Early this week, our friends Dean and Jody flew in from Minneapolis to spend a week on the Riviera Maya. We met four years ago, while we were planning our move to Playa del Carmen. We have seen them again just one time since but we all get on quite well and were really looking forward to this visit. I wanted to plan a fun day for all of us, a day full of seeing new sights and doing new things. As Jody had put her foot down and declared it would be a "ruin free" day, I settled on a day trip to the quiet colonial city of Valladolid. We chose to make the drive via Tulum and Coba rather than go up into Cancun and out the cuota road. The sticker on our imported car had expired in February and we figured, on this route, we would meet with less resistance at the state line. In fact, we did encounter a small road block but they seemed more concerned with the fact that our car has no front license plate. Two hours flew by quickly and soon we arrived in Valladolid and located the picture perfect zocalo.

Finding food was the first order of the day and we quickly found a spot in the courtyard at El Mesón del Marqués, a beautiful building originally erected in the early seventeenth century. Later, after serving as a private home to the Escalante family, it opened its doors as a small hotel in 1967. Since then, the hotel has expanded to include 90 rooms, overlooking a beautiful restaurant and delightful pool. We had heard such glowing reviews of the hotel yet, on our one previous trip through Valladolid we had somehow missed this landmark. I was glad to finally be able to experience it myself.

All four of us starving, we launched into our menus and had a difficult time choosing among all of the wonderful regional dishes. I started with Gazpacho Divorciados, a soup as beautiful as it was delicious. Rob polished off a plate of "not so regional" nachos and Dean, the traditional Sopa de Lima (Lime Soup). Our entrees included enchiladas with mole, a bit too sweet for Rob's taste, chicken tacos finished with queso fresco and a chicken and masa (corn flour) stew topped with a tangy salsa of tomatoes, capers, olives, almonds and raisins. Dean, an adventurous eater like me, couldn't help but order a regional specialty called "Baby Shark Pie". I'm not sure I tasted the shark but the accompanying bean sauce was very flavorful. Served with warm corn tortillas, it was a very satisfying meal.

Having stuffed ourselves silly, we decided a bit of exercise was in order to we set off in search of one of the cenotes close to town, Cenote Dzinup. With a bit of direction from the front desk at the hotel, we easily reached our destination just outside of town off of the free road to Merida. Dzitnup is actually two separate cenotes, Xkeken and Samuyil, the first being the most popular and well known. The site has plenty of parking, the usual vendors in their stalls and bathroom facilities. This was Dean and Jody's first cenote experience and I was glad we chose this one. Xkeken is accessed by a steep flight of stairs with a rope to hang onto. The steps were quite slick and at times, we had to double over to pass through to the underground cavern. The interior of the cave was remarkably spacious and eerily lit by a narrow shaft of sunlight coming from a small hole in the ceiling. Additional artificial lighting has been added over the years for the safely and viewing pleasure of the tourists who visit this site. Fortunately, this did nothing to detract from the electric blue glow of the water. There were just a few other visitors enjoying the cool water and the beauty of the cave, one of whom was nice enough to take our picture.

This was my very first sighting of the elusive Mot Mot, a tropical bird often found near cenotes. It's not a great photo but I was pleased.

After a refreshing swim, we went off to investigate the second and newer of the two cenotes, Samuyil. Dean and I went in to snap a few photos. This cenote is equal in scale to the first but not nearly as dramatic or inviting.

Curiosity satisfied, we returned to the town square for some sight-seeing a bit of shopping. The boys didn't make it too far before finding a comfortable corner pub and settling in for a few cold ones. Jody and I visited a few of the small shops that surround the zocalo but quickly succumbed to the beers calling our name. The last time we were in Valladolid, Rob and I spent a lovely evening in this same restaurant, Las Campanas, drinking margaritas and listening to music. We were happy to see the place hasn't changed a bit.

Half a dozen rounds later, we noticed an unusual level of activity in the streets. Police blocking off the intersections hundreds of people migrating into the zocalo and a large stage being erected outside of the restaurant. We paid up and wandered outside to see what all the commotion was about. This is where my plans for the day go out the window and the wheels fall off the bus. Check in tomorrow for Part 2 of our "Daytrip" to Valladolid.