A Visit to Valladolid, Colonial Yucatán: Parte Uno

One of the many coloured walls and courtyards in Valladolid, Yucatan.

The elusive Valladolid. A trip here had been put off for various reasons. Guests, work, this, that. Dammit, we'll make it if we have to bring every excuse with us. Finally, the snap decision came and we took a four day trip over last weekend to Valladolid. The room at Hotel Aurora was booked and the bus left at 6:30pm.

6:10pm — Still at my desk. Work is holding me up. Something had to get done and I couldn't and wouldn't have wanted to be off the radar during the 2hr40min bus ride from Playa del Carmen to Valladolid. "Sorry, we're going to have to postpone, even if just another day."

6:12pm — Flying V! Miracles do happen. I could abandon station at my desk. Katy's a girl scout and was at the ready with everything, organized and sitting at the door, waiting. Waiting. I shouted, "We're making moves!" slammed the laptop shut, tossed it in the bag, jumped into my shoes and headed to the front door, "Wait! Beer." 

We threw five Tecates into a cooler bag, hastily over supplied it with ice and ran. 

6:16pm — Waiting near our place for a cab, tapping our feet. There are always cabs, always. There were cabs, but they were all full. Call it dinner rush, high season or just shit luck. Every cab that went by had heads in seats. Four minutes is an eternity when you're this determined to make ground and get out of Dodge on a timer.

6:20pm — A cab! He argues about the rate. We don't care. Take the money you son of a bitch, just drive!

6:26pm — We pull into the ADO bus station and Katy hauls ahead to get the tickets while I pull behind with bags in tow. Run you fool! Despite what ADO's listing said online, the bus to Valladolid is leaving from the other station some 10+ zig-zag blocks away. Mother F—

6:27pm — "Taxi, taxi. Vámonos! Rapido!"

6:31pm — Pulling in, she asks, "Have we missed it?"

"There's a good chance of that," I said, "But go, run, I'll deal with this guy and the bags. Get the tickets."

I can see Katy's at the ticket counter behind a family making sense of some map. I run past the ticket guy, using my pale skin to throw him off with the scent of touristic confusion. Now past security (a loose term), I'm able to stop the driver from getting on the bus and closing the door.

6:32pm — Thank whichever Saint it is that makes this place consistently behind schedule, even if sometimes only slightly. The bus was loaded and the driver was eager to get going, but accommodating. The two of us take our seats, look at each other and without having to say it, she knows I mean, "Beer!"

That's the best a can of cold Tecate will ever taste, if such a thing could be said about Tecate. Five empty and a bus ride down, Valladolid, arrived.

Arriving at Hotel Aurora, Valladolid, Yucatan

What is this place?

Founded in 1543, this little gem of a colonial city is relatively small with a population of roughly 46,000. However, the area included in the population count is 945km², which is far larger than the fifteen square blocks in size that the town feels like.

When you walk around Valladolid you feel like you're in a small town. Some intersections are busy with traffic directors signalling lines of cars left and right, but, others are quiet cobblestone streets. Streets that let you stumble around in the middle without risking the strike of a car, give or take. 

Mercado Municipal

The Municipal Market. An authentic Mexican meat market run by men in butcher aprons, cowboy hats and moustaches. A vegetable market with elderly Mayan women as the main proprietors. Possibly husband and wife on either side of the meat/produce division, tending to their respective talents.

The women organize their vegetables, fruits and spices. Watching as you pass by, pointing out their colourful displays. The men work with cleavers and their hands. Behind them, signs identifying their specialty and name. "Ask for Tony, ask for Luis."

Ruben and Manuel looked to not only be the most applied in their work, but had the best cuts and variety. Luis seems to be your man if you're interested in poultry and abandonment.

Each sign is hand painted and appears to hold sponsorship by Zapaterias Ivan, a shoe store in town. Ivan the entrepreneur, or: Ivan the conglomerate.

Outside of the market is a strip of other small shops, shoemakers and a couple of dated, mini arcades. The market is not a polished star on a map, it's where locals come to get their fixings. This isn't a tourist attraction, although we're clearly tourists and attracted to the sight of butchers and organized chaos. That's the thing about Valladolid at this point in its history. It isn't a tourist attraction. The entire town functions on an economy outside of tourism unlike that of nearby Tulum, Playa del Carmen or Cancun, none of which would likely exist without.

It's a real piece of Mexico, only a short distance inland from the Caribbean coast. A collection of businesses and families otherwise unspoiled by price hikes, taking tourists for what they're worth, hawking wares at passersby and all of the other trappings.

How long can a magical little world like this exist without the tourbus of a visitor's economy finding it? It may not be long. Looks like local tour group and makeshift Disneyland, Xcaret, has already got its sights set. Included in their tours around to local ruins, cenotes and other archeological sites is a lunch stop in Valladolid. The tourbus stops midday out front of a restaurant that, aside from it being a little too polished, you'd otherwise expect to be local. It's an Xcaret manufactured colonial courtyard, and it's the only place like it in a town of authenticity and beauty. Out come the fanny packs and Birkenstocks.

Not that we can say much, we're not locals. We're tourists, just the same as the Tommy Bahamas walking around. Although, something about group travel, timed stops and planted attractions takes the heart out of a place, you know?

Aside from that, at the moment, the rest of the town is yours to wander and feel lost in a different world, even a different time in a way.

More to come...

To shorten the length of each post, I'll end this one here. We have at least one or two more worth of content about dining, drinking, antiquing and general wandering.