Art & Local Culture / Why They Call It Sisal

Why They Call It Sisal

Why They Call It Sisal

7 November 2005 Destinations, Art & Local Culture, CULTURE 14

Yesterday was a perfect Yucatan day... blue true dream of sky, as e.e. cummings once said, and puffy white clouds, a breeze. Everything in the air said "a la playa!" and so we went.

When most people in Merida go to the beach, they go to Progreso, and Progreso is a great place. Wonderful spots to sit and eat guacamole and chips while drinking a cold beer, a little bit of shopping and lots of people watching. But this occasion called for something different, as it was the first day that URL, our four and a half month-old puppy, was going to see a beach and an ocean. We wanted to have lots of wide open space and as few people as possible. But we didn't want to miss out on that cold beer either.

So we set off to Sisal, instead. Remember the old days when people used rope? Remember that it was called "sisal rope"? Well, it's called that because back in the heyday of the Yucatan, when this place was rolling in pesos because of henequen, or "green gold", the rope that was made from henequen was shipped out of a port on the Gulf of Mexico called Sisal. Sisal, the pueblito, is still there. The dock is rotting and rusting and Sisal is only a ghost of its former self, which made it the perfect place for our Sunday outing.

The road to Sisal goes northwest out of Merida to a substantial town called Hunucma. Hunucma has a lovely town square, complete with gazebo and church towers, green shady trees and laughing children, lots of trici-taxis and a very healthy mercado. Just about the time we reached Hunucma, one of us was just dying for some cochinita pibil, and it turns out Hunucma has some of that as well. As we walked down a street, a middle-aged man called out "Cochinita!" to us and we figured it was Fate. We ate four or five tacos, rolled up with the delicious pork mixture inside, the sauce dripping down our fingers as we ate. The gentleman introduced us to his son and grandson, told us how handsome our puppy was, and talked to us about the upcoming corrida or bullfight that will be starring a famous Spanish matador, El Juli. But that is a story for another day.

With cochinita and Coca-Cola in our tummies (a typical Yucatecan breakfast), we continued on our merry way to Sisal. We passed over the swamps or cienegas where the flamingos haven't roamed much since Hurricane Isidore, and then we arrived. There are a few nice homes along the coast, mostly uninhabited except during the summer by the wealthy Meridanos who own them. The townspeople live farther away from the beach... about 5,000 of them, according to the pescador with whom we spoke.

As we suspected, the beach was nearly deserted at 11 am. There were a few families unpacking their picnic meals under the palapitas that provide the only shade on the wide white beach. On this day, the beach had piles and piles of rather smelly sargasso or seaweed, and almost as many piles of bleached white seashells. With the puppy in tow, we set off to walk down the beach and play in the water. The clouds provided occasional and welcome cover from the hot sun and everyone enjoyed themselves thoroughly.

When we got back from our walk, we sat down next to the aforementioned pescador, whose name was Gabriel. We were sitting on the step of the building belonging to the harbor master of Sisal, a very modest concrete building. As we have done before, we marveled that there seemed to be so little left of the once grand and apparently very busy port. Gabriel said that Sisal had lost its importance when they built Progreso, which was much closer to Merida and most of the haciendas. Gabriel told us that Sisal was very important in the past and was the site of many battles. He recounted that during Hurricane Gilbert, 16 years ago, the ocean had sucked away a lot of sand from the beach and revealed a some calaveras or skeletons from long-ago battles here on the coast. Que chido! (cool!)

With that story still titillating our imaginations, we decided it was time for a beer. So we took the puppy across the sand to the only restaurant on the beach (there are a few more along the main drag as you go inland). We sat steps from the beach and enjoyed a most delicious ceviche de camarones (shrimp ceviche) and not a few cold Sols, along with botanas (Yucatecan h'ors d'oeuvres) and sun-dried tortillas. The puppy barked and played with the children of the families that began to wander in to enjoy their Sunday at the beach. We bought some delicious postres from the dulcinera who came by to sell us her homemade sweets. Bite-sized meringue-cookies with lemon filling that were like eating lemon-flavored clouds. And little balls of dough that she broke apart and filled with dark Yucatan honey. YUM! And then, before someone got hurt (you know what they say: "it's all fun and games til somebody pokes their eye out..."), we left to return to Merida.

A perfect Yucatan Sunday.


  • Alex 9 years ago

    Hi There, I'm Italian and just spent only (sigh) 6 days in Sisal. It's more then beautiful there! I'm sure I will back early or later, anyhow in this life! a great hug to Michel and Adriana, two fabulous guys! Alex

  • Lisette 11 years ago

    Hi Richard, I have spent 12 winters in Sisal and I know Carlos (Mike) he is a very nice guy, married to one of the daughters of the owner of Restaurant "El Chivero" in Sisal.
    Angel, was our Police Commissioner but I think he is thinking of going back to Fishing. He is also still in Sisal. Guillermo, I have not heard that name.

    Beautiful little fishing village, loving people, quiet.
    Richard if you send me your e-mail I will give it to someone who knows them and they can contact you or send a message through this friend.

  • richard 13 years ago

    Mikey's first name is Carlos, last name Heredia. If someone knows where they are, please call me 615-932-0901 in Nashville Tennessee. God bless Sisal, Mexico.

  • richard 13 years ago

    I've been looking for my friends, Angel, Mikey,and Guillermo since they left Mo (Missouri?). They said Mikey's father-in-law owned a restaurant in Sisal. Angel Santos Burgos is a fisherman, along with my friend Guillermo. PLEASE HELP ME FIND MY FRIENDS...I'M DYING. Thanks for your help.

  • Working Gringos 13 years ago

    YES, our suggestion is that you contact Yucatan Expatriate Services as soon as possible. ( They are an experienced, well-connected, informed group of bilingual Yucatecans, including lawyers, accountants and project managers. They can help you with all your needs, including recommendations of where to buy real estate, what companies to deal with, etc. They will take very good care of you. Read their Testimonials page for more recommendations.

  • Richard 13 years ago

    Will be moving to Merida soon (end 2010-early 2011), we will need help to purchase a house and find bilingual schools etc... we are a young family with 2 children of 5 and 8y.o and we are ready to invest extensively in real estate. Any recommendations??

  • bruce ackerman 14 years ago

    thinkin of living there send info


  • Dan and Ana 14 years ago

    We recently purchased land in Sisal and can't wait to build our home there one day. I hope that a road is built one day to provide access directly to Progresso from there. It would open up a whole new world for this quaint yet beautiful part of the Yucatan.

  • CasiYucateco 15 years ago

    Another Yucateco told me that Sisal was the combination of two Mayan words for "cold / deep / clear" "water". That the area was famous during the Mayan civilizations for its clear still water, as opposed to the more turbid waters along the north coast. The gulf currents stir up the water there and cause it to be more cloudy. The three words (cold, deep, clear) are due to a lack of certainty exactly what type of water is being described by modern day folks. "Cold water" supposedly has the most supporters, but "clear" is up there too. ;-)

  • Pedro 15 years ago

    I certainly agree with the idea of spending some beach days in this peaceful small fishing town, small relaxed places like this are just a few left on these parts of central america.
    Lucky for us they just opened a placed called Sisal Lodge by Yucatan Adventour and they offer wetland birding tours, duck hunting or just the lodge for rent, they even offer single night rooms in case you are around and want to stay over night in town.

  • barbara 16 years ago

    my uncle owns a house in sisal!! its beautiful there!! thanks for the awesome articles!

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