Archive for June, 2011

The Movie That Almost Was: Federico Fellini and the Maya

June 30th, 2011 by ejalbright

Fellini in Yucatan

Federico Fellini and Carlos Castaneda, collaborating on a movie that involved the Maya ruins of Tulum and Chichen Itza?

Apparently Fellini, the director of “8 1/2,” “Amarcord,” and “La Dolce Vita” wanted to make a film of Castaneda’s “The Teachings of Don Juan,” and the two men scouted possibly locations in Yucatan where Fellini was quite take by the beautiful vistas of Tulum. The project was derailed, according to Fellini, by a cabal of cultists who followed “Don Juan’s” teachings.

The meeting of two giants of film and publishing is the subject of a film, “Soñando con Tulum” (“Dream of Tulum”), a fictional depiction of the two men’s trip to Yucatan in the mid 1980s. The film, by Mexican-born director Tiahoga Ruge, premieres at the Moscow International Film Festival. In the late 1970s Ruge was an assistant to Fellini, and upon learning of the filmmaker’s interest in Castaneda’s work, arranged an introduction between the two men in Los Angeles. They later traveled together to Yucatan where Castaneda abandoned the filmmaker, but Fellini ending up spending a month.

No film ever came from the collaboration, but the raw ideas of a film based on Fellini’s trip was transformed into a graphic novel by the Italian erotic comic artist Milo Manara in 1990. A few years ago Ruge proposed creating a film about Fellini’s experience. The project soon grew to become two films and a co-production between Mexico and Italy. When the Italian funding fell through, Ruge cobbled together the first film, which tells the story of how Fellini became interested in Mexico and how he traveled to Yucatan and met a shaman. The film is fiction, Ruge says, and not a documentary.

Castaneda, however, is not part of the film. According to Ruge, even though he is dead, his heirs are very protective of his rights. But why did Castaneda abandon the original project and supposedly leave Fellini in the middle of Mexican road? Before he died, Fellini explained what happened, at least from his perspective:

“My film project based on Castaneda’s stories upset, alarmed or alerted a particular group of people,” Fellini told an Italian newspaper. “Castaneda must have belonged to a well organized group with an ideology that its members believed in fanatically, which also has underground informants scattered throughout the world. I am convinced that Castaneda was, in a certain way, under the power of this mystical group. In all churches, and even moreso in the occult, there are truths that must not be revealed. Otherwise it is treason. Silence is required. The ‘friends’ of his books tolerated Castaneda, but when they realized that a film would disclose their mysteries they intervened to scare Castaneda.”

For the complete story (in Spanish), see

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Mexico’s President to Promote 2012 at Chichen Itza

June 23rd, 2011 by ejalbright

Mexico’s Secretary of Tourism was in Merida yesterday to announce that the federal government would be joining with the state of Yucatan to promote the Maya World in 2012. At some point in the next few days Yucatan Governor Ivonne Ortega Pacheco will join with Mexico President Felipe Calderon Hinojosa at Chichen Itza to announce a sweeping tourism promotion plan connected to the end of the Maya calendar in December 2012.

Tourism Secretary Gloria Guevara Manzo was in town to participate in “Feria Turística del Mundo Maya” — “Tourism Fair of the Maya World.” She said the upcoming tourism promotion around 2012 would focus its attention on Maya sites such as Chichen Itza that visitors should know about to whet their appetite for information about the 5,000-year Maya calendar that comes to an end late next year.

“The Maya culture permits a connection between past and future, and is a major contribution to the world of the Mexican people,” she told reporters.

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Report: Fast Train to Chichen Itza, Maya Riviera, On Track

June 16th, 2011 by ejalbright

Train graphic by Juan Carlos Fleicer from
Proposed route of Yucatan ‘bullet train’, detail of graphic by Juan Carlos Fleicer from

It may still be a pipe dream, but at least according to a major Mexican newspaper the fast train project from Merida, the capital of Yucatan state, to Chichen Itza, with connections to Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Campeche, is about to leave the station.

Milenio, a national Mexican newspaper, has published a comprehensive report by Rodolfo Montes that demonstrates exactly what the fast train project is and how close it is to becoming reality.

On that latter point, according to Montes’ article negotiations are still ongoing with the federal government. While there is no firm commitment to the project, conversations have been positive. The goal is to get a financial commitment from the federal government into the 2012 budget.

What follows is a translation of the Milenio article:

The transpeninsular, fast train project is almost ready to begin and will link the Mexican states of Yucatan, Quintana Roo, and Campeche. Officials estimate that at least a million people will ride the train each year, and thousands of tons of cargo can be transported; the train will run in the morning and the evening, as promoted by Yucatan Governor Ivonne Ortega Pacheco. The first run will be exclusively for passengers and the second for cargo.

In an interview with MILENIO, Secretary of Public Works for Yucatán, Francisco Torres Rivas, said that by next September the state will launch the request for proposals for the project, which has been described as historic, because in “100 years Mexico has not made an investment in the rail system in the country.”

Torres Rivas said “we are currently awaiting the Unidad de Inversión de la Secretaría de Hacienda y Crédito Público (Investment Division of the Mexican Ministry of Finance) to allocate public resources and add them to private resources, after which we expect the approval of the government of Mexican President Felipe Calderon.”

The state has been contacted by representatives from Great Britain, China, Germany, France, and Mexico who are interested in participating in the project, he explained.

To determine the cost/benefit of the project, the World Bank financed surveys of 8,000 people who travel, for example, between Merida to Cancun. The consensus was that the transpeninsular fast train was the optimal solution.

According to the official proposal:

The cost will be 11 billion pesos. In its first stage, the fast train will extend 336 kilometers, from Yucatan to Quintana Roo, with terminals in Merida at one end and Punto Venado at the other. There will be stations in Izamal, Chichen Itza, Valladolid, and Coba.

In a second phase, one extension is being considered to Progreso, the port north of Merida, and to Campeche, which would pass by the Maya ruin of Uxmal. Another spur would be constructed north from Punto Venado to Cancun.

The service is expected to run in two shifts, with passenger traffic from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., and cargo from 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.

The full trip for passenger traffic (estimated at 400 passengers per trip) is estimated at two hours, at an average speed of 110 kilometers per hour and a maximum speed of 160. For freight service, we present a recommended average speed of 45 kilometers per hour.

Click HERE for the rest of the article.


‘Fast Train’ to Chichen Itza Report Due in October

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Yucatan Signs Contract for Merida Maya Museum

June 15th, 2011 by ejalbright

Photo Diario de Yucatan

For the past several months the only evidence of the proposed Gran Museo de la Cultura Maya (Great Museum of the Maya Culture) has been a giant hole in the ground.

Last week the state of Yucatan signed a $400 million (Mexican) contract to build the museum in Merida, the capital of Yucatan state. The museum, construction of which must be completed by June 2012, will be built and operated by Promotora Cultural Yaxché, a public/private partnership formed just for the purpose of building and running the museum.

The museum will be built next to the convention center in the northern part of Merida.

At last week’s press conference announcing the contract there was no word on if or when construction will begin on a Maya museum near Chichen Itza, in the town of Yaxcaba.


Construction Begins on Museum Near Chichen Itza

Construction on New Maya Museum in Merida to Begin Dec. 21

More Details Emerge about “Palace of the Maya” Near Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza Gold Going to New Yucatan Museum, Gov. Says

Museum Dedicated to Maya to Begin Construction

Both Chichen Itza and Merida to Get Maya Museums

BULLETIN: Proposed Maya Museum Moved to Chichen; Expropriation Seems Doubtful

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If You’re Heading to Chichen Itza, Better Go Now

June 10th, 2011 by ejalbright

The bathrooms for visitors inside the archaeological zone of Chichen Itza have been out of service for more than two weeks, and officials don’t know when they will be repaired.

According to the Diario de Yucatan, the pump providing water to the restrooms caught fire and was destroyed. Reportedly the restrooms in the visitor center are operational.

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Farmers, Citing Chichen Itza, Demand Payment for Ruins on Their Property

June 9th, 2011 by ejalbright

One of the cornerstones of the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution was confiscating lands formerly belonging to hacienda owners and giving them to peasant farmers in the form of large cooperatives called ejidos.

In Yucatan some of the ejidos contained Maya ruins, and now the ejidatarios whose lands include the Maya ruin of Dzibilchaltun are demanding payment, citing the state of Yucatan’s recent purchase of Chichen Itza as precedent.

Thousands visit Dzibilchaltun every year. The ruin, which is conveniently only a few kilometers north of the capital of Yucatan state, Merida, is also one of the most excavated and explored. Many of the monuments have been restored, and next to the ruins is one of the best museums of ancient Maya artifacts on the Yucatan peninsula.

INAH, the federal agency in charge of Mexico’s pre-Columbian ruins, has been working at Dzibulchaltun since the 1950s. Now two ejidatarios have filed an action in Mexico’s Agrarian Court seeking recompense for what they describe as a confiscation of their ejido.

Fidelio Couoh Chi and José Victoriano Can Euán are seeking payment similar to what Hans Thies Barbachano received last year for his land upon which the most famous monuments of Chichen Itza rest. The state of Yucatan paid Thies Barbachano $230 million (Mexican) for the property, which has been in his family since 1944.

“They [INAH] cleared our land without giving us a peso to us, but to the individual at Chichén Itzá, they gave him many millons,” Couoh said.

The complete story can be found (in Spanish) in the Diario de Yucatan HERE.

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Recording the Life of the Chichen Itza Maya — Today

June 5th, 2011 by ejalbright

A prosperous businessman watches his personal and professional life crumble, and decides to abandon the trappings of wealth for a life lived simply. Who among us has not been inspired by such tales, or even imagined such a life story for ourselves?

Michael Maurus left behind the bourgeois pursuits of a commercial photographer in Cancun and is now employing his talent to record the simple life of the Maya in and around Chichen Itza. He calls his new life “A Mayan Experience.”

Michael describes his very personal decision to make the leap to photographer of the Maya on his blog.

I met Michael last year at Chichen Itza. At that time he was still living in Cancun running his business, which had been devastated by the H1N1 scare and the general economic doldrums of the world. He was visiting a mutual friend, Bruce Gordon, and like me was at the Hacienda Chichen to see the fiesta for St. Isidro, the patron saint of the Hacienda. He allowed me to use a couple of his photographs for this blog. Below is a video of the fiesta to St. Isidro, the patron saint of the Hacienda Chichen, where you can occasionally seen Michael practicing his craft:

Michael soon found himself hitting bottom. His business collapsed, his wife divorced him. Then two angels came to save him, Bruce and his wife, Belisa Barbachano, who runs the Hacienda Chichen Resort. “When they learned that I sort of hit a rough spot, their generous nature came true,” Michael writes on his blog. “Belisa and Bruce invited me to stay at their Hacienda and do some volunteer work for the ‘Maya Foundation In Laakeech.'” Laakeech, Michael learned, was not a place but a spiritual state of mind. And as he writes, he was in search of a change of life, so he jumped at the opportunity. He now lives on the grounds of the hacienda, not far from the central ruins of Chichen Itza, where he now photographs the life of the local Maya.

He is also investigating what 2012 and the end of the Maya calendar means to the Maya. He calls the apocalyptic beliefs “nonsense.” He plans to put on an exhibit of his photos in Europe during 2012 to help set the record straight.

Michael has three videos of his photographs on his Web site, “Mayan Blessing,” “First Light,” and “Maya Shaman” (find them under the link marked “Series”).

You can follow Michael’s journey on his blog or keep up with him on Twitter (@mayanExperience).

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Rare Photographs of Chichen Itza, Izamal, Offered in French Auction

June 2nd, 2011 by ejalbright

1860 photo of Chichen Itza Las Monjas by Desire Charnay

One of the earliest photos ever taken at Chichen Itza has come up for sale in a French auction.

In 1860 French explorer Desire Charnay roamed the Yucatan, visiting the major cities and towns, and exploring several of the ancient Maya cities. Although he was not the first to photograph Chichen Itza, his images are the earliest photos that have survived into the 21st century.

Two of his early photographs — one from Chichen Itza, the other from Izamal — are for sale in an auction to be conducted June 8 by Beaussant Lefevre. A third photo, also from Izamal, and taken during Charnay’s second visit to Yucatan in the 1880s, is also on the block. The images are from the Pierre-Marc Richard collection.

The Chichen Itza photograph is of the east side of Las Monjas (the Nunnery). The auction estimate is 18,000 to 20,000 euro ($26,000-$29,000 U.S.).

The image from Izamal is of a giant carved human face which no longer exists. When John Lloyd Stephens visited in the early 1840s, his artist, Frederick Catherwood, captured this iconic work of art; it was still there when Charnay arrived 17 years later, but was gone by the time of his later voyage in the 1880s. Because the image is a lithograph and not an actual photograph the auction estimate is 3,000-4,000 euro ($4,350-$5,800).

The later Izamal image does not appear in the auction catalog, as is described as a “peinture décorative” on the pyramid of Ka-bul and is from Charnay’s book of his second voyage. However, there is no such illustration in the book. In any case, the auction estimate for the image is 500-1,000 euro ($700-$1,500).

1860 photo of giant stone face in Izamal by Desire Charnay

The auction catalog with two of the three images, can be downloaded HERE.

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