The Caste Wars - Grampies' Road to Ruins - CycleBlaze

January 3, 2018

The Caste Wars

The reason for travel is to experience and learn about new places . That much is obvious.  Certainly, travelling by bicycle gives just the right combination of speed slow enough to stop and see everything, and speed fast enough to get to and see everything. But beyond that, there is a huge variation in what one might experience and what one might learn about.

At the simplest level there is just the experience of pedaling the bike. This is always fun, but in a sense you could also stay home and pedal, even on a trainer. But maybe the place is Mont Ventoux, and the experience is climbing it. Ok, sure.

The next level would be to experience the climate, sun and wind, and the food, plus the culture, music, architecture, and the people generally. You can do this pretty handily as a typical know nothing tourist. Just walk off the plane, take a deep breath, look around, and walk into the first restaurant.  I think this is what most people do.  Certainly it is what we generally do. 

But there are many more levels of travel awareness available. There is taking local cooking classes, local language lessons, local farming or fishing experiences, and that really good one - getting a local boy or girl friend.

So why am I thinking about all this? It's just that in the blog "10 days in the Yucatan!" by Mali Bain there is the recommendation of the book "Yucatan for Travelers - Side Trips: Valladolid to Tulum" by John Grimsrud .  In the book, Grimsrud who travelled by bike, urges you to slow down even further  and to open your mind to the tranquility, history, villages, back roads, and ancient Maya culture.

This strikes a chord, particularly with the mention of history. History is a funny thing for the traveller. Unlike food or even fresh air, you can not experience it directly. It's purely a mental thing.  For example, in Trier, Germany we went out of our way to stand in front of Karl Marx's birth house. Why? Probably even Karl did not remember or care about the place. But somehow, we did.

Or how about walking through Place de la Concorde in Paris? On the one hand it's a windy 20 acre square you have to cross to get anywhere, but on the other hand, King Louis XVI was executed here by guillotine in 1793. That has to affect you somehow.

So it was that we had selected some points on the map of Yucatan that looked like we could cycle around. There was Cancun, of course. Like other gormless tourists, we know Cancun, which is a custom built playland created by the government, starting in 1974. 

But then there is Valladolid, which we only first learned about in Mali Bain's blog, and Felipe Carrilo Puerto - the only spot after leaving Tulum toward the south that we might hope to find accommodation.  Valladolid looked to us like a good base for visiting Chichen Itza, and Felipe Carrilo Puerto was significant only in that it might have a hotel. But there is more to these places, and so many others, than we are immediately aware of.

Valladolid was a battle ground, in the almost 100 years "Caste War" that was fought between the newly insurgent Maya and the Spanish descendants.  (Actually the "castes" were those Spanish born, then Spanish descendants, then mixed Spanish blood, then Spanish collaborating Indians, and finally the lowly Indios (Maya)). Valladolid in 1847 was an all white city, with no Indians allowed inside.  The Mayan capital was Chan Santa Cruz, the former name of guess what - Felipe Carrillo Puerto. In Chan Santa Cruz there arose the Cult of the Talking Cross, a Christianity variant that the Maya adopted and that sustained them in the battle. There remains a Talking Cross chapel in Felipe. The Cult was recognized as a legitimate religion by the Mexican government in 2002.

The Talking Cross first revealed itself at a small spring that sustained the community of Chan Santa Cruz. Located in present Felipe Carrillo Puerto, the spring is today a small park, or "sanctuary."
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For a time, the Mayan state of Yucatan was recognized - such as by the British, who traded with it out of British Honduras, which was to become Belize. But in 1893 they shut down that trade and sided with the Mexican government. In 1901 the Mexicans overran Chan Santa Cruz, rounding up Maya and shipping them to slavery in Cuba. The Maya, however, retreated to the jungle and ran a fairly successful guerrilla war. In 1924 right wing conservatives got control in Yucatan, They took former governor Felipe Carrillo Puerto to Merida and executed him by firing squad. Puerto had been too friendly to the Maya.  The Maya in turn only signed some treaties with Mexico in 1936.  At that time, the Yucatan capital was relocated to Chetumal, also a point on our cycling map (though we have lately decided not to go that far South).

So there was a time when Indians were not allowed in Valladolid, and there was a time when non-Maya risked being killed if they ventured in the vicinity of Chan Santa Cruz. All the Grampies want in these places is a hotel, but these things are good to know, right?

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