Valladolid, Chichen Itza, and Ek Balam

When I left Tulum I felt ready to launch into a couple of weeks of moving around to see the sites of Mexico. This would start in Valladolid.

The point of going to Valladolid was its proximity to Mayan ruins, primarily Chichen Itza, one of the New Wonders of the World. What I discovered when I got there was a charming colorful town with a laid back attitude. I was surprised by my instant fondness of this place and joy at simply wandering the streets on my first day. I also knew once I checked into the Hostel La Candelaria that I would extend my stay to two nights. With varied hangout spaces both indoors and out and a great included breakfast that changed every day it was the kind of place I was happy to come home to.

But I was there to see Chichen Itza, so I woke up at 7 am to catch the beginning of breakfast and the earliest collectivo I could get myself to. I joined together with two American girls and a German guy from the hostel, and by 9 am we were at Chichen Itza. Going early is the best advice I can give you – it was not crowded at all, the sun wasn’t strong enough to make it oppressively hot like it would be by noon, and the vendors hadn’t totally set up yet so we weren’t bothered to buy things the whole time. Once the tour buses showed up at 11 the entire experience changed and it became a market place. Everywhere we went stalls were selling the same kitschy things for “cheaper than Walmart, almost free!”

We took our time exploring the site, which had more buildings than I anticipated. It’s most known for El Castillo, the giant perfectly constructed pyramid. It has 90 stairs on each side, totaling 365 to coordinate with the Mayan sun calendar. On the spring and autumn equinoxes, the position of the sun creates a mystical effect, casting a shadow on the stairs that looks like a serpent. It was impressive – although we were disappointed that we couldn’t climb it – but it’s one of those sites that looks just like the pictures. Exploring the whole place was interesting but I couldn’t shake a feeling of neutrality towards it. I knew it wouldn’t be my favorite ruin.

The next morning I went to the other main ruin in the area, Ek Balam, and actually liked it more than Chichen Itza. It’s quieter, still surrounded by jungle, and you can climb up everything. I was earlier than tour groups again except for one, which at first was a disappointment but ended up being a great coincidence. For whatever reason, this tour guide was friendly to me and actually invited me to come along with them. Free tour! Why not? He was a great guide – I learned a lot about Ek Balam and the Mayan culture then and now.

For example, Ek Balam got its name from a local jungle inhabitant: Black Jaguar. Ek means black, balam means jaguar. The romance languages would put the descriptor, black, after the noun, jaguar, so it would be jaguar black, or balam ek. But Mayan language is structured liked the English language, with the adjective preceding the noun, so it is black jaguar. Because of this, children who grow up with the Mayan language learn English easier.

Having seen Ek Balam and Chichen Itza, as well as the lovely town of Valladolid, I felt satisfied with my time there and ready to go. I jumped on an afternoon bus bound for Merida.

One last thing about Valladolid – it ended up having a major effect on my trip trajectory. The people I met at my hostel there turned into my travel buddies for at least the next two locations, and they probably will continue to be for the rest of my time in Mexico. I’ll let you know once we get there.

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