Outside of Merida we visited the Hacienda Sotuta de Peón in Tecoh, Yucatán. It is a privately owned historic henequén plantation. We had a trilingual guide who was amazing as a storyteller and an actor getting totally into his tour. He did not only have our group of a dozen but also a group of Mexican tourists and continued in two languages and though his English was fluent his rapid Spanish took half the time!
He first explained to us that henequén is a plant that is called sisal in English and is also known as agave. It can make very strong rope, and hammocks and Tequila comes from the same plant. One of the many Land Reform laws required that each hacienda owner only keep 10% of his original land and this property, which was originally 3000 hectares was now only 300 hectares making it impossible to make a profit from the henequén which sold for so little. As a result they now rely on tourism.
We got to see how the henequén leaf was originally carded by hand by pulling it by hand through sharp spikes into strands and then how it was later done with machines. These could also string it together and mae into bales of 250 pounds which sell now for something like $50. We also received a tour of the owners lavish home brought back to its original nineteenth century splendor through original art and reproductions.
We were then all put on two sides of a large flat cart pulled by a mule at a relatively high speed. The cart was on rail tracks and sure enough at one point we all thought we were done for when the cart went off the tracks. We then understood why the crew carried walkie talkies... to call for help. Another crew member showed up with a large piece of wood to pry up the cart as they pulled and pushed the cart back on the tracks.
We were taken to the home of an 83 year-old Mayan gentleman who had worked on the Hacienda for his entire life. Our tour guide did a running translation from the Mayan dialect into Spanish and English as if he had never heard the spiel before... what a performance! The same transportation took us to an open covered porch with a thatched roof where we had a hearty lunch. Here are pictures of the Mayan and our guide as well as an image of his house and interior.
On another evening we were taken to Chichen Itza the most famous of the Mayan ruins in the Yucatán. Projected on the great Pyramid, originally hidden by the jungle, we saw a sound and light show telling the history of the site.
Near by was an ancient ball court where the Mayans played a game called pitz that was part of their political, religious and social life. The rubber ball ranged in size from a soft ball to a soccer ball. The players could not touch the ball with their hands but bounced it off their hips trying to get it through stone hoops along the ball court. The loser also lost his life... that is one way to reduce the population! Here is a bronze demonstrating the technique.
More to come...