Jan 15, 2017

A Twenty Dollar Lock on a Three Dollar Chain

Your beliefs don’t make you a free thinker. 
The ability to change your beliefs
based on new information does. 

Fuerte (fort) de San Jose el Alto.  Entrance to fort on top of hill.

Campeche has a lengthy history, especially if you compare it to the western side of the US where anything older than 50 years is considered ancient…  Having left my hometown of Québec and visited Europe so long ago I had forgotten what it felt like to be surrounded by so much history, a feeling that we are enveloped with so many rich layers, each interesting in its own way.  The quietness of such thick walls and the spaciousness of tall ceilings adding to the charm. 

Cathedral at end of colorful street. 
Very first mass in mainland America took place here.
First a bit of history:

Today one of the least populated Mexican states, Campeche (state) was once the site of a thriving Mayan civilization.  Campeche (town) was initially the site of the Mayan City of Can-Pech (place of snakes and ticks/mites – not very appealing name?) and conquered by Francisco de Montejo who established the city in 1540, two decades after the conquest of Mexico City area.  The other version is that Pech was the name of one of the most influential families of the time. 
Cathedral de Nuestra Señora de la Purisima Concepción
At night – well lit up.  By Ralf Roletschek. 
The State of Campeche was where the first Mexican mestizo was recorded.  Gonzalo Guerrero, survivor of a shipwreck in 1511 was taken in by Mayan villagers and married the daughter of the Chetumal tribal chief.  Their son was the first documented mestizo.

Storm brewing that day but nothing came of it.
Despite 30 monasteries built by the Franciscans in an effort to convert indigenous people to the Catholic faith, native rebellions throughout the colonial period reinforced the Mayan’s reputation as ferociously resistant to Spanish rules.

Moat, Fuerte San Jose el Alto
Lookout tower, Fuerte San Jose el Alto
Entrance Fuerte San Miguel at the other end of town

Fuerte San Miguel, Lookout tower and cannon overlooking the bay
Villa de San Francisco de Campeche (its full name) became the dominant port for this region leading it to be a top target for pirates and buccaneers during the 1600’s.  It was first named San Lazara, then Salamanca de Campeche.  It was quite poor compared to other New World regions but its port and isolation made it an easy target for pirates.  After the most devastating attack in 1660 the city finally built a wall (wondering if they fought over who would pay for that wall?!?).  The wall took 18 years to build!  As with many fortresses, it was equipped with several cannons, lookout towers, and a moat.  Eventually the pirates were defeated and the attacks stopped.  Campeche could enjoy life again and has done so for over 475 years!  Today there is no port, that function has been moved to the port of Progreso in the Yucatan.  We have already mentioned that it is a beautiful and colorful ‘walled city’ even though only 20% of the original wall remains.

Lone cannon along the malecón
It is one of the few cities in Mexico with numbered streets: those running north-south have odd numbers, while the east-west streets have even numbers.  We can find our way here, something we can’t say about a lot of cities in Mexico.  FedEx however can’t seem to figure it out!  Still can’t trust receiving stuff in this country even when it is easy to find the place…

Old church being renovated.  Pigeon inspecting.
For three centuries, ships sailed from Campeche to Spain laden with dyes, lumber, gold, and silver, and the city grew very wealthy despite the continual pirate attacks.  A special wood, logwood or bloodwood (aka ‘black gold’) tree was especially prized for its beautiful and versatile dye widely used on textiles and paper.  Brown when neutral pH, yellow-red when used in acidic conditions and purple when used with alkali. 

Playing street organ with a fake monkey on the upper left corner
at Sunday market as promotion to bakery across the way. 
Harmoni – Pan
A small sideline about this dye:  If you lived in England during the late 15th century, your choice of colors was limited to blacks, yellowish-browns, and grays.  Reds and purples did exist, but the supply of fast dyes in these colors was very limited, and most of it was used for royalty and ecclesiastical garments.  The discovery of logwood forever changed the wardrobes of Europe.  “Haematoxylum Campechianum (logwood from Campeche) was exported to Europe and in those days, they paid 100 pounds sterling per ton of wood.  English political economist Sir William Petty estimated that the average value of merchandise a ship of the 1600’s could carry in a year was 1,000 to 1,500 pounds sterling.  A single load of 50 tons of logwood was worth more than an entire year’s cargo of other merchandise!  By 1800 the logwood market was glutted and the price dropped significantly.  By mid-1800’s, the discovery of cheaper, aniline dyes from coal tar decreased the need for logwood even further.  Today it is only used for bacteriological and histological stains.”  Wayne P. Armstrong, 1992

Campeche chair – from museum archive

Campeche was also known for its coconut, rice, cotton, salt, honey and wax.  ‘Campeachy’ chairs used in the Southern US came from here.  There, they are called plantation lounge or X-frame chairs.  President Thomas Jefferson owned two and had them copied by his slaves.  He described them as his favorite seat.
Couldn't find author or name for this one.
 Used to have a real net in his hands.  I would call it ‘Broken flow’. 
Must look great when the water fountain is running.
Bride of the Sea on the malecón. 
Legend is she fell in love with pirate (or sailor) and when he left
she went to wait for him, and is still waiting.
Eighty-five percent of the locals speak Spanish as their main language, the other 15% speak Mayan.  Forty-five percent of the local economy comes from the oil industry, 15% from tourism, and 15% from real estate and finance.  Campeche produces ½ the oil in Mexico and ¼ of the natural gas.  A small community of Mennonites live nearby.

While parents are selling at the Sunday market,
kids playfully wait

Fisherman by Puerta del Mar

Water seller sculpture just outside the wall. 
Campeche is filled with these gems all over town.
Campeche is home to the oldest Carnival in Mexico.  It started in 1582 or 435 years ago!  We will tell you more about it when we experience it around mid to end of February but what we can tell you for now is that it starts with a day called: “The walk to bury bad humor” where an effigy of a pirate is shown around town then put in a coffin and burned…

Where we had coffee, previously Hotel Cuauhtémoc (falling eagle)
Another coffee place, Sotavento (leeward)
When we first came here our ‘landlady’ told us where everything of importance was in town and, to our delight, never mentioned the Walmart that is only a block away.  We prefer to support local and/or smaller merchants.  Going shopping every other day for produce and other goodies helps us connect with the community, something you cannot say about large, especially foreign, chains.  The old market offers much fresher produce at about ¼ of the price.

Now government office,
Mansión Carvajal used to be the farm house of a wealthy family

The staircase to second floor
Juliet balconies, iron street lights,
and egg-yolk yellow in many places (fort, churches, hotels, homes). 
I researched why this color but no one seems to know why.  Semblance of gold? 
The streets of the historic center are filled with well-preserved Spanish Colonial-era baroque stucco covered limestone buildings painted Easter shades like pink, mint, orange and egg yolk-yellow. While some of the facades are meticulously restored with attractive wooden doors, Juliet balconies, ceramic tiles, columns, iron lanterns, various types of 17th century Moorish like embellishments others have peeling paint and a peek inside their windows often reveals abandoned shells, overtaken by jumbled vegetation.  Many empty buildings are guarded by heavy padlocks hung on skimpy chains tying crumbling doors or windows together.  The padlock is worth more than the chain or the doors, hence the title of this post.

Three types of woods, two colors, one cheap chain, but a good lock
Another empty space with blackboard,
 a green fan with a black bird on each blade, interesting layers of colors on wall.

Inside one of the abandoned buildings. 
Plants taking over.  Not once have we seen squatters.
In most cases, a hint of plants peeking from under the doors gives away the emptiness within.  We can frequently see what is behind these often-mismatched doors barely held together by paint and mold…  Our guess is that between 20 and 30% of these old buildings are vacant and decaying away.  What a shame but so much room for improvement!  It is one of Mexico’s best kept secrets, retaining a colonial atmosphere with its narrow streets and old architecture and many ex-pats want to keep it that way.  They do not wish for another Cancún or Puerto Vallarta.

Green Presbyterian church with modern fountain in foreground
Famous ‘pedestrian only’ Calle 59. 
From where we were having hot chocolate
Thankfully parts of old buildings or walls have been integrated in more modern structures making for very interesting contrasts.

Hacienda Puerta Campeche, using part of old stone walls around swimming pool
From same hotel – great integration of old and new (from their website)
Blue meets egg-yolk yellow

Blood-red meets egg-yolk yellow

Mike and Nikki in ‘Wonderland’. 
Surrealistic cemetery entrance

Pop of color in an otherwise drab environment

Another pastel color in a sea of gray


  1. Gorgeous pictures, Marie! Thanks for sharing your adventure with us. Hope Mike's training is going well! xo

    1. Thank you Beth. Loving it here. Only four weeks to the big event. All is going well....


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