Carnaval Day 3 and Izamal
Trip Start Feb 09, 2012
16Trip End Feb 24, 2012
Off the main highway, approaching Izamal we drove through small fields of agave from which henequin is produced. These are a mere shadow of the enormous plantations of the past that produced much of the wealth in this area. Our guide stopped and tore off a piece of the agave leaf and stripped it down to the fiber demonstrating the strength of the hennequin or as we know it sisal. We learned that the term sisal is really not related to the plant or to the fiber itself, Sisal is the name of the port city where the henequin bales were loaded onto ships bound for the gulf coast of the U.S. The bales were stamped with the name of the port "Sisal" and shipped here for processing into rope as well as other products and then sold around the world.
We toured the city by van, horse carriage (caresa) and on foot. It is a town of about 35,000 with a very comfortable, friendly feel to it. Right in the heart of the town are the ruins of Mayan pyramids, Kinich Kakmo, Kabul and Itzamotul and the Conejo.
The dominate structure, however, is the large Franciscan convent built on top of one of the Mayan pyramids. The Catholics dismantled three of the pyramids to construct the convent which is still inhabited by monks today and boasts the second largest closed courtyard next to the one in Vatican City. It is an impressive structure.
We proceeded to the convent and did a little tour. The building, and the town, we're painted in the yellow and white color scheme back in 1993 when Pope John Paul II visited the city. These are the color of Vatican City and was done to honor the pope's visit. It is quite striking and many of the homes and businesses continue the color scheme making this a very photogenic city. Over the years the convent has lost some of its luster and the paint could sand a little refreshing.
We did a carriage tour back our to KInich Kakmo and around some of the side streets, it is a very pleasant little town with some newer homes and some in disrepair but I would say the majority of the homes look to be in good condition. Another thing of note was very little vehicle traffic through town. Many folks travel the streets by bicycle and we were told that bicycles are available for rent in the zocalo. There was also evidence of a few carnaval a rides at one end of the park for the local celebration of Carnaval.
We strolled through small marketplace and an artesan museum that explained the history of the hennequin with displays of some of the products, including the hennequin hammocks. We also learned that during the boom days Koreans were brought in to work the hennequin fields, that was a surprise.
We ended our day in a lovely restaurant on one of the side streets, Kinich, serving Yucatanean specialties, handmade tortillas and very cold beer. We had a very good lunch, enjoying traditional specialties, George had a traditional grilled pork meal and Nancy pollo asado served with some peppers that had warnings all over them. It was very good and the setting, in a courtyard very pleasant.
I fell asleep on the ride back to Merida but still took a little longer siesta once in the hotel before heading back out onto the streets for more of Carnaval, tonight the regional dancers will perform in the parade.