Changes in Yucatan… maybe

During my first years in Yucatan, I learned a lot about common practices in the area. And inevitably when I asked why almost everything happened in such established, prescribed way, I’d be told –  “Es costumbre” – “This is the way it’s done.”

For example, it was considered folly to wash clothes in the afternoon. Shopping at the market also happened only in the morning. Floors had to be mopped with kerosene-laced water, and fish could not be eaten at night. As well, it took me some time to accept “the little basket” beside the toilet.

I came to apprecite the reasoning behind many of the cast-in-stone commandments. But I couldn’t get my head around the resistance to less traditional options that might make life easier or safer.

More than four decades later, sometimes I am still stumped – and yesterday was a good example of this.

Our friends, Allison & Cliff came along with Jorge & me to visit Cenote Kankirixche. The road into the cenote’s location was a rough go, but we expected this, and at just 30 pesos a person, the entrance price could not be beat. We were pleased to find a palapa with bathrooms and a small restaurant.  We also saw a strong wooden ladder for climbing down into the crystalline water. We figured the local government must have assisted a cooperative of villagers to build the infrastructure. Well done – we couldn’t wait to swim.

 But in the cenote cavern we encountered wasps – many, many, many of them – darting in and out of about 50 nests suspended overhead.

Even the bravest, non-sissies will flinch at going into an enclosed space where they are likely to get stung. In fact Allison emerged from the depths with several welts on her upper arm. To me, the wasps sounded agitated, and I climbed out quickly. I asked the people working at the cenote why they hadn’t moved the nests? In my opinion, angry wasps and tourists are not compatible.  If you want the wasps to be happy and not go into frenzy, you can’t allow people to disturb their habitat. If on the other hand, the cenote is meant to provide visitors with a unique water adventure – and increase income for the families that depend on this – then the wasps should be taken elsewhere.

I should have known better. My suggestion that the nests be removed was not at all well-received. I had definitely overstepped. “The wasps are used to going in there,” one young man told me. “The trees are flowering and that’s why there are so many of them.”

“Yes, I noticed,” I replied, “but some people are allergic to bee or wasp stings. If the insects swarm, they could cause serious injury.”

“Well if people want to come here, they have to take the wasps,” said another of the cooperative members.

I can understand that people who live close to nature respect the wasps’ right to build their nests where they have always built them. But surely the Dept. of Ecology or an environmental conservation agency must have ways to relocate their nests. In fact I looked it up on the internet, and yes, this can be done. I sincerely hope the members of the cooperative will consider this option.

The four of us hurried back into the car, and a short distance from the cenote, we arrived at Hacienda Mucuyche.  The cost to spend the day here is 250 pesos, but with our INEPAN seniors’ cards we would only have to pay 150 pesos each. We would have enjoyed touring the hacienda where the Empress Carlota stayed during her visit to Yucatan in 1865. And we could have spent all day swimming in the cenote and picnicking. But it had grown fairly late by the time we arrived at the hacienda, so we decided to come back another day. As we got set to drive away, one of the employees told us that the hacienda has been purchased by the owner of X’caret.

Continuing along, we came upon Hacienda Huayalceh de Peon – in its day, this was one of the largest haciendas in the state, and processed as much as 1,000,000 sisal leaves a week! The operation continued on a smaller scale until 2000, but a hurricane in 2002 damaged much of the machinery, and looting finished the job. Now, the owner is elderly and he rarely visits his formerly majestic family estate.  The villagers use the chapel for Mass once a week. Only the caretaker is on site full time, and he had no objections to us walking around the property. Jorge and I have visited this hacienda on many occasions. Even though the entire place is now in ruins, it is easy to see how grand it once was. Here too we were told that “an outsider” is interested the hacienda – about twice a month he shows up and offers to purchase it – he is told it is NOT for sale. I wonder if the would-be-buyer is the same person who bought Hacienda Mucuyche?

Time seems to stand still in the Yucatecan countryside, and in many ways this is beautiful. But if the people who live in these tucked-away corners of the peninsula are to prosper, they should consider their alternatives. If not, financial interests will prevail – and the last of the great haciendas, as well as natural attractions – will be developed for new purposes by those who are not adverse to change.

When I return to the area in a year or so, I hope I’ll see that the wasps have moved on and the cooperative is flourishing in the hands of the local villagers. I’ll definitely spend a day at Hacienda Mucuyche, and hopefully I won’t have to pay the price I would pay to enter X’caret. I wonder if Hacienda Huayalceh de Peon will still be in the hands of the family whose ancestors built the grand estate in the 1840s.

In the Yucatecan cities, villages and countryside, the threat of mismanaged change lurks alongside the potential for positive innovation. I hope that forward-thinking leadership, entrepreneurs and citizenry will work together to ensure a prosperous, dignified future for our amazing state.



Published by Changes in our Lives

I am originally from Canada but have lived in Mexico since 1976. My husband is from Merida, Yucatan and we raised our family here. We both worked for many years at Tecnologia Turistica Total (TTT), the tourism, language and multimedia college we founded for local and international students. Now retired, we enjoy spending time with family and friends, My other interests include spending time with freinds, reading, painting, cooking and travel.

19 thoughts on “Changes in Yucatan… maybe

  1. Very interesting piece about Yucatan and haciendas. I know of several that have been purchased and thoughtfully restored. Let’s hope that instead of ruin, we get restoration. But I know how romantic the unrestored is!


  2. Judging by the photo, the Hacienda Huayalceh de Peon must have been a grand and breathtaking spectacle in its heyday. What a shame that it cannot be restored to its former splendour. As for doing the laundry, in the rural village where I grew up everyone did their laundry in the morning, usually on Mondays. The village wives seemed to have a “competition” as to who would be the first to get her washing out on the line. By the way, for readers too young to remember drying clothes on a line al fresco, there was a real art to hanging out the laundry but that it a another story.


    1. So right you are Sharon. My mom had one of those “umbrela-type” lines as well as the long one. The small light items had to be hung over the inside sections – heavier fabrics outside . sheets and other large linens on the long line. Indeed it was an art!


  3. Wasps aren’t exactly an endangered species. Yes, the cenote ceiling is one of their natural habitats. But I’m with you. Either you protect the wasps or you have tourists, but it’s very hard to do both. Pity. The place looks beautiful, but I wouldn’t go in there with a load of wasps buzzing around.

    Frankly, resistance to change is probably a significant element in poverty in places like the Yucatán. Yes, traditions are good, but archaic production methods, archaic economic concepts, and other such holdovers only hold back the people who cling to them.

    Local charm is a very mixed bag in such a place. Indeed a great part of Mexico’s charm lies in all the old buildings and city centers that a more prosperous country surely would have torn down by now. Historical preservation of buildings is a relatively new concept.

    So maybe we should be a little more appreciative of the good side of luddite-ism.


    Kim G
    Redding, CA
    Where downtown hangs on as a sort of archaic but less economically viable area.


    1. As you know, there is much to love in Yucatan, but we do not live in a time warp. I feel that if Yucatan’s tourism industry is to stay viable, such things as the wasps will have to go. But the “vestiges of the past” should be preserved… the manners, hospitality and charm of the people need to be valued and held onto.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Love the cenotes in the Yucatan, but NOT with wasps. One we swam in had dozens of birds, but they were busy with their own lives.
    My son-in-law and I enjoy visiting old buildings, but it’s so sad when they are just left to decay. Sensitive restoration benefits the old estates, tourism, and the owners. Several close to/with cenotes appear to be flourishing. One hacienda we visited was a good example of unintrusive tourism – beautifully restored house, lunch under a huge palapa, tour of sheds with restored, operational machinery. S-I-L made his own piece of rope on machinery which had seen well more than one century. ( And bought 100 metres more which he carted back to Canada.) Then we piled onto a wagon pulled by a donkey and set off to their cenote. A stop along the way to visit a Mayan hut on the estate, a little talk by an elder, and on to discreetly hidden clean change rooms and washrooms before dipping into the cool, clear water. Afterwards, a refreshing margarita under a shady true. Sure, it’s development for tourists, but it’s a great family outing for all ages. Grandson was fascinated by the monkeys in the trees, riding in a donkey wagon, and watching Papa pulling on rope, not so much in the finer points of pasta tiles – but just fine for a 3 year old. Tourism such as this, returns buildings to their former glory, retains old crafts, employs local people in a variety of roles, and provides enough income to pay for the upkeep of the estate and support the owners/ villagers financially so that they are able to prosper.


    1. Excellent account Alice… was this outing you describe to Sotuta de Peon? I agree that tours like this are what is needed. Some argue they are expensive, but smaller scale, equally educational and fun are also available. Thanks always for your comments…


      1. My friends and I visited Sotute de Peon a few years ago and loved every minute exploring its totally restored beauty. The donkey wagon pulled through the henequén fields was a great deal of fun as were the visit with the elderly Maya gentleman who had worked on the hacienda for many years and the cenote. When we left the tour guide presented me with a small henequén plant which I planted in the garden. That plant is so beautiful now and she (it has to be a girl) has produced several babies (did not know henequén plants reproduced themselves without human interference).


      2. Sounds like you are another happy visitor after your experience at Sotuta de Peon… I went years ago when they first started… it sounds as though they have continued to improve th site. I will have to return.


      3. Yes, that was the place. I don’t remember it being particularly expensive. We did not take the tour bus from Merida, that year we had the bright yellow Expedia truck (Charlie and Jasper, the dog drove down from Victoria, BC and met the rest of us in Cancun). We paid admission at the gate, paid for our lunch, and a fee for a bilingual group tour guide. I just looked up the price for the tour package from Merida (close to $150 CDN), so getting ourselves there was a huge saving.


  5. I have seen the whole range of thoughtful, respectful use of cenotes to generate income for local cooperativa members and their families to the distressing unsustainable “rape” of the land by villagers who don’t understand what keeps tourists coming over the long haul. Cuzamá is an ugly example of the latter. The last time I ventured there it was so dirty, piled up with PET plastic and other trash and over-crowded, I vowed never to go there again. Such a shame to see what was once a pristine resource for the community fall on hard times. Needless to say, I minced no words with the guys that had transported us out to the cenotes. I could tell, however, that my words had no meaning for them. In the case of Cuzamá, the problem is not resistance to change; it is resistance to doing a bit of work to keep their community healthy. Grrrr!


    1. Well since you mention it, I think there is a bit of that going on at the place we went. It would be hard work to move to hives, build shade palapas and make beds of pretty plants. But it could be done… we know this because we both built schools at a time when it was not the “business” it is today… if you don’t love what you do, and if you aren’t willing to nurture and nurse it along, you are better off spending the day in your hammock…


  6. Great post! So true! Thank you.

    Situations like this can make your blood boil when you only want what is best for our community, GREAT STATE, and you are doing your part to help, and you can see things clearly because you walked around in their shoes, even when they were a bad fit…my friend who is there watching my place at the moment said recently (referring to the garbage in the area that holiday visitors left behind) “I can’t complain, and if I did, no one would care anyway” and unfortunately, I’m afraid she’s right.

    ” I’d be told – “Es costumbre” – “This is the way it’s done.” Once when I was a new small business owner in a depressed pocket of a city, I opened a store in an old empty neglected building that offered goods at lower prices than box-stores, and was more convenient to get to. I was greeted with “but you’re not from here, are you?” and “who do you think you are?” by the property owners of the neglected buildings that surrounded mine (as if I was some evil gentrify-er that had come to displace the poor) after I offered to pay for painting their places. “I should have known better…..I had definitely overstepped.”

    Some get it, though. My friends in Tijuana say it looks better there every day. Big changes happening there. Very interesting article! While our geographic situation is different, there is a lot of food for thought:


    1. Oh my goodness… I am continually made aware that when I re-named my blog to “Changes in our Lives”… I created a platform for the dominant theme in my life right now. And the foreseeable future looks like it will follow suit. So many aspects of my world have already re-aligned. I strive to stay serene and let the rest unfold as it needs to…


    1. Do you mean the “Frida Tatoo”? I wanted to paint her famous eyes but I didn’t want to just copy of one of her self-portraits,,, I decided on the tatoo and am happy with how it came out. My son has it in his house now.


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