Luís Villanueva and Wilberth Alejandro Sala Pech transact them like merchandise at a service station on the highway that connects Mérida to Campeche.
The road ran parallel to the old Maia Royal Way between the two cities. It passed by hamlets that, like Wilberth, preserved obvious indigenous roots. We ask to stop at one or the other, something that the young guide gives us with satisfaction.
We stop at Becal. Wilberth reveals to us a small family and artisanal panama hat factory. Despite the name, the “jeeps” – as the Mexicans call them – were invented in Ecuador.
We admire how the artisans weave them one after the other, from the fiber of a palm leaf, in order to satisfy the demand of the many gringos who visit Mexico.
Mayan Graves and Panama Hats
From Becal, we point to Pomush, a village where one of the rare Mayan cemeteries in the world remains. There, instead of in conventional graves, the bones of the dead are deposited for eternity in small wooden boxes, lined with towels with embroidered flowers.
In them, skulls and bones are exposed to air and gaze. “My grandparents are around here somewhere”, Wilberth reveals to us, sure of the additional impression he would make on us.
Before he pointed out the exact place, we got in the way with questions about how Catholic priests dealt with that practice. Wilberth assures us that, over the centuries, a healthy coexistence has been established.
Our time was running out. We hurried back to the path.
When we checked into the hotel in Campeche, the setting sun gilded the city's historic core.
A trip it had left us exhausted, but a nightly show of light and sound taking place between the walls of its huge fort justified our resorting to the last of our energies.
The exhibition, together with one called Puerta de Tierra, re-enacted the city's troubled past, from the Indian era to the invasion of Spanish conquerors and so on.
We had just arrived and Campeche already radiated to us the richness of its history.
Awakening with Blue Sky and Between Pastel Facades
Seven hours later, rejuvenated, we enjoyed it in the tropical morning light. More colonial stops than these do not abound.
From Plaza Campeche, in whatever direction, the city unfolds in a geometric succession of streets numbered and squares that meet on curious corners: del Cometa, del Toro, del Perro.
In the immediate southwest, this grid is even more rigorous, submissive to the old walls and ramparts that once protected the urban marrow from successive attempts at conquest or plunder.
A few hundred meters from the Barrio de Guadalupe that welcomed us, Calle 10 leads us along one of the side façades of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Purísima Concepción.
Then, to the Main Park, this one, centered around a kind of bandstand on steroids.
As is supposed to happen in cities of such Catholic caliber, the twin towers of the cathedral overlap the park, its trees and the rural houses in general.
The day had started just three hours ago, but the residents were already walking preferably through the arcades of the noble and gaudy palaces, safe from the brazier that was intensifying.
For the interior, Campeche surrenders to a profusion of blocks of a multicolored pastel.
Its houses and sidewalks are elevated above the street level, thus protected from the rare withering rains.
Displaced from the intense frenzy of the cientros, life flows there more slowly and more freely, affected from time to time by the characteristic rumbles of another Volkswagen Beetle.
The standardized repetition of these streets they keep us in a semi-alienated mode of exploration, so engrossed in the whole that we forget that the sea was only a few hundred meters away.
Except for the trampling of any hurricane or tropical storm, the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico hits the city's marginal Malecon, with a laziness suited to the place.
Mayan Submission and the Long Colonial Period
Since the turn of the 1517th century, circling around the Caribbean Sea, in XNUMX, the Spanish discoverers and conquerors ended up disembarking there.
As narrated by Bernal Diaz Castillo – the main scribe of the Conquest of Mexico – they supplied themselves with water with the complacency of the local chiefs who also showed them their palaces and pyramids.
The outsiders' thirst for wealth and power would come to dictate a tragic outcome of the local Mayan civilization.
The village was then called Ah-Kin-Pech, simplified as Can Pech. Roughly, the name translated as the place of the snake and the tick.
If the first incursion proved to be peaceful, the passage of the men of Francisco Hernández de Córdoba and Antón de Alaminos to the neighboring area of shampoo, triggered a saga of violence that generated many casualties and would only end more than twenty years later, under the command of Francisco de Montejos.
When the Spaniards found it, Can Pech was home to about 40 Mayans.
A few years later, thanks largely to epidemics of smallpox and other unknown ailments in the New World, the number was already less than 6. With the Mayans destroyed, the conquerors built a new city over the once majestic settlement of the natives.
As might be expected, San Francisco de Campeche developed under the strong Hispanic standards of the time. It rivaled other great and influential cities of the empire, Havana and Cartagena de Indias.
It concentrated gold, other precious metals, and subtracted commodities throughout the Mexico which were shipped from there to Spain.
Bartolomeu Português among a Swarm of Pirates
As it got richer, Campeche received more and more colonial mansions, palaces and churches. like Havana and Cartagena, the pirates who searched the seas offshore could not resist it: John Hawkins, Francis Drake and so many others targeted it.
There was also one Bartolomeu Português, a famous Portuguese buccaneer who lived and operated during the XNUMXth century and whose life was worth a movie.
He is believed to have authored a code of conduct which, let us be amazed, pirates adopted and followed during the XNUMXth century.
At least between 1666 and 1669, Campeche remained its preferred target. Portuguese sailed in a boat he had stolen, equipped with four cannons, assisted by a crew of thirty men.
After capturing a Spanish vessel and filling his ship with 70 Reales de a Ocho (silver coins) and tons of cocoa beans, he faced bad weather.
As if that wasn't enough, he found himself detained by a small fleet of Spanish warships. He was forced to return to Campeche where authorities imprisoned him on another boat. But Bartolomeu Português managed to kill the sentry and escape.
He will have crossed 150 km of jungle to the east of the Yucatan Peninsula from where he returned to Campeche with twenty new assistants.
In Campeche, he captured the boat where he had been imprisoned. During the escape, the crew ran the boat aground and once again lost the cargo stored on board.
Bartolomeu Português spent the rest of his life attacking Spanish ships and towns without much benefit. In "Buccaneers of America”, the freebooter, piracy historian and author Alexandre Exquemelin claims to have witnessed, in Jamaica, his last days, spent in poverty.
Attacks by pirates, buccaneers and corsairs on Campeche became so many and so frequent that the Spaniards invested a good part of their profits in walls and bastions, the same ones that continue to enclose the historic oval fulcrum of the city.
Campeche's Dazzling Miscegenation
Today, the Mayans and the descendants of Hispanic settlers intersect in the streets how they intersect in the eternal Mexican process of mestizaje.
Between the Main Park and the Malecón, we find a work that perfectly illustrates the genetic richness and diversity of the city's people. A huge mural decorates the side façade of a bank.
Denominated "Once Campeches” illustrates the traits, costumes and ways of life of the same number of native peasants, from childhood to old age.
Towards the end of the afternoon, with an almost freshness to settle in, the Main Park and others plazas they welcome the long-awaited after-work and after-school mode of the residents.
We walked outside Calle 12 until we came across San Francisco's Portales de la Plazuela, a place of terrace restaurants, several, animated by live music. We've been fans of the orgeat Mexican
When the receptionist informs us that they were not served at the hotel but that we would find, in Portales, the best one on the face of the Earth, we feel a little like Francis Drake, Hawkins and Bartolomeu Português: without being able to spare ourselves the incursion.
A orgeat did not disappoint. In such a way that, instead of eating a conventional meal, we kept repeating them.
Bingo a Beans at the Main Park
On the way back, we saw how, simultaneously with the pleasant life on the street, Campeche gave itself to another, that of the countless ground floor homes that the residents maintain with open doors and windows, with entrances, patios and balconies that they use as extensions of the streets.
We return to the Main Park with the night installed. The large bandstand hosted a noisy and profane ritual that escaped the austere supervision of the cathedral next door.
On the other side of its circumference, a bar passes reggaeton Caribbean – certainly Puerto Rican – loudly.
Below, closer to the temple, a new session of the city street bingo. Groups of women installed at different tables accompanied the extraction of numbers and pictorial symbols.
Bingo was “sung” by Rosa Puga, who nine years ago dictated luck for the pure pleasure of socializing, since the amount of bets allowed remains as symbolic as the extracted cards themselves.
With no better plans, we sat with the ladies. There we watched their excitement at the imminence of filling the cards with cats, mules, comets, roses, horses and razors coming out of the sticky tombola.
There, we enjoyed the harmony with which Campeche ended another of his sultry evenings and surrendered to the silence of the Caribbean night.
More information about Campeche on the website Visit Mexico.