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Public History Day Six - Yaal Utzil Cenote and Campeche

On June 5, we left Merida and traveled to Campeche. Alan Cordle, one of Dr. Heath’s colleagues from the 2011 NEH program to Mexico, joined us for the trip. Our guide, Raul Garcia and driver Carlos Can, took us to a remote cenote, or limestone sinkhole, called Yaal Utzil in the small settlement of Mucuyche. There, Alan discussed the significance of cenotes in Mayan cosmology. We then descended a wooden staircase into the cenote and went swimming. Ruben Vasquez led the way, swinging on a vine into the water. Then, one of our fearless graduate students, Lyndsey Holloway, jumped off a 12 foot raised platform into the water. In a few minutes, Michelle Balliet, Serena Barbieri, Savanah Burns, Andrew Eckhoff, and D.J. Sandidge were splashing around in the cenote. I even jumped off the platform! (Brant still wasn’t feeling 100 percent so he stayed on the sidelines with mom).

After the cenote, we drove to Campeche. The city was built on the site of a former Mayan fishing village in 1540. During the Spanish colonial era, it served as the most important port on the Yucatan Peninsula, exporting timber and roots used to make dyes in European textiles. In fact, the city’s economic prosperity made it a target for Dutch and English pirates. Our hotel, the Francis Drake, was named for one of the most successful English pirates of the sixteenth century. He circumnavigated the globe in 1577, looting Spanish treasures ships of their gold and silver for England. The worst attack on Campeche may have come in 1663, when many of the city’s inhabitants were massacred by pirates. As a result, the residents of Campeche erected think walls around the town and built eight bastions or forts that can be visited today.

Once we arrived in Campeche, Dr. Heath and many of the students went out to eat with Alan at a local restaurant. Brant, mom, and I visited the main square, the Parque Principal, and took in the downtown cathedral, and a model of the historic walled city. We then went shopping for supplies. Later in the evening, we attempted to complete a Living History podcast with Alan on Mesoamerican cenotes.

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