Once in a while I get stuck in a place. Actually, ‘stuck’ is the wrong word, it’s not that I am trapped in any way, it’s just that I don’t want to leave. A few of these towns spring to mind, Olomouc in Czech Republic, Golden Bay in New Zealand, Mawlamyine in Burma, and now Valladolid, Mexico.
I arrived having booked two nights, and the next day I booked two more. I thought I’d leave then, four nights having been enough. And then I extended another night, and another, and another, each day approaching the receptionist slightly more sheepishly, holding out my pesos like Oliver Twist holding up his bowl. “Please can I stay just one more night?”
One day I said, “I’m pretty sure I’m leaving tomorrow,” and she just shrugged and gave me a knowing smile. And then I stayed yet another night.
So what is it about Valladolid, Mexico that made me want to stay so long?
It’s the charming city centre with its restored, pastel painted buildings lining the stone-paved streets.
It’s the pretty town square, full of leafy trees, benches, and couple-chairs, which are set up so that people can actually have a face-to-face conversation without squirming awkwardly sideways on a bench.
It’s the cathedral, towering over the square, looking intimidating and yet welcoming to all.
It’s the celebrations that seem to happen almost nightly in front of the cathedral, with musicians and fireworks and crowds of happy people.
It’s the plaza outside my hostel, peaceful at most times, but occasionally taken over by a nighttime dance show or twilight aerobics class.
It’s the dichotomy between the fixed-up, pretty centre of town to the outskirts just a few blocks away, where the cobbled road becomes potholed cement and the storefronts are suddenly run-down, hand painted signs advertising wares. The streets here are lined with parked vehicles, pedal carts, fruit and vegetable sellers and food stalls.
It’s marquesitas in the square, for the perfect after-dinner treat. I like the ones made by ‘el tio Bat man’, (The Uncle Bat Man?) who always made me think of Bruce Wayne even though someone tried unsuccessfully to explain that it’s not actually Batman being referenced.
It’s the dancing in the street on Sunday nights. Even when it rains.
It’s my hostel, with its fabulous breakfasts and peaceful garden hammocks, and a bed where I had better sleeps than I’ve had in a long time.
It’s the cool, clear cenotes, where I could head underground for a refreshing afternoon dip just when the blazing sun became too much to handle.
It’s the smell of grilling meat wafting through the streets, al pastor ready to be put on a corn tortilla with that wonderful combination of onion and cilantro and pineapple.
It’s Casa de los Venados, with its over 3000 pieces of Mexican folk art displayed in a gorgeous restored house.
It’s the proximity to ruins, with easy day trips to touristy Chichen Itza and much less touristy Ek’ Balam available.
It’s the mysterious Chinese-looking temple that I never got an explanation for. Is there a Chinese population here? Was there in the past? Why is it seemingly abandoned now? What happened to the Chinese people?
It’s the way the street leading to the convent seems like it was designed to be the main tourist drag, but that simply hasn’t happened and now the heart of the city is where the local people gather, in the main zocalo in front of the cathedral.
It’s the produce sellers on the side of the road, who will peel your oranges or cut your cantaloupe for you.
It’s the slow pace of life. A busy morning of sightseeing can be counteracted with a wander through the quiet streets during the afternoon siesta, a chat with a local in the main square, or sampling Mayan chocolate flavoured with oregano or anise.
It’s the religious processions through the streets, carrying banners and flowers and playing music and setting off firecrackers to give thanks for whatever has been achieved.
It’s friendly locals like the sweet family that run MAQTacos, (seriously, go there!) who made me feel so welcome, fed me a delicious lunch and engaged in some good conversation, which mostly consisted of them answering all my questions!
It’s the plethora of VW Beetles, which just makes me wish my nephews were here to see them. They would go NUTS.
Valladolid was perfect. It was the ideal spot for some much-needed R&R for me, after the mayhem of preparing for both my travels and my sister’s wedding in Las Vegas, as well as the wedding weekend itself and the lengthy and terrible flight decisions I’d made.
But it’s not just good for recovery. Valladolid felt like a place I could stay, and just like I did in Mawlamyine and Golden Bay and Olomouc I started to imagine myself settling there permanently, setting up an English school or a bookstore or a bakery or a café.
Alas, that is not to be. I am still too nomadic, and have so much more of the world to see before I settle somewhere. But I am definitely adding Valladolid, Mexico to my list of possibilities should I ever need a bit of a home base!
What’s a place you’ve gotten ‘stuck’ like this? Tell me about it in the comments so I can go visit it!