Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Kukulcan's temple -- Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, Mexico.

Me and Robbie are dwarfed by this amazing marvel of ancient Mayan engineering.

The 2 hour-trip away from the Caribbean Sea, into miles of scrub and naked, tangled trees and bone-dry land, what a shock to the system. The climate controlled bus came to a stop and we spilled out into this OVEN of a place that is Chichen Itza. . A bottle of cold water was issued to each person on leaving and again on re-entering the bus. Our guide, Jose Luis, warned of the dangers of dehydration.They were NOT kidding ! After only about 20 minutes or so i began to feel the effects of the sun (even with my hat and sunglasses and sunblock). After an hour my legs were rubber and I was starting to feel like i was gonna fall down! Rob offered me some of his water, which by that point had become hot in the bottle. . not warm -- HOT! We found a place to buy some nice, cold water. . $200 pesos or so. . just a few dollars. I don't think I have ever appreciated water as much as I did that bottle of "Crystal".

Extreme heat aside. . we were entranced with these ruins and we listened to descriptions of their mathematically-adept architects. What an education!! To be honest I had never really thought much about Mayan history - it just never came up in conversation where i live! They were the creators of a numerical system that ultimately became the binary system used in modern computing. . these ppl lived by the stars, marked equinoxes and solstices with great, stone monuments, using precision and skill that baffles 21st century scientists. They took powerful hallucinogens and took 'vision quests' into outer space, said our proudly Mayan guide, Jose #2. Upon coming back down to 'earth', they would use the knowledge they gathered to erect their observatories and their pyramids within pyramids (similar large pyramids in Teotihuacan contained 7 pyramids in 1 - to pay homage to the constellation "The 7 Sisters"). Here's a bit of coolness for you. . . the rubber trees here exude a stretchy, white sap that was mixed with herbs to make ancient 'chewing gum' called (in Mayan) "Chi Clet" "Chi" = mouth "Clet" = chew. .

We had the guided tour, then we were allowed to go "Indiana Jones". . explore on our own. Our guides kept repeating "7186 - The Good Guys". . it was the bus number and our tour's 'Code Name'!!! (with so many tour buses, you did NOT want to get on the wrong one!!!) Unbelievably, I STILL remember this!!! Great brainwashing job, eh?!! With 12 square miles of Chichen Itza to explore and not very much time in which to do it, we chose to take a right past the Observatory and the remains of The Temple of Venus. . and headed to see a jade-green 'cenote' (senotay). These giant meteor craters are fed by underground rivers and were used for ritual sacrifices in which bones of the deceased (males and infants) sacred objects and other items would be cast into the watery pit. I'd like to post another picture here for you. . but I don't know how to post more than 1 at a time!!! GAH!!! I will put one up in a separate post. . and I'll show you a picture of the one that we were later privileged to jump into and swim around in!!!

The sheer size of this settlement was just one of those things you have to see with you own eyes to believe! We also toured the "Templo de los Guerreros" (Temple of the Warriors). What a fierce structure this was. . with its thousands of stone poles, each paying tribute to a man of legendary strength and battle skill *more than just a little phallic!!!* MEN!!!!! We were left breathless as we walked the pathway that suddenly opened onto this 3 football field-sized expanse of land on which sat the jewel in the crown, Kukulcan's temple!! flanked by many other grand ghostly structures, which even in their 'ruined' state, catch your breath and leave you with few words. If you scratch away the thin, yellowed grass with your foot, you uncover interlocking paving stones as far as you can see. Amazing. . how painstaking to place them. .they were completely level.

Something that we found extremely disturbing, and against which we were warned by our guides, was the presence of hundreds of peddlars. They were apparently illegally there, everywhere among the ruins. You quickly felt hassled. They would come up to you and hold stuff up in your face, tell you how many pesos, how many dollars. So many of them. . with so many fake pyramids, hats, panflutes, jaguars, masks, mirrors. Everywhere you walked someone was trying to get you to buy a statue, "One dollah!" they would cry out. "Three for 10 Dollah!" Young men waved marble and quartz carvings and yelled out "You like? Good deal! Come on!" Old men sat under the shady trees and carved pieces of wood. The flood of tourists passed the squatters, but despite advisement against encouraging these vendors - many ppl bought from them. Old women waved white embroidered handkerchiefs, their wizened faces and tired eyes made me incredibly sad. Dirty-faced young children with their chins tilted down, would look up at you with big brown eyes. I just could not believe the desperation that seemed to have gripped every one of them. This was their bread and butter -- squatting illegally in a government-protected heritage site and hoping the tourists would give them a few bucks. The way i was feeling as we walked through this tunnel of vendors to the cenote. . i was annoyed, like you might feel if bugs are constantly hovering around you and you can't get away from them. I felt faint from the baking heat and worst of all I felt so upset by the poverty i was seeing. I wanted to say to them "I don't want to buy that stupid stuff. .how can i really help you?" Its impossible to make such offers when you're only there for a couple of hours. We did buy a photo folio from a thin, white-haired Mayan man. . the proceeds of which went to support the "Investigacion Y Conservacion De La Cultura Maya".

Time had come to head back to the bus, back past all those desperate people, back past all the merchandise-covered tarps spread on the dusty ground. .back past all those eyes, past all the yells. . we finally caved and bought a double panflute. . most likely got ripped off. . but when i look at it now, i think of the young man who sold it to us and i think of the village that we passed on our way to lunch and our cenote swim. This place was so, so full of tiny little stuccoed homes. . surrounded by scrub and dust. .skinny dogs trotted in backyards littered with discarded tricycles, jalopy trucks, empty Corona beer bottles. I thought of my neighbourhood back home and I felt so unbelievably odd gazing upon this bareness. . sitting in that expensive bus, wearing new clothes, money in my wallet, being shuttled around in comfort, fed a buffet, given the sight of a lifetime at Chichen Itza, taken to swim in a wondrous meteor crater, even watched a movie on the way. It was unsettling. But as Rob reminded me, this is what their 'economy' thrives on -- tourism.

We had taken plenty of pictures, we were tired and awed and grateful and unsettled. The bus shuddered through a series of small villages on our way home, picking up speed once on the highway. . leaving Yucatan, heading back into Quintana Roo (Kintanna Roh) leaving the poverty and the dust and endless acres of ugly trees. . ever closer to that gorgeous ocean and our beautiful resort. . This was the day of the Presidential and Prime Ministerial meetings in Cancun. . armed guards stood miles outside of the city. . choppers hugged the shorelines. . grey battle ships dotted the water, divers worked along the coast. Traffic snarled. . our stomachs growled. We were dropped off at the front doors of our beautiful temporary home - we thanked the 2 Joses and Mr. Angel the driver. . 7186 "The Good Guys"!!! we tipped them and headed up to our room to fall down on the bed for a rest. What a strange privilege was ours. . absolutely unforgettable. Posted by Picasa


supersimbo said...

sounds amazing kat and looks fab too.............a picture kat?? brilliant.........i like the "goin indiana jones" part......scary but fun!!!!

Lindsay said...

The tourism is their economy, but judging by the squalor and desperation you described, how much of that economy are they actually seeing? Those resorts bring in vast amounts of money each year, but it doesn't sound to me like those people have much to show for it. Interesting post. So Chiclets were named after an ancient Mayan chewing gum, eh? That's so cool. I wonder how many people know that.

Tee said...

WOW - What great memories!

There are Mayan ruins in my husbands country (El Salvador) but we didn't get around to seeing them. Maybe next time! Really cool photo though.

I felt the same way you felt driving through El Salvador, and once on a day trip to El Salvador. You suddenly become very self concious you know, with your name brand shoes and bottled water...

Oh, and since you're interested in the history of gum... ROFL... the word for gum in Spanish is "chicle" (chick-lay).

Anonymous said...

Great pic and that was a wonderful crash course on mayan history!
nice post

Kathryn said...

hey guys! some of our tour friends took that picture for us. Very nie of them! We took one for them too! I would have loved to REALLY go Indiana Jones in that area. . but there just wasn't the time Yes, tourism is their economy, at least in those 2 regions -- Yucatan and Quintana Roo. . not sure about the rest of the country? Apparently 37 years ago, Cancun did not exist as it does now. It is an ancient place. . Mayan -- means "Snake's nest". . apparently prior to its development, there were some fishing villages, not much else. Now, it is just wall to wall resort, night club, restaurant, souvenir shop, flea markets. I think if we ever went back, we'd go to a quiter destination.

Apparently the big thing for most working Mexicans in this area is tips. . everywhere you go, everyone wants tips. . there are tip jars in every store, every restaurant, every bar. Everyone at the airport wants a tip, time share ppl prey upon tourists disembarking from their planes, taxi drivers, luggage handlers, 'greeters' all wanting tips. .I didn't see any homes in Cancun. . just tourist-related buildings, so i'm not sure how life is for them?

The chiclet thing is so cool!!! and in Spanish, really the same word. The whole trip felt so 'once-in-a-lifetime' to us.

It made me want to learn more the whole country and its people.