Trip Gear 2017

I went a little crazy ordering gear and clothing for our 3-month trip through Mexico and Belize this summer. I read a lot on how to combat going through multiple climate zones with minimal luggage and decided to try a couple of base layer ultra lightweight wool t-shirts for some of our trip through the highlands and UPF clothing for the sunny coast. I will video reviews of the clothing and luggage once we return.

LUGGAGE/GEAR

  • Eagle Creek Cargo Hauler Large Duffel
  • Eagle Creek Cargo Hauler Extra-Large Duffel
  • Timbuk2 Wingman Carry-On
  • Eagle Creek Pack-It Large Garment Folder
  • Eagle Creek Spectre Folder 18
  • Running Buddy XL Pouch

CLOTHING

  • Woolly Clothing Men’s Merino Wool V-Neck
  • Woolx Men’s Daily Boxers
  • Speedo Men’s UPF 50 Swim Tee
  • Woolx Women’s Sophie Merino Wool Tee
  • Kanu Surf Women’s Rash Guard Tee
  • Holysnow Women’s Yoga Board Shorts
  • Woolx Women’s Mia Tee
  • Woolx Women’s Perfect Capris

SHOES

  • Men’s Five Fingers Men’s
  • Naot Business
  • Women’s Birkenstock Gizeh
  • Women’s Naot Prophecy

VITAMINS/SUPPLMENTS

  • Megafood Women’s One Daily Vitamin
  • Megafood Multi for Men
  • Reset 360 Vanilla All-In-One Shake

ELECTRONICS

  • iKlip Selfie Stick/Tripod
  • Otterbox Waterproof Phone Case
  • Garmin Nuvi 2757LM GPS
  • Viper Car Alarm

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Mexidonia 2017 Updated

Starting this Spring we will be driving through Mexico in order to determine where we would like to live. And… we changed our route (still driving from New Orleans to the Yucatan Peninsula and Belize)!

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In the book of Luke, Jesus advised

“For example, who of you wanting to build a tower does not first sit down and calculate the expense to see if he has enough to complete it?” – Luke 14:28

In order to really get to know where we want to live we will take three months to live in a few different places and gather information on “the expense”.  We plan to make this decision before we head home and we may want to go ahead and secure a rental before we leave the country. We will also be visiting Belize (so that country is still on the table, but doesn’t have as many pros as Mexico). Our route is now as follows:

  • Saltillo, Coa, MX
  • Guanajuato, Gto, MX
  • Puebla, Pue, MX
  • San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chi, MX
  • Valladolid, Yuc, MX
  • Cancun, Qro, MX
  • Chetumal, Qro, MX
  • Belize City, BZE

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On our return trip we would like to see the Rio Bec archeological sites near Xpujil, Palenque, Oaxaca, and maybe go to Guadalajara for the July convention. We also plan to stop in Villa de Santiago (Nuevo Leon) to hike El Laberinto, El Salto,  Cola de Caballo waterfall, and stay at Apple Tree Cabanas.

This is a very aggressive itinerary and will likely change as we drive depending on where we decide to rent and how much time we have before our own regional convention in July.

We have friends in a couple of the places we will be visiting and we have brothers and sisters in each place who we will meet at the local Kingdom Hall 🙂 when we attend meetings. I really fell in love with Valladolid on my last visit to Mexico, so that place is one I wanted to concentrate on. We’ve also heard great things about Guanajuato, San Cristobal de Las Casas, and Chetumal. Cancun is where we have the most contacts, but I don’t know if that city is a good fit for us. It might be a good first place to be until we become better with Spanish. Some of our deal-breakers are:

  • Availability of good medical care
  • Proximity to airport
  • Too many expats
  • No English congregation of JWs

I found this pre-1965 map of the Yucatan and my favorite places are on it, as they existed before Cancun was invented.

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I’m a big history buff, so I’ve been researching what I want to see and do in each place besides meetings and ministry. This is what I’ve found so far:

  • Saltillo, Coa
    • Churrigueresque facade of their cathedral on the Plaza de Armas
  • Guanajuato, Gto
    • Museo del Pueblo and La Valenciana
  • Puebla, Pue
    • Museo Bello and Museo Amparo
  • San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chi
    • Na Bolom museum, Chinkultic, Plaza 31 de Marzo
  • Valladolid, Yucatan
    • Zocalo, Dzitnup cenote, Grutas de Balankanche, Palacio de Municipal
  • Cancun, QRoo
    • El Rey
  • Punta Allen, QRoo
  • Chetumal, QRoo
    • Museo de la Cultura Maya, Cenote Azul

Things to See in Valladolid, MEX

Found another great article on Valladolid! It can be found at the Simply Travel blog.

Since we will be taking a three-month trip to do need greater work in Mexico this summer I wanted to document some of the sights in the cities along our route. Although this post is just about Valladolid, the blogger is planning a second trip to the Yucatan and will be writing about her visits to Merida, Campeche, Tulum, Santa Elena, and Playa del Carmen. She gives a preview here.

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Valladolid, Yucatan, Mexico

Valladolid, Mexico is a small colonial city with a slow-paced and peaceful atmosphere, located in the centre of the Yucatan Peninsula (approximately 2 hours west of Cancun and 2 hours east of Merida). The Mayan culture is very prominent and the city has a lot of interesting history. The narrow cobblestone streets are lined on both sides with pastel-coloured houses and buildings.

Valladolid is not frequently visited by many tourists, and most travelers arriving here only make a quick stopover in order to tour the nearby ruins of Chichen Itza and/or Ek Balam. The city is a little off the beaten path, which I loved. I loved wandering down the streets and being one of the few, and sometimes the only, tourist around. I also loved being able to more fully immerse myself in the language, while absorbing and learning about the culture through interacting with the local people and being able to observe the daily lives of the locals.

In 2012, Valladolid became known as a Pueblo Magico (Magic Town), which is an initiative led by the Mexican Tourism Department to recognize towns and cities in Mexico based on their natural beauty, cultural richness or historical relevance to the country.

This city is so charming and it is definitely worth at least two days of your time, but I would recommend more time, if you have.

Here are some of the best things to do and see while you are in Valladolid:

Cool off with an afternoon Swim at Cenote Zaci:

Cenote Zaci is a beautiful cavern-like cenote located in the middle of the city. This is a great place to go for a swim in peace, and it is likely you will be the only person there when you visit, as I was. The cenote can easily be reached on foot or by bicycle from the central area.

Located at Calle 36 between 37 and 39.

There are lots of bats and stalactites in an overhang area, and it is a great place for swimming. The water is a little murky, but don’t let that put you off.

I had the whole cenote to myself when I visited on my first afternoon in Valladolid. I wrote more in detail about this cenote in my post titled Cenotes of Valladolid. This cenote is absolutely gorgeous!

Cenote Zaci

Cenote Zaci

The beautiful Cenote Zaci in the middle of Valladolid

Wander the Streets and Neighbourhoods of Valladolid:

One of my favourite things to do when visiting new towns and cities, is to explore and wander the streets. You can often find hidden gems along the journey and it is a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture, get off the beaten path and observe how the locals live.

There are so many gorgeous colonial buildings to admire in Valladolid, and a lot of them have unique and colourful doors that make for great photo opportunities! I recommend strolling through the neighbourhoods in the vicinity of the central plaza as well as those surrounding Candelaria Park and Plaza.

Exploring the residential streets and going for early morning walks in a new city is fascinating to me and one of my favourite activities while traveling.

Explore the Ex-Convent de San Bernardino de Siena:

The convent is a great place to explore, and you may be the only person there, like I was!

Located at Calle 41A and 49 (at the end of Calle de los Frailes). The convent is easy to walk to from the centre of Valladolid, along Calle de los Frailes. It is about a 10-15 minute walk.

There is a lot of interesting history behind this place. The convent is huge and is a great place to explore! I enjoyed wandering around through the many quiet corridors and exploring the hidden stairways and small rooms (it is free to go inside the convent).

There is a courtyard in the centre of the convent. All of the walls in the corridors and the stairwells are painted the same pink pastel colour, so it is very easy to get lost if you aren’t keeping track of other landmarks or the direction from which you came.

Behind the convent, there is a beautiful garden with an old well that was built over top of a cenote. This served as the convent’s main water source. There is also a church inside the building that holds services every day.

There was a service in progress when I was exploring the convent and I was able to hear the lovely singing throughout the building.

It was eerie at times, walking into rooms off the main corridor and finding dark and hidden stairways to more small rooms. I was the only person walking through the convent at the time I was there (mid-afternoon). After visiting the convent, go for lunch or dinner at Taberna de los Frailes or Yerba Buena!

Take a Stroll Along Calle/Calzada de los Frailes:

This is a well-known historic street in Valladolid, also known as Calle 41A. It is absolutely lovely to stroll along, take photos of the many unique doorways and colourful colonial buildings and relax at Sisal Park at the end.

The street begins at the intersection of Calle 41 and 46 and is a diagonal street that runs from the city centre towards the Convent de San Bernardino. This is probably the most beautiful, pristine and well-maintained street in Valladolid. It is lined with popular restaurants, specialty shops and colonial homes painted in many bright and pastel colours.

There is a place called “Fabrica de Chocolate Artesanal Maya Chocol Haa,” in a bright red building about halfway down the street, going towards the convent. If you go inside, they will offer you free samples of authentic Mayan chocolate served in a variety of interesting flavours (tequila chocolate, for example). They also sell the chocolate in larger packages as well as chocolate products.

At the end of the street, you will enter into an open park area (Sisal Park) with the convent beside it. Spend some time relaxing at the park before exploring the convent, eating or heading back to your accommodation.

This is a beautiful street to go for a relaxing walk in Valladolid.

Go Shopping At the Mercado Municipal:

Located at Calle 37 and Calle 32. It is easy to walk or bicycle to the market from the central areas of Valladolid. There is bicycle parking on the streets bordering the market.

This local market is the place to go for everything! There are aisles upon aisles of fresh meat and various animal parts (including intestines, heads, eyeballs, etc.), fruits and vegetables, toys, flowers, clothing, personal care products and cheap aguas frescas and traditional Mexican cuisine at the surrounding inexpensive taquerias. This is where the locals shop.

When I went on a Saturday morning, it was packed with locals and my friends and I were the only Caucasian travelers there. It was a very authentic experience and there were many Mayan women dressed in their traditional outfits selling fresh produce, baked goods and other house ware items.

The area where the meat was being sold was particularly interesting and disgusting (as a vegetarian) as butchers have individual tables set up up and down a few aisles, and the meat is cut up and displayed in the open. I observed pig’s heads laying on some butcher’s tables, intestines strung up along a clothesline, eyeballs and various other animal parts hanging on hooks above the tables.

Thankfully for me, there was a huge variety in fresh fruits! I purchased a bag of freshly sliced pineapple from a local woman for only 10 pesos (less than $1 CAD).

There were lots of fruits and vegetables that I had never seen before, native to Mexico, such as jicama, chaya, chayote, guava, and others. I love visiting markets when I travel, where everything is grown locally and is likely organic.

I love how open markets like this one are the primary place where the locals purchase their daily goods. It is neat that you are able to chat with and know the individual(s) who grew or raised your food. You just don’t get this type of exchange or connection with your food if you shop in a grocery store. It brings people together; meeting those who made your food and also meeting your neighbours and family members there.

Relax at the main square, also known as the Zocalo or Plaza Principal (Francisco Canton Rosado Parque):

The Plaza Principal is a great place to relax and immerse yourself in the local culture and language during the day and experience its vibrancy and local activity in the evenings. The streets surrounding the main square are often closed in the late evening while there are dance and musical performances.

Located between Calles 39 to 41 and 40 to 42. This is the main park and central plaza, located in the centre of Valladolid, surrounded by historic and colonial style buildings as well as the gorgeous San Gervasio Cathedral on the south side.

All authentic Mexican towns and cities have a central square and park, where all of the activity happens. Locals gather here in the evenings to meet up with friends and family, relax on the benches, eat ice cream, and chat with one another.

The streets form a grid-like pattern around the central park, with odd numbers in increments of two going north to south and even numbers in increments of two going east to west.

The park is beautiful and there are lots of seating options in the form of white benches and lover’s chairs (two chairs joined together and facing each other). Vendors selling souvenirs, ice cream and Mexican snacks can be found along the paths throughout the park. There is a giant fountain in the centre of the park, with a statue of a woman in the middle of it. The park is relaxing and peaceful during the daytime and is a great place to observe the daily lives of the locals and absorb the Mayan culture. I visited multiple times during my time in Valladolid.

In the evenings, the main square transforms into a vibrant and bustling place filled with activity, as the locals gather to socialize, and shop and eat from some of the many vendors located around the park. There are often local music and dance performances held here in the late evenings (around 9 PM), which are fascinating to watch and are a great way to participate in the local culture.

There are a lot of birds that live in the trees in the park, and they can get very noisy at times! Cover your head when they fly by so you don’t get pooped on.

The only downside to the park was the fleet of big tour buses full of tourists, that would roll in from the Cancun coast beach resorts stopping briefly in Valladolid, either on their way to or from Chichen Itza. The park got really busy around midday with the influx of people but it calmed down again after a couple of hours.

Check out my post about the culture in the Yucatan, to read my story about attending the closing campaign for a local political candidate!

Go for a Swim at Cenotes Xkeken and Samula:

Cenotes Xkeken and Samula are fantastic places to go for a refreshing swim!

Located approximately 7 km south of Valladolid, near the village of Dzitnup. These cenotes are located across the road from each other and can be easily accessed by bicycle or taxi from Valladolid. Both cenotes are completely underground, with only a small opening at the ground level for the sun to shine through and tree roots to reach down to the water below.

I wrote about them in more detail in my Cenotes of Valladolid post.

Cenote Samula

Relax at Candelaria Park and Wander the Local Neighbourhood:

Located at Calle 44 and 35. This is a beautiful park and plaza, with trees, benches, lover’s chairs, cafes and ice cream shops surrounding the park. There is also a gorgeous red church across the street from the park. The park exudes a calm and peaceful atmosphere, and there are always locals sleeping or relaxing on the park benches and chatting with one another. The residential neighbourhood surrounding the park, is also lovely. I enjoyed taking morning walks throughout the neighborhood streets and exploring more of the city.

Admire Catedral de San Gervasio:

Located on Calle 39 between 40 and 42, across the street from Francisco Canton Parque on the south side of the park. This cathedral overlooks the central park and is a beautiful church with detailed architecture.

The cathedral still holds daily services, which are open for anyone to attend. It is beautifully lit up in the evenings and at night and there are often Mexican weddings taking place in the evenings here (when it’s cooler outside).

My friends and I watched a wedding here, while waiting for one of the evening performances at the park to begin.

Make sure to take a look inside the cathedral as well. The ceiling and statues are stunning.

Visit the Small Towns near Valladolid: 

There are many authentic and traditional Mayan towns and villages located within bicycle riding or taxi distance from Valladolid. I did not have the time to explore these villages during my most recent solo trip, however, I plan to visit them next time I am in Mexico. Hostel La Candelaria provides you with a bicycle route map to visit these towns. They also rent bikes for 80 pesos per day.

Some of the villages surrounding Valladolid include: Temozon, Chichimila, Dzitnup, Xocen, Tekom, Xcalaj and others.

Spend the afternoon at Cenote Oxman and San Lorenzo Hacienda: 

Located about 4 km south of Valladolid, this off the beaten path cenote was my absolute favourite that I visited during my solo travels. It is easy to get to via bicycle (you can rent from a bike shop in Valladolid or from Hostel La Candelaria) or taxi. There is a rope swing that you can use to swing across the water and jump into the cenote. It was so much fun! My group and I were the only people at the cenote during our visit, which created a tranquil and magical atmosphere.

The hacienda property where the cenote is located, has a large swimming pool, complete with lounge chairs and a bar. Access to the pool is included in the price of admission to the cenote. I ended up spending the entire afternoon swimming at the cenote and lounging by the pool with a Mexican beer! It was so relaxing.

I wrote about more in detail in my Cenotes of Valladolid post.

Visit the Coba Ruins: 

Located approximately an hour from Valladolid, the Coba ruins are a great Mayan ruin to explore. They are not super touristy and definitely farther off the beaten path than Chichen Itza and the Tulum Ruins. You can get there by first or second class ADO bus from Valladolid or Tulum.

Since the ruins are spread out in the jungle, it is a good idea to rent bicycles for 40 pesos at the entrance. The entrance fee for the ruins is 65 pesos. You are able to climb and touch all of the structures and the view from the top of the Nohoch Mul (the main pyramid) is absolutely stunning!

The village of Coba is also very interesting to wander around and explore. There are some authentic restaurants that serve delicious traditional Yucatecan cuisine in the parking lot of the ruins as well as further down the road along the lagoon, at the corner where the bus stop is.

Spend a half-day visiting the Ek Balam Ruins and Cenote X’Canche: 

The Ek Balam ruins are located approximately 20 minutes north of Valladolid. You can get there via colectivo taxi from Valladolid. These were my favourite Mayan ruins that I toured during my first solo trip to Mexico. The ruins and cenote are definitely off the beaten path, and at times during my visit, my group and I were the only ones there. The atmosphere is peaceful, magical and relaxing. You can climb and touch all of the structures and there are rooms inside of the ruins that you can enter! I recommend climbing the main pyramid at Ek Balam, and the view from the top is breathtaking. The ruins and the cenote are surrounded by unspoiled natural beauty and dense jungle, which I loved.

The entrance to Cenote X’Canche is located down a gravel path from the entrance of Ek Balam. Swimming in the cenote is a perfect way to cool off after climbing the ruins!

I wrote more about these ruins and the cenote in my posts titled The Ruins of Ek Balam and Cenotes of Valladolid.

Cenote Xcanche

The suspension bridge and wooden boardwalk around the interior of the cenote

Gorgeous structures at Ek Balam

The view of the other pyramids from the top of Ek Balam's main pyramid

Spend the morning at Chichen Itza: 

Chichen Itza is located about 45 minutes west of Valladolid, near the town of Piste. You can get there via colectivo or second-class ADO bus from Valladolid. It is a magnificent ruins site, with many impressive structures to explore. Unfortunately, you are unable to climb or touch the ruins. I recommend visiting early in the morning when the site opens at 8 AM, in order to beat the heat and the crowds.

You can read more about Chichen Itza on my post titled Ruins of Chichen Itza.

Intricate details on this structure at Chichen Itza

Beautiful detailed carvings at Chichen Itza

The gorgeous El Castillo at Chichen Itza

Have you traveled to Valladolid? What did you love about this city? Any suggestions for things to do that are not on my list? 

Valladolid

I absolutely LOVE Valladolid (pronounced “v-eye-ah-dough-leed”) and plan to spend a few weeks there during our 3-month trip to the Yucatan next year. The city is located halfway between Cancun and Merida on a new highway. I found this amazing article about the city and wanted to post it and give you a feel for this small city that captured my heart. The friends there were AMAZING. There is no English congregation there, only Spanish and maybe Mayan. Sounds like a good reason to increase my proficiency 🙂

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This article can be found at http://www.yucatanliving.com/valladolid-living/valladolid-sultaness-of-the-east

Next to Merida, the largest and most famous colonial city on the Yucatan Peninsula is Valladolid. Both cities are named after cities in Spain. Valladolid in Spain has the distinction of being, among other things, the place where Christopher Columbus died. In the Yucatan, Valladolid was established by another famous conquistador, Francisco de Montejo, like Merida, in 1543, the year after he established the city of Merida.

Long ago Valladolid was given the nickname of the Sultaness of the East, indicating its function as the business center of the Eastern Peninsula. But it seems to have always been number three, behind Merida (number one) and Campeche (number two) in the hit parade of colonial cities here. When we first moved to Merida, lo these many years ago now, we traveled to Valladolid on the way to somewhere. On the way to Tulum, or on the way back from Cancun or Playa del Carmen. We would stop by and have a delicious lunch around the patio at the Méson del Marqués Hotel, look around the zocalo and not find much, and then move on. Valladolid didn’t feel like a destination in our minds, especially compared to the places we were going to or coming from. Cancun, Campeche, Playa del Carmen, Merida… they have all seen an influx of government money for sprucing things up over the past few years, building hotels or renovating colonial facades and making the centro historico more attractive to tourists. Finally, about 2009 or so, it was Valladolid’s turn.

Why Valladolid?
So what makes Valladolid interesting? First, there is a lot of history here. The very first city in Mexico called Valladolid had its named changed to Morelia in Michoacan. The next settlement called Valladolid was set up near its current location in a place filled with mosquitoes and humidity (in the Yucatan? no, really?) and after protests from the early Spanish settlers, was moved to where it now stands.

 
Of course, the current location was then a Mayan settlement, and the fact that the Spaniards tore down the settlement (which probably included a sacred site or ten) and used the stones to build their colonial town just encouraged the local Mayan population to revolt, which had to be “put down” (according to Wikipedia). This should have been an indication to the Spaniards of the nature of the Mayans in this locale, but apparently it was not.

 
They were reminded again, however, when the Caste War broke out near Valladolid sometime in the early 1840’s. The spark that ignited the fire of the Caste War was the execution of three Mayans over land disputes, a consistent problem between conquering Spaniards and the Mayans whose party they insisted on crashing. At one point during the Caste War, Valladolid was completely under Mayan rule, with every Spaniard and Criollo (Mexican-born Spaniards) either fleeing to Merida or dead in the process. Eventually, after Merida stumbled into victory over the Mayans that had surrounded the city, Valladolid came back under colonial rule but it never quite regained its previous economic or cultural importance… until now.

 

The last time we visited Valladolid, we had a distinctly different experience and impression of this mysterious Sultaness. Dare we say it? Valladolid is starting to seem almost hip.
First of all, there’s the zocalo itself. Once a completely sleepy place, with a few huipile-clad women selling huipiles, it now seems to be bustling and humming every time we’re there. Yes, the same ladies are selling huipiles, but they are selling other locally-made products too, including Barbie-doll huipiles (how hip is that?), and doilies made of the same beautiful embroidered flowers that you see on huipiles. We always pick up a few of those, as they make great drink coasters. And Working Gringa was quite thrilled with a woven sisal purse she picked up at our last visit for only 70 pesos (a little more than $6 US).

 
On the main plaza now there’s the Maya Cafe, an espresso bar to the left of the Maria de la Luz Hotel/Restaurant which serves a great capuccino and is owned by a Merida/Valladolid couple. Yalat, the gift shop on the corner near the Meson de Marques, is owned by a member of the famous Barbachano family (Miguel Barbachano was the first governor of Yucatan), as is the dress shop and coffee bar directly opposite the Meson, named La Cantina Restaurante Bar. In La Cantina, we were drawn to the locally-made Surya jams and other concoctions (we bought the Mermelada de Mango con Chile) that we found rather high-priced, but uniquely tasty (they would make great gifts…). What clinched the deal was the label, claiming the jam was “Made with backyard mangoes from the Mayan Villages of Yucatan”. Que chido!

 
What we discovered is that there is more going on in Valladolid than immediately meets the eye.

 
From Vogue to Valladolid

On one of our last visits, we met up with Nicolas Malleville and his lovely partner, Francesca. Now what, you might ask, is a world-class male fashion model doing in Valladolid, other than passing through? As it turns out, quite a bit. Years ago, Nicolas bought a colonial building on the beautiful street that runs diagonally from the zocalo area to the San Bernardino Monastery, the Calle de Los Frailes (Street of the Friars). At the same time, he bought a beachfront lot in Tulum and a plot of land near Coba. And then he proceded to create a little empire of seductive beauty, which he has also expanded to Merida.

Coqui Coqui (a nickname he picked up somewhere along the way and then bestowed upon his endeavors which also happens to be the name of a Puerto Rican frog) is a four-location web of experience designed for the rich, the famous and the inquisitive. Coqui Coqui in Tulum is an intimate beachfront hotel with a few luxurious rooms, a tiny spa and a beach. Oh, and an uninterrupted view of the Caribbean. In Coba, Nicolas built a destination small hotel with seven rooms, each one with a unique theme. And in Valladolid, he has created the Coqui Coqui perfumery and spa (on the Calle de Los Frailes). The front room where they sell the perfume is dominated by a huge dark wood bookshelf, displaying the Coqui Coqui perfumes that Nicolas produces in Valladolid. In the rooms in the back, the spa is exquisitely decorated and appointed. We didn’t indulge in a treatment when we were there, but we did see a room where indulgence was encouraged, complete with a clawfoot bathtub, elegant mirrors, candles and fluffy towels, accompanied by the Coqui Coqui scents. We had to pinch ourselves to remember we weren’t in Paris. (Well, just stepping outside into the heat helped too…). While he may not be terrifically organized and while flying to photo shoots around the world might make it a bit hard to run his Yucatan empire, Nicolas is an expert at the art of creating caché, and nowhere is this more evident than at his ventures in and around Valladolid. We highly recommend a visit, and if you’re like us, you’ll be hard pressed to resist a perfume purchase at the very least.

Casa de Los Venados

On our next visit to Valladolid, we spent the afternoon with John and Dorianne Venator (pronounced like “senator” but with a “V”). This couple spends most of the year in Chicago, where John works (as of 2008) as the president and CEO of the CompTIA Educational Foundation, an industry trade association. He and Dorianne have long been fans of Mexican folk art, and a few years ago, set about looking for a home in Mexico. They originally considered Oaxaca, but decided that building in Oaxaca was going to be too much trouble. They had a condo in Cancun, John knew Puebla from living there during college and they had spent time in Merida as well. But nothing had fallen into place for them. One day, they happened to drive into Valladolid, looked at some houses there for sale, and fell in love (you can read the entire story here).

 
They eventually purchased an old colonial just off the main square which they have named Casa de Los Venados (House of the Deer), a name that relates to their surname and is a tribute to the deer which are a revered animal in the state of Yucatan. They maintained the historically-protected facade, but inside they constructed a massive and modern 18,000 square foot compound… sort of a house-cum-private-hotel that serves as a place to entertain friends and visiting dignitaries, and as a museum for their massive collection of Mexican folk art. Their art collection, by the way, rivals the folk art in the Museo de Arte Popular in Merida (they are big supporters…).

 
When we visited, the Venators graciously showed us around, pointing out magnificent paintings, sculptures, carved furniture, pots and more. Many of the pieces of art and craft that were created for the house and feature deer, as befits the name. The entrance to the house alone is awe-inspiring: a colorful and playful 11 by 17 foot framed high relief, ceramic mural, commissioned from Luis and Jorge Valencia of Oaxaca, depicting a Mayan village scene. This ceramic mural was created in Oaxaca and then shipped and installed in the entrance to Casa de Los Venados… and it is spectacular (what you see in the photo to the left is just a detail). The Venators took us through all the rooms of the huge house, explaining that what we saw was just a fraction of their collection. All we can say is wow…

 
The Venators could be the gringo Medicis of Valladolid, although their reach is far beyond the city limits. They are serious art collectors, both in Mexico and in Chicago, whose collecting adds support to many Mexican artists. Their hard-won philosophy of life is that there are two ultimate luxuries in life: Time and Space. They have created a luxurious space in Valladolid, which may someday include an art museum open to the public, as well as a space suitable for public events. And they hope soon to create more time to spend in their chosen city of Valladolid. Not only do they love the peace and tranquility that Valladolid has made available to them, but they have given back quite a bit to the city in the way of jobs and financial investment. They have made friends with everyone in government there, calling the mayor and other important personages their friends. Their quest for art continues, and we hope in the future, their vast art collection will be available for Valladolid visitors and residents to see and enjoy.

 

The Future of Valladolid

The Venators are Valladolid ambassadors among the English-speaking community here and wherever they go. They are big believers in the future of Valladolid, and we got the feeling that we weren’t the first people they had squired around town, pointing out the highlights. We had a lovely lunch at the Méson del Marqués Hotel (does *everybody* eat there? it seems to be the case…), including guacamole fixed fresh at the table (we highly recommend it!). After lunch, the Venators drove us around a bit.We visited Casa Quetzal, a small hotel just off the very spacious park in front of the San Bernardino Monastery, as well as the ever-popular Casa Hamaca, just a few blocks from the main square.

Nicolas Malleville, Larsen and the Venators are just two examples of the growing group of expats who are choosing to make Valladolid home. Others we have met include Lucie Levine, a transplant from California who is renovating a home in the Candelaria district. Lucie specializes in community educational projects involving solar energy, compost toilets and other accoutrements of sustainable living. The Candelaria district is also home to a few Italian expats who have opened Casa Itali, an Italian restaurant featuring authentic brick oven pizza, fresh pasta, caffe espresso Illy, and authentic capuccinos. And of course there is Denis Larsen, who runs Casa Hamaca, a B&B that is also a center for alternative healing, including his famous hammock massages. We’ve read that Valladolid is already visited by one million tourists per year, and that this number is growing. And of course, Valladolid has now been designated a Pueblo Magico, making it a target of funds from the federal government for preservation and promotion.

 
Expats and Mexicans alike are beginning to appreciate what Valladolid has to offer. The Mexican government is pouring money into Valladolid, recognizing it as the closest colonial city to the hyper-tourist region of the Mayan Riviera. And it’s exactly halfway (approximately 160 kilometers) between Cancun and Merida, making it the perfect stopover for travelers between the two cities. It’s not far off the carretera, and now the entrance to the city is clearly marked. (By the way, if you are a car buff, as you are entering Valladolid, be sure to stop at the Hacienda Sanchez on your left… they have an antique automobile museum that is quite interesting!) We are of the opinion that Valladolid’s fame and fortune is just beginning… and apparently we’re not alone in that opinion.

 
Grupo Plan has constructed Valladolid’s first shopping center, called Plaza Bella. Anchored with a Chedraui grocery store and Cines Hollywood movie theatres, the shopping mall also contains Italian Coffee, Burger King, Telcel stores, Big Home and various smaller stores, which opened in January 2009. Also planned for the coming years in other locations are a Bodega Aurrera (WalMart’s grocery store that caters to Mexican tastes) and Soriana (another large grocery chain). A new state hospital has been built that holds 62 beds, 2 operating rooms and a heliport. The city has been named the Honey Capital of the World, as noted by Yucatan Living in one of our weekly news reports, and there is a plaque on Santa Lucia Ave. saying so. And if the Gobernadora’s Super Fast Train between Cancun and Progreso ever becomes reality, Valladolid will be a stop along the way.

 
Mysterious Sultaness

Valladolid… in a few short years, it has grown from a historic but sleepy colonial town into a major jewel in the crown of colonial cities in the Yucatan. We haven’t even mentioned that Valladolid is just 15 short kilometers from Uayma, one of our favorite Yucatan destinations. And we haven’t even touched on the cenotes within walking distance of the zocalo, the great food that Valladolid is known for, or the other neighborhoods and activities going on around the city.

As the Sultaness of the East, Valladolid keeps a little mystery about her. She seems to be a normal, colonial town, just basking in the Yucatecan sun. She tempts, she teases, she hides beyond a veil of sleepy anonymity. Don’t be fooled into thinking there is nothing there!