Chapter 5.  Yucatán

© Bert & Shari Frenz, 2002 All rights reserved.


Day 20 - Friday, February 1 - Uxmal, Yucatán (Milepost 1388; today 117)

(Shari) Picture a daddy duck in the front of a line of 11 cute little ducklings, with Mommy in the rear, out for a swim in a big strange lake. This is our caravan. Then picture number 5 and number 6 ducklings missing the left turn the others make. Daddy duckling stops to wait for them, hoping they will realize their mistake and turn around. Number 10 decides to go find number 6. (We do not know at this time that number 5 is also gone from the line). Number 5 returns and number 6 goes back to Mommy. Now we have number 10 still out looking for number 6. Should someone go after number 10? No! Finally number 10 rounds the corner, and Mommy Marlene says to him, "Now you just get on in here in front of me." You can almost hear the "and stay there" in her voice. As we listen to this story unfold on the CB, Bert and I start to crack up and all of a sudden Marlene says "quack, quack, quack." Now you readers know why it takes us so long to travel 117 miles. Finally we arrive and park at our destination, the ruins of Uxmal. Three groups gather on lawn chairs in the shade awaiting the Sound and Light Show tonight. John is the first one to buy a T-shirt. Who says a man cannot shop? As the sun begins to set, another group of women browse the shops and vendors outside the entrance. I cannot resist yet another T-shirt, Joanne gets a cute cool embroidered outfit and Maggie buys a short set with a little toucan on it for her granddaughter. Many of us vow to return tomorrow to look some more. Later, outfitted with English speaking headsets, we climb the steps of one of the ruins and sit on lawn chairs in the cool star filled evening air. Soon music begins, accompanied by colored lights flashing on different structures of the ruins, and a story unfolds of rain, love and war. Forty-five minutes later we return to our campers, our appetite wetted for tomorrow's tour of the ruins.

(Bert) Millions of petite yellow daisies on long stalks blanket the roadsides for a hundred miles, filling every open field and corner lot. From Campeche we wind through low hills and unpopulated countryside, a scrub forest painted dull green and brown. In the flatter lands beyond, some land is tilled, some holds orange orchards, but most is undeveloped. Villages are small and poor; thatched roofs and stick houses are common. Neatly dressed and well-groomed school children greet us near each tope. Adults are more reserved, but still stare at our procession. We cross under the arch at the entrance to the Yucatán and pass a military checkpoint. The conversations usually are the same: "Habla Espanol?", to which our response is "Habla Ingles?" and finding little more to say the young uniformed men pass us through. At Uxmal we are fortunate the prior caravan has already left. Hence, we can park in the shaded lot. Later we walk along a back road and find the birding quite good in the late afternoon. We are entertained by a hooting Ferruginous
Pygmy Owl at close range. Three Collared Forest-Falcons call from different directions. We add Grayish Saltator and the brilliantly colored maya subspecies of Green Jay to the trip list. At the Sound and Light show at the ruins tonight, I see Paraque flying through the lights.

Day 21 - Saturday, February 2 - Uxmal, Yucatán (Milepost 1388)

(Shari) Continuing the Mayan story from last night's show, our guide Gregorio, tells us of the struggle for rain, the gods of the people, and many architectural features of the buildings, some of which are over 70% authentic. Built of limestone without mortar, preserved with plaster, and adorned with many carvings, the temples are marvels of their time and now. We see red handprints left over from original craftsmen on the inside walls of the arches. We see carvings of snakes, owls and birds depicting different gods of respect. Walking on ground that was once paved to catch water, we move from one edifice to another, each with its own story. This is my second year of hearing that story, and still I learn new things. But by 11 AM, I am sweltering and return to R-TENT and its generated air conditioning while some of the others walk the steps of the temple. After a long nap, Bert and I head to the pool and meet Pat, Lee, Gwen, Woody, Joanne, John, Steve and Cecile. Cecile jumps in with her glasses on her head and looses them in the depths of the pool. Looking for them in eight feet of water seems hopeless, but suddenly Bert dives in and comes up with the glasses. He is the hero of the day and is applauded by everyone. At 4:00 some of us drive 12 miles up the road to see another ruin, Kabah. We only have 30 minutes to meander around before the gates lock. Having barely enough time to see the main structure and still shop at the store on its grounds, I rush from one place to another. Priorities straight, I do the shop first and then the ruins. After some wine and homemade champagne punch that Don and Jean pass around from a bucket, six of us go out to dinner. The dining budget is shot but the grocery one is doing great. I wonder why? I tell myself it is all part of the job. Someone has to know what places to recommend. Right?

(Bert) Birding Mayan ruins combines twin pleasures. I marvel at the ancient buildings, the intricate wall patterns, the massive structure and wonderment of people who lived here more than a thousand years ago. And, in the trees intermixed between buildings and surrounding the city we find Turquoise-browed Motmots, Yucatan Flycatchers, Lineated Woodpeckers, Mangrove Vireos and other endemic species. On the ground and climbing over the piles of rubble are iguanas: colorful, large and appealingly ugly. In mid afternoon, a swim in the pool is a cool welcome. While watching from deck chairs, Shari and I see Social Flycatchers miraculously change colors. Perched in a tree, the bird has a brilliant yellow breast. But when it swoops down to drink water from the pools blue surface, its breast transforms to iridescent emerald green. Several flycatchers repeatedly perform their magic, an entertaining show. Later we drive the to Kabah, another ruin site, smaller but carefully restored. At one time a 20-mile causeway linked the ancient cities of Uxmal, Nohpot and Kabah and we see the grand arch that marked its entrance to the city. Dinner and music at the Hacienda Uxmal closes a day filled with many pleasures.

Day 22 - Sunday, February 3 - Mérida, Yucatán (Milepost 1444; today 56)

(Bert) In the darkness an hour before sunrise, we hear the incessant hooting of a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl. The White-winged Doves chime in with variations on the "Who cooks for you?" theme, a simple mnemonic I use to remember their most common song. With flashlights illuminating our way along the back road to Uxmal, the four of us - Tom, John, Nelda and me - are listening for the night calls of birds. The eerie call of the Collared Forest-Falcon is ahead of us and we hear a response from another distant direction in the dense forest. We hear a fragment of the Pauraque's call, but see no nightjars in the clear starlit skies above us. A White-winged Dove blows across a Coke bottle. The subtle two-note "wook wook," low-pitched, monotone and airy identifies the Blue-crowned Motmot. One calls and another answers. The chachalacas warn "Hit the deck! Hit the deck!" I hear "Buck a roo. Buck a roo" but don't recognize it. Then too, the sweet single notes of an off key whistle up and down the scales are oft repeated, but I can't put a name to it. But the cheery "Katie, the kids are crying" easily marks the Spot-breasted Wren. Nelda heads back to camp because she told Gilford she'd be back by 6:30, but the three of us remaining continue walking down the dark road. Again the forest falcon calls, the forlorn cry of a hopeless child calling for help, occasionally twisting into an unhumorous laugh. This time it sounds closer to the road, so we walk quickly toward the source. Now, aligned with the sound, we peer into the rows of trees a hundred feet from the road. Backlit by a brightened eastern horizon, Tom is first to make out the slim outline of the forest-falcon. We shift for better position and improve our view as light increases. The forest-falcon continues to sound off; we can see him cock his head and sway his neck in synchrony with the pleading call for help. A dark crown and an unusual horn-shaped black mark scaring its neck offset the white head. The black back contrasts sharply now with its white breast and belly. Most impressive is the extremely long banded tail. We watch in awe for at least ten minutes when the bird goes silent, but remains at his perch. Quietly the unseen sun turns up the intensity of first light. Other birds start their dawn chorus, but we remain fixed on the forest-falcon. Then at some unseen signal, the forest falcon lifts from his perch and glides smoothly through the trees, showing the dark horns in flight like a charging bull. He alights on a more distant branch, still high in the trees. Then almost as quickly he arises again, crosses the road behind us and is immediately followed by his mate. Two Collared Forest-Falcons in flight in one morning, incredibly close and long views of this secretive bird at rest and calling, an experience few birders share, this will be one of the treasures we will take with us from our Mexico visit.

(Shari) In the cool morning air, I walk the grounds of the ruins and snap some pictures before our scheduled departure. We arrive in Mérida well before noon and most of us take a grocery run to the huge Carrefours store. Loading up on fresh fruits and veggies, I look forward to a home cooked meal tomorrow. Tonight most of us board the city bus that takes us to downtown Mérida for its Sunday celebration. The streets are packed with people and tourists alike. After I am sure that each individual knows the route home, everyone goes their own way to enjoy the various sights and smells of the city. This obviously is family day and, together, children and parents are eating, riding surrey topped bicycles, sitting in front of the various stages set up for entertainment or shopping. I browse the outside vendors lining the square, but find nothing to separate me from my dinero. We wait on bleachers expecting entertainment at 6 PM, but at 6:20, nothing but some break dancing is happening on stage. "Que hora es la fiesta comensar?" I ask the woman in front of me. She replies, "Las siete." Not wishing to hang around for another 40 minutes, Bert and I decide to leave. I have to ask Bert if he is proud of me for conducting that little conversation in Spanish. He says he is. We board the return bus labeled "Liverpool" a huge department store located right next to our camp, but have a little problem getting back. Our driver keeps stopping and getting off. First I think he has to use a bathroom, then, I think he wants to visit a girlfriend and then I wonder if he just quit. About two miles from our stop, all the passengers get off the bus. I say Liverpool and our driver stops another bus for us to board. Apparently he is having troubles getting the bus to run. Larry and Marlene make it back well before we do and they left after us. Now very hungry, we get into the car to hunt down the restaurant where we need to arrange Mayan coffee and dessert for the group. Thinking we found it - it has the same logo on its façade as is on my business card from last year - we sit down and order dinner. I inquire about having the group come Tuesday evening and I am met with blank faces. No one speaks English and no one has any idea what I am talking about. Finally the manager comes to the table and although not speaking English he realizes we are at the wrong restaurant. We are at the smaller version of the main one, which is just down the street. After dinner, we find the correct place, make arrangements for the group and return home. It has been a long day.

Day 23 - Monday, February 4 - Celestún, Yucatán (Milepost 1444)

(Shari) If we had left just 30 minutes earlier, we probably would have missed the mass of humanity we get caught up in. Had we known what it was, we would have turned around. The road is completely full of people: hundreds, thousands, all walking in the same direction down the highway. Our car travels slower than the walkers and after two miles we wonder, "Surely it must end soon. How far can people walk?" In Spanish, Edie asks one of the locals what is going on and how long is the procession. Did you know that today was the Day of the Virgin and thousands of people make a pilgrimage to a church? I did not know that either, until we got caught up in it. Thousands of people walk from one church to another twice a year, once in January and once in February to commemorate the occasion. The length of the trip is about 10 kilometer or 6 miles and the people are expected to walk - male and female, young and old, children, parents and grandparents alike. There is no place to turn around, and even if we could, we would be faced with people coming at us. We continue inching our way alongside the crowd, some of us getting out to walk also. It is an unbelievable sight, since no place in the U.S. would you get such participation that virtually an entire village walks six miles on a major highway at 88 degrees with the same digits of humidity. Edie and Tom pick up some "hitchhikers" and Edie crawls in the back of the pickup to chat with them. She tells me that one young man was told to get out and walk, since it is expected. Some children are given rides, some older women and men also, but not many. I see an old bent man, barely able to hold himself upright, shuffling his way to the church. I want to offer him a ride, but he probably would refuse. The people keep walking past us - at a good clip, I might add - dressed in their Sunday best and not perspiring at all. The women wear beautifully decorated hand-embroidered white dresses, the little girls are in their frilly Sunday dresses with hats on their heads. Babes in arms are also dressed in their finest clothes. The teenagers are allowed to wear the uniform of teenagers all over the world, jeans and a T-shirt, and some of the girls wear heavily leveraged platform shoes. At what I judge to be the halfway point, venders with pushcarts have set up food stands selling quickly-melting ice cream and iced fruits, cool drinks and fruits, sandwiches, tortillas, corn, tacos and any other handheld snack that Mexico has to offer. Finally we see the end and Pat, who had walked a quarter mile ahead, wonders how we ever will get through the mob. Tom relays forward to us to turn right, go one block and turn left and then left again after a few blocks. That is what we do and finally we are out of the mass. It took us two hours to travel the six miles from Hunucma to Tetiz. Our trip to see the flamingoes and our birthday party for John and Jerry pales in comparison. Great in and of themselves, they might be forgotten. However, everyone, just everyone, will talk about the day they went on the pilgrimage of the Virgin Mary and I will always wonder where oh where did the on-coming traffic go?

(Bert) After the pilgrimage, birding seems a bit anti-climatic, but certainly noteworthy. Two species highlight the afternoon and it is hard to imagine a more disparate pair. One is a petite 5 in. ball of green, white and rufous red feathers, from which an outlandishly long saber bill protrudes. Smaller than many hummingbirds, the sprightly Pygmy Kingfisher rests on a bare branch a few feet above a crystal-clear pool of warm water in the midst of a mangrove swamp. Nonchalant about its position on center stage, he sits patiently and prettily as a dozen birders fix binoculars on him, a life bird for most. Now contrast this miniscule bird with one that stretches ten times the distance, with a height of 46 in. and a wingspan of 5 feet, the Greater Flamingo is so different you need to recall your biology to see how they are related. Shades of pastel pink, small flocks of the lanky birds feed knee-deep in the shallow estuary. Scoop-like bills, S-curved necks, stilt-like legs, this bird is what a friend of mine would call a knee-buckler, a bird that makes a birder yell, "Wow!" And the exclamations become louder when these birds take flight. A springy jump and a heavy flap of its wings gets the flamingo above the water, but getting airborne is another matter. Walking on water with the faith of Peter, the flamingo kicks against the surface to gain speed, then running like a reluctant floatplane dragging too much cargo. Reaching sufficient airspeed, he raises his legs and flies parallel to the water, just a few feet above the surface. A strange sight, the airborne flamingo is all legs and neck, extended pink poles forward and aft, a real knee-buckler of a bird.

Day 24 - Tuesday, February 5 - Mérida, Yucatán (Milepost 1444)

(Bert) "Dzbilchaltún" looks more difficult to pronounce that it actually is. John asks me to repeat the name several times for him. "Dzee beel chal TOON," I say slowly to him. Certainly one of the lesser-known Mayan ruins, it is nevertheless a pleasant one to visit. Only about seven miles from our campsite in the bustling city of Mérida, we arrive shortly after 7 AM so that we can bird in the cool of the morning along the entrance road. Quickly we pile out of our cars to see where a flock of bright green Olive-throated Parakeets has landed. Twice we get close, if somewhat obscured, views of a pair of White-bellied Wrens, distinguished by short tails much like Winter Wrens. The floral plantings at the entrance building attract a splash of fast-moving colors from Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Canivet's Emerald, Altamira Orioles and a few warblers in the mixture. Happily, the gate attendant waives the entrance fee for today's holiday. Dzbilchaltún was inhabited for about 2000 years, a mind-numbingly long time. At its peak from the 7th to 10th centuries A.D., it had 40,000 inhabitants spread over 15 sq. km. The small part that we see today has been well restored. Most interesting is the stone foundations of the houses inhabited by the common people, and the streets on which they walked and carried out trade. Far to one side of the ruins is the Temple of the Seven Dolls, so named because of seven small figurines found at the site. Nelda takes advantage of the name and arranges herself with six other women at the steps to the temple. They pose prettily as husbands snap pictures. The name "Dzbilchaltún" means literally, "where there is writing upon the flat stones." Few of these writings remain, and we see some of these in the well-designed museum. Probably one of the best museums on our itinerary, the marvelous artifacts include English nameplates, so we get a clearer understanding of the Mayan people and their times, as well as their struggle with European conquerors.

(Shari) I think I have been pretty good about not complaining about the heat. Bert teases me that I am only comfortable when the temperature is 68 degrees plus or minus two. I usually start getting hot at about 80 and today at noon I read our thermometer at 92 in the shade. R-TENT just bakes in the sun and Gwen, Pat and I escape for a few hours to the department store just around the corner to enjoy its air conditioning. We spend a good 2˝ hours browsing the upscale store looking at clothes, dishes, furniture and children's clothes. I find the clothes of K-mart quality with Bloomingdale's prices. Upon our return I am told that the campground prices are posted in the bathroom and vary according to the size of the rig. I was charged the same amount, regardless of size. I am a bit upset and go to the owner's house to ask for a refund for three of our smaller units. The Mrs. acts dumb and denies that a sign exists. Her husband admits the varying charges but does not believe that I have three small units. He gets in the car and I walk back to check it out. I show him the rigs and he says, "No problem. I will give you a refund." Well for goodness sake, it is a problem. I have suffered embarrassment with my customers, if not a hassle. I return 90 pesos to the three units and return to R-TENT steaming now from the heat and the situation. I grill a salmon steak, but Bert still has diarrhea and does not eat any. He came down with it last night, and for the life of me I cannot figure out why. I doubt if it is food related because we have eaten the same thing for days now and I am fine. Plus he has no cramping. We'll see how this plays out. It does not, however, stop him from going birding or participating in the flan and Mayan coffee this evening. Twenty-two of us fill the air-conditioned room at the restaurant at 7 PM for the dessert and special drink. After eating our fill of creamy flan, the lights get dim and the servers begin the ritual of heating the sugared glasses and pouring flaming liquor into them. After coffee and ice cream are added, a server standing on a chair pours another round of flaming liquor into the glasses. Oohs and aahs abound and when the lights return a spontaneous round of applause erupts. It is a good way to end our stay in Mérida.

Day 25 - Wednesday, February 6 - Piste, Yucatán (Milepost 1521; today 81)

(Bert) Across the northern tip of the Yucatán peninsula, a distance of about 225 miles, the highway connects west-to-east: Celestún (where we saw the flamingos), Mérida (where we leave this morning), Piste (where we will see the ruins of Chichén Itzá), and Cancún (where most tourists vacation). Celestún is a coastal town along an extensive estuary on the western edge, while Cancún is a coastal city on the eastern edge. Mérida and Piste are inland by 25 and 50 miles, respectively, from the northern edge of the peninsula. All of this area was once traversed by the ancient Mayans and still is today by their descendants. As we travel, I am struck by how dry is this peninsula and, from the old Mayan stories, we know rain was a precious commodity to them a couple thousand years ago as well. Few people live in the rural areas, and those that do are concentrated in small villages. Mostly, I see flat undeveloped countryside, only a few feet above sea level. From my lofty driver's chair in R-TENT, I am mid story on the short trees that continuously panel both sides of the highway. Traveling during the dry season, the scrub forest looks desiccated, colors drab, leaves weary. In stark contrast to the dull greens and browns, the multitude of bright yellow flowers adorning Cassia trees is welcome to my eyes. Miles whiz by quickly on the good roads and we go even faster when we drive another 30 miles on the cuota road. Minimal traffic joins us on the cuota roads because the toll (US$15 for our motor home and car, US$10 for a smaller RV) is hefty for Mexicans and virtually unused by the heavy truck traffic we see elsewhere. In quick order, we park our RV's at the ample ballpark in Piste. After lunch and errands, most of us descend on the hotel swimming pool across the street. Clean and refreshing water, deck chairs and tables, an encompassing garden and parakeets in cages, our surroundings are delightful. We cap it off with pitchers of margaritas and enough snacks to stall off dinner indefinitely.

(Shari) Our short drive today takes us over a good road in unpopulated flat land. Few topes, three-wheeled bicycle carts and cars hinder our way and we make good time for a change. Arriving before noon at the ballpark, the designated campground for the next three nights, I make arrangements for our dinner and show tomorrow. When I return, Don, Woody, and Larry are flying their kites with the local teenage boys. The boys seem to enjoy the sport, testing their skill with the two-handled string spools to maneuver the kite into dives and loops, complete with "engine" noise, and soon more boys arrive until one of Don's kites heads for the trees and the flying lessons are over for the day. We meet a group at the pool but soon rain threatens and the temperatures cool. It is time for one of our margarita parties under the palapa anyway. We get a late start, as Bert cannot find an electrical outlet that has power. But soon our margarita man is churning out batches of the frozen goodie and we all gather in a circle around tables full of good snacks and a huge plate of guacamole and chips that Don ordered from the restaurant. Bert imbibes in the goodies, so he must be feeling okay too. Seems all of us will have a light supper tonight or none at all.

Day 26 - Thursday, February 7 - Chichén Itzá, Yucatán (Milepost 1521)

(Bert) El Castillo of Chichén Itzá, the most well known of the Mayan ruins, lies ghostly in the early morning fog, backlit by the silvery disc of a shrouded sun. Ninety-one steps on a side, a top platform above them all, 365 in total, the pyramidal temple looms high into the ceiling of fog and higher yet in imagination as I conjure up the thousands of lives affected by its presence for thousands of years. Centered in the main plaza, the Castillo is surrounded by other famous ruins: the Great Ball Court, the Temple of the Warriors, the Group of 1000 Columns, the Caracol observatory and so many more it would take days to absorb the intricacies and meanings of them all. A third of our group learn much during a two and half hour guided tour, another third visit the Mayan city on their own using guidebooks they have read previously and another third who have visited before, spend the morning birding. I join the latter group, but still pause to marvel at the stone edifices. We arrive before the gates open, affording us good birding in the cool of the morning. From the parking lot we watch a Squirrel Cuckoo posing in clear view, an act I rarely see and one I take advantage of as I snap over a dozen photos with my digital camera, finally turning on zoom to 24X for a full-frame vertical pose. During the morning others pose prettily: Turquoise-browed Motmot, Olive-green Flycatcher, Social Flycatcher - all tamer in these surroundings where hundreds of tourists mingle daily. In the shadow of Castillo, a Cinnamon Hummingbird feeds from tree flowers, then obligingly sits on a high branch in clear view. The rusty red front and green back make this a colorful gem. By noon the heat of the day takes its toll and leaving just Tom to bird into the afternoon, Lee and I hike back the mile to our campsite. The coolness of an inviting pool is a strong magnet for our return.

(Shari) "WOMAN FALLS TO DEATH FROM THE 24 METER HIGH EL CASTILLO PYRAMID AT CHICHÉN ITZÁ." This is the headline for tomorrow's newspaper that I conjure up in my mind as I stand at the top of the highest pyramid in Chichén Itzá. Russ says, "Come on baby!" while encouraging me to climb to the top, but now as I stand here wondering how I am suppose to get back down, I think it was not such a good idea to make the climb. Coming up, I use all four of my appendages and hang onto the flimsy rope that traverses from top to bottom. The steps are at 60 degrees and smaller than my size seven shoe. Part of my heel was hanging over the edge as I inched my way upward. They tell me the view from up here is fantastic, but truthfully I am scared to death to look. I snap a few hurried pictures to prove to Bert I did it, but otherwise "hang out" towards the back and away from the edge of the 91 steps. With Russ holding my hand I manage to step on the first step on my journey down. Monika jokes that the view is the same as the one she had when I went up the steps. After what seems like an eternity, I finally make the last step down and, like Rocky, raise my arms in triumph while 10 young strangers, Monika, Jack and Maggie clap their hands. I did it! Don't need to do it again! Nine of our group is taking the tour with Mario as their guide. Later they tell me he was fantastic. Bert, Lee, Woody, Pat, Gwen are birding of course. I am left to my own devices and wander the grounds until the heat gets too much for me. The pool beckons me to its cool water. Tonight we have our Mayan feast with entertainment by the same cute little family as last year. The buffet table is laden with food of all sorts, cold salads, fish, chicken, pork, beef and fresh fruits. If you take a little spoonful of everything, your plate would have three layers of food on it. The dancers in their white suits and artfully embroidered dresses are as cute as ever as they stomp their feet, twirl and whistle to the fast traditional music. I am invited onto the floor to dance with one of the young boys, and find out it is not as easy as it looks. I am glad that they do not require me to dance with a bottle of beer or tray of glasses on my head like they did earlier. The youngest child is only about seven years of age, and her movements are so steady that she can stomp and twirl without the beer bottle even beginning to wobble. After the show, Bert and I sit at the pool's edge enjoying the coolness of the evening until it begins to rain. As we return to R-TENT, we comment on the freshness of the air. Rain smells the same wherever you are.

Day 27 - Friday, February 8 - Piste, Yucatán (Milepost 1521)

(Bert) In the twilight we cross the cuota road below us. I do not remember doing that last year, so I pull the Pathfinder off to the right and Woody parks his truck behind me. He and his passengers do not recall driving here either, so I must have made a wrong turn somewhere behind me. Returning to Tinum, I ask a policeman, "Donde es Río Lagartos?" He points in the direction we are returning and says, "A la derecha, diez y ocho kilometers." I think I understand, but just to be sure I ask him to draw the directions on my notepad. He writes Dzitas at the righthand turn 18 km away. We passed through that town in the dark and it must be where we made the wrong turn. This is not the first wrong turn of the day. The road we are driving is not on the map, nor in Shari's GPS software. Last year I drove through here in reverse direction and my notes are of little help. Running the mouse maze in the larger villages of Dzitas, Espita and Tizimín is perplexed by the near absence of signs, the preponderance of one-way streets and the scarce difference between the quality of main streets and side alleys. Once clear of the confusion, we head straight north toward the Gulf coast, stopping short by a few miles to park at an intersection next to an unused quarry. There in its gravel walls we can see dozens of unoccupied nesting holes of motmots. I hear the buzz of a hummingbird, see it arrest briefly on a barbed wire fence and instantly recognize it as one of our target birds - Mexican Sheartail. The female hummer darts across the road to a leafless shrub and lands next to a juvenile. Lengthy bills crossed like dueling sabers, the mother transfers food to its baby. While the female departs for more nectar, I align my spotting scope on the juvenile. When she returns, Woody already has his digital camera positioned on the scope's eyepiece and he gets a full-frame shot of the feeding process. A great way to start our birding day, this sighting is only one of many memorable ones for the day. The extreme northern tip of the Yucatán peninsula is endemic to a few species that live nowhere else: Zenaida Dove, Yucatan Wren and Mexican Sheartail. The habitat here is different from other places we have visited. A flat coastal plain with only a few scattered trees, usually near farm buildings, the terrain reminds me of my friend Jim's ranch in south Texas, but more desiccated, less trees, more cactus. We walk through an open pasture that once was grazed by a few cattle - what did they find to eat? - but now is populated by morning birds enjoying the coolness of overcast skies. We get good views of Black-throated (Yucatan) Bobwhites, a more boldly patterned cousin to our northern quail, but retaining a similar and familiar "bobwhite" call. We head to Las Coloradas where salt hills stand high into the sky. Recovered from the sea the raw salt is readied for transit by ship or truck. In the swallow, red sediment ponds that stretch for miles beyond the village, the saline water attracts a red form of green algae, according to Gilford. The abundance of shrimp-like crustaceans offers a feast for more than a thousand flamingos, adorned in glorious robes of bright pink feathers. On the trip back we stop twice to look at roadkill, not the most appealing way to see wildlife, but one that gives me appreciation for the unusual mammals that live on this coastal plain. I wish I could see the monkey-like Kinkajou and the weasel-like Tayra in real life. I make a few more wrong turns and loops through the village mouse mazes, but we make our way back before dark, completing a victorious day with three new life birds.

(Shari) I barely hear the eight crazy birders as they go off on another "hunting" expedition at 5:30 AM. I readily fall asleep and do not awaken until the late morning hour of 7. The day is unusually cool with a slight drizzle and breeze and I almost consider changing into some long pants and a sweater. Almost. Joanne, Pat, Marlene and I walk to downtown, shop, stop at the bakery, and wait out most of the rain having coffee and soup and Joanne's treat of quesadillas. In the afternoon, Pat and I plan for our Valentine's Party later next week. Joanne has invited us for dinner tonight and cards. She and John are from Wisconsin and know how to play sheepshead, a game we only play when in that part of the country. Right about now is the time I long for foods without cumin, corn, chilies, tomato sauce and tortillas, so her delicious pork roast and homemade cookies hit the mark. As far as the card game goes - well let's just say I need more practice.

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