Hacienda Hotel Santo Domingo, @ cruz de  c.18  y  c.33,  Izamal, Yucatan

We wanted to travel a bit, safely, so we headed to what I think of as the Indigenous capital of Yucatan, Izamal – (we live in the Hispanic and political capital, Mérida).  Izamal is about 72 kilometers (45 miles) to the east of Mérida, and north of the Cancún highway on Route 11.  It took us about 100 minutes from centro to centro to get there, driving leisurely.  The express bus is probably faster (scroll to From Mérida to Izamal).

We had a delightful stay at Hacienda Hotel Santo Domingo, which is run by Harald, an affable man from Austria, and his lovely Mexican wife, Sonia. Harald studied tourism as a lad, and his design-sense is excellent. They have twelve rooms in an elegant facility, depicted at their website.

Dining room where we enjoyed a fine candle-lit dinner.

Poolside breakfast

The hotel is nestled quietly on the outskirts of the city, a short ten-minute walk to centro, straight down c.33.

Handsome cabs (calesas) are lined up, while a tour group listens to a guide.

After a relaxing visit in a gentle setting, it’s back to the city of the conquistadores.

Mérida :   the remate, Paseo Montejo @ c.47


¿¿ Spooky holiday, or Precious Observance ??

Photo by Toby Ord, Wikimedai Commons


My photo, 2012, Santiago Plaza, Merida


History, especially religious history, morphs over time.  The results can be dark, confusing.  I recently wrote to our Mayan gardener, Victor, who has a college degree and a teaching certificate, asking about his understanding of the local holiday, Hanal Pixan:

YUCATECO MAYA :  HANAL PIXAN  (meal of souls)

SPANISH :  DÍA DE LOS MUERTOS  (day of the dead)


My query to Don Victor :

I’m wondering about the name of this holiday, as I have doubts (or discomfort) about the English rendering: “day of the dead”.  I would prefer to call it day of the ancestors, or day of remembrance (memorial day is too vague, [and /or already dedicated to fallen warriors].  Any thoughts?

He wrote back in Spanish, so I will summarize his points:

En la cultura maya se celebra el “Hanal Pixan”, que literalmente significa comida de las almas. Tiene un sentido estrictamente espiritual, recordando a los fallecidos, de quienes se cree que aún están presentes entre nosotros de manera espiritual, y por eso se hace un altar para compartir con ellos: flores, alimentos y bebidas que fueron sus favoritos, para que tomen el espíritu o esencia de lo ofrecido.

“El Día de Muertos” es de la cultura celta, y se sincronizó con otras culturas que poco a poco perdieron su originalidad, también influenciadas por la Iglesia Católica. El del camino de las almas y la pintura del rostro como se hace ahora en Mérida es un teatro sencillo para atraer más turismo, está lejos de la tradición maya de los antepasados.

In their culture, it is a spiritual holiday celebrating and sharing a meal of remembrance with departed souls, mainly family ancestors.  (It seems to me, from my reading of his words, to be less about the saints of the church, which may have been more prominent in earlier Euro versions.) Surviving family members today believe the offerings and the altar invite the essential visitation of the departed, and the meal of souls is thus shared solemnly, and apparently with gratitude.

He continues, that it seems the original sense of the holiday has been largely lost in the Euro (Celtic/Catholic) version, with the current influence becoming largely to invite tourism. [I’ve heard that Mexico City didn’t even celebrate this holiday until recent times, when the attraction of tourists was noticed, as a potential.]

My sense is that it originally was never about goblins, monsters, death, or the occult.  I see it rather as about thanksgiving, and appreciation of those who have enabled our survival.  So, if you want to scare yourself, just say


¡ BU !


or better yet, say


Language Lesson:

Fantasma > Ghost // Hallowe’en
Hallowe’en “hallowed [sagrado] evening” = se llama la noche antes del Día de Todos los Santos / All Saints Day
Hanal Pixán (en Yucatán): “comida con las almas/ o las animas, de los antepasados” // “meal with the ancestors” day of the dead (ej: high plains of Mexico/en altiplano)

Apparition > aparición “imagen, sin cuerpo” (yo soy, pero no estoy mi coche, ni mis zapatos, ni aunque mi cuerpo; soy mi alma.)
Nube > cloud
Niebla > fog
Neblinoso > foggy, cloudy, misty, hazy

Ghost > geist/geest (German/Dutch) : mind-spirit / fantasma
Holy Ghost > Espíritu Santo (ej: como Juan 14:26, el Consolador / the Comforter)

Soul > alma/espíritu/anima
Visitation > visitación (ej: como María, Lucas 1:28): Y entrando el ángel en donde ella estaba, dijo: ¡Salve, muy favorecida! El Señor es contigo; bendita tú entre las mujeres.

Wind/breath/spirit // pneuma/ruach (English // Greek/Hebrew)
Bible translators need to examine the context of wind, breath, spirit (viento, respiración, anima) as in both Hebrew and Greek, the words could all mean the same, yet are different concepts.






Hurricane Grace is comin’! 
Stuff we’ve done to prepare:  (applies to Buffalo blizzards, too) —

Charged all devices:  computers, phones, Kindles, portable drill, mosquito racquets (matar mosquitos).

Topped up the rooftop water tank, tinaco, to the brim. (Just lift the cord inside the tank which tethers the float valve, lowering it when full.)  Also, wise to tie the lid of the tank with strong cord or woven cable, tethering it so it doesn’t sail off like a Frisbee.
Fueled car, adding some fuel treatment (ethanol, not methanol) to mitigate moisture.

Shut off propane tank.
Shut off outdoor circuit breakers to well pump and pool pump.

Cleared yard of chairs, and any possessions that might become airborne trash.

Put some sheltered louvered-windows open at 45º to allow for pressure differential, in the event of tornadoes.

Turned off solar panel system, covering some panels with precut plywood to shield them from flying trash, clamping edges tightly.

Added algicide and chloro tabs to swimming pool, drawing pool level down a bit (six inches) to prevent excessive dilution.  (Hey, it’s smart to put your raincoat on before getting drenched!) 

Removed art work and soft goods from our patio room, which has only screens and bars, protectores, as a fourth wall.

Added a few clamps to downspouts, cleaning out scuppers, and replacing rusted wire mesh to prevent clogging of drains.

Park your car in a parking ramp at a hotel, shopping center, or hospital — but not below ground!  (Thanks, Hammockman Paul!)
If leaving car on street, fold back car mirrors on both sides, to reduce their risk to flying trash.

Put heavy barrier against upstairs backdoor to prevent it blowing open, as it faces direction of oncoming storm.

Shopped mostly for canned and dry goods — stuff that doesn’t require chilling. Grains, such as rolled oats, rice, beans keep well, but need to be stored well to prevent ants and rats from dining.  (Shout-out to Jim at BackyardNature.net)
Store some firewood or charcoal in a dry space. If in the tropics, be sure it is wood which termites won’t eat, such as zapote, or other hardwood. (Jim)
Buy fresh batteries of various sizes.
Lay in extra bottled water — six 20-liter garrafones (five-gallon jugs).

Eat your ice cream after the power goes out.  We waited for four hours; it was still hard, but just starting to soften.  (Don’t open the fridge unless absolutely necessary!) But we were ready for bed, so we had a double portion of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia, and retired for the evening.  Hurricane Grace took down some trees around town, and knocked our power out for 13 hours, here. (Friend Jeff lost power for 20 minutes.)
If power goes out for long, call around to friends (assuming there is a cell signal) to learn who has electricity.  Then invite yourself over, bringing pot luck, and any melting fridge-stuff.  Maybe empty the fridge before departing, leaving fridge door open.  Bring a hammock, a change-of-clothes, sleeping bag, go-bag, book, deck-of-cards, umbrella, raincoat, money, passport, hand-crank radio, solar lantern, back-up disk, etc.   (Thanks again, Hammockman.)

Mérida to Palenque, by Car

We left Merida Sunday morning at 8am, figuring commercial traffic might be light. Apparently not so — but who could know what it would have been like on Monday?  There was plenty of truck traffic. Even a wreck.  ¿Did a tire blow?  (The road was rough.)  ¿Did somebody fall asleep?  We saw tandem rigs (doble remolques) hauling rails and concrete ties for Tren Maya, along with all sorts of other big rigs.

Road wrecks, big rig in a ditch.

This adventure hinges on road signs. Our plumber, Rolando, likes to make fun of those people from Campeche who try to visit Merida but get lost and end up back where they started. Well, maybe the road signs of Yucatán confuse them, along with confusing many expats trying to leave Merida. I’ve been driving here for a decade, and yet I was flummoxed, wanting to bypass the many topes (speed bumps) in Umán by taking Rt. 180.  But it was hard, even after having consulted google maps regarding the correct exit from the periferico (ring road). Yes, surprisingly tricky when actually driving on the highway, attempting to comprehend the road signs while having an overview of what was sought!

But that was mild compared to our experience in Campeche state. After nearing Campeche city we pulled into a rest stop at a La Gas on that city’s periferico so we could fill the tank and drain bladders, about 10:30, at about 160 km from Merida. A few short miles after getting back on, I saw a sign flit past saying CHAMPOTÓN CUOTA (a cuota is a modern toll road), but that brief look allowed no time to change lanes to take the turn for the easier route. I even knew I was looking for that road, but thought it would be labeled 180-D, or Autopista. (You’d figure after spending all that money to streamline the highway, the traffic engineers would have done a better job of marking, inviting people to pay to use their pricey handiwork — but no, the sign allowed no time to decide, as it was virtually at the ramp.)  The price is 80 pesos, which we learned on the return trip where the signage was much better.  That’s about $4.oo usd, for a short but efficient ride — well worth it in reduced driving stress.

So, after missing the easy way, we took the Libre, which is very hilly-curvy-narrow-scary-blind, for about a half hour. And then we saw another invitation to connect with the cuota. But wait! There was an unstaffed tollbooth (caseta, o kiosko).  It had barriers blocking access, including a barrel, a lift arm, and a short metal guardrail placed to block access. The remote entrance ramp looked unused, “abandoned”, closed.  ¿Had they not finished building this stretch of highway yet?   So we got back on the Libre for some miles until we came to an unmarked fork in the road — and, as Yogi Berra advised, “when you come to a fork in the road, take it”.  Fortunately there were a few people cutting firewood nearby at road’s edge who told us to turn around and go back — but to where? Well, sure enough, we turned around and eventually saw a sign for cuota and arrived at the same empty tollbooth. I got out of the car and was about to take a photo of this conundrum when a young woman sprinted across the road. So I asked her how to get on the cuota. She stepped into the booth and said “pay me 43 pesos.” She gave us a digital receipt, removed the barrel, raised the bar, and we were on our way. (Apparently she lived nearby, and had gone home to pee or snack or watch a telenovela.) Onward!

Champtón, a fishing village in Campeche state, on the Gulf, and on perhaps what is the only river of the peninsula.

We got to Champotón about noon and had a tasty fish plate at a rustic market facing the Gulf, on the west end of town, just before the squarish lighthouse. The place was bustling, even on a Sunday. And then we headed for Escarcega and beyond, on a long, straight highway which was very rough, due to multiple patchings.

Things got smoother once we passed into the lush cattle country of Tabasco state.

Cattle country, bull

Arrival in Palenque was a bit fraught, at least according to my wife.  I had studied the city on google street-view, and thought I knew where our hotel was situated. So I was open to wandering around a bit, as it was only 4 pm — meaning the transit time from Merida, including lunch and that strange detour near Campeche city was 8 hours. So, why not explore?

Palenque is very hilly.

Well, we got a bit lost and found ourselves on a very rough, steep, unpaved street, which was badly eroded. It was not passable without 4-wheel drive. (Believe me, I tried, much to her distress.) So we backed out, and wandered some more, finally asking a local how to find barrio La Cañada, the lovely hotel district :  watch for a sky blue hotel of three stories, on the main highway thru town. Turn there, perhaps after looping around a glorieta, (there’s a median) onto cobbled streets. This will get you away from traffic noise, to reveal several blocks of cozy hotels and eateries. This enclave is shaded by tall trees. They’ve wisely retained the trees, covered with vines and populated by birds. It’s a taste of tropical jungle — a welcome spot to rest and explore.

We had visited the famous ruins of Palenque two years ago on a wonderful tour with our good friend, Marina, on her “signature tour” of Chiapas, staying briefly at the Mission Hotel in Palenque, near the edge of the hotel district, which was comfortable. This time we opted for the Tulipanes, which was also comfortable:

It’s hard to book hotels online, as middlemen have muscled into the process, which I detest. (I won’t use them, as I had to fight hard for a cancelation/refund a few years ago.) As a retired small-business person, I prefer to go directly to a site to consider my choices, but this is no longer easy. One Palenque hotel, the Chablis, online seemed to be closed, as their site, their phone number, and their email address on the internet and on facebook, no longer worked; but they were clearly open, just down the street from where we stayed. (So I told an employee standing out front that their marketing was presently blind, explaining my experience.)  Even Hotel Tulipanes did not confirm my reservation by email, which they had agreed to do — not even after several email queries from me. (I did not give them a credit card number.)  But my reservation was on file when we arrived.  The world gets stranger by the day.

Cafe Jade, in barrio La Cañada, Palenque.   Good food, good lattes here.

The purpose of our visit was to know the city better, as it will become one terminus of Tren Maya, the other being Cancún.  We appreciate train travel, and thought it would be worth visiting this destination to understand the city better before the train arrives.  Well, the city seemed chaotic, and already overgrown.

Maybe humans are feeling a bit stressed living atop each other, considering the population density, and the housing crush evident in this city. (I didn’t see a single for-sale sign.)  Palenque has some big-box stores (Chedraui, Boxito, Coppel) and plenty of little tiendas, all planted atop hillocks (think Bullet, an old film from San Francisco, California).  And plenty of traffic gridlock.

The monkeys, too, are experiencing stress in their lifestyle.  But apparently some sympathetic relatives have taken pity, and built them safer highway crossings, just outside of town, “monkey bridges” to keep our furry friends safer (after clear-cutting their jungles nearby, replacing the trees with palm-oil plantations).

Tedious driving aside, this trip was a fun outing after being mostly housebound for more than a year due to pandemic!  We would rather have ridden the train, but we just got impatient.



La EPICURE GOURMET : : New in Santiago

Chef Patricia and her partner, Jacinto

There is a new provisioner in the barrio, on C.59 between Bicimoto and OXXO (x c74 y c72).  Watch for the blue door, as there’s no sign yet.  (They’ve relocated here from Santa Ana.)

They have a good range of hard-to-find foodstuffs, including US-grown russet potatoes, salamis and cheeses from Italy and Spain, harissa, and staples such as rye flour and semolina flour.   (I’m hoping they might source my favorite potato, the Yellow Finn, now that Mexico is allowing potato imports.)

There is an espresso machine, and a seating area with four chairs and tiny table.  I forgot to ask if they feature real whole milk, instead of that UHT milk (ultra -high temperature “dead milk”) which doesn’t even require refrigeration, standard in most cafés here.  (Twice monthly we drive all the way to Costco to buy fresh milk for our fridge.)

Welcome to the neighborhood, guys!


I recently donated this important book to the collection.  It’s about the inevitability of geo-engineering, to attempt to compensate for environmental damage that the human species has done to Mother Earth.  The last half of the book is especially troubling.  Note:  books must be “quarantined” between borrowings.  Expect delays. 

A book NOT to be found at M.E.L.

In Walter Isaacson’s masterful biography of Einstein there is a footnote about an exchange between NY Regents (NY’s top group of high school educators) writing to ask Einstein what they should have students study. This was during the space-race with the Russians.  His response: “have them read the biographies of the great ones.” While he didn’t name any, it is well known that Einstein was a big fan of Spinoza — especially of  “Spinoza’s God”.  But few have ever heard of the man. So, who was Baruch “Benedictus” Spinoza?  Glad you asked.

He was recognized early in school as a prodigy, and was, perhaps, being groomed to be a rabbi — until he began to ask uncomfortable questions.  (I liken this to a fictional character in my favorite children’s book: The Emperor’s New Clothes, who dared to announce that the king was naked.) 

Spinoza was a deep student of the Hebrew scriptures, but dared to opine that Moses couldn’t have written these five books, called Torah – the “instructions”, or the “law”.  Ooops!  Nor could he believe that God would “choose” any group of people to be favorites.  Double-ooops!  Well, at the young age of 23, he found himself permanently excommunicated from his synagogue in 17th-century Amsterdam, and utterly marginalized by his own community, cursed.  His brother (his business partner) was disallowed from even speaking with him.  According to the writ, he was damned by all Jews for all time.

This didn’t seem to trouble him much.  Rather, it was liberating.  He was suddenly free to think and inquire, and hang out with other like-minded people, of which there were many in Holland.  Most of these were “fringe” Christians (not Calvinists!); one was a former Jesuit.  Spinoza began to teach his friends how to read Hebrew.  He learned to write in Latin from the Jesuit.  And he wrote deeply about his favorite topic: reality — which he was convinced was a spiritual topic: God, or Nature).  He wrote a book titled ETHICS which is almost like a geometry textbook of axioms and theorems. 

He had enemies among Jews, and Calvinists.  Somebody tried to stab him to death, but only penetrated his heavy coat, leaving a big slash.  He wore that coat for the rest of his short life.  He was especially interested in logic and math.  And tolerance.  (He never joined a church.)

The biography depicted above suggests that the English philosopher John Locke, who spent five years in Holland shortly after Spinoza’s death, hung out with Spinoza’s fringe friends. Locke was later a big influence for US Founding Fathers (Jefferson, Franklin, et al) who drafted the US Constitution.  It is possible that the concept of our First Amendment was benefited by Spinoza’s courageous free-thinking. Tolerance, and separation of church and state, are (were?) key factors in the success of the American nation.  (Another famous Jewish philosopher, Karl Popper, offered what has become known as Popper’s Paradox of Tolerance) which we would do well to grasp.

But why my headline?  For several years I’ve been donating important books to MEL, and of late have been offering to underwrite select books for approval by the Library’s Collection Committee, hoping to enhance the Philosophy and Religion section.  But this Spinoza biography was declined, for “lack of shelf space” or for being “of marginal interest to our readers” or some other inscrutable reason.  When I suggested that Spinoza’s Ethics, which the library owns (and is rarely borrowed, and is available free at Gutenberg dot org) could be replaced  (deflating the “space” argument) with a biography which is more accessible, the rejection still stood.  (I can’t tell if this is literary suppression, or something personal; but if you live in Merida, and wish to borrow my copy of the biography, leave a comment at the blog, which I will not publish;  but I’ll contact you.)

This is a dangerous book, as it will have you thinking outside the box of dogma.  Note: you can read a generous sample of Betraying Spinoza here, at Amazon — click on the cover to Look Inside.  The book contains some Jewish words that are usually translated on the fly (once), by the author, who herself is a former Orthodox Jew, and a professor of philosophy at Princeton, as well as being widely recognized as a literary talent.  (The question of identity: ¿Who am I? is a prominent feature in this book.) Dare to discover! 

If you want to read Spinoza directly (in English translation) this might be a good place to start — but Goldstein’s biography, in my view, provides inspiring context of a courageous life well-lived and well-told.