Smokey the Beast – 1999 Ford Expedition  

For our trek across the country we outfitted our first generation Ford Expedition.  It’s a 1999 “Expi” 4×4. We are building it for long and harsh road trips, off-roading, and overlanding. Its has just about everything replaced from the engine to all the suspension. Lots of accessories have been added including a dual battery system, winch, roof basket, LED light bars and much more.

Spying Out Ferrara, Italy

We will be doing need greater work in this area in the fall. Just wanted to document some sights to see and things to do while we are there.

 

 

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Location of Ferrara in Italy

The following was written by the blogger at Gracia’s Travels. See link at bottom of page.

 

Ferrara was another day trip from Bologna.  It’s a larger city and the Old Town sites here are more spread out than in Ravenna.  And as the old saying goes … timing is everything.  Several sites were closed when their signs said they were open, and some sites had limited hours.  So, we walked quite a bit farther and had to do some backtracking.

Castello Estense, built in 1385, is in the center of town.

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Much of the castle is now used as government offices but the royal suites are open to visitors.  The rooms are empty but the ceilings make up for that.

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The orangery overlooked the moat and a market that was set up in front of a castle entrance.

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A pleasant walk from the castle brought us to Palazzo Schifanoia, built in 1385.  Frescos from 1470 depict the months, seasons and signs of the zodiac.

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Our guide book noted that these frescos are unusually unreligious in tone and the only ones of their type in Italy.  One room had this ornate ceiling.

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We walked down Via Volte through what was once the Jewish ghetto (1627 –1859).

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As in other Ghettos, because so many people were packed into a small area, residents added more space by adding rooms that span the narrow lanes.

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DSC02232 C Piazza Cattedrale

We made our way back to the center of town to the Piazza Cathedral…

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and went into the 12th century Duomo.

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The Cathedral faces Palazzo Municipal which is linked to the castle. It was the home of the Este family until they built the castle and moved next door.

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The 15th century Palazzo dei Diamanti was starred in our guide book so we walked north a 1/2 mile to find it closed, although the sign said it should be open.   It houses an art museum which would have been interesting but at least we could see how the building got its name … the façade is covered with spiky diamond shaped stones.

DSC02242 C Palazzo dei Diamanti

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The photos are deceptive.  It’s a very large building.  Notice Will in the doorway.

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There was a pretty park across the street.

On our walk back to the train station we passed through a part of the old city walls.

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DSC02279 C    There is a lot to see in Ferrara.

We would have run out of time if all the sites had been open.

Next stop, Venice.

 

See this post on their blog at https://graciamc.wordpress.com/2015/03/01/a-day-in-ferrara-italy/

 

 

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Ferrara is in the Emilia Romagna Region

San Cristobal de Las Casas, MEX

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 to Valladolid.

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Location of San Cristobal de Las Casas

 

 

 

The following is a blog post on San Cristobal written by goats on the road. Their link is at the bottom of the page:

Our bodies slid from left to right, from one side of our seat to the other, as our bus driver took the seemingly endless hair-pin turns at full speed. Trying to fight off the inevitable nausea and motion sickness was the ultimate goal of this 5 hour journey from Palenque to San Cristobal de las Casas (San Cristobal), which took us from a mere 60m to an altitude of 2,200m and into the mountainous, rugged hills of the Chiapas State. With each ascending, winding turn, the scenery changed and so did the climate. The tropical air, palm trees and thick humidity soon dissipated and we embraced the cool air and familiar pine trees.

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Pine trees in San Cristobal (by Leo via Wiki Commons)

San Cristobal is located in Chiapas, the Southernmost State of Mexico. Set in a small valley surrounded by pine-forest highlands, this charming colonial city is the perfect place for exploring. This State has the second largest indigenous population in the country and surrounding San Cristobal are dozens of Tzotzil and Tzeltal villages, just a short bus ride away. With many pedestrian-only streets, narrow cobblestone lanes and numerous towering churches and cathedrals, this is a great place to stay a while.

Nature & Landscapes

The first thing we noticed when arriving in the city were the mountains. We had become so accustomed to the flat terrain of the Yucatan area, so it was a breath of fresh air (literally) to be surrounded by such wild nature. We had read about the San Cristobal Church and the Guadalupe Church, each set at opposite ends of the city and were really looking forward to visiting them. The only catch was that we had to hike up many uneven steps to reach these sights. We made our way slowly up the steep rock-cut stairs, taking our time not only to rest, but to enjoy the unbelievable views over the city down below and the surrounding mountains.

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Views over San Cristobal de las Casas city

The churches were beautiful and there were only a couple of people around. We sat and enjoyed the serenity and peace at these viewpoints before slowly venturing back to the maze of streets and speeding cars in the city below.

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Views from Guadalupe Church

Although nature and mountains can be seen while staying in the city, there are many natural sights just outside of San Cristobal as well. The towering Misol Ha waterfall, Sumidero Canyon and the cascading waterfalls of Agua Azul are all great day trips from the city. We visited the Sumidero Canyon, but we’re saving that story for another time…

The Coffee & Cafe Culture

There seems to be a growing cafe culture in this city, which gives it a bit of a European feel. Tourists and locals alike spend hours a day enjoying a cup of Chiapas’ finest beans. Producing 4 million sacks of coffee each year, Mexico ranks 5th in the world behind the likes of Colombia and Brazil. We would spend our mornings lazily sipping on a freshly pressed cup of coffee while planning out our day. During the evenings we would wander by different cafes and be enticed inside by the strong waft of coffee beans and vibrant live music.

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Nick under the umbrella – A beautiful area to enjoy a cup of coffee

Churches, Convents & Plazas

While exploring the city, we stumbled upon many pastel coloured, historic churches, convents and plazas. Some we planned to visit, others we were pleasantly surprised by as we rounded the street corner.

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Beautiful Templo de Santo Domingo, one of the many gorgeous churches here

We were even lucky enough to witness some traditional dancing at the main square, which was truly a treat.

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Traditional dancing in the plaza

The Plaza 31 de Marzo, Templo de Santo Domingo and Church of Santiago were highlights for us. As far as walkable cities go, San Cristobal is one of the best! With many pedestrian-only streets, sauntering around this city while gazing up at the architecture and mountainous backdrop was an enjoyable experience.

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Plaza 31 de Marzo and the surrounding areas are great for walking and people watching

Markets & Food

One of the things that we really enjoy when travelling is visiting the local markets. The hustle and bustle of the vendors setting up their goods, people bartering for products and the overall vibe makes for an authentic and exciting experience. We explored the Municipal Market not only for pure enjoyment, but also with a purpose. We were on a mission to purchase local produce for dinner. We browsed, sniffed and felt the fresh fruits and vegetables before deciding on some we liked. The market was hectic, loud and a lot of fun to visit.

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Selling chickens and roosters in the Municipal Market

The candy and crafts market near the San Francisco Church was also a highlight. Here we wandered through the many aisles of sweets and textiles and even got lost in the maze of shops a few times.

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Yum!

Not only are there food markets in San Cristobal, there are many art and textile markets as well. The indigenous people of Chiapas are known for their fantastic weaving skills; colourful blankets, scarves and clothing can be found for sale all over the city. We explored the daily, tented crafts market near the Templo de la Caridad where bohemian travellers and local Chamulan women sell everything from bracelets to leather bags. Even though we weren’t there to purchase anything, it was a colourful and lively place to wander through.

Blinded By The Beauty…

Many people come to San Cristobal for a couple of days and are blinded by the bright churches, lively squares and colourful traditional clothing that is worn by the local people. It’s easy to come here as a tourist and only see the surface charm. But as each day went by in this city, we began to notice certain things. We learned more about the ill-treatment of the indigenous people and the high levels of poverty that this state is plagued with.

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Bright Church of Santa Lucia

As far as natural resources are concerned, Chiapas is the richest State in Mexico, yet economically it is the poorest. An astonishing 70% of people live below the poverty line. There is an embarrassing lack of resources for the inhabitants here (mainly the peasants, farmers and indigenous people). According to Wikipedia and the Edinburgh Chiapas Solidarity Group, 18 out of every 100 people 15 years or older cannot read or write. Only 38% of homes have clean drinking water, 15% have drainage systems and less than 30% have access to electricity or gas.

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Women from nearby villages come to the city to sell their goods to tourists (Photo by: Wolfgang Sauber)

There have been uprisings and rebellions against the Mexican Government in the past, with the most famous being the Zapatista uprising of 1994, which took place on the day when the North American Free Trade Agreement came into effect. The Zapatistas fought (and still fight) for autonomy of the State of Chiapas, support of indigenous people, public health, women’s rights and more.

Final Thoughts

Despite the in-your-face poverty and repeatedly saying “no, gracias” to 3-year-old children trying to sell us bracelets and blankets, we really did enjoy our time here. We weren’t ignoring the issues of Chiapas, but we’ve travelled to many 3rd world countries in the past and have experienced this type of poverty before. We chose to help where we could and to enjoy the city for all of the positive things it has to offer tourists.

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Enjoying the beautiful city of San Cristobal with some freshly made ice cream!

On the surface, San Cristobal is the perfect retreat for the weary traveller, and to the naked eye, this is a city full of stunning sights, historic wonder, affordable textiles and gorgeous landscapes. But dare to dig a little deeper and you’ll find a culture and history that is as windy and bumpy as the bus ride that gets you here.

You can read their blog here http://www.goatsontheroad.com/san-cristobal-de-las-casas-mexico-revealing-sides-cool-colonial-city/

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!