My first taste of Mexico was in the small town of Valladolid. There’s nothing special about the town itself, except that it’s a charming Mexican town, but I chose it for it’s strategic position about half an hour away from Chichen Itza, the latest hotspot on the tourist track.
I’d been travelling for about 18 hours from San Francisco by plane, bus and car and was well and truly in need of a hot shower, so I was keen to find my accommodation and get sorted. I decided to try Airbnb, a booking service for people who rent out their homes or rooms, something I’d never done before. I’d always been apprehensive about the idea of staying in someone’s home, as a solo female, being alone with some stranger in their home wasn’t an appealing thought, but I’d heard some good reports about Airbnb (from men and women), so I gave it a try, but chose my lodgings carefully.
Bearing in mind that I didn’t really want to be alone with a guy, I made sure that the room was being rented by either a woman or a couple. I then took a good look at the reviews to make sure there was nothing in there that rang any alarms bells, if a place had no reviews I discounted it completely. Finally I looked at the photos on the site carefully to and if anything felt a little odd I just didn’t chose. Based on this rather simple criteria I pressed book and requested my first stay at Beate’s Raw & Vegan B&B. Now I am neither raw nor vegan, so I guess it was an odd choice, but I’m not averse to a little hippy in my experiences and I was actually a little bit more than fascinated by what a raw breakfast looked like.
So landing in Valladolid I took a taxi straight to the address provided, only to find the door was shut and no one was home. To be fair, I’d managed to get an earlier bus than anticipated so was not expected for a couple of hours. I messaged my host and waited by the door just as it started to rain. The lovely lady who managed the corner store across the road signalled to me to come on over, pulled up a plastic chair in her store and made me feel perfectly at home, while we both sat and watched her little “dogette” and cat play around the store before settling on a chair of their own. It took another hour for my host Beate to arrive. Unfortunately the telecommunication gods hadn’t been kind to us and she’d only just received my message, but she was ever so apologetic and sweet, so it was easy to forgive and forget the past couple of hours.
Thankfully the house looked just as I had expected, bright, airy and lush. The guest rooms were dotted around the rather large and verdant backyard. From my balcony I couldn’t even see the main house. It was clean, peaceful and very comfortable, and I immediately felt at home.
To my surprise there was a dry toilet, but thankfully I was familiar with them already and compared to some of the “Western toilets” I’d seen in India, it was like five star luxury. The only thing I hadn’t expected were the dogs, all 5 of them. I’m not a huge fan of dogs, I don’t mind one or two, but more than that and I get very overwhelmed. I much prefer cats who just keep to themselves and are independent. Thankfully my host picked up on this quickly and the dogs spent much of my stay in their own area, away from me, but still very comfortable.
After a long journey and a shower, I was well and truly ready for dinner. Beate suggested a local Taberna and asked if she could join, so off to dinner together we went. Accustomed to the company of a good book for dinner, it was nice to have a chat to someone and learn a bit about their life in this quaint Mexican town. Beate’s husband was a Canadian farmer, and he was currently there tending to his fields. They moved to Mexico for the warmer climes and relaxed pace, and hoped to expand their retreat so that there was more space for them to farm a little, keep horses and of course for the dogs to run around. All in all, life sounded quite peaceful.
What I found really helpful was my host’s willingness to provide advice and recommendations. Thanks to her suggestions I visited a gorgeous little chocolate shop in Calle de los Frailes where they explained the history of cacao and it’s importance in Mayan culture. Of course there was also a “degustation” of their products and raw cacao. Rather than tasting like sweetened chocolate, their products were grainy, ground straight from the cacao bean, but rich, bitter, sweet and luscious. I tried their espresso shot, which was pure cacao, ground and then heated with just a hint of water. It was thick with more than a hint of bitterness and the unmistakable flavour of rich chocolate in the background. The shot was thick, I needed a spoon to “drink” it, but it was so good I went back each day I was Valladolid to have one as an afternoon treat.
She also introduced me to some other hidden gems in Valladolid. Her favourite ceviche was made at a family restaurant, La Sirenita, that’s located far away from the tourist trap of the Centro.
Nearer to the action, I had my first taste of Mexican street food on Beate’s recommendation, a vegetarian tamale that was filling and perfect with some spicy tomato salsa. The lovely lady who made it sets up her stall on Calle 44 each evening at 7pm, and takes out her pre-cooked meals one by one, selling them for only 15 pesos (US$1.25) each until all are finished for the evening. She happily obliged me with a photo, although I suspect she thought I was little crazy. This was certainly the culinary highlight of my stay in Valladolid.
Back at home, Beate had promised a raw and vegan breakfast and she certainly stayed true to her word. My first morning was an interesting dish of banana ice-cream (made with coconut milk and fresh bananas) and a mole sauce. Day 2 was fresh papaya with a cacao sauce (the sauce was so good it inspired me to purchase fresh cacao beans to take home but unfortunately didn’t photograph well), and Day 3 was this delight.
A tart made with dates, apple and pumpkin seeds, covered in an avocado sauce and served with a side of fresh papaya. It may not photograph too well, but the food was certainly filling and delicious. But I must admit it felt odd sitting down to ice cream and chocolate for breakfast, and I certainly missed my cup of Joe. I’m not sure I could get used to having a raw breakfast everyday, but I didn’t mind the novelty of it for a few days, and that chocolate sauce recipe will certainly become a desert specialty of mine moving forward.
But Valladolid wasn’t all about the food, it’s also a sweet town which is quite pleasant to wander around. The convent is one of the major sites, and it was definitely an interesting place to visit on a rainy afternoon.
I lost myself for about an hour in this tiny tequiliaria, that specialised in selling only tequila, mezcal and the local aniseed brew. Probably one of the strangest things I’ve missed since moving to India is liquorice, so no surprises that some of the aniseed drink came with me. I’m told it makes a perfect digestive, and after my experiences of Averna in Sicily, I looked forward to trying it when I returned to New York.
Of course while the food and the quaint village is nice, the main attraction of Valladolid is Chichen-Itza, and there are several day trips possible to places like Ek Balam. Thankfully my hosts were able to give me plenty of tips on how to get to these sites like a local, which meant I could really get out and explore on my own.
If you’re interested in trying Airbnb you can use my referral link to sign up to Airbnb and we will both receive credits with them when you make your first booking. And of course don’t forget to tell me about your travels!
This post was written in collaboration with Airbnb, but the opinions are entirely my own.