Yucatan, Mexico


Photographer Tim O’Brien provided the details and images for the Yucatan destination.

Yucatan Mexico

We went to the Yucatan for a cooking vacation.   Our group of 13 stayed at the beautifully restored and landscaped Hacienda Petac, just south of Merida, the capital of the Free and Sovereign State of Yucatan. Each day we learned to make one or more traditional Yucatecan dish from the Yucatan region, which then was part of our lunch or dinner. And a couple days we had a mixology class to learn to make, and to drink, different cocktails as well.

Merida has been called the Paris of Mexico. In the late 19th and early 20th century the area around Merida prospered from the production of henequen, which like sisal, was used to make rope and twine. In a brief period at the turn of the 20th century Merida had more millionaires than any city in the world. As a result of this wealth there are many large and elaborate homes in the city. The haciendas in the surrounding area, including the one where we stayed, were the centers of the henequen plantations.

During our trip we visited two different sets of Mayan ruins near Merida, Uxmal and Dzibilchaltun.  Uxmal was the larger of the two sites but at Dzibilchaltun there was also a museum, which provided information about that specific site and the Mayan civilization in general. Uxmal did have a lot more iguanas.   After visiting Uxmal we stopped for a swim in a cenote, shown in one of my photos. Cenotes form when limestone bedrock collapses exposing groundwater in a pit or sinkhole. Cenotes are common in the Yucatan peninsula and they had religious significance for the Mayans.

We happened to visit at the end of October so we were able to visit Merida for the traditional Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations. In the Passeo de las Animas (Passage of the Souls) children and teens, made up as the dead with white and black skull makeup, walk through the town. Many of them also wear traditional Yucatecan dress. Many people create altars to remember their dead with photographs of the deceased, their favorite foods, flowers, and other offerings. The altars may be simple or quite elaborate and many were set up on the street as part of the celebration. The most unusual one that we saw was done by the American Consulate in Merida, which commemorated Abraham Lincoln.

Many Mexicans dig up the bones of the deceased after several years. After the bones are cleaned they are interred in the walls or floor of a church, or the walls of a cemetery. One of my images shows the wall of the Cementario General in Merida where people on Dia de Muertes placed candles where their relatives’ bones are now entombed.