written by Lydia Linton Pontius (November 2009)
edited by Alex Bradley
photos by Lydia and Alex
We can't recommend strongly enough the need for you to jump in a car and just go explore the Yucatán. It is something I try to do every chance I get, whether traveling alone or heading out with loved ones and friends. I love my home away from home but what I am starting to love even more is the vast backyard it has—so diverse in culture and such a endless number of things to see and do.
I and two friends of mine, Alex and Susan, had attended some or all of the 10-day Women In Wellness Retreat and we were ready for a different kind of adventure. We jumped in the car Wednesday morning and headed south of Akumal, on the main highway. We turned right in Tulúm and headed inland towards Cobá. First stop was La Selva Mariposa, a lovely boutique bed and breakfast, to say hi to our friends Moe and Lou and their three dogs. I had to pick up a copy or two of her book,Molly the Gecko Hunter, for the young ones on my Christmas list. It is always fun to share a book with little ones, especially when you know the main characters and the author.
After a short visit we were back on the road. Next stop Valladolid and lunch at El Mesón del Marqués. This 17th Century hacienda-style mansion is located on the main square and offers a wonderful courtyard setting for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is also a lovely hotel. All three of us enjoy making this a stop whenever we can. We had saved up our appetite for a meal of: sopa de lima, guacamole prepared right at your table, cochinita pibil (pork), and, of course, the exquisite regional flan for dessert.
Satiated and ready to get back on the road, we headed out of Valladolid, taking smaller roads for quite some time and eventually getting onto the toll road to Mérida, knowing that we were going to run out of sun before we made it to Celestún.
Everything was going great, we were making good time, headed around Mérida on the bypass and off to the Gulf Coast. Then the alux started having their fun. I needed to get the other contact from my bag in the trunk. I drive well during the day with one contact and the other eye is my reading eye, but once the sun starts to set, my depth perception suffers and it is necessary to have both contacts in to drive in the dark. We found a well-lighted parking lot and pulled off the road. I hopped out of the car, grabbed my bag with my other contact, got distracted, one thing led to another and I slammed the trunk closed—only to realize that I very well may have locked the keys in the trunk. Come on, we have all been there at one time or another. Just seems some of us do these things on a more regular basis. But no problem, there must be a trunk release somewhere in this car! NOT! Which meant instead of simply re-opening the trunk, we had to pull down the back seat, remove all the luggage and crawl into the trunk with a flashlight. Of course we had a flashlight; we are three women prepared for our adventure. I am not going to go into details as to exactly where we found the keys, because that would just be too embarrassing [Alex editing here, and admitting that I was channeling the alux at this point, making Lydia go trunk diving unnecessarily, since it turns out I had the keys!!] so let's just say we packed the car back up and headed off to Celestún. This gave us a nice opportunity to stretch our legs and get some much needed exercise.
The road to Celestún is narrow and, for the most part, extremely straight and easy to navigate. On a cloudy night there is little to see except for the occasional headlights. We crossed the bridge to Celestún, went to the end of town and turned right. We were now only 10 kilometers from Eco Paraíso, an eco-resort located down a dirt road and nestled in the well-protected biosphere.
We arrived and got settled in our rooms for two glorious nights away from the hustle and bustle in a relaxing setting on the edge of the Yucatán's Gulf Coast. Except for the workers who were busy building new palapa bungalows and renovating the restaurant, pool, and other facilities, we were about the only guests.
Eco Paraíso has three miles of virgin beach to roam and tons of shells to admire and photograph. There are many tours that you can enjoy, but we opted just to relax and soak in the abundance of nature right outside our doorsteps. With the restaurant closed for renovations, we got to enjoy all our meals on our private patios. And birdwatching was delightful right from there as well.
The first morning we thought the alux were at it again because each of us had a fresh pot of coffee delivered to our rooms, yet no one had knocked on the door, and we knew no one had come in uninvited. We will save that secret for those of you who visit! It is just one of the many examples of great attention to detail and the wonderful sense of humor the staff has!
Time flew and it was time for us to get back on the road. We thoroughly enjoyed the drive during the daylight and marveled at the wildlife along the way. We saw a number of birds and had to stop to say hello to the cutest little Brahman bull grazing on the side of the road. At the bridge leaving Celestún we saw some flamingos, for which this area is so famous.
Heading out, we enjoyed the number of small villages and towns along the way. We are looking forward to taking more time to stop and visit some of the colonial haciendas, small ruins and museums scattered all around the Yucatán on future visits. We stopped at a lovely cemetery and, with permission of the caretaker, took a few pictures; it was gorgeous with all the flowers left from the Day of the Dead observances.
We chose to bypass Mérida yet again and made the city of Motul our destination for lunch. We parked at the main square and walked around to get a feel for the city. We stopped and asked a few locals for suggestions for lunch and each one agreed we needed to try the restaurant across the street from the bullfighting ring. We did, and were not at all disappointed. The owner came over and introduced herself as Xama and her English was impeccable. She explained that she was educated in the States, where her parents and family still live, but that she had decided to marry and raise her children in Motul and take up the family business. The bullfighting ring was also owned by her family and had been in their family for many, many years. The menu was limited but it was incredibly prepared and the service was delightful.
Heading out of Motul we decided we had plenty of time to take some of the smaller roads and to meander through some quaint villages along the way. We were in search of a distillery but that will have to be found another day. We drove to Ek Balam, but it was dark by now, and we decided the best thing to do was to head back to Valladolid and spend the night at El Mesón del Marqués.
We checked into the hotel, showered, and had a relaxing drink on the balcony, chatting about our day and listening to music flowing out from some place in the city.
The next morning, with my computer in hand, we headed to breakfast. I decided it was best to check back in with the outside world and let them know we were having a fabulous time. We ordered breakfast and had a leisurely meal. We followed it up with some shopping around the square. We were pleased to see they were renovating the square and it should be lovely when it is done. The ladies in the square have moved to the other side of the street and are selling their handmade wares next to the hotel. I fell in love with a gorgeous white hand-embroidered piece and the woman explained her abuela had embroidered the top.
Now Hurricane Ida was sneaking up the coast so we checked the Internet and maps, and decided instead of taking our usual route back to Akumal, we would try some smaller roads south that headed inland and dropped us back on the highway south of Muyil. The most direct road takes about an hour and a half to two hours; our way took significantly longer, but was well worth the time and kept us in full sunshine for a lot of the way.
We found some incredibly gorgeous roads and a town named Tepich, noted as being the site of the instigation of the Caste War and home of one of its leaders, Cecilio Chi. The churches and homes were amazing. We wandered and stopped to take photos whenever we wanted. We were often slowed down by puppies, chickens or pigs crossing the roads.
After traveling many small roads, we found ourselves back on the highway and stopped at the restaurant across from the ruins in Muyil—you can't miss it, it is located at the tope! It was great.
After hours in the car and driving in and out of rain, we were pleased to be back in Akumal. We were spending tonight at Vista Del Mar. Ida was offshore kicking up some amazing waves and it was heavenly to walk through the door of the three-bedroom condo and watch nature at its best on Half Moon Bay. Our adventure ended back where it began and I opted to begin my last morning with a massage on the beach at sunrise. There really is no wonder why I love this place I call home! Home is not where you spend the most number of days, but where your heart feels that extra sense of joy and contentment and where your backyard is full of surprises and memories.