Friday, December 16, 2011

Mexican charm in Valladolid and Indianajonesing in Chichén Itzá

After some beach life it was time to dip into the Mexican culture. First on my agenda was to discover the Mayan history and where else to do it than at one of the new seven wonders of the world, Chichén Itzá. I unfolded a map of the Yucatan and the town of Valladolid was the closest place so decided it would be my base for the next couple days. I had read nice things about the town itself, there are lots of cenotes and the Río Lagartos nature reserve is easy to access from Valladolid as well.

I took a morning first class bus from Playa to Valladolid and immediately when we started to pull into Valladolid I was in love with the town. The charmingly shabby small streets with colorful buildings and no tourist-looking wanderers was a sight for sore eyes.

I had booked hostel that was rated #1 in Tripadvisor and found it very easily, just a couple blocks of waddling from the bus station. The La Candelaria hostel was simply adorable. A welcoming staff, beautiful garden with various quaint nooks to hang out and cook, do laundry, play chess or socialize. I had a private room for less than 20€ per night.

 Valladolid is easily manageable by foot and all the street are in a logical grid with numbers as street names for most of them. The town square is faced by the church – it’s also nicely lit after dark. Now you can also see Christmas decorations everywhere – less tacky here than those in Playa del Carmen. On the other side of the square is a bazar with some jewelry shops and about ten cheap and fantastic small eateries, so fantastic that I’ve returned there every day for something different, local food. The streets are lined with small shops selling everything… luckily tourist junk is hard to come by.

In the east part of the city, just a couple blocks from the center, is a cenote, a sink hole with fresh water that is part of the underwater river system that runs through the area. Cenote Zaci is some tens of meters below the street level and quite open with vegetation growing around the clear blue water. I went there on my first day, just before they close at 5pm. I took a dip in the water with the fishes that live there and some guys (that actually stayed in the same hostel) – very refreshing. The braver ones were jumping to the deep cenote from the various more or less natural platforms.

On my first night here it was the celebration of the Virgen Guadalupe. I was barely awake in bed all evening, too tired to move and listening what sounded like the entire town full of cars honking horns, mixed with some shouting and police horns. A riot? A street party?  Like a fellow traveller Rob pointed out later, in Mexico a celebration equals to ”let’s make as much noise as possible”. Well, I slept 10 hours straight with the noise on the background for the most time – no problem.

The next morning I woke up fresh for the first morning bus to Chichén Itzá; I had decided it should be number 1 on my agenda! The bus took about an hour to the site which at about 9.30 in the morning was pretty much vacant of people. I got to stroll almost alone through the large grounds and explore the various ruins. The impressive Castillo / Kukulcan is the first things you can see when you enter the Chichén through the tree lined path. Felt a little bit like entering a Indiana Jones movie scene.

There are lots birds all around, I think I saw even an eagle eerily passing the pyramid! Also plenty of lizards and what I think was some type of a monkey, so cool! The grounds are greener and also more open than I had thought and there were a lot to see. It took me around three hours to see the entire area. 

By the time I was done there were already hundreds of people, all the vendors had come too to sell various handcrafted items and the sun was burning heavily – I was happy to hop on the bus back to Valladolid.

Back at the hostel I met a Polish guy Pjotr  - locally known as Pedro - who I had seen a couple times already before and we went to get some beer and worked on a plan for the next day to go to Río Lagartos. We talked about Christmas, Fernando from Argentina joined in hear if all the Nordic girls loved southern men and Rob from the UK was telling stories about the mysterious Palenque – it was a fun night!

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