Archive for April, 2009

Chichen Itza Closed to Prevent Spread of Flu

April 29th, 2009 by ejalbright

To check the spread of the swine flu in Mexico, INAH, the agency in charge of museums and ancient ruins, has shuttered the doors to everything, including Chichen Itza, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the nation.

The disease has so far killed 160 people, mainly in the area of Mexico City. Some 2,000 have been known to be infected and the contagion is spreading. The cases of the disease that have struck the United States originated from tourists who recently arrived home from Cancun, also the city from which many people visit Chichen Itza.

Yesterday INAH announced that all 175 archaeological sites and museums would not open, following the directive of the rest of Mexico which as closed restaurants, schools, and other places of public assembly.

The sites have been closed “hasta nuevo aviso” (“until further notice”). No date has been set to reopen, but informally there have been discussions of reopening other public places in 10 days.

According to La Jornada, a Mexican newspaper, INAH yesterday originally announced that all of its sites and museums would remain open. A few hours later, that announcement was rescinded.

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Yucatan Relatively Free of Swine Flu — So Far

April 27th, 2009 by ejalbright

A French tourist visiting Chichen Itza was hospitalized in Valladolid with flu symptoms over the weekend.

[UPDATE, 2 p.m., Monday, April 27, 2009–According to Yucatan government officials, tests revealed that the French tourist did not have swine flu. Officials said there have been zero cases of swine flu in Yucatan state.]

According to the Diario de Yucatan, the tourist had taken ill at Chichen Itza, but had only arrived, having spent several days in Mexico City where authorities have closed schools and other areas of public assembly in response to the flu outbreak that has so far killed an estimated 80 people.

Authorities today will receive test results as to whether the tourist actually has contracted swine flu.

Although there have been some random reports of individuals coming down with swine flu after visiting Cancun and other destinations in the Yucatan Peninsula, they are far from the numbers being experienced in Mexico City, which has resulted in the closing of schools and other places of assembly to prevent spread of the disease.

In Canada, four students came home from Cancun with what authorities called a mild case of swine flu. In New York City, a similar outbreak was reported among a group of students who were in Yucatan for spring break.

Workers at the Cancun Airport over the weekend began wearing surgical masks, but as a precaution.

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Chichen Itza Vendors Offer Six-Point Compromise

April 24th, 2009 by ejalbright

The trinket vendors at Chichen Itza, reportedly some 800 strong, met last weekend with representatives of the Mexican government and at least one of the private owners of Chichen Itza to present a six-point plan to resolve conflict among the groups.

The agreement, when boiled down to its core, seeks official recognition of the vendors and, in exchange, the vendors will agree to a code of conduct by which they will cease the behaviors that have drawn the ire of tourists to the site.

The representatives of the authorities present agreed to respond to the plan by June 1.

Every day several hundred vendors invade Chichen Itza to sell trinkets and other merchandise to the hundreds of tourists that arrive each day. The vendors, although not officially sanctioned by the government, have been allowed to enter without interference.

Chichen Itza, however, is on private land, and two months ago Hans Thies Barbachano, the owner of the section where most of the vendors congregate, had the entrance gate locked for a day to keep them out. In addition, the property owner installed two kiosks inside the archaeological zone to sell snacks and drinks.

The vendors have been pressing for ratification of their right to be inside the archaeological zone and earlier this year met with officials of the two agencies that oversee tourist traffic at Chichen Itza, the federal INAH and the state Cultur. Representatives of the vendors agreed at that meeting to generate proposals for how the groups could work together in the future.

Last Saturday, the vendors, represented by the former INAH director of Chichen Itza, VIV, presented a list of six demands:

1. Legalization of the 800 vendors who work inside the archaeological zone of Chichén Itzá, respecting legal due process and human rights protections.
2. Recognition that Chichen Itza is the property of the Mexican people.
3. That INAH must treat Chichen Itza as a place of conservation of the heritage of the vendors’ ancestors, as well as show respect and the dissemination of Maya culture.
4. That INAH, the federal Secretary of Tourism, and CULTUR work together with the artisans of Chichen Itza to promote strategies that benefit that relationship to preserve the dignity and respect for the vendors as descendants of the Maya and that marketing of their products as a way of encouraging the parties to support all that is in a state of law. Also, these groups will work together to improve conditions and standards of quality of tourism services and coexistence within the archaeological zone.
5. The federal and state agencies will develop social, educational, health and housing programs for the communities surrounding Chichen Itza.
6. The vendors, in exchange, will agree to the following:

  • – Not to chase tourists or harass them;
    – Agree to a census that will determine who is or who is not a vendor
    – Wear badges to identify themselves as such
    – Not perform any act that alters or violates the agreement without prior notice
    – Put trash in designated containers or cans and not discard materials that pollute the environment
    – Do not bring and/or consume food outside the areas assigned.
    – Do not bring and/or consume alcoholic beverages.
    – Do not used unauthorized motor vehicles.
    – Do not carry weapons or illegal substances
    – Do not bring animals
    – Do not light any fires or undertake activities that promote fires.
    – Respect the cordoned and restricted areas and restricted, provided such restrictions are made by mutual agreement and advance notice.
    – Do not climb roofs, walls, sidewalks, columns and other architectural elements and sculptures.
    – Do not climb on buildings and unrestored mounds.
    – Do not touch the columns and bas reliefs.
    – Maintain cleanliness of the cenotes, and not throw objects and other items to them.
    – Do not move rocks and other elements.
    – Protect the fauna and flora of the area
    – Respect the signs and other limits, and not obstruct or damage related signals.
    – Keep the area free of graffiti or markings of any kind.
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    Leaders of Chichen Vendors Prepare for April 17 Meeting

    April 15th, 2009 by ejalbright

    The leaders of the 800 men and women who arrive at the archaeological zone each day to sell trinkets and handicrafts met Monday to map out Friday’s roundtable with government officials in an attempt to reach a settlement regarding rules of engagement.

    The vendors invade Chichen Itza every day to sell to the hundreds of tourists who come to see Chichen Itza. Their tables line the pathways, selling everything from wood carvings to silver jewelery to the kind of knick knacks one would find in a gift shop.

    Tourists have complained about these “vendedores,” some of whom are aggressive in their sales tactics. The leaders of the vendedores say that they are indigenous to the region, and have the right to earn a living in a city built by their ancestors.

    The main action taken at the prepatory meeting was to go over what was discussed at the last roundtable and convert those discussions into an agreement that will be ready for signing. In addition, the leaders of the vendedores made sure to send invitations to the government officials as well as the general public for Friday’s meeting, which will be held at 10 p.m. in the auditorium at Chichen Itza. At the last roundtable, no one from the government showed up.

    Yesterday three of the leaders of the vendedores, Jorge Dilio Buenfil, Víctor Cárdenas y Mariana Chan Pool, were scheduled to appear on Radio AMLO, the Internet radio station of Mexican populist politician Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

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    Xtampak: Campeche’s City of Ancient Walls

    April 12th, 2009 by ejalbright

    Photo by EJ Albright

    [A longer version of this article can be found at Merida Insider.]

    Last month three friends and I visited a Maya ruin known as Xtampak, Maya for “old walls.” We struck out south from Merida to Uman where we took Hwy 261 to the so-called Ruta Puuc. We continued past Uxmal and Kabah, but when the Ruta Puuc turns east we pressed on to the south. We crossed into Campeche towards San Antonio Yaxche’ and through the town of Bolonchen, so named for its nine wells (in Maya: Bolon = 9; Chen =Well) that can be seen on the street through the pueblo.

    The turnoff to the left (4 kilometers before Hopelche’n) was marked with a relatively new sign. We headed east on a dirt road that mysteriously became pavement every few kilometers. We easily found the site, and no wonder, because it appears to be ramping up to be a vital tourist attraction. We drove into a giant parking lot which was surrounded by landscaped grounds and a new, spiffy visitor center. We were the only ones there.

    Photo by S. Hollander

    Admission was 31 pesos. The site is atop a hill, and to get there you have to climb an unimproved trail up a steep grade for a few hundred meters.

    After cresting the hill, the first structure you come to is El Palacio (“The Palace”), the very same building that so impressed Stephens. The first view you have of it is the northern wing, which only hints at its magnificence. El Palacio has three stories and contains 44 rooms. It also has two internal staircases, unusual in most Maya buildings which tend to have all staircases on the exterior.

    Photo by EJ Albright

    The building known as the “Mouth of the Serpent” had the most intricate facade. This small, one-story building, has its entrance decorated like the mouth of an iguana. The rear of the building is decorated like the open jaws of a jaguar. In fact there were many buildings where the entrance was decorated with a variety of incisors and canine teeth. This is a common theme in buildings from the Chenes region, or so I was told. We began to refer to this motif as “big scary teeth.”

    Photo by S. Hollander

    During our visit we struck out on a trail cut to the southeast portion of the city. There we found the reason for the city’s existence. One of our party found a hill covered in shaped stones. We climbed to the top and from there had a view in all directions that extended for dozens of kilometers. The hill is not cleared, so we were looking through the trees, but it appeared to us that we could see the breadth of the Yucatan Pensinsula.

    IF YOU GO: Take the Periferico to the Uman/Uxmal exit. Take Hwy 261 and stay on it into Campeche. The turnoff to Xtampak is about 25 kilometers south of the border, and from there it is another 20 kilometers over an improved gravel road to the site.

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    Waiting for Kukulcan …

    April 7th, 2009 by ejalbright

    Every March 21, thousands flock to Chichen Itza for a special event that occurs every equinox. I was there and interviewed as many folks as I could find about what was going to happen. Here’s what I learned:

    Thanks to everyone who answered my foolish questions.

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    Talks Continue with Vendors at Chichen Itza

    April 6th, 2009 by ejalbright

    Every day hundreds of peddlers of trinkets, crafts, and other objet de turista flood the archaeological zone at Chichen Itza, begging visitors to the site to buy their wares.

    But rather than being a ragtag group of individuals, the “vendedores” are organized and of late have been flexing their political muscle.

    Over the winter, the state and federal governments made noises about evicting the vendedores, who responded by holding a demonstration at the entrance to Chichen Itza and blocking roads. These tactics forced the government to enter into discussions with the leaders of the vendedores.

    All was going well until March 30, when the vendedores called for a meeting and no one from the government showed up. The next day, Federica Sodi Miranda, the director of INAH, the federal agency in Yucatan that oversees the ruins of Chichen Itza, reportedly resigned.

    According to Villevaldo Pech Moo, the former INAH director at Chichen Itza and today the legal representative of the vendedores, a new meeting has been called for April 17, and he hopes government authorities will be “más sensibles”–“more sensible”–about resolving the conflict with the vendedores.

    Pech Moo told reporters that he believes that INAH will have named its new director for Yucatan by the time of the meeting. The reason the former director left INAH, he said, was because she refused to take any action to move forward with expropriation of Chichen Itza from one of the site’s private owners, Hans Thies Jurguen Barbachano.

    Much of the Chichen Itza archaeological zone is owned by the Barbachano family, which bought it in 1944 from the heirs of the previous owner, American Edward Thompson. The federal government has been exploring options to acquire the property, including expropriation, that is, the action by a state to take property or to change the rights of the owners of property.

    The word “expropriation” is a red flag to nations outside Mexico. In the late 1930s Mexico expropriated the oil industry within its borders, removing it from American and European ownership and paying only pennies on the dollar. As a result, Mexico regained its biggest resource, but it made it harder to attract investment by foreign interests which feared the government would expropriate again. Today, this fear has been somewhat allayed by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which specifically outlines remedies for expropriation, including payment by Mexico of full value of property or rights it takes (similar to the US version of expropriation, “eminent domain”).

    According the Pech Moo, the vendedores are considering suing Sodi Miranda and her former boss, Alfonso de María y Campos Castelló, the director general of INAH for all Mexico, for “negligencia” by failing to pursue expropriation.

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    American Egypt Blog is Upgraded, Blog is Back

    April 3rd, 2009 by ejalbright

    Thalia on the throne

    Back in December, my entire Web site was hacked. Then I lost my job. Then I turned 50. Bad things, my grandmother used to say, happen in threes.

    Today I upgraded the blog and removed the hundreds of links to viagra and porn that had been added to some of the posts. The process has not been perfect. I lost all the tags on my posts, so I have to recreate them again. There may be other issues as well. Send me an e-mail if you find any bugs or other problems (

    Over the past three or four months while this blog has been dormant there has been a lot of news about Chichen Itza. I have a lot of catching up to do.

    Most recently, the director of INAH Yucatan, the federal agency that oversees Chichen Itza, apparently resigned. Newspapers reported the departure of Federica Sodi Miranda, whose regime was embattled almost from the beginning, on April Fool’s Day. That afternoon she met with the media and denied the story. But articles today say she has indeed resigned, and her resignation was made official the same time she was speaking to reporters. This could all change tomorrow.

    Her tenure in Yucatan, first as director at Chichen Itza, and then as director of all Yucatan, was always good for a headline. The best one was when one of her relatives (niece or sister, I was never very sure), the pop star Thalia, came to Chichen and was photographed sitting on many of the monuments without official permission. When the photographs were published in a Mexican tee-vee magazine (see image below), the kanta hit the fan.

    Here are some of the headlines from this blog about Sodi Miranda’s tenure:

    INAH Workers Protest, Block Ticket Gate to Chichen Itza

    UPDATE: INAH Director Confirms Chichen Itza Expropriation

    Pop Star Thalia Continues Her ‘Apology Tour’

    Who Watches the Watchmen?

    The Pop Singer Scandal

    Thalia on the throne

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