Category Archives: Travel

Sombreros Off to the Cenote Women!

By: Lisa Coleman

(Included Article By: Sara Miller Llana)

There are certain things about Mexico that almost defy description…swimming in a cenote someplace (anyplace) in the Yucatan ranks right at the top. Most people won’t even pronounce it correctly, let alone be able to convey the experience. Either way, the accomplishment of these local women warrants plenty of praise.

Pronounced SAY-NO-TAY, this is essentially the opening to an underground river or cave. The Yucatan functions as a giant sponge with all of the water sources lying underground. The article below (published in the Christian Science Monitor and attached here in its entirety) offers an excellent definition… so do read on.

Before you get there, I just want to share that I have been lucky enough to visit a few cenotes throughout my Mexico travels. Some have been totally remote and equally as amazing. The people in the small villages around them, if you can find them, will gladly act as your guide for a few pesos. You’ll have to dig deep and venture out, but it will all be worth it. These brilliant works of nature’s art are a must to put on your list. Even if you have to go the touristy route with a bunch of strangers on your bus to Chichén Itzá, make sure a cenote is in your itinerary if you find yourself on the Yucatan Peninsula. Trust me, it will be a highlight.

Anyway, the article below is a marvelous story of heart and dedication of the Mexican women. Their dedication to this project is testament to their courage and to their love for their land. If you want to the photo that accompanied the piece, check out

Women help save Mexico’s cenotes Housewives now earn tourist cash after cleaning up one of the region’s famous freshwater pools.By Sara Miller Llana Yokdzonot, Mexico – The name of this town in the Mayan language means “above the cenote,” but for years the cenote, or freshwater pool, in the middle of this tiny community of 500 operated as the neighborhood garbage dump.And then a group of middle-aged women here, looking for more work in a town where most families merely subsist on crops they grow on small pots of land, decided to capitalize on the growing craze for swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving among the sinkholes that dot the tourist circuit throughout Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.The men called them foolish, and as the group of 25 cut through the jungle with machetes, the other women shook their heads. They hiked 20 meters down to the water’s edge, dragging out glass bottles and plastic bags, one by one. They hiked up into the mountains to bring back flat stones to create foot paths, and cut down wood to create rails. The whole effort took more than a year.“We are all housewives,” says Mirna Yolanda Mendez, a mother of four, standing at the Yokdzonot Ecological Park and Cenote, which opened this winter. It is fringed by lush vines. The water is crystal clear, revealing brightly-hued fish below. On a recent day a family splashed around a dock anchored in the middle. “No one believed we could do it,” says Ms. Mendez.

How Mexico’s cenotes formed Cenotes formed thousands of years ago, as ocean levels rose and fell over the Yucatán Peninsula. The region sits on of one of largest limestone platforms in the world, which has dissolved over time into flooded caves and underground rivers, whose openings are the cenotes spread across the region today.Today, there are 3,000 cenotes registered throughout the Yucatán Peninsula, but an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 are believed to exist.Sam Meacham, who runs the Center for Research of Aquifier Systems of Quintana Roo and has been exploring cenotes for the past decade, says they are to the Yucatán Peninsula what the “Alps are to Switzerland.”The sinkholes were integral to the lives of the ancient Mayan people. They not only provided their water source but were revered as entrances to the “underworld,” and the ancients threw gold, jade, and even sacrificed bodies into them. Their Mayan derivation, dzonot, also means “sacred well.”

While they were virtually unheard of 10 years ago, tourists are increasingly visiting the pools, which range from deep swimming holes like the one in Yokdzonot to vaulted caverns where stalactites hang from the walls.

Some are full-blown tourist operations; others draw only locals looking for a picnic and a swim. “Each year the number of visitors goes up,” says Mr. Meacham.

Locals once used the town’s cenote as a water source, but over time trash began to accumulate in it. No one considered swimming there – except the young boys who would play anywhere.

Tourists and local residents certainly had very little interest in the town’s cenote, even though they have whizzed by the tiny town for years on the way to see the ancient Mayan pyramids at Chichén Itzá.

Tourists are now stopping byOne visitor was Belisa Barbachano, who runs the landmark hotel Hacienda Chichen at the nearby ruins and has driven past Yokdzonot for 14 years. But taking a shortcut one day last year, she passed the town, and a group of women working into the night.She immediately assumed some high-end tourist operator had moved in, she says. But when she stopped to talk she says she realized it was a grass-roots effort by the community to boost tourism and generate revenue.“There were these little women,” Ms. Barbachano says, whose staff now helps them plan their menus and follow a budget. “I was so impressed with them. They had put down each stone. Everyone thought they were crazy. They told [us]: ‘Now that we have it, everyone wants it.’ ”

Today homemade signs on the highway invite visitors to take a swim. The cenote is still a work in progress. The group takes shifts managing the new tourist attraction: cleaning, handling the $2 entrance fees, or cooking in a small palm-covered restaurant that they built adjacent to the cenote. For now, the group invests most of the money they earn into maintaining the small park and cenote.

It’s been hard, says Mendez, who used to sew in her spare time for extra cash. While they were building the pool, some men complained that the women were gone all day and night. Some men helped, but others have not accepted that they must sometimes help out.

That, she says, has not stopped their efforts. “As a woman, all you want to do is help your family,” Mendez says. “That is why we did this.”

Baja Targeted For Another Cancun

By David Simmonds

Those of us who have traveled Baja California for decades know that the 900-mile long peninsula is, like a wild Mustang, not easily tamed…and we like it that way. The lone, winding highway connecting Tijuana to land’s end at Cabo San Lucas was completed in 1973, spurring tourist-oriented growth around the southern Cape, now one of Mexico’s most visited destinations. But the majority of Baja has changed little for the past 35 years, attracting road-hardened, adventurous travelers and residents who don’t much like crowds and concrete. Bordered by the Pacific Ocean and the imcomparable Sea of Cortez, the lack of fresh water and searing summer heat have been Nature’s ardent protector from the inevitable advances of the single-minded Hammer-Swingers. If some places on earth deserve protection (of course, they do), then Baja California has to be near the top of that shrinking, sacred list. Make your next Mexico visit to Baja and you’ll see what I mean.

The Baja California Meeting three-day summit was held in Tijuana last week, where a Fonatur (the tourist development arm of the Mexican government) spokesman announced plans to study the pristine area between Gonzaga Bay and Bahia de los Angeles on the Sea of Cortez, about 300 miles south of the border. “We need to build three Cancuns, and we are analyzing where we could do so, and one of them could be in this zone”, is how the Fonatur official matter-of-factly put it. As he was addressing mostly developers and real estate moguls, his musings were met with head-nodding approval.

One Cancun, a Disney-like experience for serious party warriors, is enough. Much of that once ecological and cultural wonder is being destroyed, with no end of destruction in sight. Okay, we’ll give them that one, although I’m not sure the local Mayan civilization would agree. But Cancun was a mistake and should not be repeated…anywhere.

Fortunately, there are several environmental watchdog groups who diligently fight for nature. For a good overview check out Ron Mader’s excellent web site:

With the recent Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to Al Gore, the sometimes flickering light being shined our earth’s environment has never been brighter. It is up to each of us to get involved. It’s a fight worth fighting.

Mexicana Bid Rejected, Public Wins

By David Simmonds

Air flights within Mexico have become much cheaper the past few years as start-up airlines have increased competition to the long-time carrier giants, Mexicana and AeroMexico. Utilizing the power of online booking and well-designed web sites, newer airlines such as Alma, Aviacsa, Avolar and Volaris have opened up new routes at competitive prices, fueling the decline in revenues for the Big Two.

Mexicana had recently made a bid to buy AeroMexico, which would have given them control of over 50% of the domestic market. Wisely, the anti-monopoly regulators in Mexico have ruled against the sale, citing too much “market control” as the reason for the correct decision.

Prior to competition being allowed in the domestic market, the price to fly from city-to-city was insane, with fares much greater mile-to-mile than in the U.S. I recently flew on Avolar round-trip from Tijuana to Tepic, about 2,000 miles total, for less than $175.00. So, props to the Mexican regulators for watching out for the public and not succumbing to the “elite-connected” network pressures that so often dictate the agenda.

Taco Hell?

By: Lisa Coleman

As the defender of Mexico’s culture and cuisine, the news was shocking. It’s not bad enough that we have to endure an over abundance of fast food  in the good ol’ USA, but now (for reasons I will never understand) Taco Bell is opening in Mexico. Yes, you read that right. Apparently, back in 1992, Taco Bell attempted to cross back over the border into Mexico City. And, after giving it a whirl next door to KFC, they packed up their bland, greasy meat, hard shell tacos and headed home.

I’m not Mexican, but I can assure you the taco is sacred. Come on now, from a food perspective, this is a Mexican icon. A real Mexican taco is something to behold. It’s kind of impossible to get a bad one… unless of course you’re in a strip mall at a Taco Bell. The idea for the “Mexican” Taco Bell is to project a “more American fast-food image.” Why, I don’t know, but maybe there is a marketing guy at Yum Brands, Inc. corporate headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky that knows something the Mexican’s don’t. By the way, Yum Brands, Inc. is also the proud owner of the culinary gems KFC and Pizza Hut.

To make it even more alluring… they have added French fries to the menu at Mexican locations. Not just plain oil-drenched fries, but some with a special south-of-the-border twist. In an attempt to further devastate the Mexican palate, the fries will be topped with a choice of cheese, tomatoes, cream or ground meat. Yum. Yum. Need I go on?

Will it work? My guess is no. I have faith in the taste buds of the Mexican people. I think they will honor their taco. If you want to enjoy the rather disturbing details of the Taco Bell invasion, please read

Learn Spanish In Mexico

By Karen Kressin 

Learn Spanish Well and Cheap


Want to learn Spanish?  Here’s an idea for retirees, ex-pats, and other gringos with time to spend in

Mexico:  Study Spanish at a university program. 


The program I know best is Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara (UAG), but there are others.  (See below.)  Autónoma roughly means private. 

UAG offers a 4-week program every 4 weeks, starting on Mondays, year round.  Placement tests are given on the previous Friday and pre-registration is encouraged.  If you’re late, however, it’s generally OK to test and register on the first day of class.  They’ll even let you take just the first half of the course (for half price), if you want to study only 2 weeks.  UAG accepts Visa and Mastercard, for a fee of about $10.


If you want, the university will arrange a home stay with a Mexican family in a shared room and including all meals.  The homes are close to the university in the upscale suburb of



UAG’s Spanish course is 4 credit hours of grammar and conversation, 5 days a week.  Some sessions include a culture option.  An excursion to a nearby locale such as Tequila or Sayula, a cooking class, and a salsa class, for example, are offered as extras.  


While non-traditional students often take the course, most of your classmates will be college-age from universities in the

U.S. and

– Perfect for maintaining your youthful outlook! 


And the best part:  UAG’s low cost.  (All USD)

4 weeks tuition:  $350 plus $25 admin fee 

(Optional culture class: add $200)

4 weeks optional home stay $375 + $20 admin fee

Textbook: about $12

Full immersion cultural experience:  Priceless


Compare this with a 3-credit Spanish course at my state college, part-time in-state  tuition.  (Your state’s may cost more):

Tuition and fees:  $741

Textbook:  $121       

Full immersion cultural experience:  Not available


Of course, there are Spanish language institutes in

Guadalajara and all over

that don’t grant university credit, but my research indicates that the institutes generally cost more than the universities.   Also don’t sign up for a program through an American college or university.  Most add on a sizeable profit, usually about 100%, and some 4- to 6-week programs cost as much as $4000. 


There are lots of universities.  So check the Web or, if you are lucky enough to be in

Mexico already, mosey on over to your local public or autónoma university and ask about a Spanish program!



Internet Sites

for some Spanish programs at Mexican universities


UAG:  (Univ. de Guadalajara):  www.cepe.udg.mxUniv. de Guanajuato (

Mexico City)

Puerto Vallarta

, Michoacan



Vera Cruz (Xalapa)




(Univ. de Nuevo

also(Tec de Monterrey/ ITESM): 

Caveat:  Mexican websites vary widely.  For detailed and up to date information, you might have to contact the school at an email address you find on the site.  Also remember, “languages” in Spanish is idiomas. 

Costa Maya Port Closure Creates Changes in Cruise Itineraries

By Jeanine Lee Kitchel

Due to Hurricane Dean in late August, the Costa Maya port at Majahual will be closed until September 2008, which means cruise passengers will be detoured to other Mexico and Caribbean ports in the meantime.

The Majahual port opened in 2000 and has become Mexico’s second busiest cruise ship port, following Cozumel. But since the class-5 hurricane destroyed much of the town, the pier, and the tourist complex, port officials say it will take a year to complete the reconstruction at the very least.

Other ports of call will be substituted, including Progreso, near Merida, Calica, just south of Playa del Carmen, Belize City, Belize, and Isla Roatan, Honduras.  For more details on what to expect at these other locations, check the site