Friday, 14 February 2014

Chichen Itza

This sacred site was one of the greatest Mayan centres of the Yucatán peninsula. Throughout its nearly 1,000-year history, different peoples have left their mark on the city. The Maya and Toltec vision of the world and the universe is revealed in their stone monuments and artistic works. The fusion of Mayan construction techniques with new elements from central Mexico make Chichen-Itza one of the most important examples of the Mayan-Toltec civilization in Yucatán. Several buildings have survived, such as the Warriors’ Temple, El Castillo and the circular observatory known as El Caracol
You'd think human sacrifice is no laughing matter, but at Chichen Itza, the guides have managed to turn it into a joke. Well, more an 'explanation' as to why they don't allow people to actually climb the steps of the famous Mayan temple anymore. Plus I'm sure it helps preserve the structure, just like the pyramids at Giza.

Normally we would have found our own way to a place like this, and muddled through without a guide to save money (like at Pompeii - not always a good thing), but since we were already doing the whole resort thing, we decided it was easier to just give in and sign up to a fully inclusive tour from Moon Palace, complete with air conditioned bus and a lunch buffet.

After a two and a half hour drive, we were all unloaded into the sweltering heat of Chichen Itza, along with a dozen other busloads of tourists. For the first hour, we were taken around by a guide who explained what each building was for, then could roam freely around the complex in the second hour before being bundled back onto the bus and delivered to Vallodolid for lunch.

While all the Mayan history stuff was very well explained and quite interesting, especially the gory details revolving around their horrible human sacrifice rituals, I couldn't help but be distracted by the intensely humid heat, and the various wild cat noises emanating from all over the place. I nearly jumped the first time I heard it, but later found out it was just vendors selling these jaguar noise making trinkets, just like those ubiquitous musical frogs you get in southeast Asia. The guide actually mentioned jaguars quite a bit, however it kept sounding like he was saying 'Jawas' because of his accent, which created a wholly different mental image...

Despite the fact that the whole place was swarming with tourists (including us), it was more than spacious enough to still get some shots without too many people spoiling the view.
The restored and unrestored sides of the temple offered an interesting contrast.
Apart from the main temple, there were a series of smaller temples and buildings around the site, including an observatory, a 'ball court' where they used to play a rather crazy, almost Quiddich-like game, and a platform for the display of human skulls.
We just couldn't get over how hot it was though - we'd been given umbrellas in case of rain, but were just as glad to use them for the shade. By the time we were due to leave, we were quite happy to get back into the air conditioned safety of the bus and head to our next stop.

After enjoying some pretty tasty Mexican food for lunch, we wandered around Vallodolid, which reminded us a lot of some of the cities we'd seen in Chile and Argentina - the Spanish influence was clear in the architecture and the town's layout.
One of the main tourist attractions in the town is its cenotes, sinkholes which lead to groundwater and often a labyrinth of underwater caves, many of which are still unexplored today. As you can imagine, it's a perfect natural swimming pool to cool off in, and I took this pic just as someone jumped into the water.

I found this hilarious drawing of a sun just outside the entrance to the cenote, and got James to pose accordingly.
Finally, here's a quick shot of a sign with a UNESCO logo we snapped on our way in to Chichen Itza - we meant to take a pic pointing to the logo on our way out, but managed to forget in the 'heat' of the moment.
If you squint, you'll be able to make out the UNESCO logo in the bottom centre
[Flickr set here]

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