Everyday this little old lady walks through the zona historica of Campeche on a mission to the Zocalo. She is well known and recognized by every passerby and everyone knows well to let her go about her business of feeding the flock of pigeons roosting in the park. She buys a bagful of baguettes I think just to keep them all plump and happy. Her deeply wrinkled face and uniform of black head band and well worn apron are so familiar they've immortalized her in a giant public portrait on the side of building nearby. Her generous eyes and weathering hands remind us of what it means to age gracefully.
Taking it back a couple generations. We never met our grandfather but legend has it he was one hell of a fisherman. This photo is of our grandfather winning the largest catch in the annual Tarpon fishing tournament in Ciudad del Carmen. Tarpon is one of toughest fish to reel in, sometimes taking 5 plus hours. A true monster, growing up to 8 feet long and weighing up to 280 pounds with scales the size of your palm. The story goes he just used a hook, line, and gloves. No fishing rod! Maybe I was being a gullible kid but the image of my grandfather pulling in this fish with his bare hands has stuck in my head. The Biosphere Reserve of Los Petenes just north of Campeche lines the coast with fertile mangroves that is still home to the most prolific juvenile tarpon fisheries in the world!
A couple stray dogs find refuge from the blazing sun. During the summer months, the heat in the Yucatan is on another level. It is absolutely relentless. Many of our summers growing up were spent in Mexico. The school bell would ring to let my brother and I out for the summer and the very next day we’d be on a direct flight from Houston to the tiniest of airports in Ciudad del Carmen. We’d land, walk down the plane staircase, and the moment your feet hit the tarmac you’d be slapped in the face by a wave of thick humid air. I remember it so vividly, you could almost taste it. You never fully got used to it but you learned to cope through hammock naps, fruit paletas and ocean swims. Our cousins were all about the 2 shower rule. Mid afternoon they’d have shower number 2 of the day🚿. It was an absolute must just to wash off the morning sweat and to cool the body down a couple degrees. Being away for a long time makes me strangely miss it. Although I make it sound unbearable, I’d take it over a gruelling windy cold northeast winter any day. What would you say?
Henequen drying in the sun. What on earth is Henequen? If you lived in the Yucatan Peninsula from 1850 to 1900, you more than likely made a living off the back of Henequen. Henequen was the California Gold Rush of the Yucatan. What you see here in this photo are the shredded fibers of the Agave Fourcroydes plant natively found in the Yucatan. A very similar Agave also cultivated during the same period is called sisal which was the name of the port it was shipped out of. They both made up a booming industry that brought a great deal of wealth to the area during the late 19th century. Because Henequen was resistant to humidity it was primarily used as mooring lines and ropes for ships. By 1900 the influx of wealth had transformed the region taking the city of Merida from a small town to a modern city with electricity, drainage, and streetcars. During the industry’s peak, Henequen growers set up many haciendas in the countryside like the place in this photo. We took this photo at Sotuta de Peon, not to far from Merida. For a variety of reasons, the industry did decline slowly and by the end of the 1920s the Yucatan was no longer the dominant supplier and alternative fibers were being introduced. It’s important to note that long before all this, the Mayans were the first to discover the valuable qualities of Henequen which they used to make hammocks, coarse textiles, sandals, and baskets. The Mayan word for Henequen is called “Ki.” Now you know something about the rise and fall of the Henequen industry in Mexico.
The fresh fish market in Campeche. You can smell it from blocks away. Octopus, Stingray, Redsnapper, Bluecrab, Shrimp, Seabass..... You can find it all here. Every time I walk through the market I seem to always discover a new species of fish. There is a local dish in Campeche called “Pan de Cazon” which uses Shark as it’s main ingredient. It’s basically a tortilla shark lasagna with a tomato sauce drizzled over it. That’s my best description. In my opinion, shark has one of the fishiest tastes I’ve ever come across. It has taken me a long time to appreciate the taste but Pan de Cazon is one of my mom’s favorite dishes. Even after ordering it a million times over the years, we still haven’t found someone that can tell us with 100% certainty what kind of shark is used to make Pan de Cazon. Rumor has it that it’s dogfish which is in fact a type of shark but that’s just a rumor. Google doesn’t even know the answer to this question. I promise I’ve tried. One of the first things I do when I go to the fish market now is to find the shark section and try to solve this mystery. I’ll let you know if I ever find an answer.