Friday, March 22, 2013

Yucatan - World Water Day - 2013

In 1947 author/journalist Lilo Linke wrote in her book Magic Yucatan:
“Twentieth-century science is hard at work to solve what is perhaps Yucatan's greatest problem: lack of water. In Yucatan, Christ's miracle would have to be reversed: water is more precious than wine. It is not a question, as in other parts of Mexico, of harnessing the rivers and distributing their water evenly through the seasons. There are no rivers in Yucatan. Water has to be pumped up from the bowels of the earth, and even down there supplies are not unlimited.” 

2013: This lady fills a five gallon bucket with water in the Puuc hills of Yucatan at Lol-Tún cave. She hoists the pail on her head, and then makes a long trek to her humble home. While we were there she made three trips. The lady’s strenuous effort gives us a profound appreciation of the water that many take for granted when turning on a tap.
To appreciate this lady’s effort, try hoisting a five gallon pail of water onto your head…then see if you are able to walk with it, not spilling a drop.
Consider this; it takes five gallons to flush a toilet just once and eight of these buckets or forty gallons to wash one load of clothes in a conventional washing machine.
Drinking water is a scarce commodity at Lol-Tún, seven kilometers up in the Puuc hills from Oxkutzcab.

With his people powered tricycle Jorge Diaz pedals off to retrieve water for his small Mayan style restaurant.
This area of the Puuc Hills is very thinly populated due to the fact that water is scarce in the extreme.
A friend living near Uxmal in the Puuc Hills has a well nearly four hundred feet deep. When he put it in twenty years ago, the well cost almost as much as he had paid for house and land.  At that time the well could be pumped continuously for three hours and not run out of water. Recently a commercial farming operation nearby began irrigating.  Now our friend’s pump sucks air after one hour. 

 A community water well (noria) in the Puuc hills at Kankab in the 1980’s. 
This well is over three hundred feet deep.  The contraption in the photo is a rather low-tech but highly labor intensive system the villagers used for all of their water needs.
The three small ladies in the photo are forcefully pushing on the long pole and walking round and round while a rope is wrapping around the wooden capstan. The rope brings up a single bucket of water from the deep well. (The rope from the capstan passes to a pulley over the well then descends down into the water.) Kankab now has an electric pump for their well, but Yucatan still has remote villages that employ this old type of system to this day.
John L. Stephens, on his visit to Yucatan in 1840, described in his book Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, a water well system similar to what is still in use in some of Yucatan’s villages in 2013.
“Nohcacab, presently known as: Santa Elena has three public wells, and it has a population of about six thousand entirely dependant upon them. Two of these wells are called norias, being larger and more considerable structures, in which the water is drawn by mules, and the third is simply a pozo, or well, having merely a cross-beam over the mouth, at which each comer draws with his own bucket and rope. For leagues around there is no water except that furnished by these wells. All the Indians have their huts or places of residence in the village, within reach of the wells; and when they go to work on their milpas, which are sometimes several miles distant, they are obliged to carry a supply with them. Every woman who goes to the noria for a cantaro of water carries a handful of corn, which she drops in a place provided for that purpose: this tribute is intended for the maintenance of the mules, and we paid two cents for the drinking of each of our horses.”
Mérida before a city potable water system arrived in 1960. 

Lilo Linke, in her book Yucatan’s Magic, gave the following description of
Mérida in 1947:
“Above every second or third of Mérida's flat roofs clatters a metal windmill;
I stepped out to the balcony overhanging the garden. Palm trees rustled overhead, imitating the steady swish of rain; through it cut excitedly the clatter of a windmill. Its peculiar noise was to become the leitmotiv of my stay in Mérida. A metal wheel on a grid, the Yucatán windmill has none of the comeliness of the old Dutch mills. They are the symbol of abundance, while the Yucatán mills suggest the dry rattle of a parched throat, "Water, water, give me water!" That morning, however, I was too happy to listen to it for long. I had arrived in fairyland. And not the least of its wonders was that no one had to carry buckets if I wanted a bath; that the turning of a tap would bring me hot or cold water from an apparently unlimited supply. After the primitive weeks on horseback such sudden ease was magic.”

 World Water Day
The United Nations General Assembly designated March 22, 1993, as the first World Water Day.
Each year World Water Day highlights a specific aspect of freshwater. In 2013 World Water Day is  dedicated to the theme of cooperation around water. Cooperation is essential to strike a balance between the different needs and priorities of people and nations. The goal is to share this  essential resource equitably, using water as an instrument of peace.

Read more about the fascinating world of Yucatan  in the books, Yucatán’s Magic, Mérida Side Trips and Yucatan for Travelers, Side Trips:  Valladolid to Tulum, available in paperback and digital editions worldwide.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

PROGRESO: Yucatan’s tropical seaport town where eating is fun and easy

PROGRESO; Yucatan's tropical seaport town where eating is fun and easy.
Sol y Mar Restaurant
Calle 78 on the corner with Calle 25
Downtown Progreso 

When Jane’s cousin and his wife Phyllis from Texas arrived in Progreso on a Carnival cruise ship we met them on Calle 80 in front of the lighthouse.  Our first stop was for coffee at Sol y Mar…and we stayed for lunch.

Phyllis is a fajita aficionado and asked about the beef fajitas.  We told her that a friend raved about the chicken fajitas.

My comment: “If you have been in Mexico so long that the beef starts to taste good, you have been in Mexico too long.”

Phyllis enjoying fajitas.

Phyllis persisted and ordered the beef fajitas. The order arrived and Phyllis ate with relish. She not only raved about the fajitas, but she exclaimed that they were the best she had ever had…and she is from Texas, home to the world’s best fajitas.

Karl had the house special and rated it excellent. 

What more could we ask for: our fish filets were delicious and our guests were happy. 

Gabriel, chef and owner of Sol Y Mar, has a magic touch and winning charm.

Sol y Mar Restaurant has hot coffee, cold beer, fabulous food, and excellent service at nice prices.

Give Sol y Mar a try. They open for breakfast at 8:30 a.m.

Read more about this slice of paradise in the recently revised book, Yucatán’s Magic, Mérida Side Trips, and just published: Yucatan for Travelers - Side Trips: Valladolid to Tulum, available worldwide in paperback and digital editions.

Sunday, March 17, 2013



Yes, Jane and I sampled them and pronounced them edible.

They are exactly what they look like:  insects. Fried crispy and salted, they are available for fifteen Mexican pesos a cup. The flavor is distinct. I could make a meal of them if driven by hunger. 

On a recent visit to Oxkutzcab, chapulines were for sale in the central plaza. The furthest bucket contains chapulines, next roasted peanuts mixed with squash seeds, and closest are mandarin oranges coated with a thick layer of sugar.  Lime juice, salt, and hot sauce are offered at no extra charge.

According to Wikipedia, chapulines, plural for chapulín, are grasshoppers that are commonly eaten in certain areas of Mexico. The term is specific to Mexico and is from the Natuatl, the indigenous language of that region.

They are collected only at certain times of year (from their hatching in early May through the late summer/early autumn). After being thoroughly cleaned and washed, they are toasted on a comal (clay cooking surface) with garlic, lime juice and salt containing extract of agave worms, lending a sour-spicy-salty taste to the finished product. Sometimes the grasshoppers are also toasted with chili, although it can be used to cover up for stale chapulines.

One of the regions of Mexico where chapulines are most widely consumed is Oaxaca where they are sold as snacks at local sports events and are becoming a revival among foodies. It's debated how long chapulines have been a food source in Oaxaca. There is one reference to grasshoppers that are eaten in early records of the Spanish conquest, in early to mid 16th century.

Health risks

Chapulines must be very well cooked prior to consumption, because, as with other grasshoppers, they may carry nematodes that can infest humans.

Read more about Mexico’s fascinating world of exotic eating experiences that tourists miss most in the books: Yucatán’s Magic, Mérida Side Trips and Yucatan for Travelers – Side Trips: Valladolid to Tulum, available in paperback and digital editions worldwide.