My inland route through the Yucatan included the cute, colonial town of Valladolid, the bustling capital city of Merida, and a spontaneous side trip to the Uxmal ruins. It was a brief 3 day whirlwind visit through the heart of the peninsula, bookended by time on the Caribbean coast and a jaunt through the Chiapas jungle. A full summary of my Mexico trip can be read here.
It was on the bus from Playa del Carmen to Valladolid that I felt a distinct shift in my mindset from initial travel anxiety to letting go and enjoying this travel ride that I just embarked on (and had been looking forward to for months!).
Below are a few photos that capture the scenes of that ride through inland Yucatan, quite a different vibe from the beach resort towns on the coast.
Also, a quick note here that I don’t use any photo editing tools or software. Yeah, old school! Perhaps I should… I’ve starting wondering about that lately, sure it would make my photos a bit brighter, maybe more crisp, but then, this is how I witnessed these moments, I don’t feel a need to embellish it. Pictures never do a scene true justice anyway.
Then again, I honestly just haven’t taken the time to really research what photo editing entails or play around with it in iPhoto, yet :) Perhaps it’s time to take my photos to the next level. And perhaps I’ll be blown away once I do (to never go back to not editing!), but for now, what you see is what my 3 year old point and shoot pocket-sized Canon took in.
I arrived in Vallalodid in the late afternoon. Once I got settled into my hostel, I went out for a walk around town. The main plaza was easy to find. Main cathedral:
I met a super friendly solo thirty-something Canadian that first night at the hostel, and we decided to venture out to the cenotes together the next day.
Cenotes are basically freshwater sinkholes, all part of a larger intricate cave system that runs throughout the Yucatan. Some are wide open, with no cover, so it’s possible to work on your tan while swimming around, and some are enclosed and more cave-like with just a tiny bit of natural light coming in.
The Canadian and I had planned to get an early start to avoid the inevitable crowds, but alas, everything takes longer than you think when traveling!
So when we finally hit the road on our rental bikes, it was already 10am and getting warm. But our timing somehow ended up being perfect! There were only 3 other people in Cenote Samula when we got there, and we had a full hour to relax in the refreshing water and giggle as the tiny fish tickled our feet.
After a blissful hour in the cool water, the tour groups started flooding in (around noon), and we were outta there. Back above ground, we had our lunch and plotted out our bike route.
We decided to bike the long way back to Valladolid, completing a loop that took us through the tiny villages of Dzitnup and Chichimila. A true off the beaten path adventure!
Authentic Mexico, check!
And after returning our rental bikes in Valladolid, I took one final stroll through some of the more picturesque streets of pastel-colored buildings before hopping on the bus to Merida.
My (mis)adventure upon my arrival in Merida is well documented here, but the short story is that I walked 30 minutes in the wrong direction from the bus station. Finally, an hour later, I arrive at the hustle and bustle of the main plaza where my hostel is located, only to discover that instead of the traditional dancing that I was hoping to see, the square was set up as a concert venue for a famous Mexican pop rock band!
No wonder the crowds were intense and there were tons of police with big guns stationed everywhere. They even turned off the cathedral lighting! Oh the unexpected things!
After eating a sub-par way overpriced sandwich (just because I couldn’t be bothered to find anything else at that point), I sat on the hostel balcony overlooking the concert and had a good laugh as I took in the scene. We’re talking catchy pop tunes with flashing lights and smoke machines. People singing along in Spanish and waving their hands. The works.
It was pretty awesome to watch it all unfold below from the comfort of the hostel balcony above. And if you ever find yourself in Merida, I would definitely recommend Hostal Zocalo. Great breakfast, spacious dorm rooms (no bunk beds!!!), open and airy common spaces, and of course, an ideal location, right on the main plaza.
Here’s the opposite side of the plaza before the crowds took over:
And here’s the concert scene:
I even took a little video:
After I heard enough Mexican pop for one night, I headed back to my dorm and quickly made a new friend in a French-Canadian chick also traveling solo. Within 10 minutes we had decided to travel to the ruins of Uxmal together the next day. I hadn’t even planned on going to Uxmal at all, but in a care-free moment of spontaneity, I accepted my new friend’s invitation to join her.
How freakin’ cool is it to meet other thirty-something solo travelers out there to do fun things with?? I could write so much more about this topic and how that aspect of traveling is one that I cherish because it’s the kind of organic human connection that I crave, at any time, abroad or at home. These connections always seem to come much easier for me while traveling, even though I don’t feel any more or less my normal introverted self in either case. Hmm…
Anyway, back to the Uxmal ruins… they were spectacular! The intricate details blew me away.
We spent about 4 hours there, and had arrived well before the organized tour groups so it was quiet and peaceful.
Our only hiccup of the day was having to wait a few hours on the side of the road for our delayed public bus back to Valladolid. But it did come. And in the meantime, my new friend and I had a great little chat about solo travel, trying to find balance between stability and wanderlust, and whether we want to have kids or not. Yeah, we pretty much skipped the small talk…
Walking back to the hostel from the bus station, we saw this little church:
By the time we got back to the hostel, it was happy hour time complemented by a gorgeous sunset/moonrise viewed from the roof.
The final surprise of the day revealed itself after my friend and I had dinner and parted ways, I was heading back to the hostel and then this happened, a traditional dancing show! I got to see it afterall! So happy to come across this after thinking I’d missed it entirely!
My time in Merida complete, I headed out the next morning on a 8 hour bus ride towards the Chiapas jungle.