Wednesday, September 11, 2019

A visit to Campeche's Zoo and Botanical Gardens

Margay cat (Leopardus wiedii). We found this small wild cat at Campeche's Zoo and Ecological Center. This beautiful animal is one of many that inhabit the Mexican State of Campeche and other parts of the Yucatan Peninsula. Most of these creatures live in deep forest or remote coastal areas and are wary of humans. Visiting this facility is a great way to see creatures you might not otherwise encounter. The Zoo and Ecological Center is open daily, except Monday. The hours are from 10am to 4pm.

The Margay is a solitary, nocturnal animal that is smaller, but otherwise similar in appearance, to the ocelot. Its habitat is forest land, either deciduous and evergreen. The cat's climbing ability allows it to hunt up in the trees rather than on the ground. The Margay's diet consists of birds and their eggs, lizards, monkeys, tree frogs, opossum, and fruit. The Margay's extra large eyes also assist in its hunting. Females usually produce only a single cub in a mating cycle and cubs suffer a 50% mortality rate, keeping normal population numbers small. However, illegal hunting and deforestation have reduced the already small population and caused Margays to be listed as a threatened species.

Northern crested caracara (Caracara cheriway). The caracara's wing span averages 125cm (49in) and its weight ranges from 0.45-0.9kg (1-2 lbs). It is not a fast flyer like its cousins the falcons. Consequently, this large bird is often a scavenger rather than a hunter. It has been observed walking or even running along the ground. The caracara has a very wide range. It has been spotted from the northern Amazonian Basin all the way up to New Brunswick, Canada. Normal habitat for the caracara is open agricultural land, but it can also be found in coastal woodlands and mangrove swamps.

Its diet is primarily carrion and slow-moving or immobile live prey. These, include small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, fish, crabs, insects, and occasionally fruit. Some Mexican ornithologists believe that the caracara is the "eagle" depicted in sacred, pre-hispanic, Aztec codices. If true, the bird appearing on the Mexican national flag, sitting on a nopal cactus eating a snake, may well be a caracara.

Coatimundi (Nasua narica). Like their raccoon cousins, these little guys are active, clever, and dexterous. Although we found them in an enclosed area in the Zoo, the coatis had long since figured out how escape. A few moments after we appeared at their cage, coatis were suddenly in front of us on the sidewalk. They stood on their hind legs and extended their front paws in an obvious appeal for treats. We had nothing for them and, in any case, the Zoo discourages feeding them. After a bit, they departed with disgusted expressions. In their view, we were just another couple of stingy tourists.

Like the caracara, coatimundis have a wide range. They can be found everywhere from South America to the southwestern US. These little creatures have sharp teeth and it is therefore risky to keep them as pets. Their long prehensile tails are used for balance and signaling. Coatis often live in troops and extend their tails straight up to keep track of each other in brushy areas. Their diet consists of lizards, rodents, small birds and bird eggs, crocodile eggs, and invertebrates such as tarantulas.

American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus). There were a number of crocs at the Zoo, but I had trouble photographing them because their cages got in the way (probably a good thing, come to think of it). I finally found this one comfortably sunning itself in a more open area. The croc ignored me completely, not moving a muscle while I took photos from several angles.

American crocodiles are the most widespread of the four croc species in the Americas. Their range extends from Florida to the coasts of Mexico and all the way down to Peru and Venezuela. Although they prefer the salinity of coastal waters, they can also be found in fresh-water river systems. Preferred habitats include lagoons, brackish lakes, and coastal mangrove swamps.

This species of croc can grow as big as 6.1m (20 feet) and 907kg (2000 lbs). The croc's nostrils, eyes, and ears are all on the top of its head. This allows the rest of the body to remain under water when stalking prey. They can attack rapidly, both on land (16km/h or 10mph) and in the water (32 km/h or 20mph). Not the sort of creature you'd want to encounter while wading through a mangrove swamp.

Yucatecan white-tailed deer (Odolcoileus virginianus yucatenensis). The Zoo keeps a number of white-tailed deer in large open enclosures. The little faun above was nudging its mom, trying to get some milk. Mom was a little nervous about my presence. She kept moving around, while keeping her large dark eyes focused on me. The deer is named for its tail, which is white underneath. When threatened, it will flash the white as an alarm to other deer in the area. Although she was wary, her tail was down. I guess she didn't view me as an acute threat.

White-tailed deer have adapted to an astonishing variety of habitats, making them the most widely distributed ungulate in the Americas. Their populations have grown so large in some areas that they damage the forests in which they live. They also cause a substantial number auto accidents that are not only fatal to the deer but occasionally to humans as well. I can attest to that, having slammed into a large buck one night in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia. Although the deer was killed, I was unhurt. The amount of damage to the car amazed me.

Northern black bellied whistling duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis). The duck gets its name from its noisy whistling call. My telephoto lens makes it appear that I am almost cheek-by-jowl with the duck. It was a very cooperative subject, remaining perfectly still.

The northern black-bellied whistling duck ranges from the southern US to western Panama. Large flocks gather in quiet shallow lakes, ponds and marshes. Like swans and geese, breeding pairs stay together for many years at a time. A pair will share all the tasks of raising their young, which grow up quickly. The ducklings leap from their nests within two days of hatching and can feed themselves immediately. Whistling ducks are not migratory, although flocks may move about locally. They generally feed at night on plant material, but also eat insects, spiders, crustaceans, and various aquatic invertebrates.

Yucatecan raccoon (Procyon lotor hernandezii). This guy was dead to the world. He probably had a hard night out, binging on the contents of local garbage bins. The species is also called Mexican plateau raccoon, or just common raccoon. Like their coati cousins, raccoons are dexterous and ingenious at escaping enclosures. They are also notorious burglars, complete with black eye-masks.

The common raccoon's range is from southern Canada to Central America. Life expectancy can be up to 16 years. They feed omnivorously on small mammals, rodents, birds and their eggs, insects, berries, and fruit. Raccoons love to scavenge in garbage containers and will even break into a house and ransack the cupboards. They are quite fastidious and are known for brushing dirt off their food and even washing it before eating.

Peccary (Pecari tajacu). Peccaries are in the family Tayasuidae, which means New World pig. However, zoologists now think they don't belong in the pig family at all. Although they share some similarities in appearance to the Old World pigs introduced during the Spanish Conquest, their hooves and the structure of their stomachs are different. The ancient Maya kept them as pets, as well as for food.

Peccaries are also called javelina, due to their sharp tusks. However, they are usually not aggressive toward people unless they feel threatened. These animals are quite social and sometimes travel in herds of more than 100. They are omnivorous, with a diet that includes roots, grasses, seeds, and cacti, but also insects, grubs and the occasion small animal.

Black spiny-tailed iguana (Ctenosaura similis). Although ferocious in appearance, these are very gentle animals and are often kept as pets. Like the American crocodile and the whistling duck, this iguana remained perfectly still while I took my photographs.

Black spiny-tailed iguanas get their names from the black stripes on their bodies and the spines that grow in a ridge along their tails. They are the largest and fastest-running species in the genus Ctenosaura. Iguanas are also excellent climbers. This species prefers a rocky habitat with crevices in which to hide from predators. While they are not aggressive, they will lash out with their tails or even bite when cornered. While juveniles tend to eat insects, adults become herbivores as they age. They can be found throughout southern Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula and down through Central America to the coast of Colombia.

Mexican dog (Doggus houndus). Just kidding on the scientific name! This pooch epitomizes the expression "laid back." As to his breed, my father would have called him "100% Mexican dog". He apparently belongs to one of the staff and has free run of the Zoo. We were the only visitors that morning, so he tagged along with us. In addition to the ones I have displayed, there are many more creatures here. The Zoo and Ecological Center really deserves a visit if you want to take a look at Campeche's wild animals.

Jardin Botanico X'much Haltún

The botanical garden is housed in Baluarte de Santiago. It stands across the street from Hotel Plaza Campeche, where we stayed during out visit. The baluarte (bastion or fort) is one of eight that surround Old Campeche, connected by high walls. Two guard posts perch high on the corners. The man leaning against the baluarte's corner provides some scale to show the height of the walls.  You can visit the baluarte and its botanical garden daily, except for Sunday, from 8am-2pm and 5pm-8pm. On Sunday, the hours are 8am-2pm.

Completed in 1704, Baluarte Santiago was the last of the eight bastions built to protect against pirate attacks. However, this is not the original baluarte, which was demolished at the beginning of the 20th century. Pirate attacks had long since ceased and, in any case, the old stone walls were no defense against modern naval guns. This replica was built in the 1950s.

The garden's name, X'much-Haltún, means "water that flows from the earth". Once you walk through the main entrance and leave the bustling city behind, you enter a different world. The high thick walls shield you from traffic noise. While the conditions outside may be hot and sticky, here it is moist, cool, and shady. The thick jungle surrounding you contains more than 98 different species of Campeche's medicinal, edible, and ornamental plants.

Bamboo clump. Mexico has 8 genera and 37 species of bamboo. Of these, the genus Olmeca and its 14 species are endemic (grow only in Mexico). There was no informational sign, so I am not clear which species this is. However it is almost certainly of the genus Olmeca, since the garden is devoted primarily to native species. Bamboo belongs to the grass family. The plant's name comes to us from the Dutch or Portuguese explorers of the East Indies, who translated it from Malay.

This plant grows incredibly fast, as much as 910mm (36in) in 24 hours. However, growth speed is related to soil and climate conditions. Anyone who has mistakenly planted bamboo as an ornamental knows that it requires a constant struggle to avoid being overwhelmed. Since ancient times, bamboo has been used for building materials, tools, furniture, fences, scaffolding, cooking utensils, even weapons. Pre-hispanic Maya codices show them using bamboo in some of these ways.

Chit palm (Thrinax radiata). Its common name is thatch palm, because of widespread use to thatch roofs. Chit is a Maya word, sometimes spelled Chi'it. This palm can grow up to 6m (20ft) in height and its range extends from southern Florida, through the Caribbean, to the coasts of Yucatan and Belize. It prefers the narrow strip of land between sandy beaches and inland Mangrove swamps. Unfortunately, this is exactly where developers like to build beach properties, so the Chit palm has become endangered in some highly developed areas. Fortunately, the Caribbean coast of Campeche is largely undeveloped. In addition to thatching roofs, the Chit's palm fronds are used as brooms.

Coconut palm (Cocos nucifera). Stately coconut palms require sandy soil and high humidity. They not only grow wild, but are cultivated in great groves in coastal areas where the palms can reach up to 30m (98ft). Scientists believe that the coconut palms of the Caribbean and East Coast of Mexico originated in West Africa. They were brought to the Americas by the Spanish and Portuguese during the early colonial period.

Coconut palms have been used for a variety of purposes since very ancient times. The coconut fruit has an edible interior and contains a nutritious "milk". Coconut oil is used in cooking, particularly frying. The husk of the fruit can be used as a bowl, cup, or a digging tool, and can be burned as a fuel as well. The leaves of the palm can be thatched for roofs, woven into baskets, or used as brooms. The trunks make excellent building materials.

Flor de Mayo (Plumeria rubra). In Mexico, its common name is cacaloxóchitl, a Nahuatl word meaning "crows flower". The frangrancy of the plant persuaded a 16th century Italian noble to use the Flor de Mayo to make perfume. His family name was Frangipani, which became yet another name for the plant.

The range of the Flor de Mayo runs from central Mexico through Central America and down to Colombia and Venezuela. Since it was discovered by Europeans in the 16th century, it has been introduced to other areas, including Africa and Asia. The plant likes hot rocky areas and a climate that ranges from dry to moderate rainfall. It is used for decorative gardens but also for Hawaiian leis and for medicinal purposes.

Croton (Codiaeum variegatum). While its colors make it attractive, crotons need to be handled with care. The sap can cause skin eczema and the bark, roots, latex and leaves are all poisonous. The seeds can be fatal to children who ingest them. The plant was introduced to the Americas from Asia, where it is native to Indonesia, Australia, Malayasia, and the western Pacific islands. When growing in the wild, it favors open forests and scrubland.

Strangler fig (genus Ficus, species?). Strangler figs wrap themselves around another tree, hence the name. However, this process apparently does not harm the host tree and can even help it withstand strong winds. The "strangling" process begins when wind-blown ficus seeds are deposited in the crevices of a host's trunk. The strangler grows down to reach the soil and up to reach the sunlight. These trees are particularly prevalent in dark forests when sunlight is scarce. After the host tree dies and rots away, the strangler often remains as a hollow structure.

Jungle flame (Ixorra coccinea). The Jungle flame, also known as Flame of the Woods, is another native of southern Asia, specifically India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. It likes hot weather and moist, organically rich, and well-drained soil. The flowers, leaves, roots, and stem can be used medicinally and the fruit is edible when ripe. However, its main use is in decorative gardens.

Screw pine (Pandanus utilis). The screw pine has been described as "amazingly bizarre" and I'd have to agree. When I came upon this plant, I first thought the teepee of rods were some sort of support system put up by the gardeners. Then it dawned upon me that these were the roots of a plant! The screw pine is not a pine, despite the name, and not a palm, although its foliage vaguely resembles that of a palm.

These tropical trees need lots of space and a warm climate. They are tolerant to both droughts and salt, due to their adaptation to coastal areas. They get their "pine" appellation from their edible pineapple-like fruit. Be careful around them because the edges of their leaves have little spines that can painfully stick the unwary person.

A wall-top guard post is a reminder of the purpose of the original baluarte. The little structure is hardly larger than an old-fashioned phone booth. It has three gun slits, one looking out and one on either side looking down the length of the walls. As with the animals of the Zoo and Ecology Center, the X'much Haltun Botanical Garden has many more plants than I show here. If you like plants, I encourage you to stop by and enjoy this place.

This completes my posting on the fauna and flora of Campeche. I hope you enjoyed it and, if so, that you will leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section below. If you leave a question, PLEASE leave your email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Exploring Campeche

Campeche's Cathedral, viewed from under the arches of the Regional Museum. The Cathedral and the Palace containing the Museum form two sides of the Campeche's main plaza, called Plaza PrincipalOur first visit to Campeche was with Caravan Tours back in the winter of 2010. Our brief 48 hour stop provided very little time to explore the city and no time at all to investigate the Maya ruins in the countryside. However, my interest was aroused. I was determined to return to see what treasures this small Mexican state might hold. This posting is the first of a series about our adventures in Campeche in December of 2018. Hopefully it will encourage you to check it out yourself.


Map of central and northern Campeche. Located on the Gulf Coast, the city of Campeche is the capital of a state with the same name. In colonial times, it was a major port and entry point to this part of the Yucatan Peninsula. On the map are pyramid symbols of various sizes. These show the locations of ancient Maya cities. Of the nine shown, we visited five , including Edzna, Hochob, Tahcok, Xtampac, and Xcalmukín.

We also toured the spectacular ruin of Kabah, just across the state line in Yucatan. Two other sites we visited that are not shown on the map are Oxkintok (also in Yucatan) and Dzibilnocac. In addition to those on the map, or that I have mentioned, there are many more pre-hispanic sites in Campeche. It would take several more visits to see even a majority of them and possibly a lifetime to see them all.

Several of the sites we visited were quite remote. As a result, we traveled through a great deal of Campeche. We passed through lush farmland closer to the coast and deep jungle in the interior. Overall, the road system is good-to-excellent and the pueblos we passed through seemed relatively prosperous. The people we encountered were friendly and helpful, which has been our universal experience in Mexico.

Hotel Plaza Campeche

During our visit, we stayed at Hotel Plaza Campeche. This modern, comfortable hotel is located in the northeastern part of the old city. It is just inside the old walls but still only 3 blocks from the Plaza Principal. A charming botanical garden housed in an old fortress is only a block away.  Directly across the street from the hotel is Parque San Martin, a small plaza. Rates for a double room at Hotel Plaza Campeche are quite reasonable at $1581 pesos ($79 USD) per night.

The rooms are air conditioned and have flat-screen TVs and in-room safes. The last is especially important because it enables us to lock up all of our valuables and important documents. The hotel provides off-street parking, another important consideration since we had a rental car. We found the hotel staff to be friendly and efficient and at least some spoke English.

The only downsides we experienced at the hotel were the icy level of their restaurant air conditioning and the traffic noise outside our room window. It is always advisable to ask for a room away from any street and in this case we neglected to do so.

Calle 10 is a street that leads directly from our hotel to the Plaza Principal. "Calle" means street in Spanish. You can see the steeple of the Cathedral in the distance. Within the walls of the Old Town, the 18th and 19th century buildings have been carefully preserved and painted in charming pastels. In colonial times, many of these would have been the mansions of wealthy Spanish merchants and others would have been the townhouses of local hacendados (hacienda owners).

Parque Principal

Plaza Principal is the center of life in Campeche. Nearly all colonial towns follow the urban layout decreed by King Phillip II, the ruler of Spain through most of the 16th century. The king's plan required a strict grid pattern of streets with the main plaza in the center. He commanded that a plaza should have the main church on one block, the government's administrative headquarters on another, with the remaining two sides left for commercial establishments and the mansions of the wealthy.

King Phillip specified that open arcades should run along the front of one or more sides of a plaza. These would provide shelter from rain and hot sun to those who might want to conduct business there. After 500 years, the king's plan still shapes urban centers, large and small, throughout Mexico.

The green "touribus" parked by the plaza will take you on a tour through the city. Tickets are sold at a nearby kiosk. Most tour guides on the buses speak only Spanish, but even if you are not biligual it is still worth it to get an overall sense of the town.

Two stories of arcades line the block on the south side of Plaza Principal. The rows of columns support arched openings called "portales". The street level contains various shops. The upper level is a restaurant with a porch that overlooks the Plaza and Cathedral. I very much wanted to eat a leisurely dinner there some evening. However, for some reason, we could never find the place open and no one we spoke to seemed to know when it might be.

The north side of the Plaza contains the Centro Cultural and the Museo Regional. Once again, portales line the whole block. Regional museums are usually located in state capitals and they are nearly always worth a visit. The displays are well organized and usually contain signs in English as well as Spanish. This one is no exception.

The displays in the museum primarily relate to the period between the 16th and 19th centuries. The four main areas include: pre-hispanic artifacts, the colonial-era fortifications, seaborne trade, and the commerce of the colonial era and the 19th century. Museum hours are 10AM to 7PM.

The building that houses the Museo and Centro Cultural is known as the Palacio because it was once the Governor's office. One of its most important functions was Aduana (Customs). It is no coincidence that the Palacio is located very near the Puerta de Mar (Sea Gate), where incoming ships tied up at a long pier that once extended out into the bay.

Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Purisma Concepción

The Catedral stands on the southeast corner of Plaza Principal. It was constructed between 1540 and 1760 in the Baroque architectural style. Because of the ebb and flow of church finances, it was not uncommon for a major construction project to last for a century or two. In the late 18th century, the interior was remodeled in the Neo-Classic style. The church did not gain the rank of cathedral until 1895, when it was awarded by Pope Leo XIII. A cathedral is the headquarters of a geographic area, called a diocese, presided over by a bishop.

The Nave of the Catedral. While the exterior retains its Baroque aspects, the interior shows the simpler, more severe style called Neo-Classic. Spaced along the walls are a series of pilasters, which have the appearance of columns but provide no structural support. Pilasters are purely decorative elements. Between them, paintings or statues can be displayed. The arched ceiling resembles the hull of a ship. The word "nave" means ship or vessel in Spanish, which is how this area of a church got its name.

The altar area was decorated with flowers because of the Christmas season. The central figure in the retablo behind the altar is Nuestra Señora de la Purisima Concepción (Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception). This name does not refer to the Catholic belief in the virginity of Mary when she gave birth to Jesus. The Church decided to take it one step further and assert that Mary was herself immaculately conceived in her own mother's womb and without sin from that moment. Mary's mother, however, was apparently conceived in the usual way.

Silver reliquary on the altar below the statue of Mary. A reliquary is a box, usually highly decorated, which contains relics of a saint. These often include some bone fragments. Reliquaries are usually displayed prominently on the main altar of a church. In the Middle Ages, people believed such relics had great powers, including the ability to cure diseases or other physical ailments. Consequently, there was a lively business in fake relics. It was said that if all the relics of a particularly popular saint were collected together, the skeleton could have been reconstructed several times over.

Street Scenes

Calle 59 is one of the most famous streets in Campeche. It stretches from the Puerta de Mar, to the Puerta de Tierra (Land Gate). Thus, it crosses the whole width of the Old City. Calle 59 is an andador (pedestrian only street), making it a popular area for both tourists and locals. The section pictured above has been turned into a string of outdoor seating areas serviced by adjacent restaurants and bars. In the distance, you can see the arch of the Puerta de Mar.

This police vehicle was probably selected with the narrow streets in mind. The little car seems more like a motorized roller skate than a stern vehicle of official authority. Still, it probably does its job well enough. 

Motorcycles line a parking space dedicated to them. Motorcycles and scooters are a popular transportation option in Campeche. Not only are they highly maneuverable in the crowded streets, but they are cheap to maintain and can travel a long way on a few liters of gasoline. However, their maneuverability tends to encourage excessive speed and wild maneuvers. Before crossing any street in Campeche, it is advisable to check in both directions, and more than once.

Palacio Municipal on Calle 8. This attractive and well preserved building was constructed in 1842, although the date over the main door says 1882. However, that may be when it was remodeled. It is currently Campeche's City Hall, but it was a barracks for federal troops at one time.

View of Calle 8, the Plaza Principal, and the Cathedral. The arches on the yellow building at the left are the entrance to an excellent little coffee house called Frappisimo. We often bought coffee there to sip on a bench in the plaza. It was a pleasant way to observe the city coming to life in the morning. Just around the corner of the blue building is El Bastion de Campeche, a small restaurant where we ate several times. The food was great and the prices were very reasonable.

Ex-Templo de San José

Ex-Templo de San José was once part of a Jesuit complex. It is located on the corner of Calle 10 and Calle 63, in the northwest part of the old city. The Templo was built in 1716 in the Baroque style. Its facade is beautifully decorated with blue and yellow talavera tiles, giving it a hint of the Moorish style. 

The spike-like finials on the roof above the entrance call to mind similar structures on Maya temples, as well as the combs worn in the hair of wealthy colonial women. Notice the difference between the left and right steeples. The left contains bells, but the right is topped by Campeche's first lighthouse, added in 1864. 

The building adjoining the Templo on the right was once a Jesuit school. Now, it contains the Instituto Campechano. After the Jesuits were expelled from all Spanish possessions in 1767, the Templo passed into other hands. It was eventually de-consecrated and is now used for secular purposes. 

Today, the church is used as a bazaar for artisans and for cultural functions. Like the Cathedral, the church retains its Baroque exterior but the interior has been changed to Neo-Classic. In the bazaar, you can buy baskets, toys, clothing and many other hand-made items.

Santuario Cristo Negro de San Ramón

Sanctuary of the Black Christ of San Román. The original church on this site  dates back to the mid-16th century. When Campeche was founded in 1540 by Francisco de Montejo, some of the soldiers in his army were Aztec mercenaries. He settled them in this neighborhood as farmers, but in 1562 their fields were decimated by a plague of lobsters. Hoping for a miracle, they held a feast in honor of San Román Martir. Later, they built an open chapel dedicated to him on the site of the present church. However, their little sanctuary lacked an image to worship. At this point, the story moves from history to legend.

The famous Black Christ is displayed on a cross at the altar. According to the legend, in 1565, the villagers contracted with a Campeche merchant to acquire a statue for their church. The statue is alleged to have been carved in Civitaveccia, Italy, a town renowned for its craftsmanship. It was shipped from there to Veracruz, on Mexico's Gulf Coast. The final leg of the journey was to Campeche, normally a voyage requiring several days. 

On the way to Campeche, the ship ran into a storm and nearly sank. However, in the nick of time, Christ miraculously appeared and took command. The ship was saved and arrived--a further miracle--only 24 hours after it had left Vera Cruz. So goes the legend and, like all such stories, it has been much embellished over the centuries. Black Christs were popular images in the 16th and 17th centuries. At one time, four Yucatan Peninsula churches had them, but this one is the sole survivor. The little open chapel was demolished in the 17th century and replaced by the present church.  

El Malecon

A Campechana takes a late afternoon stroll along the Malecon. A malecon is a walkway along a shoreline. Campeche's is 7 km (4.34 mi) long, making it a good place for jogging, bicycling, skateboarding, or strolling lovers. 

Seafood restaurants line the northern section of the Malecon. Carole and I had a sunset dinner here one night. The ambiance was great, but the prices were high and the food not particularly memorable. There are much better restaurants in the area of the Plaza Principal, in my opinion. However, if you just want to sip a drink and watch the sunset, this is not a bad choice.

This sculpture commemorates the founding of Campeche on October 4, 1540. The statues include Francisco de Montejo, a Franciscan priest, and a Maya cacique (headman). The cacique was ruler of Cam Pech, the Maya town that became colonial Campeche. Almost nothing remains of the original Cam Pech

The statue on the obelisk is a recent addition to the Malecon. It is the work of the artist Jorge Marin and was still unnamed as of the fall of 2018. The winged male figure represents the Maya. Under his arm, he holds a small boy who represents modernity and the new city of Campeche. Sr. Marin has invited the public to provide a name for his statue, but I don't know if anyone has come up with one yet.

This completes the first part of my Campeche series. In the next part we'll take a look at Campeche's history and how its extensive fortifications came to be. I hope you enjoyed this posting and, if so, that you will leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section below, or email me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE include your email so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

Monday, July 1, 2019

Exploring Old Jalisco: Hacienda Vieja del Castillo

Inside the stables of Hacienda Vieja del Castillo. The name translates as "Old Hacienda of the Castle". You might notice the similarity in names between this hacienda and Hacienda San José del Castillo (Hacienda St. Joseph of the Castle), from the previous posting. I believe that Hacienda Vieja may be the original and that Hacienda San José may have been founded later, possibly as a dowry for a daughter, a common practice.

When we stumbled upon Hacienda San José del Castillo, we were actually looking for this site. When I first visited several years ago, we managed to access to the capilla (chapel) and the stables. However, we were unable to see any of the interior of the casa grande (big house) or the bodegas (storage buildings and work areas). This time, I was hoping we'd find some way to get into these areas. Most of the photos in this posting are from my second visit. However, I am including some shots I took of the stables during my first visit. The photo above is from that initial visit.


Google satellite view of Hacienda Vieja. The street called Vicente Suarez runs along the front of the casco complex, which includes the casa grande, capilla. bodegas, stables, and animal pens. Vicente Suarez is oriented roughly north to south. The streets running west to east, perpendicular to Vicente Suarez, are the northern and southern boundaries of the casco. Just above the word "Suarez", you can see a large tree in the northwest corner of a rust-colored patio. The patio runs along the front of the casa grande and capilla. To the left of these, the bodegas and stables are the series of long, narrow rooms extending toward the east.

Bordering the eastern and southern parts of the casco are large rectangular enclosures for cattle and pigs. In the center of the complex is the casa grande's courtyard. Within it you can see two large reddish bougainvillea bushes and a small grove of trees. At one time, there may have been other structures outside the casco's enclosure. However, the modern pueblo that grew up around the casco has obliterated any of these that may have once existed.

The casa grande and its capilla. The front of the casa grande can be identified by the series of columns supporting arches called portales. The metal lattice work inside the arches is a modern addition. Originally, they would have been open. Behind them is an an open-air arcade that runs along the front of the casa grande.

On the roof above the portales is a long rectangular structure set back from the front wall. This was once the living quarters of the hacendado (owner) and his family. Between the front of the hacendado's quarters and the casa grande's front wall is a broad terrace that acts as mirador (viewpoint).

To the left of the portales is the capilla, topped by a small campanario (bell tower).  At the far end of the capilla is a metal ladder that leads to the roof of the capilla and casa grande's terraceFrom the roof of the capilla, the whole internal complex of the casco can be viewed.

This brush-choked opening was once the casa grande's carriage entrance. 
The gateway stands just to the right of the portales. Through it would have passed the carriages of visitors such as church dignitaries, government officials, and hacendados from neighboring estates. It has been nearly a century since prancing horses pulled one of those fancy carriages through this passage into the casa grande's courtyard.

La Capilla

The campanario contains two bells. Pull-ropes show that they are still rung the old fashioned way. The right-hand bell has a date mark of 1910, the same year the Mexican Revolution erupted. The corner of the hacendado's quarters can be seen on the right. The capilla is attached to the casa grande and is entered from the left end of the arcade.

While many of the other structures of the casco have fallen into ruins, the residents of the pueblo have maintained the hacienda's old capilla as their church. A similar situation exists in many other pueblos which were formerly haciendas.

The nave of the capilla contains a few of its former decorations. The design on the ceiling between the two lights is a gold-plated emblem from the 19th century. The lower part of the walls on either side are lined with large white spaces alternating with gold, shield-shaped designs. It is likely that the white spaces once contained murals or other designs which have now been painted over. 

The altar area. A painting of the Virgen de Guadalupe hangs on the wall behind the altar. She is the patron of Mexico and especially its poor and indigenous people. Her image can be found throughout the country, from the simplest shrine to the grandest cathedral.

When we first arrived at the hacienda, the gate to the patio in front of the capilla and casa grande was locked. However, the arrival of a dozen foreigners in a small pueblo rarely goes unnoticed. After a few minutes, a man showed up with the key to the gate, followed by the elderly woman who is the capilla's caretaker. She very kindly opened the capilla for us and showed us around.

The mirador or lookout point

A rusty and somewhat rickety ladder is attached to one side of the capilla. Unfortunately, the caretaker was unable to provide access to the rest of the casa grande. However, my cousin's husband Gene quickly found a solution. I was a bit dubious about the ladder, but I gave it a try after he made it to the top. I made it safely to the roof, as did Jim B, who soon followed me.

The rest of our party remained safely on the ground, comfortably seated under the shade of a large tree. They followed our progress with great interest and I wondered if they were taking bets on which of us would tumble to the ground first. However, no such disaster occurred and our climb rewarded us handsomely.

View of the mirador terrace. The campanario can be seen at the far end of the terrace. The door at the far end opens into the hacendado's quarters. Each of the three windows provides light to a separate room. There may have once been an awning shading the terrace. This would have been a nice place to eat a leisurely breakfast, or enjoy the evening on a starry night.

The hacendado's quarters are empty and roofless today. The vacant windows reminded me a bit of the eye sockets of a skull. A series of holes along the front wall shows where the rafters once supported the ceiling. The thick walls helped keep the rooms cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Because of the difference in style and construction materials, this structure appears to have been added at some time after the casa grande it was originally built.

A tall narrow window looks out over the terrace and the pueblo beyond. A hundred years ago, you would have looked out over decorative gardens. Beyond them, broad fields of wheat and maiz (corn) would have spread out into the distance. Today, all this is covered by the pueblo. Lake Chapala lies beyond the range of mountains you can see in the distance on the far side of these.

The central courtyard

Portales line the south side of the courtyard. Several doors lead into rooms that were once used as offices, guest quarters, and storage. The large bush with the red flowers is a bougainvillea and it is the same bush seen in the satellite photo shown earlier in this posting. Bougainvillea grows all over this part of Mexico and blooms year-round.

The other walls of the courtyard are blank, except for a handful of doors and windows. This shot was taken from the exact opposite position as the last one. The bougainvillea on the right is the same bush. Now wildly overgrown, the courtyard below would once have been the well-tended centerpiece of the casa grande.

A stone walkway connects the portales with the ruins of an old fountain. Fountains are common features of haciendas. They are usually found in casa grande courtyards like the one above, but may also appear in front of the building's main entrance. In the early days, there was probably a well here. However, by the late 19th century, it had become a fountain to decorate the courtyard's garden.

The working areas: Bodegas and corrals

On the north side of the casa grande are a series of long parallel rooms. These would have functioned as work areas or for storing the products of the hacienda. Included in this area are the stables for the hacendado's horses. In the background, you can see part of the high wall that surrounded and protected the casco complex.

A large opening has been punched through the casco wall to the right of the casa grande. I believe the hole was created following the breakup of the hacienda after the Revolution. The opening appears to be for the movement of animals and vehicles in and out of a large corral. The photo provides a sense of the massive height of the old adobe wall--at least 7m (22 ft).

One of the critters living at Hacienda Vieja today. Although filthy, this young porker looks healthy enough. I found him rooting around the big hole in the wall seen in the previous photo. Today, the number of animals kept on the property is fairly small. When it was in full operation, there would have been thousands of cattle, horses, sheep, and pigs.

The back (east) wall of the casco. This section is also made of adobe brick. The part at the right of the photo is in disrepair. It might keep cattle in today, but in the old days, a wall in this condition wouldn't have discouraged bandits or other raiders.

Several dairy cows relax in the cattle enclosure. The property within the old casco is privately owned, but the people who live in the pueblo rent space from the owner for their animals.

Iron plow of the type once used to prepare the ground for corn or wheat. The plowman would have walked behind, guiding the oxen pulling plow. Wheat and corn became economically important in the 18th century. As a result haciendas maintained large herds of oxen for plowing. While this sort of plow was widely used in the 19th century, those used in preceding centuries were made of wood, sometimes with an iron point.

Stone wheel used in the grist mill. The hacienda would have ground its own wheat and corn using a wheel like this, probably powered by a burro or mule.

"Beehive" style baking oven. The oven gets its name from its shape. Once ground, the hacienda's wheat flour would have been formed into bread, cakes or pies and baked in this wood-fired oven. I have bought bread from a family in my neighborhood who bake it in an oven virtually identical to this one. Beehive ovens were developed in the Middle Ages in Europe.

The stables

A young vaquero leads a horse back toward the stables. For centuries, hacendados have taken great pride in the quality of their horses. Up until the beginning of the 20th century, they were the primary means of transportation. Now, of course, the horses are purely for recreational use. The current owner has remodeled part of the old bodegas into a country home keeps his riding mounts in the stables. The house is to the right of the portales.

One of the beautiful horses we found in the stables. The vaquero let us follow him into the courtyard of the stable where we could watch as he groomed the animals. Unfortunately, we were unable to gain access to this area on our most recent visit, so I used these photos from the first.

This area of the old hacienda was the most photogenic. Multiple passageways were lined with arches like those above. The floor of the stable area was attractively paved with cobblestones. Even in its semi-ruined condition, this part of the structure is very evocative of past centuries.

Making friends with one of the stable's residents. The vaquero saddled up this horse in preparation for its use by the hacendado or his family. The saddle appears to be English-style, rather than the traditional Mexican style. The major difference is in the lack of a pommel at the front of an English saddle.

This completes my posting on Hacienda Vieja del Castillo and of my three-part series on Exploring Old Jalisco. I hope you have enjoyed it and, if so, you will leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section below, or email me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments section, please leave your email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim