Friday, April 25, 2014

Visiting Valladolid



A to Z Challenge

Day 22: V is for Visiting Valladolid

 


Valladolid is the place to head when your Mexican beach vacation gets rained out. In the lobby of the San Clemente Hotel, there is a nine-foot tall poinsettia tree in the lobby and at the right time of year you can sit beside a waterfall of red flowers and drink good coffee.

This small colonial town, two hours west of Cancun, is known as the city of heroes. Life in Valladolid centres on the zocalo (town square), where local women wearing their beautifully embroidered huipiles dresses sell Maya Barbie dolls as miniature versions of themselves. The San Gervaiso Cathedral is the centre piece of the square. We had to walk around a sleeping bell ringer who sat gently snoring in the middle of the entrance with the bell rope dangling between his fingers.


Valladolid hasn’t always been this sleepy. Originally known as Zaci and first settled by the Cupule Maya in 300 BC, trouble started in 1545 when “El Sobrino” (the nephew) showed up. He was the nephew of the notorious Spanish Conquistador, Francisco de Montejo and reclaimed the area for Spain by tearing down Maya temples and implementing the brutal caste system where the Maya were one step above donkeys. , El Sobrino used the stolen stones to build six churches and the San Gervaiso Cathedral.

In 1848, almost 300 years after it was built, the Cathedral was epicenter for the t long and messy War of the Castes began. Enraged over the brutal execution of two Maya rebels, local took up arms, driving off 10,000 Spanish after killing hundreds. Victory was theirs, until late spring when the Maya left the city to tend to their fields. This is not a crazy as it sounds -- the Mayas were an agricultural society so crop took precedent over battles. The Spanish didn’t follow this unspoken rule of Maya warfare and their retribution was swift and fierce. They immediately reclaimed Valladolid. So many Maya were either killed or shipped to Cuban prisons that many believed the entire bloodline of the Cupule had been wiped out. However, surviving rebels escaped to a nearby town where they continued fighting until 1933, making it the longest rebellion in North America that most people know nothing about.

I could understand the Maya’s rage after visiting the art museum next door to the Cathedral. Housed in City Hall, the gallery has full length murals painted by local artists depicting the brutal enslavement of the Maya. Alongside the gallery is the San Roque Museum, built in 1575 by the Franciscans it has the typical hacienda setting with a central courtyard surrounded by small rooms with high ceilings and floor length windows. In 1634 Maya evangelists converted into a hospital and it served briefly as headquarters for rebels during the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Two Maya revolutionaries are buried in the back patio.

The Spanish influence in Valladolid was not all bad; they built many graceful homes, which can be seen along the cobbled Calzada de los Frailes (Street of the Friars). These houses have modest exteriors with plain plaster walls painted shades of burnt sienna or warm yellow with elaborate iron grillwork over the windows. Behind most of the wooden gates are lush patios filled with flowers and elaborate marble fountains. At the end of the street is the now empty 1552 monastery of San Bernadino de Sienna. With its bulky faded magenta walls and heavy oversized wooden doors, the convent resembles a small fort. It was actually constructed to withstand attacks by Maya rebels. Not only could the monks remain safe inside its walls, they could also be self-sustaining, since the site was built overtop an underground river. All that remains of the once opulent convent is an elaborately carved wooden altar surrounded by with gold statues and a 400-year-old statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe as its centrepiece. Everything else was looted during the war.

Cenote Zaci is the reason Valladolid was settled by the Maya. Most water in the Yucatan is beneath its limestone shelf and inland access is found at sinkholes, known as cenotes. At 45m by wide and 79m, Cenote Zaci is the largest cenote in the region.

Although there is too much “lake lettuce" (as locals refer to algae) for swimming, it’s a pleasant spot to escape afternoon heat. We sat looking down into the waters while eating some Valladolid longaniza, a spicy sausage grilled over an open flame.

We found the perfect place to swim just Valladolid at Cenote X'keken. For years the entrance to this cave cenote was the original hole in the ground discovered when a farmer’s pig fell through into the water below. Now there is a slippery slippery staircase carved out of rock and mud leading down into the cave to the deliciously cool waters. There is a halo of light coming through the original opening that lights up the turquoise water. Many of the stalactites and stalagmites have been shaped into eerie shapes of animals or faces and the local boys entertained us by shimming up them jumping in the water.

Valladolid is usually bathroom stopover on the way to the famous ruins Chichen Itza but it has its own ruins as well. Ek Balam (Black Jaguar) dates back to the Mayan Late Classical period (700-900 AD). Only a few of its 45 structures have been cleared.

The main temple is flanked with hieroglyphic carvings and frescoes in perfect condition. There are 106 steps to the top and it’s surprisingly steep. The door to the king’s tomb at the top of the pyramid has been carved to resemble to mouth. Large stone teeth jut out from the bottom with carvings alongside. Seated on top of the monster mouth are carved full figure that stand overlooking the surrounding area.

A top the pyramid is view fit for a king. We had the ruin to ourselves and modern Valladolid seemed very far away.