Our Story: Valladolid
Would you rather climb the world’s highest mountain or spelunk the world’s deepest cave?
In my family, this was always the first question in the game of ‘Would you rather …’ and my answer was always to spelunk – not usually the consensus. But if you’ve been fortunate to explore the cenotes of the Yucatan, you might choose the same.
Cenote X-Keken – Dzitnup, outside Valladolid
This particularly magnificent cenote, X-Keken, is located 7 km. outside of Valladolid – for me it was an hour walk, for others a 20-minute bike ride and others still a 10-minute taxi drive. For me walking was indisputably the best option. Not only was it free, but it’s more condusive to take in the local fauna this way.
On a bike you may hear something buzz by your ear, but to a person walking the same path that buzz is an iridescent green bee the size of a lima bean that sits suspended in the air like a humming bird until you get close enough for it to zip away in the blink of an eye.
In a car flying down the highway, you wouldn’t even notice the vast variety of butterflies and moths weaving clumsily between the vibrant flora along the road. Not only was I among these delicate fluttering, floating insects, but I also had the time to admire their ever-extending probosces extracting pollen from the stamen of a flower.
Lizards of a hundred different color combinations and sizes sit sunbathing on rocks and tree trunks. You wouldn’t notice them sitting as still as statues if it weren’t for the others constantly scurrying and leaping across the path in front of you. Yes, I think walking is really the way to go. It’s true that it was upwards of 90 degrees fahrenheit with the morning sun beating on your face and shoulders. It’s true my bottle of water was frozen solid when I started out of the hostel and 15 minutes later it was the same temperature of the salty sweat that was now constantly flowing from my forehead onto my lips – but it’s the Yucatan, what weather did you expect?
After walking there, the water is even more refreshing and enjoyable than it looks.
The best part of the walk though is when you reach the cenote and submerse yourself in the crystal-clear rain water that has filtered through the limestone and earth to form a deep and mesmerizing blue-green pool reflecting the massive stalactite formations dripping from the earth above you. Bats swoop in and out of the rays of sunlight coming from the singular opening in the roof of the cave as black catfish meander among the rocks and underwater stalagmites, seemingly indifferent to you being there.
I met Bartolomo, a local Mayan man who was riding his bike along the road when he stopped to chat with me. I told him I was headed to the cenote.
“Te acompaño?” he asked.
“Ummm, vale. Hace calor, no?” I responded, reasoning that he seemed to be a kind old man and could likely tell me some things about the area. Then I mentioned the heat for a bit of small talk and to acknowledge the fact that we had both just lifted the hem of our shirts to wipe the sweat from our upper lips.
I told him I had been to the cenote 15 years before with my entire family. He told me it probably hadn’t changed much. And once I saw it, it was in fact exactly the same. Bartolomo not only accompanied me to the cave, he also ushered me in. In between his constant requests to know if I was going to swim once we arrived we had a bit of a Mayan vocabulary lesson. Learning the words for bats and caves and fish. And then once I did finally take the plunge into the muy rica agua, he accompanied me there as well. He may have been a bit pestering, but I didn’t mind and it reinforced my views on walking. Because this exchange with Bartolomo was just another benefit of the journey – taking things at a slower pace opens you up to opportunities you might otherwise breeze by.