Visiting the Ruins of Dzibilchaltún

Today was the first day since I got here in May that I was caught up on my chores, my sleep, my work, and my financial goals and I really wanted to do something special. The obvious choice was to visit some more Mayan ruins. Thankfully, there are some only 30 minutes away!

Interestingly, my hamlet in SK is best known for being home to one of two sites in North America with petroglyphs on a horizontal surface. You could call that the “place where there is writing on the stones.” Well, Dzibilchaltún, the name of the Mayan city nearest where I’ve chosen to put down my first Mexican roots means… the “place where there is writing on the stones.” What a coincidence.

Dzibilchaltún is ridiculously accessible, just 5KM from the Progreso/Mérida highway on good roads.

Access to the site is quite pricy — $25 for parking + $142 for admisssion. Mexicans and permanent residents get free access on Sundays. There is no incentive for folks from the area who are temporary residents or who come down every winter. That’s rather a shame because it makes it less likely that I would want to come back here with guests. It would be nice to be able to buy a yearly membership or to get a break on admission for future visits as it’s such a lovely place to get out of the city.

From the parking lot, you take a meandering path in the forest to get to the ticket booth.

There was quite a bit of signage throughout the site in Spanish, Maya, and English. So any info I share is from there since I opted not to take a $350 (or 25USD…) guided tour. I learned a lot at Uxmal, but did not get much time to wander around. Today, I just wanted to enjoy being outside and poke through ruins at my own pace rather than hear a lot of information.

Dzibilchatún, with its proximity to the northern coast of Yucatán had both a marine and agricultural economy. The site was occupied from about 300 B.C. and was populated until the Spanish Conquest. It peaked from 600 to 900 A.D, with a population of 20,000. It was about 9KM square and had a concentric layout. The central part of the settlement had grand plazas connected by roadways in an area of 3KM square. It was in the central part that lived the administrative and religious elite. The population lived around the core. It was this population that contributed to change the concept of “ceremonial centre” to one of “urban centre.”

Here’s a map of the site:


Like at Uxmal, there are two separate fees to pay to enter the site. Here, I was able to pay the whole thing at one window and then collect my ticket at the second window. After that is a booth where you can hire guides and beyond that is a covered market area (very disappointing) and clean bathrooms.

Behind the entrance area, you can access the “archaeological zone.” To the right are the ruins I explore below as well as the cenote, which, unfortunately, was closed today. To the left is another ruin we’ll get to in a bit.

This is the area of the grand plaza. It covers about 12,240 metres and would have had a stucco floor (!). It was surrounded by buildings with stairs leading to the plaza. Most of the surviving buildings date to the early Middle Ages, 600 to 1,000 A.D., but a couple date to 1000 to 1200 A.D.

The cenote is a popular local swimming spot, but it seemed a bit uninviting to me.

Can you spot the giant iguana?

On this site are the ruins of a 16th century chapel. As a reminder, that’s the time of the Renaissance. You don’t need to go to Europe to visit old buildings!

These are part of the ruins of a 17th century ranch.

I must have been a mountain goat in a past life. Up I went!

I’m starting to think about getting myself a selfie stick. Not. 🙂

The wooden lintels make me suspect that these structures were also part of the ranch.

Back of the chapel.

There were way too many people to climb the pyramid, so I decided to head to the other part of the site.

It was only about 10:30 and while the sun had been unrelenting since I’d gotten up at 8:00, there was a wonderfully cool breeze running through the site, making it very comfortable. I walked on a 20 metre wide road called a “sacbe.” It begins at the east of the central square and connects 400 metres later with the building called the “Seven Dolls.” The road was mainly in use from 600 to 100 A.D. There are 11 of these roads in Dzibilchaltún, all beginning in the centre and going to peripheral structures, giving the site its urban character. The inner roads have been interpreted as evidence of ties between families.

I took a short detour into the woods to see what’s left of the housing complex, a cluster of buildings in an area of about 4,000 square meters. The dwellings had different heights, speaking to different social status. The inhabitants were buried beneath the floors of the platforms. There really wasn’t much to see, but I enjoyed the shady trail.

Back at the main road, I came across Structure 12, a quadrangular platform with access points on all four sides. Upon it is a monolith, which would have been decorated with stucco and functioned as one of the 20 stelle on the site.

In front of the Seven Dolls are three adjoining rooms aligned with a double open hall. To the south is another double room and to the east a single room. They were inhabited circa 800 A.D. Beneath their floor were offerings of shells, fishbones, stingray tails, small objects made out of green stones, grey obsidian, and other marine materials.

The Seven Dolls building owes its name to an offering of seven coarsely made dolls found inside. It is a one-story quadrangular building with a central chamber surrounded by a corridor. The roof was tower-like and it projected itself upwards from the vaulting. It had four access points and a window to the side of each entrance facing east and west, giving it the characteristics of an astronomical observatory. It was constructed on a pyramidal pedestal, with sloping corners, with sets of steps on all four sides. The frieze of the building was decorated with eight stuccoed masks upon a base of carved stone, two intertwined serpents and glyphs, and beads, feathers, and sea creatures in modelled stucco. Towards 800 A.D., it was filled with stones and covered by another, larger, building, whose remains still partially cover it.

I then headed back towards the entrance to find the museum, when another stone structure caught my eye. I quickly realised from its roof that it was a tad more modern! 🙂


The museum is in two buildings, is small, and is really informational. The Grand Museo del Mundo Maya is really a must, but this little museum does a great job of giving the folks who are coming to Dzibilchatún as a day trip from the cruise ships a primer on the Mayans.

The museum starts by situating the Maya in their geographical context, explaining that there are very distinct ecosystems in their world. Where I am, in northern Yucatán, is more desertic and flat, but you get into mountains and rainforests as you move south towards Honduras.

The serpent is a very important part of their mythology.

This is a hoop from a ballgame that I learned today was usually a prelude to human sacrifice.

Map of Mayan settlements in Yucatán. I still can’t believe that I was taught in school that there is no history in North America before the Europeans came.

There are a lot of parallels between the Maya and the Egyptians, such as the fact that they wrote in hieroglyphs set in cartouches. The Dresden Codex is the Maya equivalent of the Rosetta Stone that decoded Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Pretty purple flowers by the entrance to the second half.

While the first half was about the Maya in general, the second half was more about Dzibilchatún and also the Spanish Conquest.

Here are the Seven Dolls!

I’m not going to retype all of the information I got in the museum, but here is something of particular interest. “Scarcely five metres above sea level, very close to the coast, located on the difficult, calcareous and porous soil of north Yucatán, Dzibilchaltún is an example of a successful Maya urban dwelling. It was a challenge to life. Without rivers to justify the decision to build, its inhabitants obtained water from more than a hundred wells and some neighbouring sinkholes. The largest of the later, the cenote of Xlacah in the very centre of the city, quenched thirst of rulers, priests, merchants, and pilgrims.”

The section about the conquest was very well done, showing how the Maya evolved and yet kept old traditions and knowledge alive.

The Maya were expert stone craftsmen and their “artistic ability was demanded as tribute,” to build churches, mansions, streets, and aqueducts of Spanish towns.

I’m trying to remember where else I saw this system of currency, where employees of a hacienda were paid with tokens that could only be used at that hacienda’s store.

A bale of henequen, which is an agave (yes, the same stuff used to make tequila).

Very old map of Mérida.

There was an ecological path outside of the museum… that was closed. 🙁

There were a couple of dwellings to check out.

There’s an impressive meeting area with a woven roof.

And a lovely covered walkway back to the main entrance.

I spent about two full hours at Dzibilchaltún, which was plenty for me. I learned a lot about the geography of Yucatán, more about the Maya, got to explore some ruins, spent some time outside, and got scratches and bruises from my adventure. I’d call my morning seized. 🙂

It was still breakfast hour at this point (just before noon), so I had no trouble finding myself some tacos for lunch.

Al pastor tacos in Yucatán are very different than in Sinaloa. I haven’t decided yet if I like them as much or if I need to find a new favourite taco. But these were really good. I couldn’t believe I got all this (which has a very generous portion of Tex-Mex style guacamole under the totopos!) and a real strawberry agua fresca for only $79.

Since I was practically in Mérida, I did a quick blip over to Costco. I was amused to find actual Korean people (there is a sizeable Korean community in Mérida) debating the possible merits of the very kimchi dumplings I was coming to pick up. They put them back…

I got in around 2:00 and by the time I’d played with Puppy and had a swim, it was time for a long chat with a friend by phone, then dinner. It’s now almost 9:00. I forgot how long these posts take to write! At any rate, I hope you enjoyed my morning at Dzibilchatún as much as I did!

Getting Closer to a Set of Keys

As I suspected, today’s appointment was not to sign the final documents for the house. It was to pay a deposit and to go over final details before making an appointment to sign the lease at a lawyer’s office at a later date. That date would depend on when I could pay the rest of the fees, which total four months of rent. I had expected to need no more than $30,000 by this date to rent a house, but the house is a bit more expensive than planned so I was a little short. If I’d had to, I could have cobbled together the whole amount, but there really was no pressure since the lawyer wasn’t available this week and I can’t get keys until September anyway. I would have had to pay that extra amount for furniture, so it really comes out in the wash. I would feel a little squeezed if I was spending all this money to get an empty house, but I actually feel less stressed than I would have renting a less expensive house!

So what I was paying and signing for today were the “apartado,” which is for the lawyer’s fees, and also a double deposit (which is entirely refundable as long as I return the house in the condition in which I got it). The final amount will be the first month’s rent.

The agent had me tell her the most important thing in each document to make sure that I really did know what I was signing and that we would not need an interpreter at the lawyer’s office. That something important is, not surprisingly, that if I back out, I lose all my money, but if the owners back out, I get it back. As we were finishing up, my agent confessed that she speaks fluent English, but that since the documents aren’t legal unless they’re in Spanish, there’s really no point in us doing any of the transaction in English since I’m clearly understanding everything correctly. She will send me an e-copy of the lease ahead of time to make sure I don’t feel pressured when it comes time to sign and that I can look up anything I don’t understand. The documents today were just one pagers and I didn’t encounter any words I didn’t know.

If anyone wants the contact details for a personable, helpful, English-speaking, and non-pushy real estate firm in Mérida that has listings outside of the expat areas at local market rates, please let me know. Someone actually asked me for them yesterday so she can’t be alone!

We wrapped up pretty quickly, but it was too early to go home since the cleaner was there. I found a yummy lunch and then went to Gran Plaza to do some window shopping. I checked out the movie listings, but nothing good was playing at a convenient time today (I had to be home around 3:30 for the cleaner).

My meeting with the lawyer is in exactly two weeks, the next time the cleaner is here. I can slow the pace down a tad now and will have more free time since I’m not going to spend hours a week looking at real estate listings. Oh, wait, I’m going to replace that time with looking at the classifieds in the hopes of finding my dream fridge. 😀

The owners of the house here have confirmed that they are returning on October 31st so I am now starting a 76-day countdown until I’m back in my own space. I’ve got a lot of pool enjoying and dog cuddling to do by then! 😀

I’m Signing a Lease!

After a second visit, I have decided to rent a house in Mérida’s Chuburna de Hidalgo neighbourhood. Unfortunately, there was no time to take pictures today, so this post is mostly a lot of bla bla bla.

I met the landlady and like her a lot. She took me through the house a second time and pointed out features — and whole rooms — that I wasn’t shown the first time around!

The house has a lot of very nice features. One is that it stands alone and has land all around it before the walls that surround it. I was expecting to rent a house stuck to other houses and with only a prison yard-like inner courtyard. It is going to be very private and quiet.

I love that the property has automatic gates. Getting my truck in and out of the yard in Maz and here has been such a production and it will be wonderful to be able to get in and out easily.

The yard will be easy to maintain. I thought it had grass, but the area is just overgrown with weeds. They will be cleared for me and then I just have to keep on top of it. The exterior entrance of the house is incredible, with flagstone, landscaping, and a freaking working wall fountain!

The side yard to the left of the house has a covered terrace where I can already see myself downing a bottle of wine while beating C&C at canasta. Behind that is an area for hanging laundry and beside it is a laundry room the agent forgot to show me! It is small, but has room for both a washer and dryer (not that I use the latter) and it has a cement sink with built-in scrub board.

The right side yard is a service corridor that leads to… a built-in dog house. Too funny, but with the property being totally walled, Puppy could come for a visit!

You enter the house into the living room. Included for that room are two new brown suede couches and two huge armoires (I think they might be meant as entertainment centres?). Off of the living room to the right are the dining room and the eat-in kitchen. In the kitchen, I get a large microwave cabinet (not one of those cheap Walmart things) and the landlady promised me a microwave! There is a door from the kitchen to the right side yard. The kitchen can be closed to the dining room by a door and a sliding window across the breakfast bar. I get a small table (but no chairs) in the kitchen as well.

The dining room comes with a large table and chairs and a gorgeous buffet imported from… France. Wow. I’ll have a place to display my Pyrex. 🙂 Sliding patio doors lead to the small covered courtyard. There’s also an RV-like awning I can roll out for extra shade.

Back in the living room, we can go left to my office, a huge space with a built-in desk and bookcase area where I can already see myself working on my journal. It has a door to outside. Next to it is the guest bathroom and next to that is the guest bedroom, with a huge closet with lots of shelves. It has a view to the laundry drying area, so the landlady had a wall built to hide that! That’s the kind of attention to detail that really impresses me. The guest room has two new twin beds, so sorry guests coming as couples, you’ll have to push the beds together. 😉

Last on the ground floor is the maid’s quarters. It’s currently full of the owner’s son’s possessions, so I only got a glimpse of it on Thursday and it was presented to me as a bodega (storage closet). Turns out that it has a full en suite bathroom, not a half bath as I’d been told. The room doesn’t have a window of its own, but the bathroom does and the room does have two doors to the rear courtyard, so there is the option of leaving the full door open and the door with mosquito netting closed for both light and air. The owner says her mother-in-law would sleep in that room so, really, it can’t be that uncomfortable! I think this room could end up being my den.

Back in the living room are the stairs to go up to the master suite. The landing upstairs is large and well lit. That’s where I’m going to take up painting again. 🙂 The master bedroom has a huge walk-in closet (sadly without as much built-in storage as the guest room!) plus, of course, an en suite bathroom.

The house is going to be a good size for me. The owners find it two big for the two of them, but they are not home much. She said that at first, she thought it was too much house for an active young single person, but when she learned that I work from home and am a homebody, she agreed with me that it’s probably going to be just right.

The whole house is super bright and airy. There are ceiling fans in every room. There are really good shades or blinds for every window and they all take into account how much sun comes in through that window. The open staircase with the double width ceiling will draw up the hot air. It really is a very well thought out house!

But what makes this house so special is its location. The Mérida of interest to most people is north of the cathedral in centro. South, you get into the rougher neighbourhoods and the airport. This map shows the northern part of Mérida. It’s clear that the house is almost right smack in the centre.

I prefer walking to driving, especially in a city, and my radius is 5KM. The circles represent radii of 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5KM. I’d say that at least 90% of the Mérida within the periférico that could interest me fits within that 5KM radius. The cathedral downtown is just south of it.

Right around the house, in a radius of no more than a handful of blocks, I’ve got convenience and beer stores, a lavandaria (in case I don’t find a washer right away), a tortillería, a bunch of restaurants (I saw cocinas economicas, taquerías, pizzerias, and at least one Chinese restaurant), two small supermarkets (Aki, Willy), and, of course, the neighbourhood’s central market.

Within an easy walk of 2KM, I’ve got everything else I could possibly want — amazing restaurants, grocery stores (including Chedraui and Superama for hard to find ingredients), the Lebanese bakery, two cinemas, Office and Home Depot, and so much more.

If I want to go have a drink and enjoy live music at La Negrita, I can walk or bus the less than 3KM to it and have a cheap taxi ride home (or, if it’s a nice night, walk — Mérida is safe!). Centro will be easily accessible by bus in both directions and the landlady says that “even” she does it that way.

The location right off Calle 60 is going to be so easy to find. Addresses in Mérida can be confusing and repeat themselves in different parts of the city. I could tell the cab driver that I’m going to two blocks west of a certain major landmark instead of saying my address and making sure he gets the neighbourhood right.

Guests, whether friends/family or eventually Airbnb if I still choose to go that route, will also be well served by the public transportation options just a few blocks away. Like me, they’ll be able to take the bus south to centro, or north to Progreso’s beaches. And with such a central location, taxis will be cheap regardless of you’d want to go.

We’ve negotiated that I’m renting for two years. I will pay $500 less a month than advertised for the first year and then full price the second year. I get keys as soon as I’ve paid one month in advance, the lawyer’s fees, and a double deposit on the condition that I don’t start moving in (as in sleeping and living in the house — I can start bring my belongings over) until October. I am, however, free to have deliveries made directly to the house in September and to move in whenever I want in October.

The rental terms are standard. Normally, you plan to pay the equivalent of three months up front — the first month, legal fees equal to one month, and a refundable security deposit. You also have to provide an “aval de propriedad,” which is unique in Yucatán. It’s like having a co-signor, who has to be a homeowner in Mérida. If you don’t have one of those, the landlord can ask for an extra deposit, which is what happened in my case.

My hiccup was that I hadn’t expected to find something so soon, never mind at that price, and it would put me in a bind to pay four months’ up front right now. So I asked if I could pay three and then the fourth at the end of the month. To my surprise, instead of hemming and hawing I was told that I could pay just one month now and the rest on October 1st — but then I wouldn’t have any access in September. Fair enough! I still plan to get it all paid so that I can start shopping. 🙂 I want to go as much as possible with found treasures rather than going to, say, Liverpool and buying things full price, so furnishing my new house could take some time. The garage sale group is going to prove invaluable, I’m sure.

I do want to stress that while the house is quite a bit more than I expected to pay, it is still well within my budgetary comfort zone, especially since it comes with so much furniture, significantly reducing my move-in expenses (really, all I absolutely need is a fridge!). I’ve calculated that my expenses will be about 300CAD less a month than when I was paying for two homes my winters in Mazatlán. I did have the debate with myself about renting a shoebox with just two bedrooms and a bathroom, but I’m ready for a proper home, am not risking financial ruin with this one, and it’ll be amazing turning 40 in a house that truly shows the progress I’ve made at bettering my life over the last 20 years.

The utility bills on top of the rent will be small, probably no more than $1,500 a month all-in, depending on how much power I use. Power for the empty house with fans running 24/7 is the same as I paid in Maz, $550 every two months, so I’m expecting a power bill of around $800 when I don’t have guests running AC. Gas and water will be inconsequential amounts, as they were in Maz.

Internet is still a big question mark. I was highly recommended a new provider offering fibre service, but was told I might be shocked by the price since you have to bundle in either or both a landline or cable. A landline wouldn’t be a bad idea (there are numbers you can’t call from a cell). I’ve had a quick look at what I can find for that provider and if I’m reading everything correctly, I’m looking at roughly the same cost for internet plus a landline as what I paid in Canada for internet and cell service. But, of course, I’d be getting 200Mbps download speed instead of 10GB at 1Mbps and then 256KBs after throttling…

So that’s the scoop for today. I sign the lease Wednesday morning!

Mid-August

It’s incredible to be at mid-August and to know that these glorious hot and sunny days — a perpetual summer of sorts — are going to continue. After spending months hearing folks up north whine about how hot it is, I’ll soon get to hear them whine about how cold it is and how they want to go somewhere with better weather. Hopefully, I’ll be ready to host them by then. 🙂

I used to hate cold and snow and winter until I thought I was stuck with them for life and learned to embrace them. And then, I took a train ride to Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, in late June of 2007. It was then that I first had the life altering realisation that not everyone in the world lives in difficult climates where you only get a few precious weeks of glorious sunny weather.

It was in Dawson City, Yukon, in 2009 that I first experienced living in a climate of unrelenting heat for an entire season. I was quite heavy back then and it was difficult to handle the heat, but all that sunshine revitalised me.

And it was in Mazatlán, Mexico, over the course of of the 2014-2015 winter that a rather lighter me discovered that she can thrive in a hot, humid, sunny climate. I learned from the locals how to keep my house comfortable and clean without air conditioning and how to keep myself from getting heat stroke walking upwards of 20KM in 30C/86F or higher temperatures at all times of day as I explored Mazatlán. I knew by the end of those first six months that while I have housekeeping-related issues with living in a humid tropical climate, it makes for a much healthier me. I make much better diet choices and I don’t have my skin issues here, plus the sunshine helps my mood tremendously.

So, really, I had no qualms in moving to Mérida no matter how many people — mostly Mexicans! — warned me about the heat here. But very surprisingly, I’ve been here since May and have yet to experience temperatures that come close to what I had to deal with in Bulgaria last year. I don’t think we’ve passed 35C/95F plus humidity here while it rarely dipped below 40C/104F plus humidity over there!

The construction of the house I’m minding and the owners’ wishes dictate that I keep the AC on 24/7 to keep humidity levels low. My compromise that I run the AC at about 28C/82F, which is still warm enough that if I’m doing something physical, like cleaning or exercising, I can still get overheated. This means that there is very little contrast with the temperature outside and I never have that moment of, oh, I don’t want to go out because it’s so much more comfortable in here.

The only time I have issues with the climate is the same as many Meridanos — spending time in my truck in the city. I’m sure there are idiots who don’t realise that cars get very hot in even a cooler climate, with temperatures reaching as high as 50C/122F (or more) if you are unable to park in the shade, and who would perceive my having a problem being in such an environment as being unable to handle the local climate.

Well, a very long day of running around like last Thursday could have been life threatening. I actually took my temperature when I got home and even with all the precautions I took to stay cool during the day — waiting in AC or on the sidewalk in the shade rather than my truck, drinking plenty of liquids, and enjoying the cool breeze on the long stretch of highway between Mérida and home — I was still hyperthermic (feverish) when I got in, with a temperature of almost 39C/102F.

The “truck days” are what wipe me out here because I’m spending time in temperatures of 20C/36F more than the actual ambient temperature. It’ll be nice when I live in town and can ditch the truck and walk almost everywhere. I also know from Bulgaria that even if I get the AC fixed on the truck, that doesn’t necessarily mean much if I’m stuck driving in full sun with no shade, but it’ll help and, of course, make it much easier to get groceries home. A cooler works great for a spell, but then turns into an oven!

I took yesterday off to catch up on my exterior chores. I did all the hard work before the sun got too high in the sky around 11:30AM, then retired to a lounge chair in partial shade with a book, a beer, and Puppy until the sun backed off a bit. Then, I got back to whipping the garden into shape. I probably spent more actual time outside than I did on Thursday and was comfortable and energetic all day. It was a really relaxing day that I really needed.

I’m heading back into Mérida first thing tomorrow for my first meeting with the owners of the house I’m hoping to rent. Thankfully, I’m going straight there so that I won’t look too crumpled. Let’s just say I wasn’t at my freshest by my 4PM on Thursday. 🙂

Here’s another teaser/hint about the house, an aerial view of it. Notice the incredible luxury of it not sharing any walls with neighbours: