Friday, February 15, 2008

Cobá to Valladolid

Cobá to Valladolid
The perfect bike trip: The wind and sun were on our backs and the temperture was a cool 14.8º C. This incredible trip from Cobá through Chan Chen 1, Xuilub, Xocen and Chichimila to Valladolid is part of the story below by John M. Grimsrud.
For a printable version of this, click: here.

Our trip started with a bus trip from Mérida to Valladolid:
Valladolid’s colonial buildings stand at this intersection known as five corners dating back in time to when this was Yucatán’s cotton capital in the mid-1850s.
For nearly five-hundred years this old Spanish city was the last eastern conquistador outpost on the Yucatán peninsula where the indigenous were not allowed to enter. The 60 year caste war, lasting into the early 1900s had some of the bloodiest battles and actually saw the Spanish driven out of Valladolid.
At five corners intersection fresh backyard produce is put up for sale freshly harvested from this ladies home garden.
Don Luis hotel has become a bikers stop. Jane visits with Dulze the receptionist who arrives each morning at five am and never fails to greet us with a pleasant smile.
In the city center the main church is an anomaly facing not west like nearly all others in Yucatán but north. It has been said that this deliberate diversion from tradition was retribution for terrible atrocities committed against the indigenous inhabitants whose temples stones built this church.
A rough six kilometer bike ride on a bumpy butt busting bouncy bicycle path will take you to this cooperatively operated attraction of Dzitnup. Featuring two cenotes, underground natural swimming holes, and a number of low-key mom and pop trinket shops staffed by local residents who appear to be garbage blind.
Dzitnup cenote actually attracts busloads of painfully white skinned tourists fresh off the cruise ships.
Back in Valladolid we got well fed with frijol con puerco a traditional Monday Yucatán dish of black beans and pork. We were invited to park our folding bicycles inside in the shade. Jane is with our excellent waiters.
In the municipal building downtown on the zocolo square an extensive collection of historical murals graphically depicts Yucatán history, which was not peaceful.
Situated on an open balcony adjacent to the art exhibit in the municipal building is this shockingly haphazard array of twisted together live wires that constitute the main service entrance.
The standard in Yucatán is that there is no standard.
Traditional Mayan chicken salbutes in the municipal market are worth the trip but be cautious with the lethally hot comatose level chili habanero sauce that could get you in the end.
A western sun sets on Valladolid’s north facing church.
Early morning breakfast at the municipal market gets us charged up for the next leg of our bike/bus excursion.
Breakfast at a fraction of Mérida prices coupled with copious quantities of local specialties. Our traditional Yucatán feast includes huevo’s rancheros and Motuleño’s.
Two complete meals with fresh tropical fruit juices were less than fifty pesos or just over four dollars.
Motuleño’s are on the red tray, rancheros on the other.
After our first day bicycling the Valladolid area Jane came up with a brilliant strategy for the next leg of this tour. We would bus to Cobá, bike the area and ruins our second day. Our third day we would get an early start and with the sun and Caribbean trade wind at our back make our 85 kilometer return trip to Valladolid via a newly paved jungle road.
This is our home in Cobá, Hotelito Sac-be where we spend our second day bicycling the area and visiting the Mayan ruins. Telephone for reservations at Hotelito Sac-be (01) 984 206-7140 or (01) 984 206-7067. Rooms are 250 to 400 pesos.
Our second floor room at Hotelito features plenty of fresh scented jungle air with cross ventilation, a very important consideration especially with Jane’s asthma.
The owner of Hotelito Sac-be, Modesto and his helpful daughter.
Cobá lake is filled with crocodiles that have become semi-tamed by hand outs that make them into a potential menace especially with their large appetites and instinctive flesh fetish. This little girl is tempting fate with her presence and could vanish in less than a blink of an eye. I have seen these seemingly slow reptiles strike with the speed of a coiled rattle snake.
The packed parking lot at the Cobá Mayan ruins gives a photo op side show.
Mid-day at Cobá the crowd is nearly overwhelming as Jane bikes through the crowded parking lot. We will be back when the shadows are longer and the crowd thins.
What is this? A feather bedecked bongo beating carnival side show? I am not sure but there is an element of curious entertainment here.
Just inside the gate the only mid-day shade I spotted was this, so we opted for a late day return.
Another mid-day crowd shot confirms our resolve to let the multitudes thin.
The late afternoon Cobá crowd has thinned and we make the rounds of the various temples by bicycle. Bike rentals and tricycles with drivers are available but we prefer our own little folding bicycles and have to pay a small user fee.
This huge temple is only restored on one side and this is off hours. Mass-tourism is heavily impacting the Yucatán where tens of thousands of tourists are off-loaded every day along the Caribbean coast.
Tricycle taxis await inquisitive temple climbers.
As the shadows become longer in late afternoon a serene ambiance floods over the jungle and miraculously the crowd also thins. Check out the Spanish moss festooned from the tall tropical forest trees. Close to the Caribbean heavy daily rain accounts for the tall trees and moss.
Cobá blends with ghosts of the past that seem to awaken as the sun slips over the horizon in hushed twilight.
Early morning and late afternoon are preferred times to quietly visit the ruins.
Day two ends as twilight passes serenely over Cobá lake
Day three we roll west out of Cobá before 6 am with a star studded sky and 14ºC. Our day’s jungle trek of 85 kilometers is across a just paved road abounding in wild life. There where so many parrots we couldn’t count then all.
The sun is up but the air is still early morning fresh as we roll into our first town of Chan Chén 1, a jungle outpost.
Two hours of riding has gotten us here for our breakfast.
At our next stop, Xuilub, besides the lovely silence only punctuated by wild birds chirping and the occasional rooster we love the conspicuous lack of motorized vehicles and garbage.
This is deep in the land of the old pre-Hispanic Maya where all still speak the language and keep time honored traditions alive in cooking, farming, medicines and dress.
In the traditional huipil Mayan hand embroidered dress, this smiling lady still carries on her time honored customs.
The state government initiated a program called Indemaya.
This green painted roadside wooden cross is symbolically part of a Mayan cult of the holy cross or talking cross.
Xocen, Yucatán is home to the church “iglesia cruz tún”. The church and culture have intertwined over the years as you can see by the name of the church that is part Spanish and part Maya. “iglesia cruz” is Spanish and means church and cross. “tún” is Maya for stone; thus the church of the stone cross.
Jane and I quite by accident stumbled upon this sacred Mayan temple with its warning sign admonishing all who enter; “not to take any photos because you will be punished by the government”.
This is the church of the stone cross filled with symbolism dating back in time with another no-photo sign in the door.

In spite of the implicit no-photo signs this “welcome visitors” sign beckons us to enter…and we did getting a surprise.
When I spoke Maya we were brought directly into a festive feast on the altar of the stone cross that until recently was forbidden to any non-Maya. There we were presented with a dish of liquefied and sweetened corn known as atole.
We were at a loss as what to do next so we patiently watched to see what others did to get some clue.
The center of the low altar held the stone cross dressed in a huipil dress adorned with embroidery in addition to the three crosses. On one side were two smaller wooden crosses.
Adjacent in glass opening boxes were religious icons with a definite catholic connection, with a Virgin of Guadalupe on one side and some saintly ceramic cast figure on the other. There was also a painting of Jesus Christ.
Before the altar was a long high table with kneeling pad attached and the table top covered with lighted candles.
Next from a huge caldron we were given delicious wild turkey in a thick spicy sauce along with hand made tortillas, all blessed on the altar, and no eating utensils.
Fortunately we had previously been introduced to the customary way of tearing a tortilla in two and rolling it into a cone to scoop out the thick sauce. The large pieces of turkey meat were placed, (with our fingers) in the tortillas to form tacos.
Next we were given dark course bread, also blessed and finally a pinch of honey sweetened corn dough.
The following photos of the stone cross came from the university web-site. With all due respect we took no photos, not just because we didn’t want to get stoned!
Also check out the university web-site for more of this incredible story;
These are the photos of the sacred Mayan stone cross from the university web-site.
Bicycling back to Valladolid we spotted this cross near Chicimila, a town very important in the Caste War. Click on the following link for our previous post on the Caste War and this area.

We biked back to Valladolid, completing 85 kilometers and spent the night, thus finishing day three of our out-back Yucatán bicycle adventure.

Xocchel, Hacabá, Sanahcat, Polaban and Homan
After our bike trip from Cobá to Valladolid, we took a bus to Xocchel and biked some Yucatán side roads to Homan. Our destination was Cuzama but we were pedaling into a strong hot wind when we spotted a bus heading for Mérida. It took less then a minute remove our packs and fold the bikes and sit back and let the bus carry us home. For the story and a printable version, click here.

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