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In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age of 38. Now, into their 3rd decade of this financially independent lifestyle, they invite you to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.

Campeche, Yucatan, Mexico

(Pronounced: Cahm-PAY-chay, YOO-cah-tan, MAY-hee-coh)

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Billy and Akaisha Kaderli

We got up about 6 a.m. to get ready to leave Merida and head on in to Campeche, a Maya, pirate, buccaneer and slave trade center in centuries past. And what an intriguing past this fine city has had!

 

Campeche, a strategic and wealthy seaport

Conquered in 1540 by the Spanish, Campeche quickly became a flourishing port. The Spanish discovered a dye in logwood, which grew in the forests near Campeche. This dye was considered a rare commodity and was highly prized in Europe and brought high prices on the European market.

When news spread that this dye was available in Campeche, it attracted the attention of others seeking to capitalize on this rich export. In time a ruthless group of Caribbean pirates and thieves sought to profit from this valuable commodity by controlling the market for the dye. As a result, the city was attacked and looted on many occasions from 1597 to 1685.

 

Salon Rincon Colonial

First came the Spanish who conquered the Maya, then ships arrived from all parts of the world to trade. 

 Bars sprung up along the pier to accommodate the sailors. These make-shift bars could only afford copper spoons to stir their drinks, but these copper spoons left an unpleasant taste. Eventually, a creative bartender took a palm branch from a tree and began using this to stir his libations and left it in for decoration. Without the odd taste and with such a flamboyant display, his pleased English sailors asked the name of of the drink. The Spanish bartender thought the drink with its ostentatious "tail" looked like a rooster and replied "cola de gallo." Translated into English it meant "rooster tail" or "cock's tail."

And so the cocktail was invented...

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Above is an older colonial style bar still alive in these modern times where scenes from the movie Original Sin staring Antonio Banderas and Angelina Jolie were filmed in 2001.

We had a beer, soaked in the ambiance and later went out and rented the movie!

 

Pirates pillaged, plundered and set fire to Campeche for decades

Because of its isolation and wealth, the port city of Campeche became a prime target for pirates and they came from various countries like France, Holland and England. Over the years, Campeche was set on fire many times and its inhabitants were massacred. 

Finally, the crown of Spain had to do something to protect its interest in the New World, so in January, 1663, the cornerstone of a new walled city was laid. The complex system of walls, barricades and secret passages was finally finished decades later. A section of the ramparts extended into the sea so that ships had to sail into a guarded fortress to dock.

 

Cannons from inside the walled city are now used as historical adornment to the walking path

Cannons could now be easily moved to any side of the city as well as men and ammunitions. Campeche became one of the best fortified ports in the whole Spanish colony.

Notice the apparatus the cannons sit upon to wheel them about.

A better view of the malecon or walking street

Campeche was the Caribbean town most affected by seafaring robbers, and it was attacked by pirates 15 times. In 1865 the town was taken over by pirates for several months and there was merciless destruction and pillaging.

The only pirate to enter the city once the fortifications were completed was Barbillas. He kidnapped the new governor of the province at high seas and forced him to pay a ransom which was negotiated with the City Hall. The pirate was able to enter and leave Campeche on the governor's word of honor to collect the ransom money and bring it back to his ship.

It must have been a very tense negotiation!

Akaisha fraternizing with the enemy. Shiver me timbers!

Pirates from many countries made their presence known in Campeche.

The famous gentleman pirate, Jean Lafitte, hung around these parts, but he hated being called a pirate. The way he saw it, he was a "privateer," a man of business. He was an entrepreneur and astute diplomat, and gathered bloodied seafarers, rovers and fishermen turning them into an organization of buccaneers, smugglers and wholesalers.

Legend says he had a crew of a thousand men and kept a constant cargo of black-marketed and very necessary provisions (including slaves) buying and selling from Louisiana all through the Gulf of Mexico. He was seductive and deceptive but always elegantly gracious and he spoke four languages - French, Italian, Spanish and English. He considered himself a Patriot to the developing nation of the United States.

 

Billy ringing the bell at one of the watch towers

These days you can take a walking tour of the parts of the fortified wall that still stand. Most certainly you get the feel of the times of the pirates and the city's needed protection.

Slavery was not invented by the Spanish nor the English, but the trade flourished for centuries. In the early 1800s it was an accepted custom and men who worked the trade saw themselves as providers of a necessary way of life. Some of Jean Lafitte's customers were clergy who bought slaves to work the monastery grounds in Louisiana and the vegetable gardens next to the Ursuline Convent in New Orleans.

The slave trade was very active in areas such as Cuba, the southern parts of what is now the United States and parts of Mexico like the Yucatan.

 

A fresh water well inside the fortification

You can visit the soldiers' sleeping quarters, and see some of the weaponry they used. Building this wall around the city of Campeche was a massive project that took decades and the city was not safe until it was completed.

Beneath the fort are located secret passages which once linked various parts of the city, and provided a means of escape when the fort was being attacked. Some of these secret passageways are said to date back to Mayan times who were at war with each other for generations.

 

On top of the wall

Soldiers stood guard at the top of the wall which protected the city. The fort confronted approaching enemies on the vulnerable sides of the city with their cannons.

You can get some great views of the city from this height. Below is a museum with pictures, letters, guns and ammunition of the period.

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Much of the original wall still stands

Of the eight bastions seven are in their original state and one has been restored. Large segments of Campeche's famous wall have survived as well.

Towers were placed at the corners of the wall and sometimes latrines were placed in them. They would drain into the moat below. The walls had vertical openings that afforded greater security to the guards who were defending the city.

 

All around the city, the wall is an integral part of the landscape

The wall was over 10 feet thick and ran in a hexagon shape around the city. Here you can see the ancient stonework.

 

You can look straight to the sea through this door.

The Puerta del Mar used to allow ships access straight from the sea into the fortified city. The original gate was demolished in 1893 but was rebuilt in 1957.

 

Today, roads and city traffic go around the bastions

 

View of the Main Plaza from atop the soldier's walk

While remodeling the central plaza in Campeche, a construction crew stumbled on the ruins of an old church and its burial grounds. Researchers who were called in discovered the skeletal remains of at least 180 people. Four of these remains were considered to be people born in Africa and transported here in the mid 1500's. Their teeth were filed and chipped to sharp edges in a decorative practice like that used in Africa.

Because other evidence indicated that the cemetery was in use starting around 1550, the archaeologists believe they have found the earliest remains of African slaves brought to the New World.

Historians said that colonial Campeche was an important Spanish gateway to the Americas and would have had substantial traffic in slaves. Within a few years of the first voyage of Columbus in 1492, Africans were shipped to the Caribbean and then the mainland.

African slaves were first introduced in the Dominican Republic and Cuba.

 

One of the lookout towers on the wall

Soldiers were on the look out for pirates and other threats out to sea and would sound the alarm bell if something proved threatening.

 

Old rusty cannons and cannon balls of differing sizes

Cannons were wheeled in where needed and shot towards the invading enemies. These cannon balls would rip through a ship causing it to sink.

 

Walking down into darkness

We visited one of the original dungeons used during this period of history and let me describe it to you. Not only was it tiny, there was only a small 18 inch hole in the ceiling to allow light into the cell. In fact it was so dark that going down the steps was downright creepy and we couldn't see where we were going. We used our cell phones (useless) for light and then used the flash on our camera so we could see that we wouldn't fall through a hole or about to trip on an uneven stone.

 

Our camera flash let us see where we were going

These wooden steps were rebuilt over the stone steps which were worn and broken in places. Without the camera flash we couldn't see them at all!

In the high security prison there was no running water,  no room to maneuver (I've seen dog runs that were bigger), it was stifling in the tropical heat, the inside walls of the room were damp and the place had little to no light. It must have been a desolate, lonely, depressing place filled with hopelessness and death. When the prisoners relieved themselves, where did it go? How did they eat, and where? How did they sleep? With the stench that had to have been there, how did they breathe? 

The desperation and suffering in this place reminded me of the Hanoi Hilton in Vietnam.

 

Another look at a balistrade

Confined within the hexagonal walls of Campeche's fort were the families of the wealthy Spaniards and Creoles as well as religious and political authorities. The neighborhoods located around the walls, such as Santa Ana, were inhabited by Indians, black slaves, mestizos and mulattos.

 

Walking tour map

If you'd like to walk around Campeche to see the historical sites and the colonial architecture the above map shows you a simple tour which will take you around the wall, through the market and up to the sea. While you can pick it up anywhere, it begins at the Main Plaza. If you would like a guide, day and night tours are offered and can be arranged at the Ramada Inn.

 

All of this land has been filled in since the days of the pirates

The Campeche coast was of very low draft and depth which meant that during low tide, a large extension of the coast was left exposed. During the 1950's a costal avenue was built and the city began to fill in and subdivide the lands.

In the olden days, the seas used to reach the base of the fort.

Due to the shallowness of the waters off the coast, ships that arrived in Campeche had to cast anchor at a considerable distance and the merchandise on board had to be moved to the dock on small, flat craft known as cayucos. The dock began at the Sea Gate, the city's main entrance from the coast, and beside it was the customs house where products for businesses run by the people of Campeche were inspected.

 

Another gate into the City of Campeche

The streets of Campeche are straight as an arrow. When the wind blows, there is nothing to stop it. Hold onto your hat!

Notice how thick the wall is.

As hostilities with the pirates waned and the industrial revolution came into being, the walls fortifying Campeche were dismantled and used as cobblestones to pave the roads.

 

Cathedral de la Inmaculada Conception

It took two centuries to complete the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. It is one of the oldest churches on the Yucatan Peninsula.

Across the street from the church (and to the left of this photo) is a fully-furnished replica of a typical colonial style house, complete with a cozy kitchen. Campeche grew to become a city of great mansions with high ceilings, iron balconies and huge interior arches. Some offer tours to the public. Campeche  a became UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999. 

 

Simple, but elegant

Here's a peek inside.

 

Looking from the Main Plaza to an arched historical building

Plazas are great places to hang out during the day, and in the evenings, the government provides free concerts. Street vendors line up to sell their delicious meals for very affordable prices.

 

Delicious street food

Campeche offers an abundance of food styles from the influences of Spain, Mexico and the Caribbean. Since fishing is world class in this area, you can find seafood readily available.

Grazing for our dinner this night at the local street food stalls was great fun. These tamales were wrapped in banana leaves and cost 9 Pesos each, about 75cents. There were many other choices like layered corn tortillas with ham and chicken covered in tomato sauce and it looked like lasagna in a pan.

 

Fresh avocados!

There are hundreds of types of avocados and the tropics give you your choice. These are firm flesh and very tasty.

 

Sharing a fresh juice

Fruit is everywhere in this area of the world, and fresh juices are easy to find for a pittance. They cost less than a soda and are far healthier.

Yum!

 

Lechon Torta

Suckling pig is a real treat and these "Trancas" are indescribably delicious. For a little over a dollar you can experience this local delicacy.

 

Fresh! Tasty pastry

Take a look at this fresh pineapple upside down cake! No canned pineapple needed here!

 

At night the town lights up!

Old Campeche was founded around the third century. It used to be the principal town of the Mayan districts and it was named after a Maya ruler, Ah Kin Pech. At the time of the arrival of the Spanish, Maya were fighting Maya which only made it easier for the Spanish to conquer their war-weary tribes.

As was the way of the Spanish, they set about "converting" the Maya to Christianity and all traces of Mayan religious beliefs were systematically wiped out and practicing the Mayan faith was punishable by death.

 

The Cathedral at night

Walking around the central historical section of Campeche will give you the feel of the Spanish days with the wrought iron fencing and colonial architecture. You can easily imagine the horse drawn carriages and the ladies in their long dresses crossing the street.

 

Indoor-outdoor living

The climate in Campeche is hot and humid. Any chance to be out of doors and catch a breeze is taken and many of the old buildings have interior gardens.

 

Brightly colored, Caribbean flavors

The town is immaculate and walking around is a pleasure.

 

High sidewalks run through the town

Sidewalks this high were built for a reason. When it rains it pours and mini rivers are created as the runoff goes to the sea. Years ago before the land was filled in by the Sea Gate, the sea would reach into the town during storms and high tides.

 

Old restored Colonial Facades

More than 1600 facades of historical buildings have been repainted to the original look which brings class and beauty to the town. The neighborhoods have color and there are flowers and gardens in lots of locations. We noticed no graffiti which made the town look charming and Old World.

 

Billy takes in the Old World Charm

The historic center of Campeche is full of beautiful colors and  pleasing architecture. Everyone used this area for fairs, markets, parties and ceremonies whether it was the local people of the community or the town's Spanish royalty and political authorities.

 

Standing next to a Maya stela

Not everything is under glass or behind ropes, unavailable to the public. The Maya were here before the Spanish and their culture is still seen in the stone work and masks that have been unearthed.

 

Upbeat, colorful restaurants

Delightful restaurants abound and serve seafood and traditional foods in avant-garde ways.

 

A more traditional style of restaurant

Eating out is a pastime in Campeche. So many restaurants to choose from, and many styles of cuisine. Plan to spend a few days here in this charming, amiable city. Visit the museums, eat out in the many restaurants, and take a walk around the town.

 

The town outside the Historical Center

Wide, clean streets, city fountains and modern day transport is available.

 

A roving sandwich shop

Trucks such as these roam around the city looking for business or park in a specific customer-proven spot. You can get local style sandwiches, stuffed burritos and fresh fruit juices for reasonable prices.

 

Beautiful seaside malecon

This 3 mile long malecon follows the Mexico Gulf Coast and is ideal for walking, running, biking or sight seeing. The city did a great job in constructing this walkway and it showcases the city from various angles. The boardwalk is lined with palm trees, gardens and monuments and people come out to watch the sunset over the sea and enjoy the tranquility of the Gulf.

 

Glorious sunset

Today, Campeche holds the main shrimp and fishing port of the state and has the second most productive oil field in the world in the Bay of Campeche. Today you will find hotel chains, shopping malls and fast food restaurants. If you would like to visit, there is an international airport here with daily flights to and from Houston, Texas. 

The Maya, the Spanish, pirates and buccanneers, the slave trade, world famous international port with a painful and colorful history. Campeche is worth a visit to soak it all in.

For more stories about places of interest in Mexico, click here

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About the Authors

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their popular website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurerís Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible.

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