Thursday, November 29, 2012

Peto to Mérida, Yucatan, Aboard One of the World’s Last Narrow Gauge Railroads

When we first visited the Yucatan in the early 1980s passenger trains were still one of the most important forms of transportation. The narrow gauge railroad joined the outlying towns and villages of Yucatan to Mérida. Other passenger trains, though not narrow gauge, joined Mérida with Campeche and Mexico City.

Lilo Linke visited Mérida in 1947 and described her adventures in her book Magic Yucatan.  Lilo made the trip on the narrow gauge rail from Mérida to Peto.  Lilo says of her visit to Peto:
The little train rattled along between henequen plantations and fields of Indian corn. Soon we were covered by the dust that blew in through the open windows. That jungles could be anywhere near was difficult to imagine. Wherever we stopped, fruit was offered for sale. In the afternoon we came to the end of the line, a village called Peto. A single long street led from the station to the market-square and the church.
We were forced to stay at a hotel. In fact we had the choice between two, and Señor Mendoza selected the one run by a toothless Chinese. It was rapidly getting dark—as always in the tropics about six o'clock—but I could make out in the fading light that the sheets on the tumbledown bed were extremely soiled.
I remembered how once in Turkey in similar circumstances the hotel-keeper had remarked that only four other people had so far used them. But the Chinaman raised no objection when I asked him to change them. Perhaps the lack of teeth made arguing difficult for him. He whipped off the offending sheets, and to my horror I saw three fat bugs scuttling for shelter. Unperturbed, he shuffled out of the room, to return with a single sheet that was as indistinguishable from the first as one Chinaman from another. With a deadpan face he smoothed it over the mattress.
I rushed off to Señor Mendoza's room. He looked at me over the rim of his spectacles when I explained my trouble. "I warned you,” he said. "Now listen: no luxury, all right; no comfort, all right; but no bugs either. I just can't stand them." He uttered a gentle sigh and scratched his head. "The other hotel is worse," he said. "It couldn't be," I replied firmly. "I told him to give you the best room in the house. You even got a wash-basin, he told me. Still, I'll buy you a hammock. What else do you need?"
Henequen hammocks are a Yucatan specialty, one of the few products manufactured locally. We got one for next to nothing in a shop piled with goods in which another Chinese sat behind a hurricane lamp. We also bought a straw hat, disinfectant soap, a spoon, and some toilet paper. The roll had been waiting for a customer a long time.”
This photo from the 1980s is of our departure from Mérida on the narrow gauge train.
Jane and I made the very same trip as Lilo Linke, and we, coincidentally, stayed in the very same hotel as author Lilo Linke…not for everybody!

Over the years, whenever we had out of town visitors we always made sure that they got the opportunity to experience the train excursion that was a mirror image of the previous century.
On our first trip to Peto, the conductor came to Jane and I and said; “I have worked on this train for over 20 years, and you two are the first foreigners that have ever ridden it to the end of the line.”
Experience Peto, Yucatan,  today and read  more of our adventures to the places that tourists miss most in our book
Yucatán’s Magic, Mérida Side Trips; Treasures of Mayab, available in paper and digital editions worldwide.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sailing Beyond Lake Superior

Dreamboat Dursmirg tied to the Lonz Winery dock at Middle Bass Island in western Lake Erie

 The Lake Erie Islands opened the door to a totally new world and our adventure was just about to unfold.

A letter that Jane wrote her parents on September 18, 1972.

Dear Mom, Dad and Joel,
We are at Middle Bass Island, Ohio. tied up in front of Lonz Winery on Lake Erie. We got here yesterday afternoon from Detroit. We spent 4 days in Detroit, went to Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum, which were very interesting. Jon Moin’s brother Wilson took us all over the city and had us to his home 2 nights for dinner. Channel 4 TV in Detroit did a story on us and the newspaper wrote an article.
It looks like we will be tied up for a while because we are having a terrible storm…at least 50 knot winds, can hardly stand up outside. We were lucky that we got in two hours before the storm hit. I may have already mentioned it but we saw another Ferro-cement boat under construction in Sarnia, Ontario. We’ve sure met a lot of interesting people along the way. (End of excerpt from letter).

At Middle Bass Island Jane and I were given many bags of ripe apples by the residents because this was the apple season, and this year there was a bumper crop. Jane had no problem with all the apples and had a steady production of fresh apple pie coming out of her shipboard kitchen (galley). Of course we had ten times more than we could consume ourselves, but the pies were a huge hit everywhere we visited.
Read the rest of this fascinating true life story in Sailing Beyond Lake Superior: Travels ofDursmirg, available in paperback and digital editions worldwide.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Xcanchakan - The first Spanish land grant of 1542 in Yucatan, Mexico

This 1840 engraving by Fredrick Catherwood is from John L. Stephens classic book Incidents of Travel in Yucatan depicting the hacienda of Xcanchakan as they saw it.

Excerpted from Incidents of Travel in Yucatan by John L. Stephens, 1843; 
The hacienda, or rather rancho, of San Joaquin, on which the ruins of Mayapan lie scattered... It forms part of the great hacienda of XcanchakanXcanchakan; It was nearly dark when we reached the stately hacienda of Xcanchakan, one of the three finest in Yucatan, and containing nearly seven hundred souls.  The house is perhaps one of the best in the country, and being within one day's ride of the capital, [Mérida] and accessible by calesa, it is a favorite residence of its venerable proprietor. The whole condition of the hacienda showed that it was often subject to the master's eye, and the character of that master may be judged of from the fact that his major domo, the same who was attendant upon us, had been with him twenty-six years. I have given the reader some idea of a hacienda in Yucatan, with its cattle-yard, its great tanks of water and other accessories. All these were upon a large and substantial scale, equal to any we had seen; and there was one little refinement in their arrangement, which, though not, perhaps, intended for that purpose, could not fail to strike the eye of a stranger. The passage to the well was across the corridor, and, sitting quietly in the shade, the proprietor could see every day, passing and re-passing, all the women and girls belonging to the estate…
This photo is from the book Yucatán’s Magic - Mérida Side Trips. It depicts the stately first Spanish land grant or encomienda of 1542 as it can be seen today. Read the rest of this fascinating story in Yucatán’s Magic - Mérida Side Trips and discover how you can visit this truly unique place with no tour buses or trinket shops.

Yucatán’s Magic -Mérida Side Trips is available in paperback and digital editions worldwide.
Other recommended reading:
Incidents of Travel in Yucatan  1840-42 by John L. Stephens (two volumes). A well written must read documentary for anyone interested in colonial Yucatan, Mayan ruins, Mexican history, and adventure travel. These books are in print and also available for free from Project Gutenberg.

A short bio. of John Lloyd Stephens:
John Lloyd Stephens (1805–1852) was an American explorer, writer, and diplomat. 
At age of 13 he enrolled at Columbia College in New York City, graduating at the top of his class. After working as a lawyer for 8 years, in 1834 he traveled through Europe, the Middle East, and Egypt. He wrote several books about his travels and explorations.
In 1838 he was commissioned ambassador to Central America and published the books, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatán in 1839.
In 1840 he returned to Yucatan with draftsman Fredrick Catherwood where they did extensive research and recorded many Mayan ruins previously undiscovered.
In 1843 Stephens published Incidents of Travel in Yucatan in two volumes. It was illustrated with 120 high detail engravings by Fredrick Catherwood.
In 1849 he headed the Panama Railroad Company that was a key component in the construction of the Panama Canal. He died in New York City at age 46 of complications from a tropical disease.