We read about a ruin just a few blocks off the main square in Izamal and so headed over there about 5 pm. At the end of a simple street was a massive stone structure with what looked like a forest on top. A sign read “Knich Kak Moo.”
The guys quickly headed up the stone steps. The stones were the biggest I’ve seen yet in the region. The Mayans must have had some kind of mechanical advantage. I can’t imagine 20 people being able to lift one of these stones.
Megan and I headed around the back another few blocks. The site is absolutely massive. It is one pyramid that sits on four city blocks. We climbed up the back side to the forest. Once there we were amazed to discover the forest was actually trees on the back side of another pyramid that sat on the top of this one!
The upper pyramid had a large courtyard where it was evident that local youths spent many Friday nights. We could clearly see the monastery from here — which would have been another building.
At Ek Balam we spoke to a man who said estimates that 20,000 people lived in these cities must be wildly inaccurate. Walking around the top of this site and imaging all the rocks below me, it had to be that many just to build this.
The site is actually built on a limestone quarry so the stones needed only to be cut and hauled up.
I’m very excited to do Ruta Puuc tomorrow and see even more Mayan sites.
Our next stop after the lovely Valladolid is Izamal, or the “yellow city.” Every building is painted a vibrant yellow. Soon after we arrived I dubbed it the “big” city — because everything here is big: the church, the square, the ruins.
We were surprised and pleased to find a parade starting through town the minute we walked into town. It was some kind of festival parade. A group of people — a family we’re guessing — carries a large cross through the streets along with either a brass band or a giant sound system strapped to the top of a Volkswagen. They have flowers and are led by a couple guys who are lighting four foot bottle rockets with cigarettes (which is the only smoking I’ve seen in Mexico).
The parade then marches up a raised causeway (called a sacbeob in Mayan) and into the Franciscan monastery San Antonio de Padua. In the 1500s, the Spanish conquerors decided it would be too difficult to raze the Mayan ruins and so built the monastery right on top — incorporating many of the existing features. The atrium that is most of the top of the ruin is second in size only to the Vatican. This gives an idea how massive these original structures are.
Izamal was the most important Mayan city — the largest and the center of civilization in the Yucatan. This is very apparent here.
The parade it turns out was not so much a lucky coincidence for us. An hour after one family’s parade entered the atrium the next would start their parade. This continued as long as we were in town and even the next morning!
No one seemed to be dressed really fancy. We all chuckled a little at one middle-aged man leading a parade whose shirt said in big letters on the back “I’m shy.”
Ruins … check! Yesterday we visited the Mayan ruins of Ek’ Balam. Just like the guidebooks said, we practically had the place to ourselves.
We met up with our friends Chad and Megan here in Valladolid a few days ago. To get to Ek’ Balam, the three of us negotiated a round- trip cab fair of 300 pesos. This included 2 hours at the ruins, while the cab driver waited in the parking lot. The drive was about 30 minutes and went through a cute town that smelled like a campfire. Women were weaving on a porch.
At Ek’ Balam, we walked down a short path and were confronted by an extensive Mayan city and grand pyramid. Unlike a lot of other sites, we were allowed to climb the pyramid and go inside some of the buildings. Several of the structures were still just big rock piles and I had to imagine the buildings underneath.
Exiting Ek’ Balam we paid 20 pesos each for fresh green coconuts and sucked them dry. For another 5, the vendor chopped them open and scooped out the meat for us.
We rolled in to Valladolid, Mexico, last night at 10 after a three-and-a-half hour bus ride from Cancun. (I found out later there was an express bus that uses the toll road and takes only one hour fifteen but we had missed it). From the bus window, I saw storefronts taped up in X’s to prepare for tomorrow’s tropical storm.
In the morning we visited Cenote Zaci, which is an open-air cenote. Just a few people were milling around. This town is set to handle a lot more visitors than are currently here. The restaurants have a lot of seats. I tried the local sausage, langaniza. It was sweeter than chorizo with a similar consistency.
For dinner, we stumbled upon the best place in town. A little restaurant down a sidestreet with a sign reading “Mr. Taco.” Best tacos in Mexico! Valladolid has so much to offer. We also tasted the local sweet liquor, Xtabentun (pronounced “shta-ben-tune”). It’s a sweet anise-flavored liquor. I bought several small samplers and quickly drained them. Down another sidestreet we found a Mayan chocolate shop. They showed us how the dry and grind the chocolate. They also had an anise flavor, and cinnamon, and the most popular: tequila flavor.