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Bush takes time out to make like a tourist

CANCUN, Mexico—President Bush traded in his business suit Thursday for a white tropical short-sleeve shirt and khaki slacks as he played tourist, something he rarely does on foreign trips.

The president was all smiles and business casual as he spent about an hour walking through the impressive ruins of Chichen-Itza, a Mayan archeological site about 127 miles west of Cancun, where he's meeting with Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The ruins date back to the sixth century.

"I want to thank you for letting us begin our important meetings at this very historical site," Bush said after his tour. "I want to thank those who have worked hard to make sure this important part of our history is accessible and is available for people to understand the past, so we can better understand the future."

Bush has earned a reputation for being an indifferent tourist at best on overseas trips, dashing through museums and exhibits or leaving social and cultural events early. He typically prefers to stick to business and not interrupt his routine.

White House officials say Bush's aversion to touring reflects security concerns and the tricky logistics of moving a presidential entourage around. Bush's critics say his reluctance to get out and about reflects a lack of intellectual curiosity and hurts America's image abroad.

The president seems to be emerging slowly from his touring shell. During last month's trip to India and Pakistan, he played cricket in Pakistan, but passed on a tour of India's Taj Mahal, which disappointed Indian officials.

On Thursday, Bush looked like a man having fun and in no hurry. He listened intently as Federica Sodi, the site's lead archeologist, explained the significance of the ruins. They strolled past El Castillo, a 75-foot pyramid with 91 steps on each of its four sides—and stopped to listen to a band perform Jarana, a local song and dance. Bush smiled and swayed slightly.

The leaders then proceeded to a site called the ball court, a 545-foot-long athletic field lined with a stone wall, where a soccer-like game called tlachtli was played in ancient times.

From there, the leaders went back to the pyramid and walked up two or three of the 91 steps. They finished the tour at the Temple of Big Tables, a structure that contains original murals painted by Mayans for their gods, a tour guide said.

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(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): BUSH-TOURIST

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