Hi everyone, sorry for the huge break between posts. The reason is that we have booked flights home to spend Christmas with our lovely families so we have a lot to see in a short space of time. Since leaving Valladolid we have seen so many new places and travelled through the remainder of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras so we have been super busy with our upcoming deadline. Don’t worry the posts will continue when we have time which I guess will be once we have returned to New Zealand. So stay tuned for all of our exciting adventures in Central America!
After an eventful stay in Merida involving lost wallets and police on the negative side and caves and ruins on the positive we took off via second class bus for Valladolid. To tell the truth we didn’t really know much about Valladolid except for the fact that it’s close to Chichen Itza. We arrived and did our usual search for accommodation. The first stop involved visiting a hostel we had heard good things about. They didn’t have a cheap private room available so we crossed the road and stayed at a new hostel, which was more like a guesthouse, but cheap nonetheless. As it had a kitchen we headed off on a mission to a small grocery store to get some dinner supplies. Over our five night stay here the girl at the deli counter at this supermarket got to know us which shows how often we cooked. We filled up our days here with activities so the days went by quite quickly with relaxation and beers being our only evening plans.
Day one and we set off early back to the bus station to hop on a bus to Chichen Itza. This has been probably been the most famous site we have visited, everyone knows of Chichen Itza, and I’m pretty sure that it has been put onto a modern 7 world wonders list. Our experience at Chichen Itza was an interesting one. The site is quite sterile in some ways as you can’t get anywhere near any of the ruins. It’s also significantly more expensive than all the others we had visited at 220 peso per person. It’s understandable that areas are roped off though. The amount of people who visit each day is huge and if we want these sites around for our children and grandchildren to see then roped off areas are a must. The main photo opportunity is the Castle, which I’m sure you will all recognise. Although not as big as the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan the ‘Castle’ is a grand pyramid that has been well restored. Unfortunately some of the most impressive features of the Castle are in the inaccessible temple at the summit. We were also very impressed at the ball court which is the largest one in Mexico and Mesoamerica.
Luckily we were organised that morning and left early making it before a lot of the tour buses arrived. Though once we were through the main plaza we could see them all streaming through the main entrance for the remainder of the day. When we had walked through about three quarters of the site the sky started making it’s ominous rumbling sound and big black clouds rolled in. Before long we were in the thick of another thunderstorm…again. Because we weren’t with a tour we had no time restraints so happily took shelter under some covered souvenir stands with a bunch of other tourists. With the rain pouring down, the thunder booming and lightning flashing all around us we watched as the tour groups continued on their way through the storm. So many people were inappropriately dressed and their white clothing soon became see-through. The storm quickly became a great opportunity to just ‘people-watch’. After waiting for a good hour the storm started to ease and we could squelch our way through the remainder of the site. Overall it was interesting but we were a little annoyed that we couldn’t get up close to the ruins, especially as the information boards often referred to things we couldn’t see. As we left Chichen Itza tourists were still coming in to visit the site in the hundreds so we weren’t sad to be heading back to our backpacker home in Valladolid for some tranquillity/beers.
With the bus rides and hiding from the storm our visit to Chichen Itza took up most of our day so upon our return we simply picked up some drinks and food before making dinner and relaxing. We also used our evening to plan out our next days activities as well as play some games of 500. Though Tom won a majority, I’m still working on my ruthlessness and strategy.
Day two and we were again off to an archaeological site. This one was Ek-Balam and not only were the pyramids taller than at Chicken Itza, we could explore the ruins and climb the pyramids. This site had a very unfinished feeling as it has a lot of pyramids and temples are still covered and looking like small tree covered hills. However we could climb the main temple where we could see some stucco friezes and a stunning view from the top. The best part of climbing to the top of a pyramid in my opinion is the beautiful breeze you can enjoy after being in the humid jungle.
Also on the Ek-Balam site is a cenote. This is located about two kilometres down a track through the jungle where we saw some pretty birds and also a fox (we think). For the lazy there was also the option to hire bikes to ride the few kilometres or for the even lazier you could be pushed along on a tricycle type contraption with a local guy doing the pedalling. After visiting the cenote near the Dzibilchaltun ruins outside of Merida I was expecting a cenote at ground level with nibbly fish again. This one however was a proper sinkhole about 20 metres down and accessed by a slippery wooden staircase. The water was fresh and we spent the next hour or so jumping and diving into the water. Tom in particular enjoyed throwing himself off increasingly higher and higher ledges up to about 15 meters, crazy boy!
As the only “public transport” to Ek-Balam is via collective taxis we didn’t want to fork out the price for a private one and instead decided to wait for two more people to come along. This wait turned out to be about an hour before another backpacker couple came by. We shared our travel stories and ended up grabbing a beer once we arrived back in Valladolid. From our stay here in Valladolid we felt solidly on the backpacker circuit and have met so many nice, like-minded people since. In our hostel was also another nice group who we made friends with and who ended up travelling with us to our next destination, but stay tuned for that as I’m jumping ahead a bit.
On our second last day we hired bikes and took off on an adventure out of Valladolid town to some more cenotes in the countryside nearby. The road had a handy bike track along the side which saved us from riding on a busy main road. I appreciated this as I get a little nervous biking around traffic not having much experience doing so. Eventually we arrived at X-keken and Samula which are twin centotes on the same site. The story of X-keken is that there was a drought in the area and the family who owned the property owned a pig. One day the pig showed up back at the house covered in mud. This was strange because as it was a drought there was not enough water around for the pig to have had a mud bath anywhere they knew of. So they followed the pig and found an underground cave with a cenote inside. This is why the site has been named X-keken, as it means ‘pig’ in Yucatec Mayan. Fun story I thought and even more fun was the pet pig at the entrance who didn’t want to pose for any photos. Both the cenotes at this site were underground and a little cool, but once fully submerged they were welcome after our bike ride.
After a few hours here we hopped back onto the bikes and took off for another local cenote. This one took us down a dusty road full of bumps which I wasn’t a fan of but we finally got to an old hacienda which was the site of the final cenote we would visit in Valladolid, but also our favourite. San Lorenzo was an open centote in a deep sinkhole. There were a few locals hanging out there and using the awesome rope swing. We stayed here until the light faded from the depth of the sinkhole making the air start to feel a little too cool for my liking. On the bike ride back my bum started letting me know that I had been on a bike too much and I gladly cycled back to town ready to drop the bikes back off. We made two brief stops along the way: the old convent for a few photos as well as the supermarket where we shared a treat of a Snickers bar. Again the rest of the evening was all about drinks and food.
Our final day in Valladolid was some onward planning for our trip as well as a wander around the town. The weather wasn’t fantastic and on our way back to the convent we briefly saw the previous day we found ourselves in the rain…again. So we stopped off at a tiny chocolate museum where we were told about the history of chocolate for the Mayans as well as taste testing all the different flavours they had available for purchasing. This didn’t cost a cent but on our return to town later in the afternoon we stopped back in to buy a small box of ginger flavoured handmade chocolates.
At the old convent we were able to explore the building and grounds, then read some history of the site. Cenotes are hugely common on the Yucatan Peninsula with over 2000 of them scattered around, so it wasn’t a surprise that there was a cenote at the back of the church. The church had been through many forms of build and abandonment over the years and during the rehabilitation of the church the cenotes had been explored by divers. Found at the bottom was a crazy assortment of things from normal utensils, pottery and church artefacts to guns and even cannons from the Caste War! Some of these as well as a photo exhibit of the dives were displayed inside the convent and we considered them the most interesting thing about our visit.
With the day grey and rainy we headed back to the hostel again before a massive downpour started, but with our dinner ingredients in the fridge and drinks in hand we weren’t concerned. That evening we packed our bags and did some planning for our next stop. Luckily we had stopped by the bus station and been informed that the only direct bus we wanted went at 3am… Nope that wouldn’t be the bus we would be taking. Helpfully we were also informed that there would be buses we could take to El Ideal a random intersection on the highway where other buses should pass by that would take us the rest of the distance. It wasn’t a long trip, only a few hours and the internet information we found backed this up.
So feeling informed for the next day we could eat, drink and chat to some new friends who would also be travelling with us the next day. Valladolid had been a relaxing and fun place to spend a few days.