One of my colleagues had assured us this one was a must – Izamal, a town painted all in yellow. The home of a big and old San Franciscan monastery (San Antonio de Padua). Continually inhabited since at least 200 years before our era. And officially denominated a "pueblo mágico", a magical town, due to its history, architecture and culture. Oh, and my colleague insisted the best Yucatec cuisine was to be found here. How not to go?
So, after another couple hour ride from Merida's bus station, there we were, at the Yellow City.
First, the monastery of San Antonio de Padua, from 1561. And built, like so many Christian structures, atop a pyramid, both to show who was master and to entice people to come to worship, as many indigenous peoples considered the sites where they built their temples sacred – that is, the sacredness extended beyond the actual structure, so to speak.
Anyhow, the monastery is really beautiful. We didn't see any monks, but still. The ochre painting against the blue skies, its immense atrium, its nooks and crannies with religious images, offerings... Not only that, since it sits atop a pyramid, you actually get some nice views of the centre of the city from its outermost side.
Quite the place, this monastery. And it had a surprise for us, but I'll get to that in a bit.
We had a walk around this calm, pretty, yellow-ochre town, of course, admiring its streets, the houses, and the odd name like this bar's "El rico vacilón" ("the fun tease"? hard to translate!).
We were getting hungry, so we headed to our one and only and most important recommendation for food here: Kinich. We had been told this was going to be one unforgettable culinary experience. And it was. We had the peninsula's famous "sopa de lima" (lemon soup). Now, as simple as the soup may seem, the turkey broth and meat, the spices, the lemons... it was delicious! And way, way better than the one we had had in Uxmal, which only proved that this was the place to eat at!
And then we had two other Yucatec specialities – cochinita pibil and tzic de venado. The cochinita pibil is pork that has been marinated in bitter orange juice with achiote (a seasoning made from annatto seed which imparts a deep burnt orange colour) and then wrapped in banana leaf and roasted buried in a pit. Oh, and served with pickled red onions and eaten with beans, habanero chili, and tortillas. Wow. Really, wow. Too good.
The tzic de venado, or deer "tzic", is cooked deer meat with radish, cilantro, red onion and bitter orange juice, served with avocado and habanero chili, and also eaten with tortillas. Oh, and the tortillas were, obviously, handmade. This was terribly good too! A tough competitor for the cochinita pibil!
With our stomachs full, we were ready to explore some more!
Now, a place this old and important was not going to have a single pyramid, right? Nope. It had not one, but FIVE great pyramids. The best preserved – Kinich-Kak-Moo. And also one of Mexico's biggest! We approached from one of the sides, and started walking up, not really sure of it's true size. Remember, this is smack in the middle of town, close to houses and all, so you don't get the benefit of seeing it from afar to size it properly, as you're really right next to it.
So, we climbed, and climbed, and reached a terrace. A huge terrace. And on top of it? The pyramid itself! Crazy! And beautiful: as in Uxmal, the sides of the pyramid were not sharp corners, but gracious curves. Simply amazing. Loved this place!
Once we got back down, we still had time for one last look at the monastery. And aren't we glad we did! After spending just some time taking it all in, we heard some music. We thought there might be a fair of some sort going on. But then we asked, and we were told there was a procession in progress, organized by the local guilds (yes, the guilds!), in honour of the Virgin Mary!
And so we got to watch the whole procession, around the convent, up the ramp to enter it, and across the atrium to the main entrance. Incredible! And so colourful! So many beautiful traditional dresses!
A brilliant visit.