Friday, February 9, 2024

7 Quick Takes about Mexican Getaways, Being a Tourist (Or Not), and How to Climb a Maya Temple in a Decidedly Undignified Way

It's 7 Quick Takes Friday! This 7QT is coming to you from Mexico, where Phillip and I are taking a belated 20th anniversary trip.

We've stayed in 5 different hotels somce Saturday and have driven all over the Yucatán Peninsula (not really, but we have gone through a few tanks of gas.) And it is everything I hoped it would be.


We flew into Cancun on Saturday, and I was surprised at how many people with babies were in line at customs. Who brings a baby to Cancun? 

But who am I to say what's normal, because who flies into Cancun and immediately drives away from it like we did? 

Yucatan is so flat that even the sky looks bigger out here.


Our first stop was Valladolid, about an hour and a half drive from Cancun. It is an utterly magical city.

First of all, we arrived by complete coincidence during the last two days of La Candelaria, which happens all over Mexico but is a really big deal here because it's celebrating the patron saint of Valladolid.  

There was non-stop singing coming from this church, right next to our hotel. Beautiful.

There was dancing in the square the first night, and on the second night they sent off floating lanterns and fireworks (we thought it was ironic that they aren't even legal in our state, but here a guy was lighting them off from his bare hands while a police officer watched him.)

The second great thing about Valladolid was that everywhere we went, 95% of the people were locals. We were, for example, the only white people dancing in the square (Phillip, who is at least a foot taller than all the locals, was painfully aware that we didn't exactly blend in). Everything was in Spanish, and most everyone spoke Spanish to us. I didn't want to be stuck in a resort being a tourist, so this was exactly what I wanted. 

I loved the narrow sidewalks, the cobblestone streets in various stages of upkeep, the motorcycles zipping between the cars (a common arrangement was dad driving with mom in the back and a baby/toddler sandwiched between them), the colorful charming buildings nestled between crumbling shacks that are also somehow charming, and all the wrought iron gates. Between the pretty town square and the white-costumed dancers in the street and the yummy food, I could come here again and again. And I rarely repeat a vacation.

Such a perfect snapshot of Valladolid, right down to the stray dog wandering across the street.

Like every hotel we stayed at on this trip, our Valladolid hotel had an open courtyard in the center. In this climate just about everything can be open to the air, doors and ceiling optional.

One of the nicest places I've ever stayed, costs less than a night at the Super8 back home.


After a few days soaking up Valladolid, we took off for the Maya ruins of Ek- Balam. 

The ruins were great, but being a tourist here isn't my favorite. Ticket sellers and tour guides will straight-up lie to you to get your money ("Oh, that museum? It's closed, come see ours instead") and others will just say anything they think you want to hear, so you really can't believe a word anyone says. 

Once we got inside, though, Ek-Balam was great. It's definitely on the smaller side, but you can climb on and touch everything.

At the top of the smaller temple (forgive my hair, it was windy up there), with the larger temple behind us to the right.

I underestimated how scary it would be to climb the temple's narow, slippery stone steps. When I was a kid I had brain surgery, and because of that I sometimes have trouble with my balance even going down a flight of stairs in my own house. Unfortunately, the ancient Maya did not believe in railings.

A third of the way up the larger temple and as scared as I have been in a while.

I literally crawled up the larger temple and scooted down on my butt like a toddler, but I made it.

Afterward we cooled off at the Hubiku Cenote. Cenotes are giant limestone sinkholes filled with fresh water, and Yucatán has a ton of them. For a fee you can swim in a lot of them.

This cenote was in a cave, the picture taken inside and looking up.

It was cold but wonderfully peaceful floating around and watching the water trickle down from the hole in the ceiling (although I've got a sneaking suspicion they were piping the water up to the top to make a "waterfall," again, just to give the tourists whatever fake experience they wanted.)


We headed north next to the coastal town of Rio Legartos for a beach day, which turned out to be a disaster.

Strong winds had blown the ocean into the streets, quite literally. 

It was so weird to see an unbroken flow of water going from the curb right out to the horizon.

We'd driven over an hour to get to Rio Lagartos, and there was nowhere else to stay unless we wanted to turn around and go right back to where we came from, so we took our suitcases and waded to the hotel holding them over our heads as a Mexican family laughed at us from their balcony across the street. 

The government had shut off the electricity, but at least the hotel staff gave us free chips and guacamole and put on some live music in the dark.

These guys were amazing, it was all local music.

In the morning I was surprised to see that almost all the water was gone, and now that it was light and dry we looked around. The hotel was absolutely gorgeous, even with the seaweed and debris from the night before all over the ground. It's too bad we couldn't stay, but the weather still wasn't great and we had other things to see so it was time to move on.

Restoring the power as we left town. No cherry pickers for the work crew here!

On our way out, we saw a cemetary and had to pull over and take a look. (When the kids were little I often took them on walks through the stroller-friendly paths of the large cemetary across the street, which made Phillip start teasing me about how I loved cemetaries, which made me think about how interesting they teally are, so now I kind of do love cemetaries, which is part of the reason we had to pull over.) 

You guys, I have never been inside of a Mexican cemetary before. It was unlike anything I had ever seen.

All the graves were colorfully tiled above-ground structures with built-in curio cabinets on top for arrangements and decorations.

So I guess it wasn't a wasted trip up to Rio Legartos, after all.


The next place we drove was to Izamal, also called The Yellow City. I'll let you guess why.

Hint: everything is yellow.

This monastery was really interesting. When the Spanish came and Christianized everyone they built it right on top of a Maya temple! The ramps leading up to it are actually Maya stones.

Phillip and I walked around, ate some delicious tacos, and moved on to Mérida.

At first, I wasn't that impressed with Mérida. In contrast to the other Mexican towns we'd visited so far, it felt kind of generic. Like it could have been any big city anywhere. But it grew on me.

Mexican history monument in the center of a big roundabout in Mérida.

The owner of this shop was every bit as interesting to talk to as you would guess.

There are a ton of museums in Mérida, so we checked out a few of them before making our way to Pisté.


Our hotel in Pisté was cute, but there were way too many stray dogs in town and the place where we ate gave us a dish of salsa that we saw them take from another table who had just left, so I could take or leave Pisté, to be honest.

We weren't staying there long anyway, just basically sleeping and having breakfast before going to Chichén Itzá.

This amazing photo was taken by our tour guide.

The tour guide was helpful, but we actually knew a lot of it already because I'd checked out a book on Chichén Itzá from the kids' section of the library. 

(Phillip gives me a hard time for reading children's nonfiction, but come on: it's the perfect level of information. I don't need 400 pages with every fact ever recorded about a subject, I just want a general overview I can read in 15 minutes and get on with life.)

Something I didn't know, though, is how HUGE Chichén Itzá is. It just keeps going and going and going. It took us four and a half hours and Phillip's watch said he met his steps goal by 1:30. And the sad part is that it's so amazing but by the end you're like "hey look, another ruin, I'm hot, let's go." 

But after you've run the A/C in your car for a bit afterward and gotten some water, it really does make you think about civilizations and life.


As I write this, we are back in Valladolid, which is our last stop before driving back to Cancun tomorrow to fly home. (Maybe we'll even try to squeeze in some beach time at acancun first since our excursion to Rio Legartos didn't exactly work out.)

I love this city.

Overall, this has been the most amazing trip with the best traveling companion I could possibly ask for. And I'm not just saying that because Phillip's Spanish is better than mine. (Although it has helped tremendously when ordering tacos and figuring out where to park.)

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