Friday, May 19, 2017

Ek Balaam and Valladolid

We were able to get up early enough to go to Ek Balaam and then spend a great day in Valladolid which is in the northern center of the Yucatan peninsula.

On the road out to the ruins we passed by the usual vendors at the side of the roads and thought about life in Mexico and the fact that these vendors are not just there for the tourists, this is the way that the locals shop.  If we were to buy a house and need to furnish it, we would be stopping at these roadside furniture 'shops' and buying the furniture that they have on offer or even putting in an order for furniture made to our own design.  The wood furniture here is just that .. it is made of WOOD .. good solid wood with the most beautiful grains and color ways.

We planned on getting to Ek Balaam (the Black Jaguar) ruins before the crowds and before it got too hot.  No sure what time we would have to be there before it got too hot because it was already almost 90 when we got there at around 9:30.  There were already bus loads of tourists (yes, yes I get it .. we are tourist too but not the kind that get there on a tour bus).

I spent more than five minutes lining up the perfect shot of the main temple only to have a couple more tourists walk right past me (in spite of my asking for a moment) and start walking up the stairs - there was never another opportunity to get the shot without groups of people crawling all over the stairs.

Ek Balaam got it's name from the fact that the main building is the temple in which Ukit Kan Le'k Tok' was buried, called El Trono (‘The Throne’). The doorway is in the shape of a monster-like mouth, possibly depicting a jaguar.  This very impressive and well preserved building is the biggest that we have seen yet.

The teeth of the alter

Teeth above the door at the alter

This is a little less than half the length of the temple 
There are 117 steps to the top of the main temple and it is an impressive sight especially when you break through the jungle and see it head on for the first time.

There are three main floors on the temple, the building appears to have been started in the Middle Preclassic period and finished in the Postclassic period.
The second floor to the right of the stairs - the alter is to the left of the stairs.
We were actually able to go into one of the arches under the stairs - at Edzna, we saw the arches from a distance but were not able to get close to them.  You can see one of the arches above.

The carvings, painting and hieroglyphics are incredibly well preserved and it is obvious that a lot of work has been done to restore the area around the main alter.

Winged Mayan Warriors protecting the alter

A winged warrior (or angel) is at both corners on the wall above the alter doorway 

Some perfectly preserved painting showing the strong red and blue used throughout.
Once you finish climbing (yes it is climbing because each of those steps are more than a foot high) the 117 steps to the top of the temple,  the view is amazing and you can see for miles and miles in all directions.

We met a young couple from England who were taking a vacation between pre-med and the start of their medical studies and hung out at the top with them for a while before taking the hazardous trek back down the steps.  OK hazardous for Rosalind because as we all know, her and heights are not the best of friends.
OK it may not look pretty 
but I did it 

Did I mention that it was hot?  this hot dog found one of the few cool (??) places to rest.

One of the distinct characteristics of this site (apart from the fact that is has 3 walls around it), is the mix of square and curved walls on the buildings.

I think that Gerald may think that he has found our new home?  it is amazing how cool it is within the shade of these walled rooms.

This piqued my curiosity as it looks like a huge fire pit but later I found out that it might be a steam bath.

After this adventure, we still had plenty of time to head off to Valladolid to investigate the chocolate factory. The first part of the adventure was trying to find a space to park the car, then we couldn't find the chocolate place but that was fun because I asked a police woman (in Spanish) for directions and she understood and answered me immediately :)  It is those small successes that really make this adventure even more exciting.

When we got to the chocolate factory there was already a lady there and the history of cacao chocolate was being explained (mostly in Spanish) so we joined in and got to hear about cacao with a tiny smidgen of information about the chocolate making process.  It was a little disappointing because there wasn't actually anyone there making chocolate and we didn't get any information about the process.  We did however get a little nib-let of each of the chocolates that they make and got an explanation about what each one contains.  For example there was cacao with honey, cacao with honey and chili or with oregano, there was one with sea salt and another with milk or one with stevia instead of honey, there was also one with anise (Rosalind's favorite) and another with tequila (Gerald's favorite).  They were all good and so very different from the sugary, creamy type of chocolate that we are used to.

After the 'tour' and tasting, we moved off to the 'restaurant' that I had heard about where you can get chocolate drinks and we each ordered a different cold chocolate to drink - once again, so much better than the sort of chocolate that we are used to.  The chocolate is served in gourds seated on a little leaf 'rope' ring.

By now we had made friends with the other lady there (Diane from Ireland) and we all wandered off together to take a look around Valladolid and to look for the Convent that she had told us about.

When we got to the Convent of San Bernadino de Sienna, the church part was closed and there appeared to be studies going on so we hung out in the cloisters and cooled down a little before going to Yerbabuena del Sisal for lunch.

This is such a beautiful little restaurant and we went in past the kitchen to the garden in the back.  It was lovely under the trees and they even put box fans out for you to cool yourself.  The food was really good, healthy, fresh with lots of vegetarian options and very fairly priced. I had chayote which was smothered in a lovely tomato based sauce and Gerald had chili rellenos filled with cheese and vegetables smothered in the same tomato sauce - they also have gorgeous fresh juices and we felt so lucky that Diane had found this place, we never would have been there otherwise - thanks Diane!

After lunch we walked back to the square and sat on a bench there for a while people watching.

Miraculously the church (Cathedral of San Gervasio) opened and we were able to go inside and have a look.

The cathedral is typical of many that we have seen in Mexico, it is not ornately decorated with lots of gold and expensive glitz, it is a solid fairly plain building with the decorative concentration on the main alter area and the stations of the cross.

Well that was almost the end of a terrific day but one more little adventure waited for us - when we finally got back to our car and headed for 'home' in Tulum, ,leaving our fate/route to to Waze, she decided that the toll road was best so we ended up going all the way to Playa del Carmen and back down the coast road to Tulum - having left at a little after 8 in the morning, we ended up getting back to our place in Tulum after 7:30 in the evening .. but (and there is a reason for everything) .. this meant that we actually got a snapshot or two of those monkey bridges that we had previously told you about ;)  I even got to see a monkey hanging out in a tree a little way off the road.  Remember, this is all jungle here, the jungle goes right down to the beach and the town of Tulum is in the jungle though a lot of it has been cleared.  You actually need a special (very expensive) permit to cut down some of the trees such as the Chechen.

Monkey bridge across the highway.
For more info on the Myan legend of why the Chechen (Black Posionwood) and Chaca trees always grow next to each other see . And yes, the Chechen is toxic, similar to poison ivy but worse.

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