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Remembering Queen Elizabeth’s 24 hours in Yucatán

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Lee Steele
Lee Steele
Lee Steele is the founding director of Roof Cat Media and has published Yucatán Magazine and other titles since 2012. Sign up for our weekly newsletters, so our best stories will appear in your inbox every Monday.
Queen Elizabeth II visits an ancient pyramid at Uxmal during her state visit to Mexico in 1975. Photo by Serge Lemoine / Getty Images

For 24 hours in early 1975, Yucatán was electrified by a visit from Queen Elizabeth II, who died today at age 96.

On Feb. 27 of that year, the sovereign arrived with her husband Prince Philip — who died in April 2021 — at the newly opened Mérida airport. There, she was received by President Luis Echeverría and Gov. Carlos Loret de Mola Mediz. They left their bags in a hotel in the Historic Center and headed for the ancient Mayan city of Uxmal.

A royal visit to Mérida begins at the city’s newly renovated airport in 1975. Photo: Diario de Yucatán

Once there, the queen walked slowly and delicately, amazed by the imposing pre-Hispanic buildings, while the international and national press took pictures from a respectful distance.

She was invited to inaugurate Uxmal’s light-and-sound show in the archaeological zone. Everything happened on the platform known as the Nunnery Quadrangle. The sovereign was tasked with raising the switch to begin the audiovisual montage based on “The Land of the Pheasant and the Deer” by Antonio Mediz Bolio.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip visit Uxmal during a trip to Mexico in 1975. Photo: Yucatán Al Minuto

A gala dinner was held there in honor of guests from the world of politics, business, and diplomatic affairs. Then suddenly, a gray cloud appeared out of nowhere.

An unexpected heavy downpour mobilized the presidential general staff, whose members quickly ran with umbrellas to protect the president and the governor. The guests and the journalists themselves sought shelter among the pre-Hispanic buildings so as not to get wet. But the sovereign stood in place, seeming not to care about the rain.

Queen Elizabeth II visits Uxmal during a trip to Mexico in 1975. Photo: Diario de Yucatán

“She didn’t flinch, she just stayed put. One of her assistants approached her to offer her an umbrella, and discreetly and politely, she declined,” said one witness. “We wondered if she likes to get wet or is it because the English are used to rain. It seemed that the world would end, but she did not move at all.”

Was the rain a welcome from Chaac, the Mayan god of rain, who was worshiped by the inhabitants of Uxmal in pre-Hispanic times? The queen and the prince apparently passed the deity’s test and the act continued, according to an account from Diario de Yucatán, the area’s dominant news source at the time.

Photo: Serge Lemoine / Getty Images

The dinner menu included lobster salad in its shell and marinated pheasant and quail. The dessert was soursop ice cream with meringues. The queen did not care that a turix, or firefly, ended up drowned in her plate, and she continued eating.

The next day they traveled to the Tizimín, which at the time would normally require driving four hours on narrow, rocky roads. But months in advance, Mexican authorities built the two-kilometer Cupul airstrip on the outskirts of town for the occasion. Today the airstrip is abandoned and guarded by a military platoon to prevent drug planes from landing there.

Upon getting off the plane, she immediately went to inaugurate the local zoo, which is called La Reina in her honor.

Afterwards, she toured Tizimín in an open car to greet the residents who came out of their houses waving British and Mexican flags.

On several street corners, the orchestras performed jaranas and couples danced wearing the typical regional costume, while the people shouted: “long live the queen!”

But it was back at the zoo where Her Majesty was most visibly moved.

Queen Elizabeth II with a group of local children during her state visit to Mexico in 1975. Photo by Serge Lemoine / Getty Images

There, a group of 2,000 Maya girls and boys sang “God Save the Queen” and “Land of Hope and Glory,” in English.

“It is the best gift I have received from Yucatán,” she commented to the governor.

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