To the south of Merida there is an area of low hills called the Puuc Hills. Rich in historical sites, it offers a number of Haciendas and Mayan sites to visit. Monday, we hit four of them.
We began with Hacienda Yaxcopoil, in its time one of the most important rural estates in Yucatan. With 22,000 acres of land in its heyday, the owners farmed cattle, and maintained a massive henequen plantation. Today it's a privately owned museum, run by the descendents of those plantation barons.
The entry is a moorish arch, with enclosing walls, and a tree in the center of the lawn.
The facade of the main building gives you an idea of the scale of the estate, even though today the stucco is in a very sorry state of disrepair. Within the walls are courtyards, bedrooms, a parlour, dining room, running water and a swimming pool.
This is a view of the interior courtyard, from the main entrance.
The richly patterned floor tiles, different in every room, give you an idea of the original grandeur of the house.
And here is a view of the machine shop and workshops of the hacienda, where the henequen is processed into sisal, and from there into clothing, rope, and other products. We were unable to enter the machine shops, however, because the floors are in such disrepair.
From Hacienda Yaxcopoil, we headed 56 kilometers south to the prime archaeological site in the area, which is Uxmal. Uxmal is a massive ruin, with some beautiful large structures. The most famous structure at the site is the Magicians Temple, seen here from the top of the Governors Palace.
The Magicians Temple boasts rows of Chac (the rain god) masks up the steps, and a massive Chenes style monster mouth doorway.
Uxmal is organized as a series of squares, or quadrangles, with living space in each. This gives Uxmal a very different feel from many Mayan sites. It feels much more like a city, and much more lived-in and liveable. At the center of each square is a chultune, or cistern, for collecting rain water. Unlike most Mayan sites, where water was easily obtained from underground rivers and cenotes, the Puuc sites have no water. The chultunes were used to collect rain water during the wet seasons, which was then used during the dry season.
This is a view of the main square at Uxmal.
The famous Quetzal bird is a permanent inhabitant of Uxmal. I managed to catch this fellow, sitting in a tree, with a 300mm lens.
The other great thing about Uxmal is that it's less than 20% uncovered. If you spend a little time roaming outside the main area, there are plenty of opportunities to feel like a modern day Howard Carter.
After spending 3 hours at Uxmal, we jumped in the car and headed to a couple of the smaller Puuc sites — Sayil, and Kabah. We arrived just as the sun was going down (after hours, but a tip to the caretaker solves that problem), and were able to shoot some great photos in that warm sunset light.
Here's the main plaza at Sayil.
Detail from the plaza's facade.
Detail from the arches at the Temple of Hieroglyphic writing.
At Kabah, we were very lucky to catch the final rays of the sun on the structure called the Codz Poop (pronounced codes pope). The Codz Poop is famous for it's repeated Chac masks, which illuminate very well with the light.
On the back side of the Codz Poop, there are a series of 5 figures. Only one is still standing today, but there is extensive restoration work underway.