Exploring Chichen Itza
It has been an amazing first week in Playa- working and learning with the local children, a really humbling experience so far. Staff and kids are so happy to see you and really value the time and effort that’s put in. First week was quite intense as I had to juggle learning Spanish and get to grips with the local heat. And oh my Lord it is HOT! Also all the training that GVI gives you, but it is worth it. I was totally looking forward to some free time on the weekend. So here comes my blog about my weekend here at Chichen Itza.
I woke up at my volunteers house in Playa del Carmen at 7am, grabbed my bags and ran down to the bus stop to catch my 8am bus to the famous Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza. The drive took a total of around 3,5 hours as we drove south to Tulum and Coba to pick up more passengers before heading inland through Valladolid. The bus ride gave me a great opportunity to stare out into the Mexican rural countryside. Dusty streets and many mangled huts, simple houses with walls made of sticks and roofs of sheet metal were commonplace. But beautiful to see. On the way we stopped at a cenote for an hour to cool off and have a swim. Back into the bus and off we went for a real authentic Mexican lunch- the lime soup is a must try!
Once arriving at the ruins I grabbed my ticket and entered the main plaza where I was met by some Maya warriors. Sounds of jaguars echoing through the site were quite airy but I was totally excited!
The ruins are a large pre-Columbian archaeological site built by the Maya civilization located in the northern center of the Yucatan between Playa del Carmen and Merida. The site exhibits a multitude of architectural styles, from what is called “Mexicanized”.
It was every bit as tall, every bit as beautiful as I imagined. Only I couldn’t touch it or climb it and there was a tangible emptiness for being so close and yet so far. What was inside? What did it contain? Who were these people? It is one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico; an estimated 1.2 million tourists visit the ruins every year. And I was about to become one of them.
Northern Yucatán is very hot and not much rain at this time of year, and the rivers in the interior all run underground. There are two large, natural sink holes, called cenotes,that could have provided plentiful water year round at Chichen Itza, making it attractive for settlement. One of the two cenotes is the “Cenote Sagrado” or Sacred Cenote.
Dominating the center of Chichen Itza is the Temple of Kukulkan. This steep pyramid has a ground plan of square terraces with stairways up each of the four sides to the temple on top. On the Spring and Autumn Equinox, at the rising and setting of the sun, the corner of the structure casts a shadow in the shape of a serpent along the west side of the north staircase.
Archaeologists have identified several courts for playing a ballgame in Chichen Itza. The Great Ball Court has 12 meters high walls and is 545 feet long and 225 feet wide overall. It is totally open to the sky, in the center, high up on each of the long walls, are rings carved with intertwining serpents. At the bottom of the high inside walls are slanted benches with sculpted panels of teams of ball players. In one panel, one of the players has been decapitated and from the wound emits seven streams of blood; six become wriggling serpents and the center becomes a winding plant-totally weird! They also said the ancient Maya could communicate with each other form far distances, and some of the panels have players with what looks like radio head gear on them!
At least two structures at the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza display unusual and unexplained acoustical properties. It is totally mind-blowing and I returned a few times to then to just clap, because I was just amazed. I am sure I looked like a total loon!
In the Great Ball Court for example: Each end has a raised “temple” area. A whisper from one end can be heard clearly at the other end 500 feet away and through the length of the court. The sound waves are unaffected by wind direction or time of day/night. Interesting!
The other is “Castillo”, a pyramid-like temple. If you stand facing the foot of the temple and shout, the echo comes back as a piercing shriek. Sounds like a bird! Also, a person standing on the top step can speak in a normal voice and be heard by those at ground level for some distance. Unfortunately since 2006 you are not allowed to go up it. Such a shame!
I believe that the Maya somehow engineered this acoustical phenomenon.
The site had an alarming number of locals selling tourist trinkets and wood carvings. Of all the Wonders of the World I have visited I have never seen such “in your face” commerce (could be a bit annoying). For the three hours I walked around the ruins that day I almost melted from the heat. Tourists traveling in groups often had guides hoisting large umbrellas above the ones who seemed as though they may drop dead.
I highly suggest the Mexican government erect a water park ten minutes down the roadJ! They would get a serious amount of business after tourists had spent a day heating up. In my last 30 minutes I actually ran from one little patch of tree shade to the next in an attempt to get back to the entrance.
It was an amazing way to spend some of my free time here in Playa. Looking forward to more adventures around Mexico!
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