A couple of days in Cancun to end our vacation

I can’t say I’ll ever get the hang of doing the resort thing. It’s pleasant enough, but kinda meh.

But there were things about Cancun that were lovely.

Like the El Rey Ruins, right on the hotel strip that were almost deserted when I visited.

The iguanas owned the ruins. I sketched them like I usually draw people: really gesturally, one single stroke to capture their posture, with a brushpen loaded with dilute ink and then a fine pen- the Carbon Platinum pen for details.


And on that last morning before we left, a rainstorm hit the beach, so I did a series of really quick paintings of the deserted beach and ocean before we left.  The grey-purple sky and ever-changing ocean was really fun to paint. You can see the rain added it’s own pattern on my work.cancun_resort_storm_sea1

Yes, that’s gouache white, a new addition to my palette. I think it’s going to stay for a while.

That’s it for the Yucantan. Now to unwrap the dance mask we bought and read some of the books I brought home so I understand a wee bit more about Mayan culture before I visit next.


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Ek Balam

Just one sketch, from the top of a tall structure called the Oval Palace, looking over the treetops at the the acropolis of Ek Balam. cancun_ek_balam_ruins

It’s always hard to capture the scale of really big structures, and even harder when you draw them in the distance. The other thing that’s hard? Drawing a mass of trees in a tropical forest. They all vary so slightly in color and yet no two are the same green.

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Valladolid, Part 2.

Casa Hamaca, the bed&breakfast we stayed at in Valladolid is a big part of what made the town so lovely. An old home, it is beautifully restored and filled with art collected by the owner Denis Larsen.

This is the kitchen staff making cinnamon rolls for breakfast in a kitchen covered in talavera tile.

And breakfast is served under a thatched porch hung with pinatas.

Every morning Denis goes off to the market. I went along one day and sketched these two pieces. Markets are one of my favorite things to see in a city. The meat market reminded my of the wet market I sketched in Siam Riep, although this was a less crowded market with larger stalls.

And this vegetable seller had a table loaded with jicamas and local honey bottled in plastic water bottles.

And, did I mention Denis Larsen is also a beekeeper who has stingless Mexican bees? And the staff at Casa Hamaca makes a fabulous margarita on the rocks? If you go to Valladolid, you know where to go stay!

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Valladolid,Part 1

My favorite part of our trip to the Yucatan peninsula was the sleepy town of Valladolid. At first glance the only action you notice is that tour buses that ply between Cancun and Chichen Itza stop here for a little break, and everyone gets out to stretch their legs and have an ice lolly.


But stay a little longer and you’ll discover some fabulous things. Like Cenote Xaci, right in the center of town. So magical and such a hard space to draw, this cavernous sinkhole where locals go swimming and fish nibble your toes.

At siesta time, everyone disappears indoors. Well, everyone except these two men, sitting on a bench by a clock that never worked.


And here’s what I drank in the heat of the afternoon. Tall glasses of sandia.

More from Valladolid in my next post.

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Chichen Itza, of course.

Everyone that visits the Yucatan Peninsula goes to Chichen Itza.And it is as spectacular as it looks in all the photos you’ve seen.

I think the trouble with sketching something I’ve seen so many photos of is that my sketch looks exactly like I think it will. Still, I sketch it because it’s the clearest view I’ve seen of a pyramid so far, and drawing it helps me understand the structure and be in awe, once more, of the people who built these gigantic structures.cancun_chicen-itza

I had more fun with this sketch of a stall selling masks. The carving on these masks is quite skillful. I was told that these masks are mostly carved in little towns around the peninsula, by farmers during the hot part of the day when they rest  indoors. Once a week, a truck goes around to all the villages and collects the finished masks to bring to the sellers here.
cancun_chicen-itza_masksWe brought home a jaguar mask to add to our growing mask collection.

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Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres is beautiful, just like every tourist guidebook will tell you. It has the finest, whitest sand I’ve every seen and the ocean is a beautiful gorgeous color.

It’s just that I don’t really enjoy beaches like Playa Norte, the island’s most popular beach. But the sketching is always good with so many people to watch and draw. Still, one sketch at the beach and I’m ready to find something else to do.

I thought I’d visit the little alleys behind the beach and hoped to find a local market. I didn’t find one, but I did find a lot of shops selling souvenirs. Fun and colorful stuff to draw: blouses and plates, colorful skulls and hats.

The wonderful thing about sketching is that as an observer, almost any place is interesting. Although what you notice sometimes when you look really closely is quite sad.

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If you visit the Yucatan peninsula and have one of those crazy schedules where you can’t see more than one location with ruins ( I don’t recommend you do that, see as many as you can) then Coba would be a good choice. Yes, I know everyone goes to Chicen-Itza. But Coba is special.

You walk, bike or take a cycle-rickshaw thorough shady paths in the forest. The main pyramid is the highest in the Yucatan Peninsula. And you can still scale it. Which is great because it takes getting to the top to have a feel for just how amazing these tall and steep structures are, all surrounded by the jungle.

The pyramids get all the attention, but I’m most intrigued by the ball courts. For all the certainty with which every tour guide explains the ball game, not enough is known about it to be sure of how it was played. What seems pretty certain is that it was a very hard game to play. And maybe even very long.
cancun_coba_ruins_ballcourtSee those small stone rings at the top of those sloping walls? You (probably) had to get a very heavy ball through them without using your hands or feet to hit it.

All the time I was sketching this my daughter sketched me sketching the ball court. I love that she’s a fearless sketcher, and no subject is too complicated to take on. Her tiny sketch has all the sketching gear I dumped on the ground , me and my sketchbook, the forest behind me, the ballcourt behind that and even my son in the distance.

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