View from the great square of the Mexican town of Peanut, the church of St. Michael the Archangel and its adjacent convent look like a fortress. With its sharp battlements and its defensive walls the color of the earth. And even more surprising is the so-called open chapel, a concavity that is used for worship. This is how it was conceived, so that the Indians did not enter the Catholic temple and attend the rites from the open air outside.
It is the greatest monument of this town of fort Mayan roots, about 90 kilometers southeast of Merida, the capital of Yucatan. But the history-savvy traveler soon runs into more cause for reflection and even chills. It was in front of this church that on July 12, 1562, the auto-da-fe led by Fray Diego de Landa. The screams, if not flames, reached the sky, or higher. Already a month before the Inquisition process began against hundreds of indigenous people accused of idolatry. And in order for them to confess their supposed dealings with the devil, Landa himself used the whip to lash them (the key number was 100), and they were imprisoned and sheared, worse than if they were sheep. And so came the day of Fahrenheit 451, the temperature at which paper burns and, above all, human reason. The Franciscan Landa, who after being denounced for abuses was appointed bishop of Yucatán, burned no less than 27 Mayan codices and thousands of religious objects labeled diabolical or idolatrous.
As in the dystopia of Ray Bradbury, intolerance had swept the newly conquered Yucatan. Fire was nothing magical against the Mayan codices, of which only four remain in this world. Books that related in their huun, wild fig paper, hieroglyphs with irreplaceable stories and myths from one of the greatest pre-Columbian cultures.
The convent, which no longer houses friars, has patios full of verdigris and shadows, with wells that used to supply its waterwheel and its garden. The construction of this bastion began around 1550 under the direction of Fray Juan de Mérida and with manpower up to 6,000 Indians and the massive use of stones from the ancient temples of the mayas xiues. The large open chapel stands out, and inside there are five 17th century altarpieces, of pure colonial art.
Maní was an important cult center dedicated to Kukulcán, the Feathered Serpent, among other Mayan deities. And yet, it has preserved ancestral themes, stories and legends, so in December 2020 it was declared Magic Town, with another 10 more villas, by the Secretariat of Tourism of the Government of Mexico. The total number of Mexican magical towns has already exceeded 130. The magical thing is not because it has meigas, which here are called aluches, various goblins that populate the popular imagination. The magic in this case is to point out that Peanut is special.
Its name comes from the Mayan manik and has nothing to do with the peanut, as the peanut is known in Mexico. Its official slogan has its crumb: “Peanuts, where it all happened.” There is a cenote between Calle 25 and Calle 26 in the center called Xcabachen that is not only home to aluches, rather, it is assumed that thanks to its water one could survive when the final cataclysm comes, something like the Fifth Sun. And, of course, there is a magical grandmother, called Xicún, who is sometimes confused with a powerful snake and who administers matters of the underworld. This cave with its pool was also a place of worship for the Maya Xiues of the territory.
Place of ‘aluches’
A short distance away there is a colonial-era mansion where the family that runs it believes they have some connection with the Spanish conquerors, especially with Diego de Quijada, who was the first governor of Yucatán. Angelita Valle Quijada is in charge of an embroidery shop there, an art that in Maní displays an appreciated variant and one of the oldest in Yucatan, that of X’manikté, “Living snake”, which some interpret as eternity. They embroider motifs that look like serpentine skin, and there again the aluches fanciful that this place is overflowing with. Well, in a certain orchard, someone who went to steal fruit, a snake caught it and it was never known again. And even a cousin of Mrs. Angelita, being sober, said that the snake lady, or both at the same time, when he found a treasure he grabbed his quicksand and only luckily he was saved.
What reassures is the Los Frailes restaurant, which continues to have this family and which is adorned with murals relating to the wonders of the aluches from town. The substantial thing is the little shock, A specialty from the state of Yucatán made from pork, better if it is from the native hairless pig, with its beans, avocado and vegetables. Another regal dish on the menu is marinated turkey, turkey shredded and marinated in union with strips of peppers that do not bite. It is accompanied with a beer and if not with Jamaica water, a beautiful and refreshing ruby color.
What is not magical but simply healthy is doing the route of the meliponarios, a solemn word for beehives (there are more than 30 here). The peanut bees they do not sting as they do not have a stinger. They are endemic and smaller than their European, African or Asian counterparts. And the meliponas give a reputed honey throughout Yucatan for its properties in sweets, creams and shampoos.
With that energy there is always more to see. 18 kilometers west of Maní is Ticul, the Yucatecan capital of leather shoes. It is advisable to go through life well shod. And, above all, if one is bitten by nostalgia and shows up in the village of Typical, just eight kilometers from Maní. In the middle of the field there is a Mayan archaeological site minimal in size, but one of the oldest in Yucatan. Among the undergrowth are remains of what may have been a residence of rank in the late pre-classic period, about 2,300 years ago. A jade ax was found buried there. The stone with which the old Mayans evoked something like eternity.
Luis Pancorbo is the author of ‘Caviar, gods and oil. A return to the Caspian Sea… ‘(Renaissance publishing house).
Find inspiration for your next trips on our Facebook and Twitter and Instragram or subscribe here to the El Viajero Newsletter.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.