In 1982, Jane and I made our first vacation trip to the Yucatan peninsula. My first times there were in the early 70s
delivering new one hundred plus ton fishing trawlers that were built in Florida and then flying back. In those days
there were only three flights to the U.S. and a 72-hour reservation was required. So, we had time to see some of the
sights before we could make our return.
In 1982 Jane and I sold our apartment business in Saint Augustine, Florida and took the winter to go with our shrimp
fishing trawler, “Secotan” to the west coast of Florida to fish the winter season in the Saint Petersburg area. We
were fortunate to be able to tie our trawler at the Red Lobster docks at 1301 South East Bay Street right in down
town Saint Petersburg.
Well, the season got slack, and we got the idea to take a trip. So, we looked into going to the Bay Islands of
Honduras on the freighter that left from the Red Lobster Dock and returned every two weeks. Well, we discovered
that this boat was engaged in some illicit import practices, and we decided that we would be far better off taking our
vacation to some other destination. We were off to the travel agent and promptly found ourselves owners of tickets
to the Yucatan and leaving from Miami.
We took the bus to Miami, stayed the night with friends and the next day we were off for an unbelievable adventure.
We had decided that we would stay until we spent a certain amount of money. We had no contacts and spoke no
Spanish but I remembered the hotel from previous visits, “San Luis” and went there. The same desk clerk was
working, so it was not completely unfamiliar. Believe it or not, he is still there today, though old and gray.
As it turned out during our three-week stay, we were in thirteen different places around the Yucatan Peninsula
We headed to the Port town of Progreso where I had landed several times before. There were only two hotels in
those days, the first we looked at was totally unacceptable, “Hotel Lord”. But the next one was great. It was clean
and reasonable, plus the owners were very kind and helpful.
Lucia and Marcelo Villanueva were the owners of the Miralmar Hotel and one of the many things that
they pointed out for us to do, was to take the once a week bus ride to the end of the coast road at
Dzilam de Bravo. This small town’s main claim to fame is that it is the final resting place of the famous pirate “ Jean
Lafitte”. Well, we took the bus ride. It took us to the central plaza where we were told to return to in three hours for
the return trip to Progreso. Yes, in three hours we heard the honking of the bus horn, and due to the conspicuous
lack of motor vehicles, there could be no mistake what it was.
The road was just barely wide enough for our bus, and along the way we passed mile after mile of coconut
plantations with a lagoon that was filled with flamingos and other exotic tropical birds on one side and the green Gulf
of Mexico on the other with miles of pristine beaches. The road passed a few small villages where the inhabitants
lived in “palapas’, or palm thatched huts as their ancestors had for several thousands of years and some ancient
warehouse complexes where import and export was carried out in the era of the sailing ships and plantations.
The trip turned out to be one of the most interesting and enchanting rides we had ever made, and both Jane and I
agreed that someday we would just have to make that same trip by bicycle.
Nineteen years later in 2001
Yes, we were off on a Tuesday morning and rode our bikes to one of the eight bus terminals in downtown Merida,
were we now live full time.
We convinced the freight handlers to let us put our bikes inside the bus and that would be OK with us. Finally, it was
agreed the bikes would be put inside but that there would be an extra charge…we paid it and were on our way. The
bus driver grumbled about the bikes, but in the end was very friendly and helpful when it came time to disembark.
The bus traveled through the back country dotted with small towns and villages The country side is flat and covered
with scrub due to the fact that the local Indians have practiced slash and burn agriculture for the past three
thousand years or so. The only trees of any size are found in towns. In the country side the only crop of
consequence is henequen which comes from a green plant that has spear shaped branches about three feet long
with a sharp point on each one. The branches are cut off by hand, bundled and carried off to a processing plant
that crushes off the pulp to extract the fiber inside and make sisal rope and other fibrous products.
The land is poor and only supports crops that can be produced on trees and don’t require any cultivation. There are
no lakes or rivers in this semi-arid land and water must be extracted from wells.
We arrived at Dzilem de Bravo after passing through an area of mangrove and a lagoon filled with exotic tropical
birds. The silhouette of the small settlement is striking at first glance with its out line of towering coconut palms and
low buildings of many pastel colors
We stopped in a small plaza one block from the beachfront. The town shows some signs of prosperity as many of
the mostly one-story buildings were recently painted. One new structure of two stories and modern design, sports
numerous air conditioners on it’s roof and a large sign etched into it’s plate glass window extending the full width of
the building, noting it as headquarters of the local salt industry. This conspicuously opulent building had the latest in
doors and windows and didn’t fit with the other structures of varying ages that made up this quiet little town. The
shiny new Chevy pick up truck parked in front was obviously the boss’s. I have to think of the poor bare footed
peons bent over shovels in the noonday’s sun scraping and bagging that cheap sun dried salt produced in huge
beds along this poor coastal region…another paradox of life.
Jane and I asked about a hotel and were told that if one exists it would be west of town about a mile or so. We set
out on our bikes and rode the waterfront, which is a dirt road but is also a boulevard with light standards. In the
shallow water along the boulevard are a hundred or so open fiberglass fishing boats all with outboard motors and
gill nets. They are protected by a reef that is some distance off shore but perceptible by the breaking waves.
Riding west, we pass several people, all smiling and friendly, and come to a military post that is staffed by young
men all doing their military duty. These poor souls are just killing time, and to make it worse, are made to wear long
dark colored shirts, pants and heavy boots, plus tote a huge machine gun.
We spot a two-story building with a sign that says, “Flamingo Hotel”. In front are several young men waiting in the
shade for the bus, and tell us “yes the hotel is open for business” and point to a small road side stand selling soft
drinks and snacks, and tell us that the manager can be found there. The manager turns out to be smiling women of
thirty years that has a big smile that displays her gold dental work that is a prominent and distracting part of her
appearance. Yes, she will show us the hotel. So, we walk our bikes over to the hotel and enter the courtyard where
a large swimming pool is the center point of this “has been establishment”. The dry pool is filled with leaves and
refuge like the rest of the place. We park our bikes and walk up the winding outdoor staircase to the second story
balcony and witness the shambles of broken windows and torn screens. The rooms all have doors with broken or
missing locks and many are hanging by one hinge. The outside is a forewarning of what we are to find inside. The
rooms are furnished with broken beds and chairs. The bathrooms were the most revolting, with most having
smashed or missing sinks and no running water except that from a single spigot left dripping into a waste basket
swimming with old paper and swarming with mosquitoes. The floors were a slippery slime of unwashed ooze. We
asked if any one was staying there and the smiling lady said yes, several and added that the price was only fifty
pesos per night, or about five dollars.
We were happy to leave,and now had to consider our options as this was the only place in town.
After breakfast, we were off on our bicycles with a hot thermos of coffee, to an inland town called Sinanche, a
fourteen-kilometer ride down a narrow quiet road with almost no traffic. It seemed like we could hear a car coming
five miles away. We could hear only the birds chirping and the wind in the trees as we poked our way along.
Our two adopted Mexican girls; Grisel and Lupita used to live in this small town with their grandmother, so they had
lots of family ties there. We had lots of fun shopping in the market and speaking Mayan with the ladies there who all
remembered our kids.
We bought a few things in the market and a quarter kilo of hot tortillas, which we had with our coffee in the central
I think we only saw two motor vehicles all day…how nice when bicycling.
The next day, we were off to Progreso early while the moon was still bright and the sun sent it’s first rays of light high
into the sky above.
We ate our breakfast on the waterfront overlooking the municipal pier and watching the fishermen as the sun came
up…very pleasant indeed!
As we rode along that morning, we were impressed by all of the development and the fact that there were still lots of
open and wild places left along the coast. As electricity is brought in, the development explodes. We saw thousands
of flamingos, more than I think that we had ever seen at one place and at one time before. The government of the
state has even put in a free observation tower that is neatly kept and staffed…another impressive improvement.
We were lodged with our friends Marcelo and Lucia Villanueva at their hotel “Miralmar” in Progreso. Their place is
clean, nice and pleasant, and we have been patronizing their establishment for nineteen years. We have made
many bicycle trips from Merida over the years, and we have found that their hotel is the perfect overnight spot in
For lunch, we had fried fish in the market and bought salad fixings so we could build our super salad back in our
hotel room The owner’s wife, Lucia generously provided all of the bowls we needed.
We had our usual afternoon coffee at El Cordobes, the local coffee shop that has served generations of travelers. It
is just the place to see what is happening and catch up on all of the local doings.
Shortly after five the next morning, we were out the door and on to the vacant streets of Progreso under the full
moon with the bright light of the lighthouse beaming it’s light over our heads.
We had to backtrack five miles to pick up the road that we would take back to Merida. A new road had been built
through the center of the lagoon between Progreso and Chicxulub that is extremely impressive especially at that
hour. As we got out on to the causeway, the full moon and lighthouse could be seen to the west behind us and
ahead to the east were the ever brightening first rays of the rising sun enhanced by the reflection on the lagoon’s
At Chicxulub Pueblo, Jane bought yogurt and I went into the market to get bananas and oranges. We had our
breakfast in the central plaza and got a preview of some of the commotion that awaited us upon our arrival in
Merida. It was amazing just how quick we became accustomed to the peace and quiet of the out back and how hard
it was to handle our first commotion.
At ten thirty AM we were home in our rocking chairs
on our upstairs patio, after a refreshing cool-me-down
shower, reflecting on our dream fulfilling adventure.
YUCATAN COAST BY BIKE 2001
On our way downtown, Jane had to stop at the clinic
to get the last of five shots that her doctor had
prescribed for her arrhythmia condition. It was painful
but by the time we had arrived at the city center she
We purchased our first class tickets for our two-hour
bus ride to Dzilam de Bravo and the lady selling the
tickets assured us there was no problem with our
bicycles. Well, at the freight dock we were told that the
bicycles would not fit in the luggage compartments,
and we would have to make some other arrangements.
We decided to bike the 36 kilometers to San
Crisanto and spend the night with our friend Jose
Laur who runs a nice little water front resort that
was part of a coconut plantation. It was warm, but
the wind was on our backs as we headed west.
The trip was very pleasant and we had a stop for
ice coffee, which we had packed along. The
scenery is fabulous. With the road to ourselves,
we poked along listening to the chirping birds
and taking in the sights of coconut plantations
and lagoons. At a place called Mina de Oro,
there is an ancient warehouse complex left over
from the plantation and sailing ship days that
conjures up thoughts of centuries gone by.
Jane and her bike in Dzilam de Bravo 2001
Jose was expecting us, but not until the next day. Our room was fabulous
and in our eyes resembled a lavish five star resort, especially compared to
our last hotel encounter. The place was clean, bright, well furnished and
decorated with a full kitchen overlooking the spacious grounds that led off
to the Gulf of Mexico. It turned our that we were Jose’s only guests, so we
had lots of time to listen to Jose’s stories and inspect the progress he had
made since our last visit.
As we were on a special diet, we ate our meals in our room. We also
decided to stay an extra night.
The next morning, after we had spent an extremely quiet and tranquil moon
lit night, we arose early to take a hike on the beach and have our breakfast
on the beachfront in one of Jose’s “palapas” thatched roof houses
overlooking the gulf. It was very nice therapy and a recommended way to
start the day.
Nine miles down the road, we arrived at Telchac
Puerto where we bought the things that we needed
for breakfast and extra bottled water.
Our next stop was at Chicxulub Puerto for coffee and fresh
hot tortillas, which we enjoyed in the town plaza under the
shade of a kind old tree. This spot made history some sixty
five million years ago when a huge meteor struck the earth
and made this place its epicenter. And, that was the end of
On a bicycle, it is easy to find the tortillas as the machine
that makes them makes a distinctive noise, which is easily
heard while biking.
Before eleven that morning, we were swinging in our
hammocks, after six hours on the road.