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Chiles en Nogada, Mexican dishes to try at Hacienda Sisal

Celebrate Mexican Independence at Hacienda Sisal restaurant in Cancun this September by trying a showstopper recipe always served during the festivities, Chiles en Nogada (Chilies in Walnut Sauce). You’ll find this traditional dish on the menu along with many other tempting Mexican dishes.

Chiles en Nogada: A patriotic culinary creation

The recipe for Chiles en Nogada features poblano chilies with a tasty sweet-savory filling topped with a creamy walnut sauce and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds, coriander and parsley, the colors of the Mexican flag, red, white and green.

The story behind the recipe for Chiles en Nogada is interesting. History tells that in 1821, General Agustín de Iturbide visited the city of Puebla after signing the Treaty of Córdoba, the agreement that gave Mexico its Independence from Spain. He decided to celebrate his saint’s day in the city: August 28, the day of St Augustine, and the city’s elders held a banquet in his honor. The nuns of Santa Monica Convent were caught up in the fervor of his visit and invented a special dish to commemorate his visit and the birth of a nation, using the colors of the new flag: red, white and green.

Poblano chilies are stuffed with a filling of ground pork and beef cooked with chopped dried fruit (raisins, citron, peach and apple), spices, garlic and onion. The chilies are topped with a creamy white sauce made from ground walnuts, almonds and sherry. Pomegranate seeds and chopped cilantro and parsley complete the color sequence.

Blending ingredients from the New World and the Old, mole, a classic Mexican sauce

Have you ever tried mole? The smooth and sophisticated taste of a sauce that blends chocolate and a touch of chili with garlic, ground tortillas, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices served over chicken or turkey is a Mexican classic. Sprinkled with sesame seeds, this mouthwatering recipe is served with rice and onion slices.

Mole is a sauce made according to family recipes passed down from generation to generation. The word mole is derived from the Aztec word molli for sauce and the recipe is a true blend of New and Old World ingredients, pre-Hispanic staples and spices introduced by the Spaniards. Spanish diarists of the day such as Antonio de la Ciudad Real and Fray San Pedro Sebastian talk about visits to convents and the dishes featuring native fruits and nuts, European spices, chicken or turkey served by the nuns.

Mole is said to have originated in the Santa Rosa Convent in Puebla. In the 17th century, Sister Andrea de la Asunción blended chocolate, chili, sesame seeds, cinnamon, almonds, peanuts, garlic and pepper among other ingredients, to create a sauce that she served with turkey to honor the visit of the Viceroy. There are now countless variations on the original recipe from Puebla and the neighboring state of Oaxaca has seven different types of mole, all are delicious.

Cochinita Pibil, taste of the Yucatán

Cochinita pibil is a classic Yucatecan dish for special occasions. Pieces of pork, a pork leg or even a suckling pig are marinated in an achiote (annatto) and Seville orange juice spice mix or recado. The meat is then wrapped in banana leaves and traditionally cooked in a pit or pib for hours. Nowadays an oven is used to slow roast the meat until it literally falls off the bone and melts in your mouth.

Cochinita pibil is served with freshly made tortillas, pickled red onion and xnipek habanero sauce.

 

 

On the evening of September 15, Independence Night, order a glass of premium tequila or Mexican wine, an artisanal mezcal, beer or sotol or the Hacienda Sisal signature margarita and raise your glass to toast Mexico and its people with “Viva Mexico.”

Hacienda Sisal is located next to The Royal Sands in Cancun Hotel Zone. Open daily from 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. Don’t miss Pozole Thursday and Sunday Brunch from 8 a.m.

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Chichen Itza, city of an ancient god

The ancient Mayan metropolis of Chichen Itza is still revealing its secrets. Pyramids within pyramids, cenotes deep under the sacred heart of the city and paths that seem to lead towards Xibalba, the Underworld, are some of the amazing finds in recent years. If you haven’t visited this majestic UNESCO World Heritage Site before or you did so many years ago, then perhaps it is time to book a trip and learn about some of the discoveries archaeologists have been making.

Sunset of the serpent, Equinox, September 22

If you are staying in Cancun or the Riviera Maya in September, why not join thousands of other visitors and local people who gather to celebrate the Equinox at Chichen Itza on September 22 and 23? You’ll see the famous Pyramid of Kukulcan transformed by the shadow of a serpent seemingly slithering down from the heavens.

Also known as El Castillo, the 25-meter-high pyramid is a solar clock, aligned to catch the rays of the setting sun on the days of the spring and fall equinoxes in March and September. Triangles of light and shadow appear along the side of the north staircase and the undulating body of a snake forms. It merges with the head of a stone serpent at the foot of the building, creating the illusion of a gigantic reptile coming down from the sky and rippling across the ground towards the Sacred Cenote.

The snake symbolizes Kukulcan (also known as Quetzalcoatl in central Mexico), the feathered serpent god, returning to earth to give hope to his followers and heralding the spring planting season and fall harvest for the Maya.

The pyramid of Kukulcan was built some time between A.D. 650 and 800, with later modifications during the Itzae period of glory, possibly from A.D. 1000 to 1150. The earlier temples are deep inside the pyramid we see today. When archaeologists dug through tons of stone and earth to reach the inner sanctum, they discovered a chac mool statue, the enigmatic reclining figure with hands cupped to receive the heart of a sacrificial victim, guarding the entrance and a magnificent throne in the form of a red jaguar with jade spots and eyes. The jaguar was discovered with an offering of coral, sacrificial flint knives and a turquoise mosaic disc.

The pyramid also represents the ancient Mayan calendar as the number of terraces and wall panels coincides with the number of months in the year (18) and years in a calendar round (52), respectively, and the number of steps in the staircases, including the top platform, equals 365, the days in the year.

The Observatory, a view of the heavens

A short distance from the Pyramid of Kukulcan, the Temple of the Warriors, the Ball court and the other temples in the Great Plaza is the round tower known as El Caracol or the Observatory. It has a viewing platform and wells, which were used by ancient astronomers to mirror starlight, and it was aligned to catch sunsets and moonsets on both equinoxes and to mark the course of Venus.

Other buildings of note at Chichen are the Ossuary, the Akab Dzib, Las Monjas, the North Group and the earlier ruins in the forest known as Chichen Viejo or Old Chichen.

Explore one of the greatest ancient cities in the Americas and see why UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site and a global poll in 2007 rated it as one of the Seven New Wonders of the World, book your Chichen Itza trip now. The snake of light and shadow is also visible the day before and after the equinox, cloud cover permitting.

If you would like to stay longer, why not sign up for the Thomas More trip that takes in the Hubiku cenote, the colonial town of Valladolid, an afternoon tour of Chichen Itza and the evening Light and Sound Show?

Dzibilchaltun at sunrise

Chichen Itza is not the only Mayan ceremonial center in the Yucatán to have temples with solar, lunar or planetary alignments. The doorway of the Temple of the Seven Dolls at Dzibilchaltun (13 miles north of Mérida) makes a perfect frame for the rising sun on the day of the Equinox.

Visiting Chichen Itza

Thomas More Travel offers several day trips to Chichen Itza. Choose the one that suits you best. An alternative is to rent a car and explore the eastern Yucatan at your own pace, visiting Valladolid, cenotes and Balancanche Cave and even exploring the smaller Maya site of Ek Balam too.

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Beach, reef and jungle adventures in Puerto Morelos

When was the last time you visited Puerto Morelos? Perhaps you went for a casual seafood lunch at one of the waterfront palapa restaurants and walked along the wooden dock afterwards to watch the fishermen unloading their catch surrounded by expectant gulls and pelicans. From a walk on the beach to snorkeling the Mesoamerican Reef and exciting jungle adventures, here are some Puerto Morelos trip ideas for you.

Puerto Morelos Reef

Dive right in and marvel at the reef that you can see just offshore. Part of the Mesoamerican Reef, the world’s second longest, Puerto Morelos Reef is famous for its spectacular coral formations and is rich in marine life. Indeed, it is considered one of the most pristine areas of the huge reef system that stretches along the Mexican Caribbean coast south to Belize and there are two marine biology research stations here.

Local dive masters know all the best places in this protected National Marine Park for snorkeling and scuba adventures.

You’ll see queen angelfish swimming by, shoals of blue tangs, blue-striped grunts and porkfish and lone parrotfish feeding on the coral. Larger fish such as jacks, snappers, hogfish, grouper and barracuda gather above the corals, and keep a look out for sea turtles, spotted eagle rays, nurse sharks and octopus.

Look closer and you’ll see smaller fish such as squirrel fish, butterfly fish and damsel fish guarding their territory among the corals, hiding in crevices or in the sea grass.

Beach life

A wide swathe of white sand and gentle waves make Puerto Morelos a popular beach spot for families. There are several waterfront clubs with sun loungers and palapas for rent, restaurants and bars where you can spend the day.

Walk along the beach and take in Puerto Morelos life. The iconic tilting lighthouse is a good spot to stop and enjoy the view. Around sunset, you can sometimes watch swallows spiral around the tower before dipping and entering to roost for the night.

Puerto Morelos Botanical Garden

There’s more to Puerto Morelos than coral reefs and beautiful beaches, unforgettable adventures await you in the jungle too. First stop is the Yaaxche-Alfredo Barrera Marin Botanical Garden, the second largest botanical garden in Mexico. In addition to showcasing the trees and plants native to the Yucatán Peninsula, it is a nature reserve protecting 65 hectares of jungle and marshland rich in wildlife.

The Botanical Garden is located just south of Puerto Morelos on Highway 307 but you’ll soon leave the noise of traffic behind as you walk along the trails through the forest. You’ll hear a variety of birdcalls and may spot orange orioles, great kiskadees, green jays, woodpeckers and parrots, among other species.

The park is home to a troop of approximately 50 spider monkeys who forage for fruit in the treetops. You might be lucky enough to see coatimundis or tejon, peccary, deer, fox, squirrels and the shy agouti or tepescuintle, a rodent the size of a small dog that feeds in the undergrowth. Other mammals are nocturnal and seldom spotted although wardens have seen puma tracks in the more remote areas of the park.

Follow the trail to the herb garden you’ll see familiar plants such as basil, rue, chamomile and spearmint growing with native species traditionally used by the Maya as remedies for ailments including fever, colds, migraines, stomach bugs and arthritis.

In a jungle clearing there is a rustic exhibition about chicle, the original natural ingredient for chewing gum that is actually the resin from the chicozapote, a native forest tree found throughout southeast Mexico.

Be sure to walk to the wooden observation towers for spectacular panoramic views of the forest and the wetlands stretching to the Caribbean.

The Botanical Garden is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday to Friday and from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday.

Exploring the Ruta de Los Cenotes

An alternative is to hop into a rental car and drive along the Ruta de los Cenotes, the road to the west of Highway 307 that goes through the jungle to the small town of Leona Vicario. Along the route you’ll see many wooden signs marking the turn off for cenotes deep in the forest. These natural limestone wells or sinkholes have crystal-clear waters that look turquoise or emerald, depending on the light. Some are open and others are hidden in caves. They include Cenote Las Mojarras, Siete Bocas, Boca de Puma and Verde Lucero and several of them have rustic zip lines and nature trails in the vicinity of the cenote.

The Xenotes Oasis Maya trip offered by Experiencias Xcaret gives you the chance to explore four very different cenotes in one day and includes swimming, snorkeling, zip lining and time for kayakng.

Zip lining at Selvatica

For a day of jungle adventures, Selvatica Park fits the bill. Fly through the jungle canopy on a series of thrilling zip line circuits, then swim in a cenote. ATV jungle tours are also available.

Bird watching

If you are interested in wildlife, how about an early morning Puerto Morelos birding trip. Accompanied by a knowledgeable local guide you’ll explore a jungle reserve on the Ruta de los Cenotes to hear the dawn chorus. This clamor of birdsong includes the squawks of parrots, the distinctive call of the pygmy owl and the raucous rattle-like sound of the chachalaca, a bird the size of a large hen.

Look out for flocks of parrots, Yucatan jays, trogons, tanagers, solitary keel-billed toucans, and the Yucatán’s own bird of paradise, the turquoise-browed motmot that makes its nest in the limestone walls of cenotes.

Departure is at 5 a.m. from your resort and you’ll be back at around 12 noon; snacks are included.

Spending the day in Puerto Morelos

Thomas More Travel can help you book all these Puerto Morelos adventures or you can catch a bus, there’s one every half hour from the ADO bus station downtown and get a taxi to the main square. If you are planning a trip into the forest, we recommend that you take your camera, binoculars and use eco-friendly insect repellent to ward off biting insects. You should never stray off the path, even in the Botanical Garden.

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