Welcome to Yucatan and a computer generated land - Cancun
Updated: Mar 10, 2021
A land whose real name no one knows. The legend of its origin reminds me of my childhood game, a broken telephone: when the Spaniards asked the natives what their land was called, the Maya replied:
"We don't understand you" somehow became “Yucatan”.
Later, one of conquistadors tried to corrected a mistake, writing that although they call the peninsula Yucatan, the locals do not call it in their language. Unfortunately, the real name remained unmentioned, and no one ever knew what Maya called their land.
This is the story told by Antoinette May in her book "The Yucatan: A Guide to the Land of Maya. Mysteries Plus Sacred Sites at Belize, Tikal, and Copan (Tetra)". I have browsed through many travel books, and this one I would recommend to anyone: it is not only very informative but also fun to read!
The easiest way to get to Yucatan is by plane to Cancun.
Cancun is probably the only computer-generated island. 1967 The Mexican government decided to build a tourist’s paradise, analyzed all their dreams and needs and ... entrusted the "work" to the computer. Thus, the construction began in the 1970s. Initially, it was necessary to widen the nearby island and connect it to the mainland. The task was not easy to accomplish: the island was uninhabited and, in some places, so narrow that one could not even dream of any road. It was not easy for the people either - they had to build a mecca for tourists after collecting rubber all their lives in the jungle. The local Indians spoke only the Mayan language, and all the other professionals: architects, planners, engineers - Spanish.
Despite all the hardships, after 3 years an international airport was built; hotels for tourists only emerged after 1974.
Today, Cancun has about 30,000 beds for guests. The mild climate, 240 sunny days a year, white sand, great food and the nearby Mayan archeological ruins - a great bait to fill them up.
And if anyone has a question about security, I’ve never felt insecure anywhere on the Yucatan Peninsula. As someone wrote in the omnipotent online space: Every year, more Americans die falling out of bed than people were killed in 2019 in Cancun. :)
The southernmost promontory of the island is also the easternmost point of Mexico.
However, our goal this time was not Cancun - we wanted to get to Isla Mujeres (Women's Island) as soon as possible, so after returning the car to the rental agency, we took Uber and drove to the pier. We did not get to pier’s gate: Uber drivers are afraid of taxi drivers. Another driver, who took us to the airport after almost a week, explained us that taxi drivers could punch a window or even smash a car. The police does not respond to such complaints, people have to deal with it themselves. So, if you want to pay twice less (ca $12 instead of $25), you have to walk a little where taxi drivers don’t see you, and it is safe for Uber to approach.
A short trip - about 20 minutes, by ferry and you are on the island. For some reason, I was hoping to find there fewer people, buildings, movement, much less hustle and bustle… There was no shortage of all this ‘good’, despite the world-wide virus panic. As the locals said, it was very quiet until Christmas, and in the first days of the year the island was teeming with people.
The first impression of the hustle and bustle subsides a bit as you drive towards the middle of the island; most people live there: locals and those tourists who do not want to be just tourists. After driving around the island, I have realized that although the island is quite small (8km / 5 miles long and only 0.4 km / 0.25 miles wide), not only I will not be able to keep my word to walk around it daily, but I will probably not be able to do it at all: I really didn’t want to to walk on streets, and to do it on the coast it looked to me almost impossible. We made good use of the AirBnB bikes and toured the southern part of the island several times. The daily sunrise over the Caribbean through the windows and the raging east wind at night (not even the cooling had to be turned on) were enjoyable other pleasures.
You don’t have to wait for storms in order to find a shell: they are plenty of them at any time. In case you are looking for a perfect one, the local people sell them for around 1USD.
The exact origin of the name of the island is not known. According to some stories, the island was a stopping place for Mayan pilgrims on their way to the island of Cozumel, where the goddess of fertility Ixchel was worshiped. After disembarking on the island, the Spaniards found many statues of women there and named the island accordingly.
Another story, usually more sympathetic to the male, is that pirates left their women when they sailed away… The Mayan shrine still stands on the southernmost promontory of the island, which is also the easternmost point of Mexico. Its purpose, as well as many other Mayan structures, is under discussion. Some say it was an observatory, others - the Ixchel’s Shrine, a place of worship of the Mayan moon, fertility, divination, healing, weaving, the maternal goddess (multifunctionality is common to the Mayan gods), the second place of pilgrimage in her honor after the island of Cozumel.
It is also said that the altar once burned inside in honor of the goddess also represented the lighthouse… Almost us usual in Mayan history, now one knows what had happened, but the island was abandoned long before Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba reached it in 1517.
Usually, the Garrafon Reef Park hosts the Sculpture Garden: in 2001 23 artists from Mexico and around the world have created their interpretations of the spirit of Mayan civilization. Now the sculptures are in renovation for a few years.
At the most southern point of the Island - remains of the temple of the Goddess Ixchel, in the distance - Cancun's hotels.
Ixchel is the Mayan goddess of moon, love, divination, pregnancy, medicine and textile art. Her name means "Large Rainbow" or " Rainbow Woman ". She is often depicted with a rabbit, a symbol of fertility, and a snake on her head, an ancient sign of wisdom and medicine. She is a pharmacist of the village; many houses on the island of Cozumel still bear her altars.
When real iguanas are not enough or they are too small ...