Saturday, May 7, 2011

Chichen Itza

The Maya were one of the world's great civilizations. They are one of the few great builders and conquerors who did not have the horse. If you wonder why this is important, ask yourself why our engines and motors are rated in "horse power."

While in Cancún, we took a day trip to Chichen Itza, the center of the Mayan world. It is about 180km from Cancún (approximately 288 miles) and by the Federal Highway the trip is about three hours.

This is the Temple of Kukulkan, who is similar to the other winged serpents of Mesoamerica like the Aztec's Quetzalcoatl. In the enlarged picture, you can see how the left side of the pyramid is more ravaged than the right. This is because it was closer to the road, so the Spanish and others leeched more stone from that side.

This is the ball court, which was not so much sport as religion. The only spectators were religious figures, and the results would be announced to the crowds outside. The game was played with a seven pound rubber ball which you could not touch with your hands. The goal was to be first to put the ball through the hoop. The hoop represents the Universe, and the ball is the Sun. Passing the "Sun" through the center of the "Universe" was supposed to reset things in time of trouble, symbolically recreating the Universe. Similarly, the Mayan calendar ending next year does not signal the end of the world, but rather the point of Universal alignment where they started the calendar.

Last, we have Chichen Itza's namesake. "Chichen Itza" means "mouth of the well of the water wizards." These are the magic waters. It is a limestone sinkhole directly north of the Temple of Kukulkan. Occasionally priests would throw themselves in, sacrificing themselves to Chaac, the rain god, who lived in the wells of the world. This is fed by the same underground rivers that fed the cenote featured last week.

If you ever go to the Yucatan, Chichen Itza is worth seeing. We paid $100USD for the bus ride, park admission, lunch, snacks and drinks (including beer) on the bus, and the stop at the cenote. They have tour guides who are bilingual, but break into groups of predominant English and Spanish speakers. The guides are knowledgeable, and like the majority of people in the region, are Maya descendants. You also get to see a lot of the Yucatan's countryside. The villages along the way border on neolithic. People still farm by hand, and many of the buildings are shanties. Another semi-depressing aspect is all the peddlers. They are selling various trinkets of varying degrees of value for often ridiculously low prices. I guess the inverse though is that I never saw a pan-handler the whole time.

Next time, a bit on the hotel and the "Zona Hotelera."


Sharon Day said...

That was lovely. I would so love to go see those in person. I have a theory about "spirit vessels" built by ancients from certain materials in certain configurations to be better vessels of spiritual energy. I would be curious to find out if one can feel it there.

Unknown said...

Yeah it is beautiful isn't it. I could use another vacation.... :(

Darius Whiteplume said...

@Autumnforest - it is very impressive. It was very crowded when we went, which might have detracted a bit from the awe factor. I would go again, but there are so many great places in Mesoamerica to see. Maybe the Aztecs next?

@Major.Mack - we are fortunately childless, and the wife gets little enough vacation time that she likes to make the best of it. :-)

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