Welcome to Ochilandia!
Last week, the entire in-house staff at Yucatan Living took the occasion of Beatriz's birthday to get out of the office and enjoy a little Yucatan themselves. After a morning of work, we all piled in the car and headed down to Hacienda Temozon for a lovely lunch in the amazing Beatriz's honor. Beatriz and Joseph have spent their entire lives in Merida, with a few months elsewhere in the world, but neither one had ever been to Hacienda Temozon or Hacienda Ochil.
We parked in the parking lot at Temozon, and weren't stopped until we started to walk up the stone pathway to the commanding steps leading to the Casa Principal. Did we have a reservation? No, we had called but they wouldn't let us make a reservation. Well, you can't eat here today without a reservation. We gazed at the lovely arches in momentary frustration, and then, as they say, we were over it. Hacienda Temozon was not the adventure today; apparently it was fully booked.
It's an easy drive back to the main highway and south for a few more kilometers to Hacienda Ochil, our other option. Hacienda Ochil has always been a favorite of the Working Gringos, and we expected nothing but good food and a quiet afternoon in a lovely setting. We were not disappointed, but we were in fact, surprised by the changes that Ochil has undergone in the last six months... surprised and pleased enough to tell you about it!
Hacienda Ochil was renovated as part of the Grupo Plan hacienda renovations six or seven years ago, along with Temozon, San Jose Cholul, Uayamon and Santa Rosa. The architect of our first house here, Salvador Reyes Rios, was the architect for the renovation of Ochil. It is a small group of buildings, as Yucatan haciendas go, and he did a lovely job of renovating them to the point of beauty (and safety) without losing the antique feeling. Ochil's walls exude character and history. After parking in the parking lot, a path to the right leads past a few block buildings that house talleres (workshops) for artesanias creating works in stone, henequen and bone. All of this is sponsored by Cultura Banamex, the foundation that Banamex sponsors to preserve the culture and artisans of Mexico.
As you walk further, you'll turn left and walk through a parallel stand of palm trees that lead up to the casa principal, which is the main building. Underneath the open roof of the building is a rather spacious outdoor restaurant, a gift shop with locally-made items, a small henequen and hacienda museum and a lovely lily pond. At least, that is all that used to be there!
We took a short cut, and turned left just past the parking lot, passing through the small henequen field on one side and the example of a drying field (azotea, we think) on the other. As we walked, we heard the sound of a jackhammer, not the kind of thing you usually hear out in the Yucatan countryside! All of us frowned with dismay, thinking our idyllic lunch was going to be interrupted by construction noise. Then, noticing that we were walking along train tracks, Joe said, "I hope we're not going to get run over by a train!" Seconds after he said that, around the corner came a tiny little steam engine pulling a flatbed with benches on it... the Ochil Train!
We walked on, deciding to postpone the train-riding adventure til after lunch, and walked up to the restaurant. For the last six years that we've been coming here, the restaurant at Ochil has always been practically deserted, with only a few staff people walking around rather ghost-like in their white uniforms. Not this time. The restaurant was not full, but not empty. There were at least eight waiters milling around, and a host. We asked Beatriz to choose our table, and following her, we walked all the way to the back of the restaurant. Past the central fountain and behind the bar, there is a terrace that used to be empty and overlooked the jungle. Not anymore! Now the terrace was filled with tables and chairs, and hammocks were strung up for after-meal siestas. It wasn't overlooking jungle, either. Down below the terrace, a natural amphitheatre that leads down to a small cenote in a cave is being turned into a cement and stone amphitheatre that leads down to a swimming pool surrounding a stage, all at the entrance to the small cenote. No, we did not take a photo of the construction area, but we're guessing that in about four months, it will be completed and it will be spectacular. We imagine that they are planning to hold shows there, probably about Maya culture or history.
The waiters gave us shiny new menus that listed a lot more options than we remember being served at this restaurant, but they were also serving a sumptuous-looking buffet of Yucatan traditional dishes, and we all chose to indulge in the buffet. The buffet cost $140 pesos and we had our fill of cochinita, panuchos, pavo en relleno negro, tik'in chik fish, pochero, frijoles con puerco and way too much more. We were attended by two white-clad waiters with excellent service skills, who kept the Coca-cola, beer, wine, jamaica, limonada and even two Flaming Cucarachas coming. (No, these were not bugs on fire, but shots of kahlua, brandy and tequila set aflame). As we were eating, the heat abated and it started to rain, treating us to a lovely mid-jungle downpour and reminding us of that old Mexican saying about how lovely it is to watch the rain when you are dry. We were dry, and satiated and some of us even took advantage of those convenient hammocks for a few minutes, vowing that we really ought to get OUT more!
The adventure wasn't over yet. After lunch, we moseyed over to the noria, a deep cistern on the side of the Casa Principal that had originally been created to store water for the animals and for irrigation. We passed by a lovely new orchid terrace, boasting many different colors and types of flowering orchids hanging from the walls and trees. Beyond the well to the cenote below, we were surprised again. The noria has now been turned into a swimming pool, with a raised wooden deck around it and lounge chairs. Since it was still raining, we weren't inclined to jump in, but we can imagine that on hot days, that pool is a welcome sight!
On our way out, we stopped at the gift shop, which hasn't changed much. It still doesn't carry a lot of items, but what it has are quality and all made by hand. Our favorite thing to buy at this gift shop, by the way, are the natural cotton hammocks, which are our favorite kind. Nothing is cheap in this shop, but it is all a way of supporting the people of the Yucatan who still know how to work with natural materials and keeping their know-how alive. As we started toward our train-ride, the host of the restaurant pointed out a curiosity in the lily pond. There, among the green disc-shaped leaves, we saw a baby crocodile, rescued from someone's backyard cenote, apparently. He looked passive and content, but we wondered what happens when he gets bigger.
The train pulled up and we climbed on. The benches were stiff and the train was designed to pull loads of henequen, not ladies after lunch, but it was fun and made us laugh. We drove past the mini-henequen field and right up to the entrance and got off. There, on what appear to be ancient carved stones arranged there for just this purpose, we took a few photos to commemorate the day. Joseph did his best Chac Mool, with Beatriz trying hard not to laugh. And then Joseph, Beatriz and the Working Gringa posed for their next album cover. Working Gringo was behind the camera, por supuesto!
As we drove back to Merida, the day ended with a downpour and we remarked at how enjoyable the afternoon had been. Ochil, the sleepiest of the renovated haciendas, has evidently found its purpose: as a pitstop on the way to and from Uxmal, and as an alternative to eating at Hacienda Temozon. They have created a mini Yucatan theme park, complete with playgrounds for kids, train rides, a pizza oven (we forgot to tell you about that...), two pools, hammocks, a sun deck, a big restaurant, a bar, a theatre, a museum and shopping. A perfect place for anyone to stop on a lovely Yucatan afternoon. Come one and all! Welcome to Ochilandia!!