For many reasons – of all the archaeological sites in Yucatan – Uxmal is my favourite. So when my girlhood friend, Ramona and her husband, Tom came to visit Jorge and me at the end of January, we made it a priority to spend a day there.
The ancient city is located approximately 80 kilometres south of Merida – nestled into the Puuc hills – the ONLY location in our state with ANY elevation at all. Ramona and I are from British Columbia where there is barely any flat terrain – she found it hilarious when I called the area – the Yucatecan Alps.
Uxmal was founded around 700 AD, and at its peak, it housed about 25,000 inhabitants. Unlike most Maya sites, Uxmal is not laid out geometrically. Nonetheless the coordinates of the structures do demonstrate astral alignments, including the rising and setting of Venus. The design of Uxmal is also adapted to the topography – many buildings set atop the hills – they look quite grand.
The complex mosaics on the facades showcase the abilities of the Maya artists in the region. Archaeological excavations and radiocarbon studies indicate that the major structures – the Pyramid of the Magician, the Nunnery, the Governor’s Palace, House of the Turtles, and the Ballcourt– were built between the VIII and X Centuries AD. The southern section is yet to be extensively studied. The entire site has a slight inclination that allows rainwater to drain into manmade underground reservoirs, called, chultunes. This feature allowed the city to thrive because in the entire Puuc region, there are no surface bodies of fresh water.
Because of conflict with other Maya centers and also because of drought, Uxmal was abandoned and re-built three times.
Umal is a very interesting and beautiful site indeed, but there is even more to love. The first thing is the silence. I never see huge crowds and there are no vendors pestering the tourists. There is almost always a breeze and the trees growing on the esplanades offer some shade.
The birds seen at Uxmal, even during the day are remarkable. Last year, I walked with my friend, Michael Schussler through a woodsy area in the eastern section of the site. We saw at least FORTY mots-mots – it was mating season and they were courting – their iridescent plumage and long tails glittering. Spectacular! Ramona, Tom and I did not see any such flashiness, but we did see a large number of buntings, flycatchers, jays, orioles and a hawk.
The Hotel Hacienda Uxmal (one of my favourite hotels in Yucatan) is located right outside the entrance to the site. The graceful decor and lush gardens, the attentive staff and the Museum are features not found at many other properties I’ve ever seen. The Chocolate Museum, located right beside the hotel is another (yummy) attraction.
If you have a car, and drive 10 K further up the road towards Kabah, you’ll come to the Pickled Onion, a small inn (another of my personal favorites) and restaurant owned by my good friend Valerie Pickles. She has 10 modestly-priced, quaint and comfortable rooms, as well as an excellent restaurant. Many of my guests have spent a couple of nights at The Onion – and when they return to Merida they are so relaxed – they practically glide into my house.
Ramona – who has been my friend since Grade 3 – and I laughed so hard as we reminisced about our early years. Our large families belonged to Holy Trinity Church and all us kids went to the adjacent school. We got together often for camping trips, meals – almost every weekend, my mother or Mrs. Helm would drive a full car of us – to the never-ending basketball, volleyball, track & field events. One time we were making so much noise, we flustered Mom and when she backed our big station wagon out of the parking area, she ploughed into the only other car in the lot, a big black shiny Mercedes.
Ah-ah-ah – there are many things I do NOT like about aging – but having rich friendships that span five decades is a true perk. And living in Mexico as I do, my home is much in demand. Lucky me!