Monday, March 05, 2012

Chitchen Itza

Russ, Scott and I had the Pyramid of Kukulcan (or El Castillo)
We arrived about 11am at the Visitor's Center, really much too late. It is very hot at mid day and there isn't a lot of shade. Nevertheless we had no choice as we had to get the car back that night to Cancun and take the ferry to Isla Mujeres. Several people had recommended we hire a guide and it was good decision. Alfredo spoke excellent English and grew up here. His father was a guide as well. It cost 600 Mexican dollars (about $48 US) for around 2 hours and was well worth it.
This was huge city built on a leveled paved platform of 1.9 square miles. Outside of this ceremonial center were the homes of the Mayans themselves. It was active from about 600 AD to 1200 AD and encompasses three Mayan architectural styles; Late, Terminal and Post Classic. I found really interesting the combination of Mayan and Toltec gods and symbols. Our guide felt it showed the political truce between these two cultures.
Excavations below the huge terrace around the structures
now visable show additional levels below
All the buildings are covered with bas relief sculpture
and statues
The Platform of the Eagles and Jaguars depict these
animals grasping human hearts in their claws
Grand Juego de Pelota is the largest of the 8 ball courts at
this site. The game was perhaps a mixture of soccer and
lacrosse but the losing team captain was probably sacrificed
after the game (if not they, then the winners).
Alfredo, our guide, was very knowledgeable and added
a lot of interesting details to our visit.
The Temple of the Warriors with the "Thousand Columns"
stretching out in front and to the north. Inside is the earlier
Temple of Chac -Mool and a statue of Chac-Mool is still
on top.
Many of the columns are carved with figures of  warriors

The Ossuary or the Bonehouse known for it's beautiful
serpent's heads at the base of the staircase
El Caracol (the Snail, called by the Spaniards because of
it's interior spiral staircase) was an Observatory. The
windows are aligned with certain stars on particular dates.
The Nunnary (again a Spanish designation as it had many
small rooms) was probably a residence for Mayan royalty.
The curving hooks at both sides are the symbol for the
wind god. The buildings at this end of the complex or
earlier and mostly pure Mayan.
The feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl appears throughout the
city. He is called Kukulcan in Mayan. He was supposed to
be red headed, tall and wore a beard. The Mayans thought
the Spaniards heralded his return.
Our tour took about 2 hours and then we strolled around looking at the fine detail and the souvenir stalls. There are hundreds of them throughout the complex. It's supposed to be illegal but the local people need the work so there's an unofficial look the other way. Frankly we were exhausted from the sun and didn't have much patience still for shopping. One stall really caught our attention by demonstrating the use of natural dyes on their carvings. They use flowers, fruits and leave directly on the cypress and it creates a very soft attractive look. We bought masks for Daniel, Tommy and Nick, drums for Jonathan and a dress for Maya. We haven't found the right gift for our Ariella and Sheera yet but we have more shopping in our future.
We were starved and thirsty so we quickly found a nearby restaurant with a buffet. The food was all right, the drinks cold and they had a folk dancing demonstration. Life was much better. Our next stop was another refresher. The Yucatan is filled with cenotes - limestone underground fresh water pools. Some were ceremonial. There was one at Chichen Itza connected to El Castillo by a highway and it was the focus of sacrificial ceremonies. Another nearby provided water for the city.
We went south to Cenote Dzitnup, just north of Valladolid. The local farmer's coop has built a visitor center and changing rooms there. They charge a nominal admission. You descend carved stone stairs into the earth and emerge in a cavern with stalagmites hanging down over the clear pool. A small hole in the ceiling provides some natural light and a few artificial lights around the edge make it a little easier to get safely into the water. We joined a crowd of mostly local people enjoying the cool water.
This sure made it easier to get back in the car and make the long drive to Cancun. We arrived just after sunset, grabbed a bite to eat and caught the 8:30pm ferry back to Isla Mujeres. We won't be spending much time in Cancun. It's a long strip of huge hotels, condos, restaurants (all too many American chains). The beach is really beautiful we hear and this is obviously a lovely and popular vacation destination, but it's too much like Florida for us. We prefer a low key, low rise Mexican feeling, like our Isla Mujeres. It was a long but really interesting fun two day trip but we wished we'd had a week instead.
This young man demonstrated the natural dyes which
are used on the cypress carved masks, one of which
we bought for our grandson Daniel.
Embroidered dresses are worn by many of the Mayan
descendants in this region. See the young girl below. We
bought one for granddaughter Maya.
A demonstration of local folk dances during our lunch.
This lovely young Mayan girl was taking good care of her
baby sister. She's wearing a traditional embroidered dress
with a lace petticoat showing (deliberately) below.
Another more modernly dressed family sits nearby.

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