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From Cancun to Merida

Saturday we changed locale from Cancun, to Merida — the capital city of Yucatan State.  Getting to Merida is a 3 1/2 hour drive from Cancun on the 180 toll road.  Tolls will set you back just over M$300. 

Halfway to Merida, about 20 km from Valladolid, there is an infrequently visited post-classic Mayan site called Ek Balaam.   It's well worth the trip, just to see the stucco images and frescoes which have been uncovered in the last 10 years.

Ek Balaam is relatively small, with a number of low buildings and a ball court.  The main attraction is the large pyramid to the north of the site called El Castillo.  A number of thatched roofs have been constructed atop the pyramid, in order to preserve the stucco as it is uncovered. 

Ascending the main pyramid, you are able to step off the staircase to the left, and then view the jaguar mouth doorway.  This particular facade, which is all stucco, is probably one of the most stunning doorways present anywhere in the Mayan world today.

Flanked on either side by elaborate stucco figures, the main door is a stylized representation of a jaguars mouth.  The ruler of the city would appear standing upon the lower jaw of the jaguar.

The base of the jaw is encircled by key designs, and supported on each corner by a skull.

Directly on either side of the doorway are masks of the rain god Chac.

Seated above the doorway is another figure wearing large earplugs.  For me, this one is eerily reminiscent of the figures you see on Indian temples.  

Farther to the right of the doorway are two large warrior figures with feathered capes.  The first wears a belt, but doesn't appear to be wearing a headpiece, while the second wears an elaborate headdress and earrings.

Throughout the site, intact paint such as this small scene painted on the side panel of a doorway can be found.  We later learned that, while restoration has been underway for some time at Ek Balaam, more than 50% of the existing stucco is original, which is why through all of these photographs you can see small quantities of original paint.   

 After leaving Ek Balaam we continued on to Merida, where we checked into El Castillano hotel, a couple of blocks from the central square.  The bellhop informed us that it was Mexican night in the square, so we headed over to see what was happening.  Traffic was blocked off for blocks around the square, and the streets were flooded with people eating in restaurants, each with it's own musical act. 

 

A popular tourist activity is getting a "calese" ride from one of the numerous local drivers.

Over beside the cathedral in the square you can find a calese line, just like a taxi line, where you can get a ride yourself, which we did later.

Throughout the square, there are flower sellers seeking to sell you a rose for your sweetheart.  

Street musicians also offer lessons on how to play exotic instruments, like the ordinary cross-cut saw.  This guy was remarkable, using a simple bamboo and fishing line bow to coax everything from Happy Birthday to the Ode to Joy from his saw.

 

Even ordinary people seemed to be carrying guitars, sitting in cafés, and strumming tunes.

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