Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel
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What do you get when you cross a donkey with a zebra? A zedonk, of course! The owners of the non-profit Chestatee Wildlife Preserve near Dahlonega, Georgia got a big surprise recently when their mama donkey gave birth to her mixed breed foal. Since she was born with striped legs and a solid body, they named the baby Pippi Longstockings. The foal has attributes of both donkey and zebra. Though she sports stripes, she is much less skittish than a zebra and seems not to mind all the attention she is getting.

Can’t see the above YouTube video about the baby Zedonk born at Chestatee Wildlife Preserve in Georgia? Click here.

Chestatee Wildlife Preserve is a non-profit wildlife animal rescue operation that is set up like a zoo so that visitors can enjoy their residents. The facility is open to the public 7 days a week Read More

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I’ve feasted on shrimp all around the world, but Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama have, hands down, the most delicious shrimp I’ve ever eaten. I arrived last night and promptly dug into my first helping at the Gulf Island Grill; today I had a shrimp Po’ Boy for lunch at the Beach Club and this evening I had broiled skewered shrimp at Live Bait restaurant in Orange Beach. I’m here as a guest of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism, enjoying four days on this lovely coastal barrier island and checking up on the status of Alabama beaches following the oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.

Gulf Shores Beach - pristine white and free of oil and tar

Fort Morgan Beach on the western tip of Gulf Shores

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From the top of Cenote Samula at Dzitnup I peered into the abyss. Only five or six rough hand-hewn steps were visible before the cave’s gloomy interior swallowed the ancient staircase. Digging my fingertips into sweating limestone walls I descended gingerly, concentrating on keeping my footing on the slick, uneven stones. At the bottom of the stairs, where sunlight could penetrate no further, I groped my way to a viewing platform carved into the rock and blinked, allowing my eyes to adjust to the semi-darkness.

Cenote Samula at Dzitnup, near Valladolid, in the north central Yucatan

Like an exotic dancer, the cenote revealed itself in stages. A narrow column of liquid white light poured through a small hole in the roof, illuminating massive tree roots that spilled over the edge. Frantically searching for water, the sinuous limbs tumbled into the crystal-clear pool at the bottom. Colors gradually emerged in the semi-darkness: black streaks and white guano painted patterns on the ocher and red stone walls, complementing the turquoise blue water cupped in the bottom of this perfectly circular cavern.

I had expected Cenote Samula to be crowded – these naturally occurring sinkholes are among the more popular tourist attractions around Valladolid – but to my delight it was deserted. Closing my eyes, I tuned into its cathedral energy. Water droplets plunked from sweating rocks into the pool and bats swooped back and forth through the sunbeam, emitting their high-pitched warning. Whispers echoed in the cavern; a giggle punctuated the silence. Had other tourists arrived so stealthily that I had not heard them descend via the stone steps? I opened my Read More

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Worship of a feathered serpent deity may have begun as early as 200 B.C. at Teotihuacan near present day Mexico City, but it reached its pinnacle at Chichen Itza, the Mayan cultural capital in the north central plains of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. Named Quetzalcoatl by Nahua residents of Teotihuacan, to Maya the plumed serpent was Kukulcan, a name they also gave to the famous stepped pyramid that today dominates the archeological site.

Serpent protruding from ball court stadium appears to devour Kukulcan pyramid

Chichen Itza is rife with signs of serpent worship. Thousands of limestone blocks at the base of the great ball court are carved with scenes of athletes who, upon losing a match, were decapitated; the blood flowing from their severed necks turns into wriggling serpents. Giant serpent heads protrude from the ends of the ball court stadia, while still others stand guard at the bottom of the staircase leading to the top of the smaller Ossario pyramid. The Kukulcan Pyramid also features a pair of serpent heads but strangely, they flank only the north staircase; the other three grand staircases may have purposely been left unadorned as a clue to the significance of the solo pair. The Maya built the temple so precisely that on the spring and autumn equinox, at the rising and setting of the sun, the corner of the pyramid casts a serpent-shaped shadow on the side of the north staircase that slithers down to the serpent’s head at the base.

North stairway with serpent heads at base on normal days

Corner of Kukulcan pyramid casts shadow of a serpent’s body on north stairway during sunrise and sunset on spring and fall equinox. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

By all indications, the Maya culture at Chichen Itza was steeped in violence. In addition to serpents, other carvings feature jaguars eating human hearts, battle scenes, and row upon row of stones depicting human skulls. Even the cenote, which was undoubtedly their sole source of Read More

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Well rested from my previous three days at the amazing Hacienda Xcanatun Resort, I set off with renewed vigor to discover more of the northern Yucatan. As with so many of the other locales I had visited in Mexico, there is so much to do in the Yucatan that it is difficult to choose which sites to see. No matter how hard I tried, there would not be time enough to visit all the ruins, cenotes, colonial towns, biosphere reserves, and cultural sites, but staying in centrally located Valladolid would at least allow me to see as much as possible.

Pastel houses line cobblestone strets in Valladolid

Though this third largest city in the Yucatan is a mere two hours east of the cultural center of Merida and three hours west of Cancun’s tourist mecca, in character it might as well have been light years away from either. Located in the sultry interior, where not even a whisper of a breeze penetrated most days, the pace of life was simple and slow. Ancient men on three-wheeled bikes languidly pedaled down cobblestone streets past pastel houses, each hawking his product with a trademark signal. A bottled water delivery man rasped “agua” every dozen feet. A knife sharpener rang a jangly bell. On a third bike, an enormous silver wok-shaped vessel had been welded in front of the handlebars. “Que tienes?” I inquired – What do you have? He braked, smiled shyly and lifted the lid, allowing the yeasty aroma of fresh baked bread to engulf me.

Can’t view the above slide show of the Plaza Principal in Valladolid, Mexico? Click here.

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I followed the bellman down a long covered portico, where lustrous marble floors gleamed like polished bronze in the slanting rays of a late afternoon sun. At the end of the terrace he stopped before a massive set of wooden doors and jiggled a large metal skeleton key in the lock. Shifting my backpack impatiently, I focused on how wonderful it would be to drop my heavy load for a few days and do absolutely nothing. After what seemed an eternity, the door finally swung open to reveal an exquisite Master Suite. I nearly wept. For the past three months I’d been trekking around Mexico, staying in hostel dormitories and modest inns, until Hacienda Xcanatun had kindly offered to host me. Dog-tired and desperately in need of a rest, I’d jumped at the chance to sleep in a “real” bed in a private room for a change, but this was more than I had expected. This Master Suite was larger than most of the hostels I’d stayed in.

Master Suite

I tried not to show my embarrassment as the bellman rolled my small dust-caked suitcase through the sitting room and set it up on a heavy wooden bench in the bedroom. He pointed out myriad switches that turned on lamps, wall sconces, and overhead fans and then explained how to work the multiple rain heads in the glass shower enclosure and operate the separate whirlpool soaking tub. Stepping to the far wall in the bathroom he tugged on cords that drew back a ceiling drapery, revealing a skylight; did I wish to let sunlight stream in or would I prefer dimmer lighting? Open. No, closed. Oh, I don’t care. Whatever would make him leave faster. Read More