Mayan Ruins and Chocolate (Part 2)

Having feasted our eyes (and our capacity for awe) on the Mayan ruins, we were ready to cross the road and feast at least a couple of other senses at Choco-Story, an outdoor (sort of) museum dedicated to the history of chocolate and the culture of the local region that has produced it for millennia.

And chocolate does have quite a history. It wasn’t just a fattening confection; in fact, the ancient Mexicans drank it unsweetened and spiced, and regarded it as something sacred — but then all chocolate lovers do, don’t they? The Mayans and Aztecs, however, used it in religious rituals. It was also used as medicine, and even as currency.

The currency required for entrance to Choco-Story is 45 pesos; and unlike the Uxmal ruins, Choco-Story accepts credit cards in payment.

You begin by walking down a rustic, wooded path until you come to the first exhibit hut. (While there are several other ChocoStory facilities around the world, including two more in Mexico, this is the only one that features a botanical garden and wildlife preserve.) These exhibit huts are placed about 50 yards apart along the trail. Each hut has displays of artifacts from a different period of history, and exhibits on how cacao is grown and processed.

One interesting tidbit of information is that when Mesoamericans indulged in human sacrifice, the victims were sometimes volunteers, who considered it an honor to be dispatched for the glory of the tribe; and to prepare for the momentous transition, they would induce a stupor by overdosing on chocolate. Hey, if you’re gonna go, what better way could there be?

Also along the trail are various forms of rescued wildlife (in cages, of course) including a crocodile, a deer, a jaguar, exotic birds, and most memorably of all, monkeys that take food out of your hand. There are little coin-operated dispensers form which you can obtain cheap simian grub, and if you hold out your hand, they’ll gently take it and eat it — no scratching or wild grabbing or biting the hand that feeds them, although they may quarrel with each other about how to divvy up the goods.

Also along this path is a little outdoor arena in which you can witness an ancient Mayan rain ceremony, devoted to the god Chaac (hmmm… any relation to chocolate?) at regular and frequent intervals during the day. You don’t understand what’s being said unless you speak Mayan, but it’s fascinating to watch the four guys in white robes carry out the mesmerizing ritual, which includes beating on drums and blowing on conch shells.

But the best part of the self-guided tour comes last: a chance to sample a chocolate drink prepared more or less as the ancient Mayans used to make it — with cocoa butter and spices blended in, but no sugar. Actually, the spices are left on the side for you to try according to your taste — as is the honey, if you absolutely must have it sweetened. This quite honestly was probably the best hot cocoa we’d ever had; it seems that blending in the cocoa butter is what makes all the difference in the world.

And of course, on the way out came the obligatory stop in the gift shop, where we just had to purchase a couple of bars of chocolate from what is, according to National Geographic, the second-best chocolate producing region in the world. One of these bars was a rather traditional Mayan recipe made with peppers that was quite heavenly.

Okay, having concluded our day’s activities, we had to make our way back to Merida. Remember, the ticket agent there had told us that there was no return bus from Uxmal. That’s a little white lie. It’s true that there is no direct return bus that departs from Uxmal, but there is a bus that passes through at about 3:30 and picks up passengers in front of ChocoStory.

So we plunked ourselves down on the bench there with a good 45 minutes to spare. At first, we were the only prospective passengers; but then more and more kept coming, including a tour group from Germany. When our ride finally pulled up, there were enough people gathered to pack the bus to the gills, SRO. And unlike the courtesy we encountered from the natives when catching a return bus from the cenotes, these foreigners showed no consideration for how long anyone had been waiting, but simply made a mad scramble, every person for his or her self. We did, however, manage to get seats for the long ride back to Merida –two chocolate bars, dozens of photographs and incomparable memories richer.

12/3/21 - Antigua, Calle 10 Carretera Merida Campeche Km. 78, 97899 Uxmal, Yuc., Mexico

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