KIUIC AND OUR YUCATAN JUNGLE EXPERIENCE 2006
Monday, February 13th 2006 our coordinated effort took shape as my wife Jane and our friend Jane Morley rolled
out of Mérida (named for a city in Spain) aboard the Mayab local bus bound south 80 kilometers to the Mayan city
of Oxkutzcab, meaning in Mayan the place of ramon trees, tobacco and honey. (Ox = ramon, a tropical tree that
provides feed for cattle, kutz = tobacco and cab = honey, which is a product of the area.)
This adventure was conceptualized a year earlier while the three of us drank coffee and dreamed of adventure in
our favorite coffee shop in Itzimna, Caffe Latte.
The seed of an adventure was planted; it would take root and blossom. Coordinating and planning paid off when
my wife Jane and I took a four-day fact finding tour shooting nearly 700 photos a month earlier.
This adventure centered around an overnight trip to a Mayan ruin named Kiuic. Kiuic is a Mayan name meaning
market or plaza. What makes this place so interesting and unusual is the fact that it is not open to the general
public, it is in a private reserve that has never been developed or renovated and it is in its pristine original
state…one of the last on this planet! Check it out at: www.kiuic.org
Kiuic was first visited, sketched and described by the world traveler and author John L. Stephens who published in
1843 Incidents of Travel in Yucatan in two volumes. In volume 2, he described this place he called Kewick. There
is even a sketch of the palapa home he called casa real where he and his crew stayed at the Mayan ruins of
Kiuic. Though Stephens describes the casa real as being filled with fleas and the walls of mud he said;
“We had seldom experienced higher satisfaction on reaching a new and unknown field of ruins, though perhaps
this was owing somewhat to the circumstances of finding ourselves, after a hot and perplexing ride, safely arrived
at our place of destination.” This is an excerpt from Volume Two, Chapter IV and believe it or not this fabulous
classic publication is still in print after 163 years!
Located in the southern tip of the state of Yucatan, Kiuic is near the end of the last road. This wild wilderness is
hauntingly beautiful especially with the multitude of Mayan temples that speak of one the greatest civilizations that
this world has ever known. These Mayans developed by themselves mathematics using the decimal and negative
numbers, something that totally escaped the great Greek mathematicians. Their sophisticated astronomy led
them to develop a calendar thousands of years ago more accurate than the one we use today.
The foot print of these incredible people is still found in the area place names, the many thatched palapas houses
exactly the same style as untold generations over the millennia have called home and their ever present language
is spoken and understood throughout this area.
Day one of our jungle experience began early on a cool winter’s morning for my wife Jane and I when we bicycled,
fully provisioned, from our home to the Mayab bus terminal in the city center of Merida. Our friend Jane Morley
bussed in from Progresso and we connected with the 9:30 bus departure a full hour earlier than we all had
agreed to…it must have been our heightened anxiety and our eagerness to begin our outback odyssey that made
us all over an hour early.
We had never traveled with Jane Morley and we had reservations as to her sensitivities to relative discomfort. We
were soon to find out that she was a real sport as well as a willing trooper when she got the bus driver laughing
hysterically with her broken Spanish. I am not sure exactly how she said it but the English translation was this; “I
will have the flu in two hours if you don’t turn down the air conditioning.” Well, he explained that he couldn’t turn it
down as it only had two speeds…on and off! So, he shut it off, opened his side window and preserved Jane’s
health. The bus driver retold the story to someone aboard the bus and and as he was telling the story, he broke
into such continuous laughter that soon his infectious hilarity overtook one and all.
Our two-hour scenic local bus tour took us through all of the towns and villages along the way to our destination
of Oxkutzcab where Jane and I disembarked with our bicycles. We arranged a tricycle taxi for Jane Morley and we
were off across town to check out a hotel that had been recommended to us. The Puuc Hotel was acceptable but
the location left something to be desired for our plans to sightsee the city center so we headed to Hotel Trujeque
located on the city central plaza where we had stayed a month earlier on our fact finding tour.
Well, would you believe when Jane and I turned into the hotel parking area we somehow lost our friend Jane
Morley and her tricycle taxi driver? We checked into the hotel and still no sign of our traveling companion and her
taxi driver…had he absconded with her?
I set out by bicycle in search but I found no sign of them so I decided to return to the hotel and wait. On the way
back to the hotel they pulled along side me like nothing had happened…we later learned that Jane Morley was
having a hard time telling her taxi driver in her broken Spanish that she wanted to go to a hotel.
Jane Morley and her taxi driver pictured with my wife Jane in Oxkutzcab.
This PM after a fabulously generous and delicious meal at a local cocina economica we all struck off to find our
own adventures. Jane Morley rented a taxi like the one above and visited several local homes, picked fruit and
visited the old Ermita church that sits high atop a hill overlooking the city.
My wife Jane and I set out to explore places we had not visited previously. (We first visited Oxkutzcab 25 years
earlier by narrow gauge train.) This afternoon we found ourselves out in the countryside riding a country trail…a
slice of paradise away from all motor noises.
WE RODE THIS TRAIL NEAR SUNSET AND THE SOUNDS OF THE BIRDS WERE INCREDIBLE.
On the streets of Oxkutzcab we watched this man hand chisel this stone used to grind corn in a local
corn mill where tortillas are made. He told us that this process needed to be repeated every three
months and it took him two hours using only his trained eye and his simple little hammer. He said that
his business is doing all of the area mills.
This full-mooned night we listened to Jane Morley’s afternoon adventure stories while we ate salbutes and
panuchos in the main market; they were not only savory but also very affordable. Then we strolled the streets and
found ourselves in a liquor store where we drank a beer… the owner cautioned us that we were to conceal our
beer if the police arrived because he didn’t have a license.
And so ended day one of our jungle adventure tour.
THE ANCIENT SPANISH ERMITA CHURCH PERCHED HIGH UPON A HILL OVERLOOKING OXKUTZCAB.
THE WALK WAY FROM THE ERMITA CHURCH DOWN INTO OXKUTZCAB WITH THE MAYAN PALAPAS
HOMES UNCHANGED OVER THE CENTURIES.
Day two; after a good snooze we revisited the main market for shopping and photos. We meet Jane Morley
coming out of the old church. She visited the big downtown church and managed to get locked in…and our
second day of adventures was just starting!
OLD PART OF THE CATHEDRAL OF OXKUTZCAB WHERE JANE MORLEY WAS LOCKED IN!
Our bus to our destination at the Mayan village of Yaxhachen, a Mayan word meaning; Yax= new,
ha=water and chen meaning well, is waiting directly across the street from our hotel. My wife Jane and
I load our bicycles aboard the second-class bus because it has the most room inside. Jane Morley
opts for the first class bus for fifteen pesos.
BUSES TO YAXHACHEN
At 11:30 we roll away for another adventure and the entertainment aboard our bus is so intense we become
saturated with the nonstop routine of the men in the following photo.
Entertainment aboard the Yaxhachen bus, loco y lococido. (Crazy and crazier.)
The man on the left is Omar Antonio Barcalar, a herb and natural medicine man.
These once a day buses would carry us up the incredibly steep hills through the outback and then an hour later
deliver us to this small Mayan village at the end of the road.
Jane and I offloaded our bicycles at the village zócalo and rode the two blocks to the home where we would spend
At the home of Dalio and Paula Yeh Solis is where we would spend the next day with these gracious hosts in their
very typical Mayan home, eating typical Mayan food prepared in the old traditional way using a comal over an
Dalio, Paula, Jane Morley and my wife Jane Grimsrud in front of their home. Check out the electric service
behind Adalio. 30 amp 110 volt service entrance with no box or insulation…shocking!
Our lodging place in the Mayan village of Yaxhachen where we would sleep in our hammocks in their living
room and eat the local traditional food prepared over an open fire. Hand made tortillas using freshly ground local
corn left a lasting impression and a yearning to return for that special treat. These are experiences not enjoyed
by any visitors we have ever met in our 30 plus years of Yucatan travels.
This PM after puchero, a Mayan meat and vegetable soup, and interesting conversation with Paula, wife Jane and
I together with Jane Morley were treated to an out-back milpa bike tour guided by Adalio. This trip alone was more
than worth the effort of our entire trip. Totally devoid of all motor noises we silently glided along on bicycles
through the Puuc Hills and ancient Mayan milpas unchanged for thousands of years. We had now gone past the
end of the road and we were just following a footpath with our bicycles that has been used by the locals for
countless generations. We rode until dusk in this pristine dream world to the neighboring state border of
Campeche, an adventure of a lifetime, and we knew what a rare and wondrous thing we were privileged to witness.
OUR MILPA TOUR GUIDE, DALIO IN FRONT OF HIS HOME AS WE DISEMBARK PAST THE END OF THE
ROAD THAT WOULD LEAD US THROUGH THE PUUC HILLS TO THE FRONTIER OF THE STATE OF
CAMPECHE. THE SUN WAS GOING DOWN FAST BY THE TIME WE ALL BICYCLED BACK.
OUT ON THE MILPA TRAIL WITH OUR GUIDE DALIO.
DALIO TOOK US TO SEE HIS BEE HIVES AND THEN ASKED HOW MUCH LONGER WE WANTED TO RIDE.
WE WERE CONCERNED ABOUT THE FADING DAYLIGHT SO JANE MORLEY ASKED DALIO WHAT TIME IT
WAS. DALIO GAZED AT THE HORIZON AND REPLIED 5 O’CLOCK. JANE HAD DOUBTS ABOUT HIS
ACCURACY SO SHE PULLED OUT HER MC DONALD’S WATCH TO CHECK THE TIME. DALIO HAD IT RIGHT!
After copious quantities of tacos for dinner prepared by Paula, wife Jane and Jane Morley and I took a full moon
light stroll through the gently quiet village of Yaxhachen devoid of motor traffic and blissfully serene and
quiet…yes a slice of paradise!
This very cool clear full moonlit February night promised to be especially memorable. We would sleep in our own
hammocks swung within an authentic Mayan home, guests of real Mayans. From our many years of experience in
this part of the world we knew the further from the sea the cooler the night plus these typical thatched Mayan
palapas are excellent natural air circulators automaticaly pulling warm air up and out. We bundled up and slept
quietly and very cozy.
PAULA HAND PATTING CORN MASA TO MAKE TORTILLAS ON HER WOOD FIRED COMAL. SHE MAKES
ENOUGH TORTILLAS FOR THE ENTIRE FAMILY EACH MEAL.
Day three; after a good snooze we packed up while Paula was busy tending her cooking fire and preparing
another huge stack of hand patted fresh tortillas that make us want to return for that special treat.
After Paula manages to stuff us to capacity with her savory tacos, wife Jane and I take our departure. We glide
silently through town blessed with sweet fresh air, solitude and the long shadows of an early tropical morning. Our
6-kilometer bike ride to the Kiuic reserve is through wild forest to rendezvous with our tour group arriving this
morning by car.
We arrive at Kiuic and you will notice on the sign that the standard for spelling this name does not exist.
The director of Kiuic reserve James Callaghan and his wife Ruby made our visit and tour into a fun, educational
and rewarding experience. We immediately got the warm and friendly vibes from them both while we were cordially
invited to rest in the shady jungle ambiance of the newly constructed dining hall where copious quantities of fresh
squeezed orange juice and tropical fruit were offered as welcoming hospitality.
Next James gave an orientation speech followed by a very interesting walking tour.
THIS IS THE REMAINS OF THE “CASA REAL” WHERE THE FAMOUS EXPLORER AND AUTHOR JOHN L.
STEPHENS AND HIS CREW STAYED ON THEIR JOURNEY THROUGH THE YUCATAN BACK IN 1840. NOTE
THAT ONE OF THE ROOF SUPPORT TIMBERS STILL STANDS AND THAT THERE IS STILL SOME REMAINS OF
PLASTER ON THE WALL BEHIND IT.
IF YOU TURN TO PAGE 44 OF VOLUME 2 OF INCIDENTS OF TRAVEL IN YUCATAN YOU WILL SEE A SKETCH
OF THIS CASA REAL AS IT LOOKED BACK IN 1840.
JAMES CALLAGHAN GIVING HIS INSPIRING AND INFORMATIVE PRESENTATION TO OUR TOUR GROUP
AND ABOVE THE DISTINCTIVE HAND CARVED ENTRY SIGN TO KAXIL KIUIC MADE OF LOCAL ZAPOTE
WOOD. KAXIL KIUIC IN MAYAN MEANS; THE FOREST MARKET OR PLAZA.
RUBY CALLAGHAN, WIFE OF JAMES AND COORDINATOR OF JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS
AT KIUIC INCLUDING HOSPITALITY AND MEALS… SHE MAKES IT ALL HAPPEN.
Then it was back to the dining hall for Mayan style puchero, (a meaty soup with lots of vegetables) accompanied
with lots of freshly hand made real corn tortillas. Then a few minutes to unpack, shower and a 5 minute rest in our
newly built two room palapas before rallying for our 3 PM Mayan ruins and nature hike. The hiking tour lasted until
the sun slipped away at the end of the day.
OUR AFTERNOON TOUR THAT TOOK US TO COUNTLESS MAYAN RUINS.
JAMES CALLAGHAN ALONG WITH HIS WIFE RUBY DIRECTS, COORDINATES AND DOES A MULTITUDE OF
OTHER TASKS INCLUDING GIVING THESE FACT FILLED LECTURES WITH A WEALTH OF INFORMATION.
THOUGH WE VISITED NUMEROUS MAYAN RUINS AT KIUIC WE ONLY WERE ABLE TO SEE A SMALL
FRACTION OF THE ONES THERE. THE WOODS ARE LITERALLY FULL OF THEM.
THIS IS OUR TOUR GROUP.
This evening we were treated to all you could eat Mayan style tamales with time to get acquainted, share thoughts
and interesting stories that prepared us for a wonderfully quiet and peaceful snooze; slipping off to sleep with our
minds dancing full of visions from a magnificent and memorable day well spent.
Day four; we arose with the sun, packed our gear, ate a hardy breakfast and silently slipped away on our bicycles.
The rest of the group would take a half-day guided hiking tour with James Callaghan.
We had 50 kilometers of hills and a strong head wind ahead of us this day so an early start was imperative.
Wife Jane and I had dreamed for many years of some day bicycling all the way across the Puuc Hills. Puuc in
Mayan means the edge of the hills or where the hills begin. This bike trip proved to be one of the best of our 40
plus years of cycling together.
CYCLING ACROSS THE PUUC HILLS LEAVING THE SMALL VILLAGE OF XUL WHERE WE MADE OUR FIRST
REST STOP. THE EXPLORER AND AUTHOR JOHN L. STEPHENS VISITED THIS VILLAGE OF XUL IN 1840
AND GAVE AN ELOQUENT AND INTERESTING ACCOUNT OF THAT ENCOUNTER IN HIS 1843 BOOK. I WON’
T SPOIL YOUR GOOD READ HERE BUT LOOK AT VOLUME 2 CHAPTER 4 AND DISCOVER FOR YOURSELF
THIS INTERESTING LINK IN CULTURAL EVOLUTION.
THE NAME XUL HAS MANY MEANINGS IN THE MAYAN LANGUAGE; A FIRE HARDENED DIGGING STICK,
FINAL AND IT IS ALSO THE NAME OF THE 6TH MONTH IN THE MAYAN CALENDAR.
Our next rest stop was at Xohuayan, a quiet and quaint Mayan village perched high atop a steep hill that we had
huffed and puffed to climb. The climb warranted a rest stop.
AT XOHUAYAN A SHADE TREE AND A ROCK TO SIT ON MAKE OUR STOP. THE TOWN CEMETERY IS QUIET
PLACE TO REST.
Jane and I had actually bicycled into this village some ten years earlier but from the other direction and this was
as far as we had gotten before. We actually rested in front of the very same store to take a break and cool in the
We were about to eat a light snack of fresh tortillas with salt and a glass of water when an inquisitive crowd
gathered. Only one man spoke Spanish the others only purely Mayan including the children.
An amazing thing happened here I don’t ever remember experiencing before in my life. We were offered beans by
a total stranger and felt his true human compassion for tired travelers in his town. We graciously declined his offer
because we have found eating too much on a long bicycle ride puts lead in our legs.
I AM RESTING IN THE SHADE, EATING FRESH CORN TORTILLAS AND A DRINK OF WATER. THIS IS WHERE
WE WERE OFFERED BEANS BECAUSE THEY FELT WE NEEDED MORE FOOD TO CARRY ON TO OUR
DESTINATION OF TEKAX…A LONG WAYS ACROSS THE PUUC HILLS.
CHILDREN CARRYING FRESHLY BOILED CORN FROM HOME TO THE MOLINO (MILL) TO BE GROUND
INTO MASA(DOUGH TO MAKE TORTILLAS); NOTICE THE TWO DISTINCTIVE TYPES OF DRESS. THE
TRADITIONAL MAYAN DRESS IS CALLED HUIPIL AND THE LADIES THAT DRESS THIS WAY ARE REFERRED
TO AS MAYAN. THE WESTERN STYLE IS REFERRED TO AS CATRINA STYLE LIKE THE GIRL ON THE RIGHT.
DOWN THE PUUC HILLS WITH OUR DESTINATION FAR OUT OVER THE DISTANT HORIZON.
Leaving town we sizzled down hill flying along and smoking our brakes as we went on our gorgeous way across
the Puuc Hills to Tekax, another Mayan town meaning edge of the woods. Tekax is a Spanish colonial town that
reflects centuries of Spanish influence in its distinctive buildings.
THE THREE STORY HOUSE JOHN L. STEPHENS DESCRIBES IN HIS BOOK WHEN HE VISITED IN TEKAX ON
HIS WAY TO MERIDA IN 1840. IT IS STILL THE TALLEST BUILDING IN TOWN.
Our hotel room at the Posada del Carmen in Tekax adjacent to our friend Carlos Carrillo’s restaurant El Huinic de
al Ermita was ready and waiting for us. Some of our tour group from Kiuic was enjoying dinner when we arrived
and asked us to join them. They had arrived by car so they were cool and relaxed; we on the other hand were
hot, sweaty, and stinky and spent. Our first priority was a cool shower followed by a peaceful nap. Then with our
bodily batteries charged and our appetites honed we went down to a two-hour dining extravaganza…heavenly! It
was magnificent as usual and we had the same waiter we have had for the past 25 years when we used to arrive
in Tekax by narrow gauge train.
JANE AND OUR WAITER GENARO AT THE RESTAURANT EL HUINIC DE LA ERMITA WHERE WE TEND TO
LINGER AN HOUR OR TWO OVER DINNER.
Day 5; after our special energy breakfast that Jane makes for our road trips and with our thermos full of hot coffee
we travel up to Kankab with our bicycles loaded atop a local taxi. Kankab in Mayan means red earth.
As we sat in the Kancab city park having our morning coffee children filed out of the school across the street. The
first little boy spotted us and yelled; “Gringos”! Then he ran over to us with a group of his friends and came up to
me and yelled; “War”! It is apparent that the despicable treatment of Mexicans in the US has left a lasting
impression on these people that all have relatives there or that have been there as workers.
THE BOY HOLDING UP THE SHOE IS THE ONE THAT YELLED “WAR”.
THE DIGITAL CAMERA IS AN INSTANT HIT WITH THE KIDS.
After spending time with the kids, we are on our way by bicycle up the hill to the Mayan ruins named Chacmultún.
In Mayan this means red stone and these unique ruins are made of rosy colored local rock. We even have an
ancient metate nearly worn through that was given to us by a good friend whose grandmother gave it to him. The
metate is a carved stone used by the ancients to grind their corn and our metate is from this locale and made of
the unique rosy stone found exclusively in this area.
ON THE ROAD LEAVING KANKAB HEADING UP TO CHACMULTÚN NOTICE THE MEN RETURNING FROM
THE JUNGLE CARRYING PALM THATCH WHICH IS LOCALLY CALLED PAJA AND USED TO MAKE PALAPA
THIS IS THE VIEW FROM THE RUINS OF CHACMULTÚN HIGH UP IN THE PUUC HILLS WHERE WE HAD OUR
LUNCH IN TOTAL PRIVACY. WE WERE LUCKY ENOUGH TO BE THE ONLY VISITORS TO THIS SITE THIS
DAY. OF ALL OF THE MAYAN RUINS WE HAVE EVER VISITED OVER THE YEARS THIS IS OUR VERY
FAVORITE. FROM HERE IT IS NEARLY ALL DOWN HILL BACK TO TEKAX; A DISTANCE OF TEN
KILOMETERS…OUR KIND OF BIKING!
Day six; we are up with the sun, eat one of Jane’s special power breakfasts, make a thermos of coffee and head
back to Merida by taxi arriving there at ten AM.
The trip isn’t over yet!
We bike home via our favorite coffee shop in Itzimna, Caffe Latte, where our dream of this trip began
over a year earlier. We still have more dreams to fulfill and this trip like most of our adventures only
whets our appetites for more…so stay tuned!
As our favorite German author Hermann Hesse so aptly put it in his novel Steppenwolf when he wrote of the Magic
Theater; “NOT FOR EVERYBODY!”
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