Dateline: Valladolid, Yucatán
It was not without a lump in my throat that I finally left Mérida this morning. Joanna and Jorge bid me good bye, and hoped I’d return, a sentiment I heartily shared. Miraculously, just as I was about to get into the truck, the rest of the family showed up, granddaughter in tow, and I was able to bid everyone good bye. I almost feel like I’ve become part of this wonderful family, and it was hard to go.
Jorge had told me to head out Colón, then right at 50, up to 59. Then straight out of town. I followed the directions, but at one point passed something that looked like an overpass, and thought, “Oops! I’ve missed it.” But I kept on going, figuring that sooner or later at the edge of town I’d have another chance. As it turned out, after several more miles, I hit the highway and headed for Izamal.
My plan was to spend most of the afternoon in Izamal, and then head to Valladolid later. After about an hour on the autopista, I landed in Izamal. Apparently ocher is the color of the year there. Or perhaps color of the millennium. Everything in the center of town is painted alike – ocher, with white trim. The effect is actually quite stunning. And the gods didn’t let me down, either. There was a perfect blue sky flecked with clouds to provide the perfect contrast to the deep yellow-gold of the ocher.
Dominating the center of town, the Convento de San Antonio was built in 1549 by the Franciscan Monks, under the direction of Diego de Landa. And in keeping with his way of running things, the convent sits atop an ancient Mayan ruin known as Pap-Hol-Chac (House of Lightning), from which also came the stones that built the Convento. Pap-Hol-Chac has a base which covers a hectare, and was once one of the largest structures in the Mayan world. The convent has the second-largest enclosed atrium in the world, after St. Peter’s in Rome. I go in and stroll around. The church itself is fairly austere, with no gilding, no frescoes, and only a relatively simple altar and backdrop. There’s a museum at the back, but I tell the lady that I’ll come back later. She fails to tell me that they close for a siesta at 2:00 and won’t reopen until 4:00, so when I come back, it’s closed. But I do find a little shrine outdoors, and get a nice shot.
As I stroll the streets, I can hear the clip-clop of horses’ hooves against an otherwise fairly quiet backdrop. Like Mérida, you can go for a ride in a horse-drawn carriage, but unlike Mérida’s white carriages, Izamal’s carriages are brightly colored and festooned with fake flowers. The effect is quite festive, and against the ocher buildings, visually striking too.
Bicycles are also a key mode of transport in Izamal, and the city boasts a fleet of charmingly worn, old bikes. There’s something about these bikes with their single speeds, worn paint, and sheer simplicity that strikes me as evocative. I learned to ride such a bike, and the sight brings me back to my youth. As with so many things in America, bikes have become things of high-tech wizardry, boasting multiple gears, suspensions, fancy brakes, and all manner of improvements. I’m not sure we haven’t over-complicated things. I really like the old bikes of Izamal. Plain. Functional. And beautiful in their own way.
I love the way the paint on the one below is faded. And some of the color seems to have migrated to the back tire.
The streets, of course, provide a beautiful place to ride such a bike.
And the traffic isn’t bad.
Izamal is also famous for some very large Mayan pyramids. I mentioned the one which now forms the base of the Convento de San Antonio. There are also three or four others. All of them are quite large, though mostly unrestored, and of course over the centuries many have lost stones to other building projects. Though they are interesting and worth seeing, I’m not going to write a lot about them, except to say that Kinich Kak Moo uses some of the largest stones I’ve seen in a Mayan pyramid, and I marvel at how they were placed into position.
By this point, I had eaten lunch, wandered all over town, climbed three pyramids, and it was about four o’clock. Those of you familiar with the Yucatán know what this means. I was too bloody hot to continue. Though I had hoped to take one of the horse-drawn carriages around town, by this point all I could think of was getting into my truck with the air conditioning blasting. I was also mindful that it would take a bit more than an hour to get to Valladolid, where I had a hotel reservation. So I bade Izamal a sweaty good-bye, and headed east to Valladolid.
After having basically felt kind of ripped off by the cuotas in Veracruz, where I paid through the nose to drive on rutted, pot-hole ridden highways, I opted for the libre to Valladolid. “This will be a good dry run,” I said to myself. “Let’s see how bad this can really be.” And as it turns out, it was a mixed experience. Fortunately there wasn’t much traffic, and the road was fairly smooth. But there was about 10 centimeters of shoulder, and lots of little towns filled with that bane of Mexican driving, topes. But all in all, the towns were interesting, and fending off trinket vendors definitely kept me awake.
As I arrived in Valladolid, I was being treated to a magnificent Yucatecan sunset, with dramatic clouds, bits of open sky and a beautiful golden light. I itched to get out and take pictures. Fortunately, check-in at the hotel was speedy, and I was in and out in a flash. With a location right across from the cathedral, I couldn’t have been better sited. I set off down a street and was not disappointed by what I found. The combination of the golden glow of sunset, with the amazing clouds, and the faded paint on the buildings proved irresistible. The first shot of course was the Cathedral.
However the side streets proved equally irresistible.
As I strolled down the street, I met an American Expat who had lived there for fourteen years, sitting on the stoop with a Mexican friend. He had a lovely old colonial house, and was very happy there. He invited me to join him, his wife, and some friends for ice cream and cake later as it was his birthday. But by then, I was too tired to go back. Happy Birthday, Tom! Nice meeting you!
By now it was dusk. I snapped a few more photos, and then called it a day.
As I returned to the plaza, I sat and contemplated my good luck. After a wonderful stay in Mérida, I had had a fabulous day in Izamal and now Valladolid. I know I sound like a broken record, but this trip has been absolutely wonderful each and every day. I am very thankful to have this opportunity. I looked around me. Right across the way were two lovers, locked into a passionate embrace. For me this captured some of the magic I’ve experienced these past few weeks. I couldn’t resist grabbing a shot. And with that, I’ll close this post. Saludos!