In the third of our owner Q&A series we meet Elizabeth Arnott who we know, from her guest blog slot, built her own set of three Mayan style houses with the help of the local community – an owner that has followed her dream…
“The idea of building mayan-style houses, and growing tropical fruit trees like mango and papaya, was so far from anything I could ever have done back home in England, and irresistible.”
1) Tell us a little about your Mayan style houses
My holiday rental is a unique opportunity to live in a mayan village in the heart of the Yucatan Peninsular, Mexico. 50 km south east of Merida, the compound has about an acre of tropical gardens with three mayan-style houses, a large lap pool, and a windmill which pumps water from the well 14 metres deep.
2) What made you build them – was it financial, emotional, a connection with the area, or something else?
I originally decided to buy land in a mayan village because I wanted a quiet get-away from city life. I had toyed with the idea of buying at the beach, but having seen the havoc that hurricanes can wreak in this part of the world, thought that inland would be safer, and in many ways more interesting. The idea of building mayan-style houses, and growing tropical fruit trees like mango and papaya, was so far from anything I could ever have done back home in England, and irresistible. I began the project five years ago, employing local workers, who used their traditional skills to create three oval-shaped houses out of solid stone, and beautiful palapa roofs which are a work of art, interweaving the individual palm leaves to create a thick thatch which keeps out the rain and the hot sun.
3) What’s the best thing about the region they are in? Is it the scenery, the pace of life, the locals, the activities, etc?
The village of Chunkanan is set in an area which has hundreds of cenotes (underground sacred mayan lakes) and people come from all over the world to swim in the cenotes of Yucatan. Chunkanan itself has a fascinating tour to visit three cenotes by horse-drawn mini-rail truck, and there are countless others nearby which are known only to the locals. It is also a fantastic base for birdwatching. You can stay in the comfort of Sac Nicte while watching the wide variety of tropical birds which live in the surrounding gardens and forest. Far from busy main roads, it is rare to hear the sound of traffic. The inhabitants of Chunkanan are mayan, and many of the older residents do not speak Spanish. The attractive village has a ruined hacienda, and what they call a desfibrador, which was one of the last working henequien (sisal) factories in the area until Hurricane Isidoro destroyed it in 2002. Because of the touristic aspect of the village, the villagers are used to visitors, and are very friendly and welcoming.
4) What are the 3 special touches you add to enhance the guest experience?
Guests often comment on how they enjoyed meeting Santiago, my caretaker. A typical mayan, whose second language is Spanish, he is a fount of local knowledge about cenotes, abandoned haciendas, traditional mayan medicine, legends, flora and fauna………..
1. I am developing a ‘package’ which offers a tour to the cenotes and a meal in the local restaurant, included in the rental price. Also I make suggestions as to what would be within easy reach to visit during their stay in Sac Nicte.
2. I have four bicycles available for guests’ use, if they are interested in taking advantage of the flat terrain and exploring the surrounding area.
3. I can provide a ‘welcome package’ leaving in the refrigerator essential foods such as bread, milk, fruit, eggs, cheese, coffee.
5) If a guest had just one day in your rental what would you recommend they do for the perfect experience?
I would recommend that you arrive as early as possible, either by car, or taking the bus from Merida, settle in to Sac Nacte, with Santiago to show you around. Then, wearing swimming things under your light clothes, and being prepared with a sunhat and drinking water, you head directly to the area where the drivers wait to take you to the cenotes. The tour last three hours, and takes you deep into the heart of the jungle. The little pony trots beside the single rail, pulling your truck which has a sunshade roof. At each cenote you have half an hour to climb down and enjoy swimming in the sparkling turquoise water of these sacred mayan underground lakes.
On returning to the village of Chunkanan, you will certainly be hungry, and there is a magnificent restaurant right in the centre of the village, which serves delicious Yucatecan meals, individually prepared in the traditional style. A siesta is generally the next step, so on returning to Sac Nicte, you can either stretch out in one of the comfortable hammocks, or lay back in a traditional rocking chair. The pool with its natural well-water will probably be your next enticement, and then you might want to wander around the property, or into the village, or cycle, or drive to another cenote which my caretaker Santiago can recommend.
In the evening you can prepare your own supper in the little kitchenette. For many visitors who have been on the road for several weeks, this is a rare opportunity to cook their own food. Or perhaps you might want to return to the restaurant, or, with advance warning, Santiago’s wife can prepare a meal for you, delivered to your door. You can sit out under the stars and enjoy the tranquility and clean air of the village with no contaminating traffic. For the intrepid visitor, Santiago can take you to the cenotes again by moonlight.
For many visitors, this will be their first time to actually sleep all night in a hammock. Although some people have reservations about this, everyone has said how easy and comfortable it is, and how well they sleep. At night, you can hear mysterious sounds from various birds, animals and insects, which quickly lull you to sleep in the safety and security of your mosquito protected hammock. I always find that the morning light is so clear and pure, that it is a pleasure to wake up in the mayan village.
To rent the Mayan village house from Elizabeth, please use the contact details in the above link.