Blissed Out in Rio Lagartos, Yucatan

Beryl Gorbman

The other day, Bill, Susan, Jessie and I drove to Rio Lagartos, at the northern peak of the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. Rio Lagartos is in a biosphere, a protected area, with hundreds of bird species and other wildlife. The place is known for its excellent boat trips into the estuaries to see flamingos and other birds. The guide services also take out fishing parties and night-time crocodile observation trips.

We had already arranged to stay at the Hotel San Felipe, in the immaculately neat and very pleasant town of San Felipe, a few minutes away.  We did this because the last time either Bill or I had been to Rio Lagartos, it had been a pit – dirty and worn looking. The only place to stay for many years was the abominably bad but fascinating Hotel Nefertiti, which is now closed and padlocked. The ghost of the eery Nefertiti looms above the other buidings of the charming village, its bare grey cement walls eerily framed among the colorful, happy houses.

Pelicans in San Felipe

Rio Lagartos has changed radically since I was last there. I don’t know why. It’s cheery, clean, and colorful. We were delightfully surprised at the new Rio Lagartos. It is every bit as inviting as San Felipe and a lot livelier. Everywhere we went there was music. Of course, it was the day before Christmas Eve, and everything and everyone was at their best.

Merry Xmas from Rio Lagartos

We made arrangements for our guide the evening before our trip, so we could leave at daybreak. I was pleased to find Pecas, a guide I’ve known for many years, and he agreed to take us out the next morning.

We got up awfully early and stumbled into the boat, drinking cold coffee. Within minutes, we were fully awake. As we entered the estuary and saw the stunning assortment of birds, huge and tiny, Susan said that was like entering Eden.

It was overcast and even rained now and then. At every twist in the mangroves, a new diorama of  beautiful birds appeared, so varied and so multitudinous, they brought tears to my eyes. Most were very still, fishing with their huge bills and sharp eyes, hunting. Pecas slowed the boat at each dramatic scene while some of us riffled through guidebooks and some just gazed.

When we floated beneath a tall tree under a couple of Blackhawk Eagles, the guide slowed down and began a strange whistling.  The eagles watched carefully as he stopped and threw a fish into the water. One of the eagles swooped down, just a few feet from our boat to retrieve it. Here is my very bad photo of that event, where you see more of Bill’s head than the eagle.

Bill's head and an eagle

At another twist in the water, Pecas dangled a raw fish in front of two frustrated pelicans. They stretched their necks up and down in rhythm with the fish, as if dancing, and we had an opportunity to see them from just a few feet away. 

Frustrated Brown pelicans

The channel is about 80 feet across and lined on both sides with thick mangroves. So many huge birds were flying back and forth over the water and disappearing into the vegetation, we realized that there must be hundreds of thousands of them in there.

Stately Great blue heron

Susan and Bill, the true birders on this trip, identified the Yellow-crowned night heron, Cormorants and Anhingas,  the Great blue heron,  Ospreys, the well disguised Tiger heron, the iridescent Green heron, Cattle egrets, Snowy egrets, Brown and White pelicans, several varieties of Kingfishers, and more. Susan explained how to pick out the Ibis from the thousands of magnificent white birds by their yellow, downward-curved bills. And, of course, the flamingos, although there were relatively few in Rio Lagartos that day.

Blackhawk eagles

We went quite far, past Las Coloradas and the salt flats, where there were a few flamingos feeding and chatting with each other in their low rumbles. We got out of the boat there and Susan and Jessie got as close to the birds as possible without frightening them. It was raining lightly and there was a rainbow.

Jessie, Susan and flamingos

Susan becoming one with the flamingos

At one point in the estuary, there was a massive roiling of the water on one edge and we all knew it had to be a crocodile. A bit later, one of the huge creatures raised his prehistoric looking head quite close to our boat and pretended we weren’t there for a few minutes before diving downward.

Pecas poled the boat in toward some flamingos among the mangroves. There was a mud island there, littered with the remains of giant horseshoe crabs, and we all got out. About 100 feet away was a spit with a lot of vegetation on it. Through the green, as if in another world, was a sight none of us will forget.

A population of hapless brine shrimp, migrating down the waterway, was accosted by hundreds of birds, all in one location. Through a break in the trees that framed the scene, we saw literally hundreds of white birds, including White pelicans and all kinds of white Egrets circling madly, in a feeding frenzy. The flapping of their wings and their cries were nothing short of ecstasy. Standing in the middle of the mad circle, two brightly colored flamingos fed calmly on the shrimp with their beaks buried in the mud. And above, in a tall tree, were two enormous Wood storks and two Roseate spoonbills.

We all watched this magnificent scene for about ten minutes, until the shrimp moved away, taking the circling birds with them.

When they left, one of the Wood storks lazily rose from the tree, exercised his six-foot wingspread, and sailed over to a tree closer to us. He was soon joined by one the the spoonbills, who posed and preened as if to show off his wonderful bill. Then the other spoonbill sailed over to sit on the other side of the stork. He kept his wings open, just showing off how gorgeous his pink feathers looked. (I know perfectly well I am anthropomorphizing, but I don’t care.)

We were all enchanted and came back from the three and a half-hour trip with silly smiles on our faces.

I need to say the trip wouldn’t have been what it was if not for this particular guide. Pecas was born and raised in Rio Lagartos and is passionate about the wildlife.

There are two guide outfits in Rio Lagartos – one, when you first come in, called Isla Contoy, which has quite a good restaurant and professional guides who didn’t appear local. Pecas works through the other group, Rio Lagartos Adventures, located on the quay in front of the La Torreja restaurant and owned by a group of families native to Rio Lagartos.

Right next to La Torreja is a pleasant looking hotel called Villa de Pescadores that has balconies overlooking the water. Next time I go, I will stay there.

After the boat trip, we went back to San Felipe and had lunch at the Restaurante Vaselina. I mention it only because of its extraordinary name, although the shrimp was not half bad.

Vaselina's beer depot

Jessie, thoroughly enjoying lunch

Every once in a while in Yucatan, I see something so magnificent, so perfect, that in the back of my mind I think it must have been created by Walt Disney. So much beauty can’t be real.

Here is the last glance we got of flamingos, on the way out of Rio Lagartos.

Leaving town

Apologies for my bad wildlife photography that doesn’t do justice to the birds. I use a tiny Leica C-Lux camera with a limited distance lens. It’s also kind of slow.

More about guides:

Pecas does not work directly for Rio Lagartos Adventures although he operates in cooperation with them and can be reached there. If you request him at La Torrejas restaurant, they can call him on his cell. Or, you can call him directly. If you wish to do this, please contact me for the number as I don’t wish to put it online. Reach me at:  Remove the Xs.

Pecas speaks limited English.

Guide Costs

The going rate (12/2011) for a two-hour trip is 700 pesos at either Isla Contoy or Rio Lagartos Adventures. You will be in a well-maintained motorboat that seats six. The guides expect to be tipped for a job well-done. I put Pecas in a different category and he may just ask you how much you feel you should pay.


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Merida/Progreso Spay and Neuter Clinics 2012

Once again, Planned Pethood is bringing us the invaluable opportunity to have any dog or cat spayed for absolutely free. They are operating in three locations described below. This continued effort has made a huge dent in the number of feral, sick, hungry, homeless animals in our communities.

This year they are asking for contributions if you are able to make them. Here is information from Patricia Holland, volunteer coordinator.

Spay/Neuter Campaign 2012 

January 8-11 in Mérida & January 13-14 in Progreso

Veterinarians will be travelling from all over the world including the US, Slovakia, and Baja California, as well as local veterinarians to donate their time to this project. This campaign is designed to target lower income families who otherwise could not afford to sterilize their animals, as well as the abandoned animals that so many of us rescue from the streets.

We need people to help with the following supplies.

  1. Drinks and snacks. Any of the big box stores have packages of snacks and cases of beverages. Our volunteers work too hard to stop for long, but need sustenance. Help them, please!I Also, fresh fruit would be great.  We will have approximately 150 volunteers, vets and vet techs each day of the clinic.
  2. Do you know a restaurant or caterer who would like to help?  We need sponsors for the vets at their welcome and goodbye parties. Free is wonderful but we are also interested huge discounts.  the restaurant logo will be displayed at the event.
  3. 40 meals are needed each day of the clinic, ten of them vegetarian for the medical team.  Desserts welcome too.
  4. Cash donations.  Bring your cash donation  to the offices of Planned Pethood. (Just off Ave. Technologica between Costco and Sams Club). Calle 10 #344  x 3y y 3c, Col. Gonzalo Guerrero. Call 999-944-23-10. Or make a donation at the clinic.
  5. Medical supplies.    Many of these can be picked up in any farmacia or supermarket.
  • 39 bottles (480ml) of Agua Oxigenada (hydrogen peroxide)
  • 4 bottles (100ml) Bravo spray (against ticks and fleas)
  • Large trash bags
  • 30 rolls of masking tape

Let us know if you want to volunteer in the clinics in Merida or Progreso.

We need volunteers to hang posters, distribute flyers and help with the animals. If you can help hang posters, please stop by the offices to pick up posters and flyers.   Contact Patricia Holland about the posters at Pick up posters at Planned Pethood.

If you are interested in volunteering for the clinic, volunteer meetings will be held both in Mérida and Progreso – dates and locations to be announced.  If you would like to volunteer, please contact:

Mérida:   Jill Benson  or Mimi Babcock:  or Silvia Cortes:

Progreso:   Cindy Wagner:  or Karen Cloutier:  or Maura Garcia:


Below you will find the details on the clinics and how to get to each one. See you there!

The vets will be performing surgeries officially from 9 – 5, although they typically stay later.

PLEASE MAKE AN APPOINTMENT IN ADVANCE FOR YOUR ANIMAL’S SURGERY. For the Merida clinics, call 253-1262 or 920-5019
for the Progreso clinics, call 969-935-7687 or 999-178-9548



January 8 and 9, the clinic will be at:  

Location 1: Centro de superacion Sera Mena, Calle 57 x 56, Co. Fidel Velazquez.

Directions: From Centro, heat east on Calle 59, about two miles from Calle 50. Cross the Circuito Colonias, and Calle 59 will become Fidel Velasquez. Sta on this street until you reach Calle 46 (watch for sign on L), and turn left. Go to Calle 57 ( just a few blocks) and you will see basketball courts on the right. Turn right on 57 and you will see the large blue and white building where we will hold the clinic.  

From the Periferico to Location 1: Take the sailda for Calle 59, which is the same as Calle Fidel Velasquez.  Stay on this .7 miles until you get to to Calle 46.  Turn right on Calle 46 for just a few blocks to calle 57.  On the right you will see some basketball courts.  Turn right on c. 57 and it is the large blue and white building.  

January 10 and 11, the clinic will be held in Merida at: 

Location 2. Centro de dessarollo communitario, Col/ Emiliano Zapata Sur II. 

Directions:  From La Ermita Park (66 y 77), go south on 66 to Circuito Colonias 1.6 miles.  (you will go past the cemetery).  Then turn left on Circuito Colonias.  (there is an Oxxo on the corner).  Go 1 mile to calle 60 (there is a bicycle shop on the corner).  Turn right on 60.  Go .3 miles, the road will curve to the left.  This is 121.  Go to the stop sign (there is a Farmacia Similares on the right corner).  This is calle 54, turn right.  The airport wall will be running alond the right hand side.  Go .4 miles to 127.  Turn right on 127. Go approx 1 mile to 86.  On the corner is a store that says “Tienda Los Esquina”.  Turn left.  Follow this road for about 1 mile to 161.  Turn right on 161 and go 4 blocks to 88B.  Turn left, and the clinica is on the right side.


When leaving, it may be dark, so here are directions back into Centro from Location 2:

From the Clinic:

From the stop sign at 88B and 163 which is the clinic location, turn left.  Go 4 blocks to 86.  Turn left onto 86.  Go approx .8 mile, then the road will veer off to the right. This is calle 84 and it will change to 82.  You will be on this road .3 mile until it ends at the stop sign.  This is 127.  Turn right on 127.  Go approx 1 mile to the stop sign. This is calle 54.  Turn left onto 54 and continue for .4 miles.  Turn left onto 121 (Farmacias Similares is on the left corner).  Continue on 121 for .3 miles, it will curve to the right and change into calle 60.  Go .3 miles to Circuito Colonias.  Turn left on Circuito Colonias and go 1 mile to calle 66 (there is an Oxxo on the corner), turn right onto 66 and this will head you back into Centro.

January 13 and 14 we will be in Progreso, at the Local Social El Ejidal, which is right in front of the agua potable.  I guess if you live there you know what that means. If you don’t, contact us for more info.


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Guest Post from Anne McEnany, International Community Foundation

This post is in reference to my post:

Thanks, Anne, for clarifying. 

I just wanted to give a bit of context to the forum and also answer the questions above. The International Community Foundation has met with the Secretary of Tourism several times on the topic of sustainable tourism (better coastal development) and quality of life for expats (“aging in place” and infrastructure improvements). The government’s desire was to hear directly from the expat community and they agreed to co-host the forum with us to do that.Because our research focused on the U.S. retirement community, we focused mainly on U.S. participants for this forum. We have three years of data on U.S. retirees, but little or nothing on Canadians. Having said that, however, there were two Canadians there, and the forum was called the “North American Forum” not the “U.S. Forum.” Although we cannot speak to specifics about the Canadian retiree community, we are not deliberately trying to exclude them. Similarly, we focused on coastal communities primiarly, which is where our grantees are. Merida was one of the only inland communities represented at the forum for that reason. But again, we are not deliberately trying to exclude people, but rather trying to reflect the demographic that was presented in our research.

To select participants, we reached out to those people that answered the survey in 2009 and again in 2012. We only had space for 50 people and we filled the group quickly.

I don’t know if this will be an annual event. We need to follow up on this one first! ICF has committed to work with the Secretary of Tourism on state-level meetings with governors, to document working relationships with retirees in places where there are good relations (like San Miguel de Allende), and also to follow up on some of the specific recommendations from the forum. I know it will take some time to do that so I don’t want to commit to another forum yet.

“Engagement in Local Communities” — for ICF, this means civic engagement or volunteering as well as charitable giving. How does the retiree community spend its time in Mexico? We have a whole report on trends in this area on our website.

I hope this is helpful! Thank you Beryl for the venue to respond.

Anne McEnany
CO-Author, “U.S. Retirement Trends in Mexico” and
Senior Advisor, Conservation Program

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A Day in a Yucatan Village

Making a hammock

Beryl Gorbman

An extended family lives in this compound in the center of the state of Yucatan. There are three generations here and the two elders, the grandmother and grandfather, are 88 and 90 respectively. They both still cook, pick crops, take care of chickens, and maintain their home. They are skinny and agile and in full posession of their faculties.

One of their sons lives in the compound with his wife and their two enthusiastic boys, in a cement house close to the road.

Akeh-Tun home

This house was probably originally pole and thatch, but now sections of it are filled in with scrap timber, linoleum, corrugated fiberglass, and other materials.

This is the laundry. I mean, if you need to do your laundry outside in a batea (tub), this would be the prettiest setting I could imagine.

The laundry

The general tone of the compound is happy and productive. The children are screaming with fun and bursting with health.The animals are alert and tolerant of humans. Even the chickens and ducks were unfazed by my approach.

Each person has well-defined chores and activities. The households share food, a laundry, the “bathroom,” and parts of cooking areas. Although they weren’t expecting visitors (there is no phone), everyone appeared freshly scrubbed and was dressed nicely.

Today, we went there with a daughter of the older couple, a woman who lives several hours away and finds it difficult to visit her parents as often as she would like. She brought her two daughters. We brought some modest Xmas food gifts and watched the kids play.

I’d been told it would be a brief visit, but there was an intense conversation among the women that lasted close to an hour. I couldn’t understand any of it because it was in Mayan, but it sounded important and I didn’t want to interrupt, so I wandered around the compound talking to children and small animals.

Cat guarding hammock loom

Below is an uncontrollably wild kitty who attacks and kills all other small animals, including cats. He is tied up. His future is uncertain.  He and I got along well.

Wild thing

At night, everyone sleeps in hammocks, but during the daytime, the hammocks are tied up overhead to make sitting space for the living room. The chairs and tables are all hand made from pieces of timber.


Elena and Damaris


The four children entertained themselves with this ball for nearly two hours.

Notice the hose in the background of the above picture. Although almost all the villages now have “agua potable,” what they do not have is pipes running from the central water pump to the homes. The water goes to the houses through a series of rubber hoses and there are nests of them everywhere.

While I walked around, playing with the kids, taking pictures, petting dangerous cats (just to prove that I was a cat whisperer), I was getting hungrier by the moment as it was by now after 2 p.m. However, the conversation inside the house was nothing if not more animated than when it had begun some time ago.

Family conference

As my friend (the daughter) explained to me later, the topic of concern was that the old guy, the 90 year-old patriarch, had wandered off into the selva (forest) recently and was gone for two days and one night. The family feared he had died of exposure as it had been an unusually cold night. The State police joined family and friends searching for him and finally located him on the second day, about five miles from his home, deep in the jungle. He was sitting peacefully against a tree, none the worse for wear except that his shirt was ripped to shreds by the rough foliage.

This was not the first time this had happened. I remembered a similar episode about a year ago. No one in the family thought that old Sr. Tun was losing his mind or that he was depressed. They accepted that he loved the selva and happily walked into it, open to anything that could have happened to him there. Of course, they are concerned that they will eventually lose him this way, but realize that this is what he may want to do. When he was found, by one of his other sons, he smiled and said, “I wasn’t afraid.”

Sr. Tun didn’t participate in the conversation the day we visited and seemed to feel sad that he had caused so much concern.

Abuelita Eusenia A., wife of Sr. Tun

Abuelita Eusenia and Tia Manuela


Sr. F. Tun

After our visit, we had lunch at the dependably fabulous Restaurante Tutul Xiu in Mani which was mobbed and as delicious as always.

Elena and Damaris eating Queso Relleno

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Bumbling Around Near Maxcanu

We headed southeast on a highway going toward Maxcanu. Instead of entering Maxcanu, we turned off on a secondary road just beforehand and drove into another era. The road was one lane, just as all the State roads used to be, and just as before, when you encountered another vehicle, one of you had to pull off to the side and stop to let the other through. There wasn’t much traffic.

We turned down a minor road. A battered sign said “San Fernando” and the small village was adjacent to a ruined hacienda that is surely more stupendous in its current state than it ever could have been when it was new. There is so little of it left, that we were surprised to hear that the Owner, who lives in Merida, was trying to sell it.

shell of desfibradora (machine shop)

Some of the local residents had moved into corners of the hacienda wreckage, which is unusual because villagers usually avoid the haciendas. However, in this case, the owner was engaged in kicking them out, having them destroy the lean-tos they had built, apparently wanting the place to look more pristine.

Quite pristine

Perhaps the owner can picture the pool and gift shop here.

Lush seting beckons to the guest

In all fairness, there us an unusually small, deteriorating  Casa Principal a bit away from these structures. It is soundly locked. Perhaps it has a few intact rooms, but it is notably unnatractive.

Here is a part of the hacienda where an older woman lives.

Residence in ruined hacienda

This is one of those villages where it is hard to understand how anyone makes a living of any kind. I asked a woman whether there was a school there and she was vague. There is no medical facility – you have to go to Maxcanu. I’m trying to remember whether there were any vehicles in San Fernando. There are no stores, no businesses.

Further down this empty road was another, more contemporaray ruin, fenced off with barbed wire.

Another 15 minutes down this road we found a treasure of a village, which shall remain nameless. It was like the places we saw twenty-five years ago. People looked healthy and were smiling. There was a lot of pride in the houses, which some of the home-owners had made themselves. It’s amazing what a difference a few miles can make. I imagine it has a lot to do with ejidal laws and how they are bent, giving absentee “landlords” dominion over space that could be used to good advantage.

Neatly thatched home

At this point, the editing function of iPhoto has ground to a halt, but I am putting in un-edited pictures anyway. I think some, like the one below, look kind of cool.

When I started seeing some of the magnificently made pole and thatch houses, I almost screamed. They haven’t been making these new since forever. Since “the hurricane” when many were destroyed all over the peninsula, about 99% of these lovely buildings, which know how to breathe, to absorb wind, and to keep bodies venilated, were replaced by those abominable concrete block houses, which “the government” slapped together quickly to provide people with shelter. It is highly unusual to come across a community where these skills are still being practiced.

Beautiful work


Pole and thatch artistry

The boy in the picture below is Miguel. His grandfather, standing shyly in back of him, made these walls himself.

Miguel in his house


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Santa Cruz Hacienda

Patty and I stumbled on this lovely updated hacienda on the southern edge of Merida. (Palomeque) It isn’t quite as gussied up (over the top) as many of the other guest haciendas and has a more honest, genuine appearance.

The furniture is comfortable and the coffee is good. It has a fresher, more colorful feeling than most of the other hacienda hotels.


The guest rooms (10) are in the Casa Principal. The place has two pools, a spa, and is geared toward relaxation and good food.

The owner, Caroline Arnaux, is a French woman from Guadeloupe. She and a master chef prepare the food. Every night they offer two prix fixee five-course dinners. We were there in the morning and I asked, just for the hell of it, whether they had any croissants. She apologized that she had yesterday’s and offered to heat it up. It was the real thing. Also, it was slightly singed, which meant it had been heated in an oven rather than a microwave.

From the look of it, the menu is more continental than one usually finds around here.

This woul be a good destination for Xmas eve or New Year’s eve. On both nights, they have special meals. Call ahead to 999-262-7439. I’m thinking about it. I have guests from the north and I think they would be thrilled.

Tiny Patty lost in dining room


The Hacienda Sta. Cruz chapel is larger than most.

Chapel door

Inside the chapel


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Sobering 2012 Video

Go to American Egypt , a site about Chichen Itza, for this and other eerie animations of 2012 and the Pyramid of Kukulcan.

Posted in December 21, 2012 - End of the world?, General Blog, Merida Expat Life | Tagged | 5 Comments

Reviews of BG’s Book- 2012: Deadly Awakening

Review 1 –, ej Albright

Review 2 –, Jane

Review 3 – Moon Publications blog, Josh Berman


1. October 28th, 2010 by ejalbright, American Egypt

2012: Deadly Awakenings

Ripped from the pages of the Maya calendar, 2012: Deadly Awakening is a mystery novel by Beryl Gorbman set in Yucatan during the apocalyptic date of December 21, 2012.

Beryl splits her time between Seattle and Merida, and writes a delightful (if not controversial) blog about her experiences on the Yucatan Peninsula called “Yucatan Yenta.” Now she’s turned her hand to fiction, and published the first of what should be a series of mystery novels about her new homeland. The only thing that will prevent her success is if the world ends when the Maya calendar runs out on Dec. 21, 2012. All the more reason to buy her book now.

Here’s a blurb about her book:

Hundreds of thousands of spiritual travelers have converged in Yucatan to witness the end of the Maya calendar. Some think that the world is about to end; others think humanity will evolve to a higher form of consciousness. Against the exotic backdrops of Chichen Itza and Merida, all things are possible.

Then, in the chaos of the night before the fateful date, the unthinkable happens. People die, and die very badly. New York investigator Miriam Glass teams up with Yucatecan police chief J.L. Contreras to solve the bizarre and dramatic murders.

There is a parade of colorful characters –- local and imported mystics, police, expats, prophets and charlatans –- to round out the plot of this well-researched murder mystery. It’s gory and fun!

The book explains the various theories on 12/21/2012 according Jose Arguelles, Daniel Pinchbeck, and others. A good read for an insight into what December 21, 2012, might bring.

You can buy 2012: Deadly Awakening from Amazon HERE. Or download it to your Amazon Kindle HERE.

COUNTDOWN TO 2012: Buy This Book, Before It’s Too Late!


2. From Goodreads

Jane’s Reviews > 2012: Deadly Awakening

2012 by Beryl Gorbman
2012: Deadly Awakening
by Beryl Gorbman


Jane‘s review

Jun 01, 10
5 of 5 stars
Read in May, 2010 — I own a copy
I enjoyed reading this book. I found it is easy to read and exciting. I quickly was engrossed in the story and the characters. The ending was a big surprise; not at all what I had guessed would happen. When I came to the end of the book, I thought, “NO, I want more,” not out of disappointment but I hated to say goodbye to the characters that I had grown fond of. I hope there is a sequel as I want to hear more of Miriam and Police Chief Contreras.Great story set in Mérida , Yucatan , a place where every day is an adventure. I highly recommend this book. It is an eye-opener and takes you inside the hearts and minds of the people of Yucatán.I couldn’t put the book down even through the laptop I was reading it on was getting heavy. I don’t have a Kindle device but downloaded Kindle for PC to my laptop.
3. From Moon Publications

2012 Deadly Awakening: Crackling story set in Mérida and Chichen Itza

Username By Joshua | December 12th, 2011 | Comments No Comments

maya 2012 book travelI met writer Beryl Gorbman over a taco lunch in the Chichen Itza Salon in the conference center in Mérida, Mexico, and I admit, I was skeptical when she handed me a copy of her mystery novel, 2012 Deadly Awakening(Intelligent Life, 2010). I’d just completed a self-guided crash course on Maya studies, plowing through a pile of non-fiction books, most fairly fascinating, regarding 2012 and Maya time-keeping, but also fairly dry and dense. There are hundreds of such titles out there, but never had I seen a fictional treatment.

When I finally cracked open 2012 Deadly Awakening a few months later, I was drawn in and swept back to the Yucatan. “The scene in Merida is chaotic and tense,” reads the description. “People think that the world is about to end, as it is the end of the Maya long-count calendar. Other people think humanity will evolve to a higher form of consciousness. You wouldn’t think these are ideals people would kill to protect, but they do. Thousands of spiritual tourists have descended upon this once-peaceful city, creating chaos. People die, and die very badly.”

Enter a New York City detective and the plot starts thickening by the page. What I most enjoyed about Gorbman’s treatment of the subject is her ability to find a nice balance between fact and funny, as she presents an accurate picture of all the types of people interested in 2012, from scientists to loonies to scam artists and beyond. At the same time, she maintains a tongue-in-cheekness that captures the lighter side of all the hype.

More importantly, she does not forget the Maya themselves — something that happens all too often in stories about 2012 (see the movie by the same name) — nor delicate social problems presented by the presence of foreigners in the Maya region. For example, one Maya character grumbles, “This is what the Maya have come to, he thought, getting angrier and more depressed by the moment. Servants to fucking tourists who think our history is fascinating and that although we modern Maya are for shit, our ancestors long ago were incredible.”

2012 Deadly Awakening is a fun book. Period. The bonus is that is also teaches you about Mérida, Mexico, the people who live there, and some of the remarkable facts surrounding the Maya 2012 story. My only complaint is that the black and white images included in this self-published book do nothing to illustrate the action and even take away from the crackling prose. Warning: Reading this book might make you curious enough to book a flight to Mérida.

It also might make you want to read Gorbman’s sequel, called Madrugada, about the theft of sacred objects from an archaeological site. “The site,” she writes, “is isolated and when the archaeologists move in, their cultures and the culture of the villagers collide in odd ways….”

If you found 2012: Deadly Awakening, “Crackling story set in Mérida and Chichen Itza” useful or interesting, please share it with others by bookmarking it at any of the following sites: Deadly Awakening: Crackling story set in Mérida and Chichen Itza digg:2012 Deadly Awakening: Crackling story set in Mérida and Chichen Itza newsvine:2012 Deadly Awakening: Crackling story set in Mérida and Chichen Itza furl:2012 Deadly Awakening: Crackling story set in Mérida and Chichen Itza reddit:2012 Deadly Awakening: Crackling story set in Mérida and Chichen Itza Y!:2012 Deadly Awakening: Crackling story set in Mérida and Chichen Itza stumbleupon:2012 Deadly Awakening: Crackling story set in Mérida and Chichen Itza
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Moon Publications likes the Yenta’s 2012 book

Mundo Maya Blog

Joshua Berman


Travelers to Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras in 2012 can expect a yearlong celebration of Maya culture, past and present—and Moon Maya 2012 author Joshua Berman is blogging about all of it.

I first heard about Mérida from my colleagues, Liza Prado and Gary Chandler, authors of Moon Yucatan Peninsula. They raved about this sprawling city of a million (four hours west of Cancun) as a practical travel base — colonial color inside the city limits and converted 500-year-old haciendas in the countryside.

I finally got to visit and photograph Mérida last June and was definitely impressed. Moreover, the city gives immediate access to a number of worthy Maya archaeological sites, like Uxmal, the Puuc Route, and Dzibilchaltun. Mérida is the setting of Beryl Gorbman’s awesome thriller 2012: Deadly Awakening (the best fictional treatment of Maya 2012 I’ve read); it is home to museums, Maya eateries, and chocolate makers.

So it was a pleasure to find Elisabeth Malkin’s 36-hour tribute in today’s New York Times Sunday Travel Section. She calls Mérida “a languid city of pastel mansions and evening promenades” and goes on to outline a food-heavy three-day exploration. LINK->

Posted in December 21, 2012 - End of the world?, General Blog, Writing Projects | Tagged , | Leave a comment

First Symposium of American Retirees and Mexican Government Representatives

National Forum on the North Ameican Retiree Community: Expectations and Options for Living In Mexico

by Beryl Gorbman

This past weekend, I was an invited delegate to a conference in Mexico City, along with 44 other American expats, who met with highly placed officials of the Mexican federal government and the American embassy to talk about issues of concern to American retirees here.

The conference was coordinated by an organization called International Community Foundation (ICF) and was handled beautifully by a Mexican PR firm. ICF has produced a number of studies about American retirees in Mexico, some with surprising conclusions and statistics, that had been made available to us before the conference. You can read these studies on their website. Their goal is to promote good works in Mexico through the philanthropy of American retirees.

Most of ICY’s focus to date has been on the western coastal communities of Mexico, but they were enthusiastic about having representation from other parts of the country.

There were people in our group who had accomplished some laudable civic endeavors. I was deeply impressed by Ted Rose and Susan Hill of Colima and their organization Project Amigo . Not only do they get American dentists and other caregivers to come down and treat people, but they provide scholarships for disadvantaged kids, and regularly send them to the USA to live with American families and attend school.

Ted Rose of Project Amigo – center. Susan Hill, second from left.

All the Americans and the organizers got together Thursday evening and talked about the meetings with the Mexican officials the following day. ICF suggested four major areas for our conversation focus:

  • How American retirees and the Mexican government can increase opportunities for local communities
  • How the Mexican government can help expats age in place
  • How the Mexican government can improve engagement in local communities (?)
  • How the American expat community can help improve the image of Mexico outside the country.

Initially, we were in an elegant meeting room, that looked like a medieval courtroom in a building next to the federal palace in the zocalo. We were joined by about 100 Mexicans from various organizations and a number of people from the newspapers and TV stations. (Most of the newspapers covered the meeting the next day.)

Meeting participants

Officials' podium

Mtra. Gloria Guevara Manzo, National Secretary of Tourism. To her right is Richard Kiy, President of ICF.

Ms. Guevara, surrounded by reporters

Other officials included  Lic. Nathan Wolf Lustbader, the director of the federal economic office of foreign relations (to the best of my translation abilities).

The room in the magnificent old building where the common sessions were held, was truly royal. Bishops’ chairs lined the walls and the carved wall in back of the speakers’ podium was a work of art.

back wall of podium

The general tone was that the Mexican government valued the financial and philanthropic contributions of the increasing numbers of American retirees and want to know what services we think we need to continue living in Mexico.

After the official presentations, we broke up into smaller groups and met with people from our own states – officials involved in tourism, foreign relations, and economic development. They were quite sincere in wanting to know what our concerns were about Mexico. The discusussions were genuine dialogues – questions and answers across the board, all done with a spirit of genuine interest and cooperation. It was an intelligent exchange, one that I enjoyed immensely. I felt we were clearly heard.

Some of the expats expressed fears of continued cartel violence and said that if it got worse, they would consider leaving Mexico. Some of us talked about the need for assisted living facilities for our ageing population, and access to good medical care.

Our discussion group, which inlcuded expats from Yucatan, Colima, San Miguel and Ajijic, was attended by about eight attentive government officials, including two from Yucatan, one from the State Tourism Board. We were carefully recorded and observed – they were really interested in what we had to say.

Since one of the stated goals of the conference was to attract more retirees to Mexico, I pointed out that the Tourism Board might consider producing new promotional materials that stressed the truly wonderful things about Mexico and not just the recreational and vacation opportunities.

Martha Lindley of Merida suggested that they consider planning assisted living facilities so that those of us who so desired could “age in place.” Howard Feldstein, from Ajijic, was concerned about the crime rate they were experiencing there – not narco crimes, but home invasions and robberies. The officials said they would look into heightened security.

Howard Feldstein from Ajijic

Some of these photos are from the cocktail hour and dinner we had the night before the conference. It was a great group.

Bob Bruneau, who nominated me for the conference, is an old and dear friend from Seattle. It was so good to see him after many years. He and his partner own a flower shop in Puerto Vallarta. He was my real estate broker years ago in Seattle.

As it turned out, Anne McEneny of ICF and I had been exchanging communications on and off for some time about some of my blog articles and I had published the link to their agency reports almost two years ago.

Bob Bruneau, Puerto Vallarta

Merida's own charming Martha Lindley

Delegates from Baja

You can spot an (ex) New Yorker anywhere.

Anne McEneny of ICF is in the center.

After the conference wound up with final speeches by officials at around 1:30, we went to Sanborns House of Tiles with Russ Mills of Puerto Vallarta. We were all quite pleased at the way the conference had gone. Speaking for myself, I don’t recall ever having been asked by a Mexican government representative what might make my life here more pleasant. I appreciated the opportunity and I thank them for listening to us and for having this conference.


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