Yucatan road trip day 3 report: Zentik Botique Hotel and Ek Balam
On our first night in Valladolid we settled on going for dinner at a hotel I was to check out, The Zentik Boutique Hotel. After wandering around town for the better part of the day we went back to our hotel El Meson del Marques, made reservations at the Zentik Project for 8:00 pm and enjoyed the sunset from our rooftop patio.
When it came time to leave for dinner it was completely dark outside. We were driving, as the GPS indicated a 15 minutes drive from our hotel. After a short drive the GPS directed us in total darkness to unlit are and we thought our GPS is leading us astray. We made a wrong turn behind the market, or so we thought and it seemed like we were going no where. Reluctantly we decided to leave it for the evening and try to come back the following evening a little earlier when we can see where we are going. For that evening’s dinner we settled in the inner courtyard of our hotel and had a nice relaxing dinner before heading upstairs to our room.
The next evening, after experiencing the magnificent Gulf coast of northern Yucatan and the pink”ish” Las Coloradas we got dressed, into our SUV and with the GPS while there was still light outside headed towards the Zentik Boutique hotel to try it out.
Getting there in the early evening was a much different experience. Left turn just behind the market, a right and another left, follow the road and we were there quickly and without incident. We felt kind of foolish for abandoning the project the night before.
Art at Zentik
The Zentik Hotel (aka Zentik Project) is a unique concept small hotel built to showcase murals and other artworks by local and international artists from disciplines that include painters, sculptors, photographers and craftspeople of various specialties. Some of the artwork, especially the murals, are quite thought provoking. The 10 rooms are comfortable but not large, those on the second level offer thatched roof with high ceiling. Some of the rooms feature murals and all have seating outside.
One of the prominent murals was done by Aleksei Bordusov aka Aec Interesni Kazki (meaning Interesting Fairytales), a Ukrainian artist from Kiev whose surrealistic works are displayed worldwide. The mural is intriguing, colourful, provocative and alegorical and explores meaning of our world through both science and myth.
Here is what his website says about this mural:
“Petrified science means modern natural science and archaeologic knowledges which are focused only on discovering of material world, divided from spiritual and mystical part of it, which are all parts of the whole thing which is Universe. That why modern knowledges about nature are retarded and kind of petrified compare to more perfect knowledges about universe of the future generations and probably generations of the past, when there was no ‘technical progress’.”
Underground Cave at Zentik
Another unique feature of this hotel is the underground cave filled with salt water. The cave was found after the hotel was built, its walls reinforced and covered with ‘Chucum’ Resin (endemic tree of the Yucatan Peninsula) and then filled with salinated water. A steep stone staircase leads down 6 meters underground to the pool where you can float comfortably in the 93F water and even order drinks from the bar delivered to you as you float. This experience is available to you as a hotel guest or with a reasonably priced day pass that sometime includes a massage.
Food at Zentik
We had dinner at Naino’s, the hotel’s restaurant set at the entrance under a soaring thatched roof. The open kitchen is next to the dining area and if you look over the high counter you can watch the chefs preparing the food. The menu is not large (it’s a good thing, in case you wonder) and has many tempting choices featuring Yucatan specialties with a modern twist and beautiful presentation. I ordered a grilled salad that swept me off my feet. I wish I had better pictures of it and a description of the ingredients. It had fire grilled corn, red onion and other vegetables and I believe was tossed with fresh lettuce that gently wilted against the heat of the grilled vegetables. It was a perfect salad for my vegetarian palate and I enjoyed every bite.
One of the nice touches of this unique hotel is the offer of complimentary tequila as you settle at your table (or arrive at the hotel). Not being a drinker they talked me (gently) into having a little bit. Our tequila was served in small jicara bowls resting on a braided round of wicker to keep it upright. It was so pretty that the next day I went to the market and filled a bag with a whole bunch of those to take home.
After dinner they offered us another drink, this time an anise flavoured liqueur produced locally, Xtabentún. I had this before at a cooking class at the Ritz and it was refreshing and special. Maybe I should reconsider my no drinking policy. Xtabentún is an anise liqueur made from anise seed and fermented (yes) honey from bees feeding on the nectar of xtabentún flowers (hence the name). Rum is added to the anise and honey mixture at the end of the process. This was also served in small jicara bowls over a cube of clear ice and two coffee beans floating on top and it was an easy sell after the tequila. Did I also mention it was also complimentary? and they offered refills as well.
After this success we decided to come back there for breakfast even though breakfast was included in our own hotel stay. I am glad we came back as breakfast was one of the best I have had. I ordered cheese enchiladas with green sauce and my husband ordered the enfrijoladas, a black bean and tortillas dish typical of the Yucatan and here served like enchiladas. Both dishes were exceptional and I wish I had them in front of me right now. We lingered with our Mexican coffees (cafe de la Olla) brewed with pioncillo and cinnamon as long as we could before saying goodbye to the staff who has gotten to know us by now and headed out.
We were not going home yet, still had to visit the Mayan archeological site Ek Balam, a half hour drive north from Valladolid. I am glad we did not miss this site. Ek Balam, translated into black panther or star panther, depending on language interpretation is one of the oldest sites, dating back to 1200 bc. The Mayan community here reached it’s peek development in 700 AD. The palace is one of the largest structure to be excavated in the Yucatan, if not the largest. There are 106 steep and narrow steps leading to the top and we climbed them carefully as I was sure I was about to tumble down any second. The view from the top was worth the near heart attack of going up those steps. Our local guide conveniently remained at the bottom waiting for us to come down. Counterintuitively, going down was easier and less scary than going up.
The immense temple is over 500 feet long and 200 feet wide. An opening at the top is said to be a mouth of a monster leading to the underworld. I can imagine what fear it must have struck the people watching it back then. Ek Balam is one of the most impressive Mayan sites that I have seen and I would say don’t miss it if you are in the area.
With this visit our trip was about to end except….we went back to El Meson del Marques to pick up our luggage they kindly stored for us and then went back to Zentik Project for lunch before leaving Valladolid.
The trip back was quick and comfortable and as much fun as we had it is always good to be back at “home”.
I hope you enjoyed following me along. Next road trip is to Merida, stay tuned.