Hacienda Living | Mexico | Living in Mexico

Hacienda Living

For this two-week visit to the Yucatán, we are staying at the Hacienda Xcanatún, which has found new life as a hotel after serving for two and a half centuries as a ranch and sisal producer. It's pricey, but in the past we've not had much luck with cheaper accommodations in Mérida.

Years ago, we checked into El Gran Hotel, chosen because it was very close to La Plaza Grande, the central square where everything happens. Big mistake. We've learned that you never stay anywhere near a central plaza: not if you want to get any sleep anyway.

We were shown the best room in El Gran Hotel. It had wide windows opening onto a narrow balcony overlooking a noisy street. Similar windows on the opposite side of the room gave out onto the parking lot of a disco. The ambiance could be described as deafening.

Inside, a semi-circular headboard composed of wedges of alternating clear and deep blue pebbled glass loomed over an sagging double bed. Behind the glass, a dozen fluorescent tubes radiated like a sunburst from the center of the headboard, casting lurid blue and white light over the grimy room.

Horrified, we dragged our luggage downstairs, grabbed a taxi and bolted for the Hyatt, a soulless glass tower that at least had the advantage of being bland and predictable. Even so, the beat from a night club pulsed in our hermetically-sealed tenth-floor room. We had yet to learn that Mexico is a noisy country.

We selected the Hacienda Xcanatún for elegance, comfort and peaceful isolation; it's located twelve kilometers north of the city center well away from any hoorah.

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Jean, showing off her fanny pack.

Our hacienda has lots of arches and columns, polished limestone floors, 20-30 foot ceilings, our own private hot tub and six ten-foot double doors in our room alone, permitting cross-breezes and unimpeded passage of mosquitoes. It has a nice patio restaurant that serves exotic Yucatecan dishes. Eco-touring it's not. Water runs constantly to keep the gardens fresh, green and cool. It uses more electricity than the nearby village. But it sure is comfy.

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We hacienda owners—or renters as the case may be—have to be appropriately dressed, and for hombres, that means a Panama hat. One place they're made is in the little town of Bécal, just over the border in the neighboring state of Campeche. There, Mayan weavers crouch in limestone caves, where humidity keeps the palm fibers supple for weaving.

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The Señor walks the hacienda grounds, in his new panama hat.

The man at Artesanías Bazar García Rejón who sold me my hat, cut a black band for it, saying that for women, bands could be any color, but for hombres, only black. I'm glad he straightened me out on that. Imagine my embarrassment if I had been caught wearing a red one in public. He showed me how to fold and roll my hat. It's amazing that you can do this, put them in your suitcase and when you unpack, they unroll into a perfect shape.

Panama hats became popular when Ferdinand DeLessups (builder of the Suez Canal and initiator of the Panama Canal) was photographed wearing his. At last I have one too, one engineer following the example of another.

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Tonight there's a fair and fiesta in the tiny village outside the walls of our hacienda. Fireworks are exploding overhead. The bass from a band is making our windows vibrate in resonance. An excited voice is yelling in machine-gun Spanish over a PA system. Mexico hasn't changed; it's noisy wherever we go.

But we have changed. The noise from the fair doesn't seem as intrusive as it once was. Actually, it's kind of comforting. I fell asleep to the lullaby of the bass player.

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