The other day my youngest daughter, son-in-law and I decided to take a day trip from our comfy beachfront rental and venture to Tecoh to see what that cave system had to offer.
It is a relatively short trip of some 25 minutes down highway 18 from Mérida. When you get to Tecoh you simply follow the main road through town and look for a large black and white sign on your left directing you to the “gruta“. The gate led us into what at first glance appeared to be a farmyard with a few outbuildings. After parking the car we were met by our guide – a Mayan man wearing white shirt, khaki pants and a straw hat. He presented us with a map of the cave system in both Spanish and English, and a flashlight for each of us. He then led us to the entrance.
Upon entering the cave we were struck by two facts – it was at least 10° F warmer in the cave, and it was decidedly more humid. I’ve been in caves from France to New Zealand, and these are the first ones I’ve ever been in where it was warmer than the aboveground temperature.
Immediately inside the entrance there was a fairly large colony of swallows. Their nests hung from much of the ceiling. According to the map and the guide there are 13 cenotes within the mapped portion of the system. There may well be more, but it would take some serious ‘spelunking’ and probably scuba gear to find out.
My little group only went in as far as the fifth cenote before it became obvious that we were woefully over-dressed for the serious work at hand. There are several places where hands and knees are the primary mode of travel. Other places require wading through the cenote. At 63 this is not the easiest way for me to travel.
My son-in-law would have been delighted to follow the guide wherever he led, but then again he thought it was fun to rappel out of helicopters from two hundred feet in the air when he was in the Army. I have some suggestions for any one wanting to take this excursion:
• Wear clothes that can get dirty without major heartache
• Bring a good strong flashlight that either is fully-charged or has fresh batteries
• Be prepared to get wet at least to the waist and have a towel either with you or at the car
• Keep a very close eye on the ceiling height and watch for stalactites (they’ve been there for millennia and don’t move when your head encounters them)
I am sure that anyone properly prepared will enjoy a visit to the caves at Tecoh. As always, remember to take some water along – the added humidity in the caves really draws on your reserves.
After Tecoh we decided to check out Dzibilchaltún and its cenote – Xlacah. Dzibilchaltún is approximately half way between Mérida and Progreso and on our way back to San Benito.
The cenote is located at the western end of the site and is as clear a body of water you will find anywhere. If it weren’t for the information in the pamphlet I would not have believed that it was over 45 meters (140 feet) deep at one end. One only had to ignore the modern clothing worn by the visitors around the cenote to imagine the ancient city dwellers drawing their water and socializing on its banks.
Dzibilchaltún has the distinction of having been well on the road to decline prior to the arrival of the conquistadors, although it was occupied for almost one hundred years after the coming of the Spanish. Having been founded in approximately 500 B.C. it flourished from about 750 A.D. to sometime during the 11th or 12th century.
The most notable feature to my mind is the Temple of the Seven Dolls. It is fairly clear that the Mayas had a firm grasp of the sun’s movements. Annually, on the spring and fall equinox, the rising sun appears in the center of the east-facing door of the Temple of Dolls and shines out through the west-facing door.
There is one ledge that appears to have been created for the sole purpose of making the filling of your pots and ewers easy. All in all it was an excellent way to end our ‘day trip’. We were tired but happy that we had gone on this adventure. We saw much of the countryside between Progreso and Tecoh and got a better feel for some of the smaller towns off the beaten path.
There is no doubt that there is much to see and do here in the Yucatan. My time here is drawing to a close and I’m starting to regret only being here one month. If you’re one of those tourists that feels they must fill every waking moment with sights or shopping, you will miss much of what makes the Yucatan so unique. Have a beer and enjoy the botanas – each restaurant offers their own slightly different varieties. I look forward to returning next year and enjoying the sights and events I’ve missed during this stay.
By Gil Beyer
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