Aké; this is a small tranquil and quiet village located just 32 kilometers east of Mérida that makes a lovely bike/bus/taxi day trip where you will be treated to a rare commodity in this day and time.
Believe it or not at Aké there are absolutely no tour buses, trinket vending peddlers, hammock hawkers or glitzy accommodations. This is the main attraction for those that want to experience a small slice of vintage Yucatan off the beaten tourist path.
I will tell this story of Aké with captioned photos but first here is a brief Aké description of the place as seen back in the early 1840’s by the noted author John L. Stephens;
Pages 303 to 308 from volume 2 of Incidents of Travel in Yucatan by John L. Stephens:
The next morning we started for Merida, with the intention of diverging for a last time to visit the ruins of Aké. The road was one of the best in the country, made for carriages, but rough, stony, and uninteresting. At Cacalchen, five leagues distant, we stopped to dine and procure a guide to Aké.
In the afternoon we proceeded, taking with us only our hammocks, and leaving Dimas to go on direct with our luggage to Merida. Turning off immediately from the main road, we entered the woods, and following a narrow path, a little before dark we reached the hacienda of Aké, and for the last time were among the towering and colossal memorials of an aboriginal city. The hacienda was the property of the Conde Peon, and contrary to our expectancies, it was small, neglected, in a ruinous condition, and extremely destitute of all kinds of supplies. We could not procure even eggs, literally nothing but tortillas. The major domo was away, the principal building locked up, and the only shelter we could obtain was a miserable little hut, full of fleas, which no sweeping could clear out. We had considered all our rough work over, but again, and within day’s journey of Merida, we were in bad straights. By great ingenuity, and giving them the shortest possible tie, Albino contrived to swing our hammocks and having no other resource, early in the evening we fell into them. At about ten o’clock we heard the tramp of a horse, and the major domo arrived. Surprised to find such unexpected visitors, but glad to see them, he unlocked the hacienda, and we walking out in our winding sheets, we took possession; our hammocks followed, and we were hung up anew. In the morning he provided us with breakfast, after which, accompanied by him and all the Indians of the hacienda, being only six, we went around the ruins.
Plate LII represents a great mound towering in full sight from the door of the hacienda, and called El Palacio, or the Palace. The ascent is on the south side, by an immense staircase, one hundred and thirty seven feet wide, forming an approach of rude grandeur, perhaps equal to any that ever existed in the country. Each step is four feet five inches long, and one foot five inches in height. The platform on the top is two hundred and twenty-five feet in length, and fifty in breath. On the great platform stand thirty-six shafts of columns, in three parallel rows of twelve, about ten feet apart from north to south, and fifteen feet from east to west. They are from fourteen to sixteen feet in height, four feet on each side, and are composed of separate stones, from one to two feet in thickness. But few have fallen, though some have lost their upper layer of stones. There are no remains of any structure or of a roof. If there ever was one, it must have been wood, which would seem most incongruous and inappropriate for such a solid structure of stones. The whole mound was so overgrown that we could not ascertain the juxtaposition of the pillars till the growth was cleared away, when we made our whole, but with little or no enlargement of our knowledge as to its uses and purposes. It was a new and extraordinary feature, entirely different from any we had ever seen, and at the very end of our journey, when we supposed ourselves familiar with the character of American ruins, threw over them a new air of mystery.
In the same vicinity are other mounds of colossal dimensions, one of which is also called the Palace, but of different construction and without pillars. On another, at the end of the ruined staircase, is an opening under the top of a doorway, nearly filled up, crawling through which, by means of the crotch of a tree I descended into a dark chamber fifteen feet long and ten wide, of rude construction, and of which some of the stones in the wall measured seven feet in length. This is called Akabna, casa obscura or dark house. Near this is a senote, with the remains of steps leading down to water, which supplied the ancient city. The ruins cover a great extent, but all were overgrown, and in a condition too ruinous to be presented in a dawning. They were ruder and more massive than all the others we had seen, bore the stamp of an older era, and more than any others, in fact, for the first time in the country, suggested the idea of Cyclopean remains; but ever here we have a gleam of historic light, faint, it is true, but, in my mind, sufficient to dispel all unsettled and wavering notions.
In the account of the march of Don Francisco Montejo from the coast, presented in the early part of these pages, it is mentioned that the Spanish reached a town called Aké, at which they found themselves confronted by a great multitude of armed Indians. A desperate battle ensued, which lasted two days, and in which the Spanish were victorious, but gained no easy triumph.
There is no other mention of Aké, and in this there is no allusion whatever to the buildings, but from its geographical position, and the direction of the line of march of the Spanish army from the coast, I have little doubt that their Aké was the place now known by the same name, and occupied by the ruins last presented. It is, indeed, strange that no mention is made of the buildings, but regard must be had to the circumstances of danger and death which surrounded the Spaniards, and which were doubtless always uppermost in the minds of the soldiers who formed that disastrous expedition. At all events, it is not more strange than want of any description of great buildings of Chichen, and we have the strongest possible proof that no current inference is to be drawn from the silence of the Spaniards, for in the comparatively minute account of the conquest of Mexico, we find that the Spanish army marched under the very shadow of great pyramids of Otumba, and yet not the slightest mention whatever is made of their existence.
Aké was the last ruined Mayan city that John L. Stephens explored and so aptly described on his second and last extensive journey to Central America and Yucatán.
These are the ruins of Aké as seen in 2007, 167 years after the visit of John L. Stephens and 467 years after the Spanish fought the two day war at this very spot with the Indigenous Mayan who built these enduring structures.
A restoration crew of 20 diligent workers under the skilled direction of archaeologist Roberto Rosado is reclaiming this Mayan ruin after centuries of degradation at the hands of nature and Spanish intruders who viewed these monumental structures as merely a stone quarry.
Jane with the long shadows of the early Yucatán morning moist with uncontaminated dew still sparkling on the closely cropped grass savors the fragrant aromas of fresh wild flower scented air at the ruins of Aké.
The ruins of Aké are a striking anomaly amongst the entire collection of Mayan ruins of Mexico and Central America inconsistent with the scale and proportions found elsewhere. Pictured behind Jane are the colossal steps build for giants. Even if these enormous steps were intended as bleacher seats they would only be suitable for a people of gigantic proportions which cast much inquisitive thought provoking speculation upon this unique archaeological site.
Another interesting feature of the ruins of Aké is the network of straight as die Mayan roads known as “sacbe” or white ways because they were originally paved with white stucco. The sacbe tied the ancient empire or the Mayan civilization together. Though now mostly overgrown by rank jungle vegetation the Mayan sacbe road from Aké to the adjacent ruins of Izamal some twenty-five kilometers is still viably existent and only lacks the clearing to make it usable again. This road originated at Mérida, formerly known as Ti’ho and ran all the way to the Caribbean coast a distance of nearly three hundred kilometers. Over the years Jane and I have encountered numerous sacbe Mayan roads and actually driven on them.
In the above photo you will see our little 20 inch folding bicycles that we arrived on. We bicycled from our home in Mérida to the city center where we boarded a colectivo taxi and rode to the town of Tixkokob, famous for their hammocks, where we disembarked with our marvelous little folding bicycles. We always manage to draw a crowd when we fold or unfold our bicycles because they are so very small when folded and in twelve seconds they are transformed. These are not toys, but very functional go fast machines that effortlessly sizzle down the road at between 20 and 25 kilometers per hour…and we just love them because for one thing they make this type of excursion possible.
This is the henequen mill of Aké in1988 when our Lupita was eleven years old.
This is the same henequen mill of Aké in 2007 little changed and still operating. Owned by the Solis family that has kept upgrades and improvements to a bare-bones minimum. This facility continues to turn out their end product of sisal fiber used primarily for bailing twine and other rope products where biodegradability is a consideration.
Originally this facility was powered by a gigantic ancient diesel engine with two cylinders. The engine blew up and sent an employee through the roof skyrocketing his corpse all the way to the adjacent Mayan pyramid where it came to its earthly landing. A cross was erected at that spot to commemorate his suborbital flight.
Twenty years ago that cross was still standing on the pyramid but the two cylinder diesel engine was reduced to one cylinder and ingeniously still sputtering along at about sixty unsteady revolutions per minute. A leather flat belt of enormous proportions conveyed the power from the engine up to a second story shaft that transmitted via other smaller pulleys to a myriad of flying flailing mechanical contrivances that somehow took the green sharp pointed agaves leaves and converted them to sisal fiber.
The old diesel engine finally sputtered its last sputter and now the antiquated rusty and worn old machinery is powered by electric motors.
One thing that has not changed since the beginning of operations here more than a century ago is this system of tiny railway tracks and horse drawn gondolas that quietly and efficiently transport the materials around the hacienda.
This is the boss of this no frills henequen processing establishment sitting atop a pile of the finished and dried sisal fiber ready to be sent out for processing.
At the entrance to the village of Aké Jane stops to chat with the tricycle taxi driver.
Every day in Mexico is a real adventure and this three wheeled rolling platform that started life as a two wheel motorcycle is an inspiration and tribute to inventiveness where government regulations haven’t stifled creativity.
This lovely day wasn’t over with our tour of Aké and we actually were back at our home in Mérida for lunch having bicycled forty beautiful kilometers in some of the most interesting country to be found anywhere on earth and the best part of it all is that it was right in our very own back yard! Written by John M. Grimsrud
More photos from Aké
Above: John Grimsrud and INAH archaeologist Roberto Rosado
Below: Leaving Aké to bicycle back to Tixkokob, Yucatán