8 Things To Do In The Yucatán Peninsula (Besides Go To A Wedding)

IMG_8468 BLOG

Our most recent trip was rather unlike our typical brand of whirlwind exploratory missions – we found ourselves at a shmancy all-inclusive resort on the Mayan Riviera (la-dee-dah) to celebrate the wedding of some very, very dear friends.

Aside from the bride and groom whom we obviously love, the guest list was comprised of an eclectic group of 52 awesome people. This was fortunate as it rained virtually all week. And not that cute, intermittent, sunshowery-type rain you’d expect in Mexico, either! I am talking about torrential downpour, 24 hours a day, with not a glimmer of sunshine to be seen for days on end. Who knew? Of course, the rain proved to have absolutely no ill effect on the wedding, which, you’ll be happy to know, was an absolute blast.

After the epic nuptials and a few lazy, boozy days spent with our fellow wedding guests at the resort, it was time to ramble on – we hired a tiny red car, turned the dial to an all-bachata station, and sped off down the carretera.

As a result, here’s my list of 8 fun things you can do if you find yourself itching to explore the Yucatán Peninsula.

A road trip ritual: mimosa from the resort's breakfast buffet.

First, get yourself a mimosa from the resort’s breakfast buffet.

8. Get to know the wildlife. I spotted a turtle crossing the road as we drove, and made Riccardo stop the car so I could point it away from the road and back towards the jungle. Its most ungrateful response to this gesture of goodwill and vigilance was to bite me. So, just be careful.

This is pretty much the exact moment of the biting.

This is pretty much the exact moment of the biting.

7. Check out Chichen Itza. It’s the site of an ancient Mayan civilization, and it’s kind of a big deal. The Maya were a fascinating people who, aside from their infamous zeal for human sacrifice, are known for their complex architecture, largely peaceable cities, and penchant for a soccer-like game (the losers of which were typically punished by death).

Come ON!

Come ON! There are human sacrifices to be made!

6. Support local businesses. Feeling uncomfortably warm during a rare sunny break in Valladolid, Riccardo ducked into a barbershop. It came highly recommended (we think) by a morbidly obese and highly intoxicated guy at the saloon. The kindly but suave peluquero, who’s been in business for 35 years, proceeded to carry out the most fastidious and thorough head-shaving operation possible, for about 40 pesos.

This barber in Valladolid is a master of his craft. Thanks to our fellow bar patrons for helping us find him.

This barber in Valladolid is a master of his craft.

5. If you can’t make it to Chichen Itza, go see the ruins at Tulum. A little less sophisticated, but no less interesting. You can go swimming there – but we didn’t really feel like schlepping back to the car for our forgotten swimsuits (and skinny-dipping was out of the question at this family-friendly site.) From an eerie clifftop vantage point, it was easy to imagine the Maya industriously rowing along on their trade routes, staying close to shore as their boats weren’t fit for the open sea. However, the highlight of Tulum (for me) was my encounter with an adorable vegetarian iguana named Guadalupe (ok, that may not be her real name).

I was familiar with the buidling methods used at Tulum, having often travelled on the Decarie Expressway.

I was familiar with the primitive buidling methods used at Tulum, having come across similar structures holding up bridges in Montreal.

This vegetarian iguana reserved judgment on our very non-vegetarian lunch.

This vegetarian iguana reserved judgment on our very non-vegetarian lunch. Disclaimer: she is someone’s pet. I did not pick up a wild iguana. I am not insane.

4. Embark on a fruitless mission. A few years ago, Riccardo was in Cancún to photograph chef Chuck Hughes for a TV show called Chuck’s Week Off. He remembered shooting at a delightful tortilleria there, and vowing to return – but alas, he couldn’t remember the name, exact location, or any other identifying details. All he had to go on was the background in the photo below. We embarked on a wild goose chase around the sprawling city, searching high and low for the apparently legendary tortilla makers – but the search was in vain. Each time we thought we’d found it, we came up empty-handed. In the end, we were forced to give up and settle for still-awesome quesadilla and a huarache at Mercado 23… a stone’s throw from the actual location of the place we were looking for. The journey is often as fun as the destination (or lack thereof).

All the information we had about the mythical taqueria came from this photo. (Photo by Riccardo Cellere)

All the information we had about the mythical tortilleria came from this photo. (Photo by Riccardo Cellere)

3. Eat vast quantities of grilled meats. Although we never made it to the tortilleria from point #4, we did find our Shangri-La in the form of El Fogón, a tiny open-air restaurant nestled unassumingly in the shadows of a gigantic Wal-Mart style monstrosity in Playa del Carmen. We went back twice afterwards to maximize our intake of guacamole and exceedingly tasty charcoal-grilled meats, going so far as to take a taco home on our last night in Mexico and then bring it a cross two international borders (once coming home to Canada, and then the next morning on a drive to upstate NY for a family party. I am not making this up. I wish I was.)

A terrible photo but you can sort of get an idea of the feasting we did at El Fogón.

A terrible photo but you can sort of get an idea of the feasting that awaits at El Fogón.

Aye aye aye!

Aye aye aye!

2. Get messy. It would have been shameful to let our last night in Mexico slip quietly away. Instead, the most hardcore of the remaining wedding guests mustered the stamina for a last hurrah in Playa del Carmen, complete with a visit to a charming establishment called “The Shots Factory”. Although we were all easily a decade older than the average Playa party-goer, we managed to dance our faces off before finishing the night at El Fogón (the same taqueria whose virtues I extolled in point #3). Riccardo, by now an old pro, instructed everyone to get a taco loco (tortilla enveloping about 8 kinds of grilled meats, and draped with a slab of bacon). Our taxi driver, Martin, was the only one to finish his. When in Rome, etc etc.

What? El Fogón is OPEN at 5am?!?! Brilliant.

What? El Fogón is OPEN at 5am?!?! Brilliant.

1. Go to a saloon with swinging doors! One of my many lifelong dreams has been to drink in a real-live saloon with swinging doors. Imagine my THRILL when we came across such an establishment in the town of Valladolid. Leaning against the time-worn bar with our beers and tumblers of tequila, we did our best to keep up our end of a conversation with a portly, inebriated fellow patron. The bartender served us small plates of salsa, stewed pork and ceviche from the massive vats behind him. Sadly, no tumbleweeds rolled by in the dusty street outside, and not one pistol was drawn. Still, pretty cool.

Di no a las drogas!

Di no a las drogas!

Midday tequila.

I seem nonchalant, but I’m really, really excited about the swinging doors. Really.

The town of Valladolid was a pleasant discovery. The Spanish built it directly on top of a Maya village after dismantling their buildings to get at the stone – kind of a sobering thought. Maya culture is alive and well here; over a million people still speak Maya languages in the Yucatán Peninsula alone.

Despite some unsettling stories we’d heard, we felt totally safe exploring the Peninsula. Only on a couple of occasions (when we decided to veer off the main road and into one of the many tiny villages) did we fear for our lives. Unsurprising, as I guess the economy in this part of Mexico is too dependent on tourism for people to mess with a couple of unsuspecting Canadians.

I don’t know if we’ll make it back to Mexico anytime soon, but I’m glad to have caught a glimpse of it.

Here’s a random smattering of bonus shots – the nice ones are Riccardo’s:

A resort employee takes a prayer break.

Resort employee praying in Tulum.

Disobedient iguana at Tulum (this one, presumably, is non-vegetarian.)

Disobedient iguana at Tulum (this one, presumably, is non-vegetarian.)

Us, with some shitty old ruins blurred out behind us.

Us, with some shitty old ruins blurred out behind us.

YEAH!

YEAH!

A poetic image of our favourite taqueria in Playa del Carmen.

A dramatic rendering of our favourite taqueria in Playa del Carmen.

Pounding the pavement with our buddy, Rick Tran, in Valladolid.

Pounding the pavement with our buddy, Rick Tran, in Valladolid.

El número uno o el número dos? Decisions, decisions.

El número uno o el número dos? Decisions, decisions.

¡Qué guapo!

¡Qué guapo!

No roadside convenience store would be complete without a shrine. (Bimbo, by the way, is a brand of ice cream.)

No roadside convenience store would be complete without a shrine. (Bimbo, by the way, is a brand of ice cream.)

I was impressed with this 16th century church in Valladolid, until Riccardo pointed out it was built around the same time as the Duomo in Florence.

I was pretty impressed with this 16th century church in Valladolid, until Riccardo pointed out it was built around the same time as the Duomo in Florence.

Storm approaching.

Storm approaching.

Valladolid.

Valladolid.

More Valladolid.

More Valladolid.

Delightful mariachi band from the wedding, giving it their all. ¡Olé!

…And here’s the delightful mariachi band from the wedding. ¡Olé!

About 5 minutes from our resort. This gives you some idea of how much rain fell on us.

About 5 minutes from our resort. This gives you some idea of how much rain fell on us.

Pulpo. Yum.

Pulpo. Yum.

Minutes away from the glitzy seaside resorts.

Minutes away from the glitzy seaside resorts.

A boneyard near Valladolid.

A boneyard near Valladolid.

These'd make a great snack for Rob Ford.

These’d make a great snack for Rob Ford.

A delicious pina colada not made with watered-down rum!

A delicious pina colada not made with watered-down rum!

Making a mockery of the Mayan feathered snake deity. Tsk tsk.

Making a mockery of the Mayan feathered snake deity.       Tsk tsk.

Country livin'.

Country livin’.

A cool couple in Cancun.

A cool couple in Cancun.

Sunny beach times were few and far between.

Sunny beach times were few and far between.

We got a honeymoon banner on our door! DO NOT DISTURB!

Honeymoon banner on our room door! DO NOT DISTURB!

Everyone, do the Robot!

…and here is a breakdancing saint.

 

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s