Thursday, August 23, 2007

Valladolid, Uayma and Ek Balam

Jane and I began this three day bicycle excursion from Mérida with a two and a half hour bus ride to Valladolid stowing our bicycles below in the cargo hold while we luxuriated in the cool air conditioned comfort aboard the first class ADO bus, (Autobuses de Oriente).
We are not strangers to this third largest town in Yucatán and have stayed in every hotel around the central park or zócalo at various times over the years.
We began our visits here nearly a quarter of a century ago when we first arrived aboard the narrow gauge railroad train which has been out of service over twenty years now.
Our favorite was the Hotel El Meson del Marques made famous by President Jimmy Carter who was a frequent visitor and we have even stayed in his favorite room.
This year was going to be different because as Jane and I bicycled around Valladolid’s downtown on our orientation and fact finding tour we were shocked to see that in front of the government palace a huge stage with speaker baffles two meters high were just being put in place for the carnival festivities the next two nights.
(We always travel around Yucatán equipped with our 33db German ear plugs but we knew that they would be no match for the ear-splitting noise of Carnival.)
Our first order of business was lunch which we found at a little restaurant adjacent to the municipal market four blocks east of the central plaza. Two salbutes and a glass of horchata each satisfied our hunger. Our next order of business was a quiet hotel.

This old colonial city of Valladolid was founded just 18 months after Mérida by Francisco de Montejo’s nephew in 1543 and was the last eastern outpost of Spanish influence on the Yucatán peninsula.
Here is a brief time-line of Spanish incursion into this part of the world;
In 1513 Juan Ponce de Leon, the then governor of Puerto Rico, had a pilot and navigator named Anton de Alaminos who apprenticed under Christopher Columbus on his second voyage in 1494 and became an experienced pilot for the Caribbean Islands.
Ponce took a seven month long voyage of conquest discovering Florida and was the first Spaniard to lay eyes on the Yucatán.
Alaminos later served as pilot for Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba in 1517 and for Juan de Grijalva in 1518. Later he sails with Hernan Cortes in 1519 in their exploration and conquest of Mexico City and the plunder of the Aztec empire.
Well, as you can see that in a very few short years the Spanish driven by fiendish inquisition religious zeal not only landed in Yucatán but had overpowered and enslaved the remaining indigenous forcing them to pull down their elegant temples and build Catholic churches in their place.
By 1557 the Spanish conquistadors had already destroyed 16 colossal Mayan pyramids and in Yucatán alone and from their ruins constructed that many cathedrals and monasteries.
The destruction of the Mayan was completed with the infectious plague of smallpox brought with the Spanish that annihilated nearly 90% of the native populace.
(This had been the exact same fate of the mighty Norse Vikings in the 1300s with the black plague.)
In the city of Valladolid seven churches with their own monasteries were built using Mayan slaves in different outlying neighborhoods to evangelize the Mayan population who were then not allowed into the main city.
To fast-forward in history three hundred years to 1847; this is when the “Caste Wars” between the long suffering indigenous Mayan and the conquistador Spanish ignited. It all started right here in Valladolid.
The previous uprising had occurred in 1761 at a small town named Cisteil near Chichén Itza and was so brutally put down that the Mayan populace withdrew into protective dense jungle in the adjoining territory of Quintana Roo where no white man’s life was safe.
In 1901, after more than fifty years of protracted war, independent Yucatán was annexed into the Mexican Republic and federal troops were sent in to bring a final solution to the Mayan problem.
The Mayan people had put up an admirable 54 year defense of their country and homelands but were ultimately crushed at their last stand in the remote jungle town of Felipe Carrillo Puerto.
The Mayan survivors of this Holocaust that could be rounded up were chained and shipped off to Cuba and then sold to plantation owners there as slaves. (Ironically three years earlier the U.S. government had routed the Spanish out of Cuba in order to bring American style liberty, justice and democracy to that island.)

Back to our Valladolid/ Uayma/ Ek Balam bicycle tour depicted with captioned photos;
After lunch at the central market and checking into our quiet hotel, the Don Luis, we were off for the afternoon heading west on the quiet little side road that would take us to a small village made quite famous for its uniquely adorned and recently refurbished colonial church.
The little village of Uayma is quiet to the extreme as Jane and I sit in the placid park across the street from this lovely ornate and slightly gaudy church, a classic jewel of unique adornment, and slack our thirst in the shade of some kind old trees. Our next endeavor is to capture the moment of Uayma in photos.
Recently refurbished in impeccable detail, this distinctively matchless art work in this out of the way little village evokes wondrous thoughts of inspired artisans that picked this very place to make a profound artistic statement to the world.
Built with stones from ancient Mayan temples these colonial churches hold hidden special spiritual power that bridges countless centuries and the ancient gods.

A relic of old colonial times; the above wooden hammock holder still finds use in this day and time as a belaying pin for the bell rope that ironically is made of synthetic materials here in the heartland of henequen and sisal rope.
From within the recently refurbished church with its newly installed vaulted roof, which took three years to restore, many of the original painted frescoes dating back centuries in time still give eye pleasing images.
Above are a few of the original untouched frescoes that have long outlived their creators.

Before we take leave of this placid village that is noticeably clean and conspicuously tranquil with absolutely no motor vehicles, we pause on the curb of Main Street to partake our afternoon iced coffee before biking back to Valladolid with the sun slinking low in the west and on our backs.
On the way out of Uayma we pass this forlorn railway depot with the track still intact that we had ridden so many long years ago on one of our many trips from Mérida to Valladolid and then on to Tizimin at the end of the line. When Jane and I first rode this route it was a narrow gauge train, one of the very last on the planet still in service. This train sadly quit operating more than twenty years ago.
Our quiet hotel, Don Luis chosen because the hotels we formerly used to stay in surrounding the central plaza in Valladolid were about to be blasted with ear shattering loud speakers nearly two meters tall because it was Carnival time in Mexico and especially here in Yucatán where festival is mega-decibel noise and deemed an essential ingredient for “Carnival”.
Day two: Jane and I wanted to share a special moment alone and beat the crowd to this incredible landmark of ancient Mayan heritage. We had an early morning breakfast and then stuck our bicycles in the trunk of a taxi and arrived here at Ek Balam ahead of the competition and captured a priceless and very memorable memory.
Tranquility and beauty go together here as we picked up the special vibes of this monument to the founders and original owners of Yucatán.
Recently reclaimed from the ever encroaching jungle, these monumental achievements of ancient Mayan glory days cry out with a haunting message speaking to us across the millennium of a proud, disciplined and ingenious breed of civilized people.
Beating the crowd pays a big reward that is priceless and unique to the moment.
From the top of the tallest pyramid Jane and I share a silent moment of solitude to reflect upon the history that has unfolded here in this vast remote Yucatán jungle.
This restoration speaks volumes of the ingenious creative minds of these people that pioneered in astronomy, agriculture, mathematics and natural medicine at this very place for several thousand years.
This is tranquility that speaks for itself where even the hounds have inherited the laid-back atmosphere.
This is a glimpse of what Ek Balam looked like before archaeological renovation began and reclaimed the magnificent Mayan buildings that have been the victim of neglect for the past four-hundred and fifty plus years. At least they were not quarried to build cathedrals which was the fate of so many of these temples that are now lost for all time.
In the foreground is a restored structure and off in the distance you will see one of many temples still buried beneath the encroaching jungle.
The grounds of Ek Balam are meticulously kept and restoration is progressing at a measured pace that is not disruptive to the visitors or researchers. We beat the crowd!
Our bicycle ride back to Valladolid takes us down quiet seldom traveled back roads through this poor little village of Santa Rita where we find a park and shade trees to enjoy our morning coffee. Free ranging street dogs and this scavenger hog speak volumes of this rural setting totally away from any city traffic or commotion.
Down the road we arrive in our first real city on our way back to Valladolid.
The rolling hills don’t stop this lady pushing her tricycle and headed to market.
At a very accommodating hardware store where I had purchased a new shift cable that I installed myself, this lovely young lady brings soap and water so I can wash my dirty mechanic hands after the curbside repairs of my bicycle are completed.
In the market Jane and I are treated to a scrumptious and very ample meal prepared by this lady who owns and operates her own home style kitchen for eat in or carry out meals.
These are the things that make cross country bicycling rewarding and memorable.
Pointing the way to Valladolid, we bicycle on eager and ready to find any shade on this sun-blistering afternoon.
In the central park or zócalo of Valladolid we find our shade and enjoy its cool revitalizing rewards.

The above three photos are representative of street venders patiently awaiting customers with their home made and hand stitched dresses, hand woven hammocks and other artfully crafted regional memorabilia.
Valladolid is gearing up for the bicycle tourist with rentals.
The colorful municipal market covers an entire city block and shouldn’t be missed. It is located just four blocks east of the central zócalo plaza.
This is one of seven churches and convents in distinctively different neighborhoods of Valladolid all constructed from stone quarried from ancient Mayan temples.
These colossal churches were Mayan temples before the conquest but are now lost to another era.
The old and the ancient are depicted here with this Mayan palapa home built as they have been for the past several thousand years but now they have electrical service and running water.
This is the view of Main Street from the municipal building looking out at one of the seven churches of Valladolid.
The colonial styled municipal building is resplendent with a collection of inspiring oil painted murals that are worth the trip to Valladolid just to see. The above powerfully depicts a Mayan shaman visionary resolutely facing his impending doom.
Here is the upstairs gallery of murals in the municipal building with its old colonial style roof of wooden vigas and stone bovadillas relics of early colonial times.
These Bavarian cross-country bikers are headed from Tierra del Fuego, in South America on their way to Alaska and were one of several groups we met in Valladolid at Hotel Don Luis.

Street vendors add color and convenience to the city parks with soft drinks and snacks.
The above two photos of early morning at the very clean and well kept municipal market speak volumes of the tranquility and low impact of these entrepreneurial vendors.
Valladolid has quiet and serene streets passing through several distinctive neighborhoods where the tranquility is maintained with virtually no motor traffic.
Half way between Mérida and several points on the Caribbean like Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum, Valladolid has a unique geographical location which keeps it from becoming an end destination for tourists.
Another factor affecting Valladolid is the fact that this was a battle ground and front line of the “Caste Wars” between the original owners and settlers of Yucatán, the Mayan and the intruding Spanish conquistadors. In 1901 the Mexican federal troops came in with high-powered weaponry and subdued the Indigenous and rounding up all of them that they could and then shipped them off to Cuba as slaves to American occupied hacienda owners.
Bloody skirmishes continued well into the 1930s.
Valladolid has a (blame the victims), “Caste War” museum that casts a disparaging look upon the Mayan Indians and presents a positive prospective on the Holy Christians that annihilated the heathen Indians in the name of their God.
Alas the reader is left to form his own opinions.

Mérida and home are only a short bus ride away so we feel fortunate to have these interesting out-of-town excursions so numerous, easy and fun filled in our very own back yard.
Biking and busing Yucatán rewards us with a diversity of adventure not to be found anywhere…we should know, Jane and I have had forty plus years of cycling all over America and Europe together.
In this photo we are back in Mérida at Caffé Latté enjoying iced coffee and good conversation about biking in Valladolid and Yucatán with Basil Yokarinas and Alixa ,on the left with one of their clients. Basil and Alixa have an ambitious cross-country bicycle tour that visits Yucatán several times a year specializing in quiet back roads and spots that tourists miss most.
I am seated on the right.
John M. Grimsrud

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