happy little monkey. This was aided by the fact that Mrs. Kongo is not particularly fond of raw tequila (she likes it with Margarita mix…) so Kongo got double portions. By the time they staggered back to the bus Kongo was feeling that nice glow deep in his chest and singing the praises of the wonderful blue agave plant that produces this wonderful liquor. Singing is particularly appropriate for this because tres tonos literally means three tones and you definitely got a good hum out of it!
The town of Valladolid is a colonial town in central Yucatan that our guide assured us was one of the three safest in all of Mexico. It was so safe, the guide said, that the police here don’t even carry guns. The monkey isn’t sure why he told us that since after sampling the tequila we were all pretty fearless.
It’s a sleepy little place built on the ruins of a Mayan city with a great square in the middle bounded by the Cathedral of San Gervasio. Children in their school uniforms buy flavored ices from push carts and shops may or may not be open, depending on the whim of the owner. Mrs. Kongo can always ferret out potential buys and staked out one such shop that was closed for siesta. When the sleepy owner finally opened up, Mrs. Kongo beelined across the square, jaywalked in front of a weaponless police officer and held the door open for the shop keeper. Inside she found good deals on silver and drove a hard bargain. The poor guy never had a chance.
So, after scoring a nice necklace that may or may not have actually been made by a true Maya artisan, she was ready to head home. And that’s exactly what we did.
Kongo returned from Mexico yesterday after a full day of flying and two hours of margaritas and guacamole in the Cancun airport. Next week he’s back to the East Coast but for now he is happy for a few days of resting up after a week of relaxing.
Besides the cave explorations and tequila sampling, Kongo revisited Chichén Itzá, played a round of golf, spent a day at the spa, swam with dolphins, ate, and drank and ate and drank.
He also read a great book! (See the photo below!)
Travel safe. Have fun.