The ruins at Ek Balam, near Valladolid, Yucatan


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Page 1: Valladolid, Yucatan, January 18 - 22

This is an account of our bicycle tour in the Yucatan and Chiapas in 2011, followed by some additional travel — not by bike — in Oaxaca and Chiapas, and on Isla Mujeres. We got off to a shaky start. We departed from Boston's Logan Airport on January 17, bound for Cancun, but the first leg of our flight, to Miami, was cancelled with no explanation. We were rerouted to JFK, arriving in Cancun much later than we'd planned. Buses had stopped running, so we had to pay extra for a shuttle to reach our hostel.

The shuttle drove us through the hotel zone along the beach, and though it was night, we could see quite a lot. What we saw, we didn't like at all. It made us think of Las Vegas, though we've never been there and don't want to go!

Our hostel in Cancun, Mundo Joven (above) was friendly and quite modern, with a roof-top plunge pool, communal kitchen, bar, and hammock area. The staff was friendly, everything was clean, and the included breakfast was good. As advertised, the hostel was close to the bus station, so at 11 a.m. we were on our way to Valladolid, about a 2 1/2 hour ride.

We like the hostal where we are staying in Valladolid (below). In fact, it reminds us of why we usually prefer staying in hostels to hotels or motels. It's the people. Here, for example, there has been a great mix of ages, and the guests we've met have been from Spain, France, Belgium, Sweden, Canada, Holland, and Japan. We've seen only two other Americans the entire five nights we've been here.


Above left is the hostel from outside (on a small park) and above, right, is the outdoor, communal kitchen.

The staircase at right went to our room. Barbara liked the cheerily painted steps and the plants. Throughout the gardens of Hostal la Calendaria, there were more little touches that showed the care and creativity of the couple who run it.

When we unpacked the bikes there was trouble! One of the suitcases had been seriously smashed and one of the bikes was damaged. A front fork dropout was bent, and a bearing cartridge had been driven part way out of the hub. It took force, and a hammer, to set things right, and it took all day.

After a great deal of fussing, the bikes were fit to be ridden — first just a few kilometers around town.

Then, on Thursday the 21st, we enjoyed our first real ride. We passed through the small town of Temozon (left) on the way to the Mayan ruins of Ek Balam (below). Ek Balam was fairly quiet and quite beautiful, though not on the scale of Palenque.



The large pyramid, left above, is partly covered by palapa roofs that protect the extraordinarily well-preserved statues and frescos (right above) that are a highlight of Ek Balam

Adjoining Ek Balaam, there is a cenote — a limestone sinkhole (ugly word) that is wonderful for swimming. We visited, of course, and enjoyed it very much. On the right, Barbara is riding down the 2-kilometer dirt lane on the way to the cenote — our very first experience off pavement on our new and rather tricky bikes.


Cenotes are a big subject in themselves. As we understand it, there are few lakes or rivers in much of the Yucatan, but there is a fairly abundant supply of subsurface water in limestone caves and underground rivers. An underground pool is a cenote - though sometimes the roof collapses, and the cenote is open to the sky (which we prefer.) Below left is the cenote at Ed Balam. Below right is a the cenote called Samula, just a few kilometers from Valladolid. We cycled there on Friday, with Henrick, a young Swedish guy. It was the underground type of cenote that we like less, but it was still a fun and cooling experience. The long tree roots hang through a hole in the cavern's roof, reaching all the way down to the water.

Today, Saturday the 22nd, is our last day in Valladolid. We had an appointment to visit Casa de los Venados this morning.. It is a truly remarkable place, a 400-year-old mansion beautifully restored and modernized by an American collector of Mexican handicrafts. He and his wife have turned this incredible home into a museum of fine, traditional handicrafts and art, and tours are offered. The home is also available for upscale dinners and meetings. (Last night, the governor of Yucatan was there with 100 dinner guests.) We have read that it may be the best collection of traditional crafts in the country, and the house itself has won national and international architectural awards.


John Venator (below) tells Barbara about an incredible fresco that extends all the way to the 24-foot ceiling in the entry to Casa de los Venados (right). He often takes guests on personal tours. He uses this remarkable home/museum to earn money which he then gives away to charities that serve the poor, both here in Mexico and in Chicago. I can't write enough about this extraordinary place. Click here to visit another website with more details about Casa de los Venados.


We ended up staying in Valladolid for five days, much longer than we planned, but we're glad that we did. It's a safe, quiet, clean colonial town, a fine place to relax and get organized. Below left, the Church of San Gervasio on the zocalo — central plaza — at the heart of the historic district. Below right, on the zocalo at night.

Coming next: Chichen Itza and on to Merida

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