Thursday, December 29, 2016

Chichen Itza and Tulum

Classic shot of the main temple
Expectations, handle with care. Chichen Itza has been on my radar for a while. I did visit the ruins in 1982 and what I do remember, aside from a few flash back type moments, was the lack of tourists and the remote feeling of the place. I should have held onto that memory and moved along. What a shi*show.
** In 2006 a woman fell to her death while climbing the temple and it has been closed to climbers ever since.

Chichen Itza is one of the New 7 Wonders of the World - Man Made Structures along with The Great Wall of China, Petra in Jordan, Colosseum in Italy, Taj Mahal in India, Christ The Redeemer in Brazil and Machu Pichu in Peru. You will notice that places such as the Great Pyramids of Giza are not included on the list any longer. Whatever, you do not need to be included on a list to be special and spectacular. I do understand that Chichen Itza is a special place and the main temple is gorgeous however having seen quite a few Mayan Ruins sites such as Tikal, Palenque, Cantona, Copan, and Teotihuacan near Mexico City, Chitzen Itza does not rise head and shoulders above any of these. What is has on it's side is promotion and a glorious main temple that is a tourist photographers wet dream.

In the huge ball court
Let's focus on the positive. Chitzen Itza is indeed an impressive site with an equally impressive history. The technology, stone work and art work in the buildings are a sight to behold. Learning that they were created, as were most Mayan ruins, with the yearly trajectory of the sun and moon to coincide with the winter and summer solstices. It can make your head spin when you try to learn as much as you can in one short trip. The thing that seemed to impress most people including myself was the acoustics of the Great Ball Court. At 225 feet wide and 545 feet long it is twice the size of an American Football Field. What is incredible is while standing at on end you can hear clearly the whisper of someone from the other end, over 500 feet away. This acoustic phenomenon has never been clearly defined. Legends say that the winning Captain would present his own head to the losing Captain, who then decapitates him. While this may seem very strange reward but the Mayans believed that this to be the ultimate honor.

Looking from the Great Ball Court to the Great Temple
There were numerous platforms and temples each with their own special purpose. The site was accented with Jaguars and Eagles and the open aired spaces gave it a calm and serene feel. I found myself sitting on the grass in the court yard just taking in all in. Along with great buildings and structures there was the Sacred Cenote. The Cenote Sagrado ( Sacred Cenote ) was a place of pilgrimage for ancient Maya people. Archaeological investigations support this as thousands of objects have been removed from the bottom of the Sacred Cenote, including material such as shell, gold, jade, wood, obsidian, cloth, as well as skeletons of men and children. The Yucatan Peninsula is a limestone plain, with no streams or rivers. The region is pockmarked with natural sinkholes ( Cenotes ) which expose the water table to the surface.
One of the most impressive is the Sacred Cenote, which is 60 m. in diameter, and shear cliffs that drop to the water table some 27 m. below.
The legendary Sacred Cenote (natural waterhole) of Chichen ltza was special to the people for its social and religious significance. On occasions, the sacrifice of human life was part of the offerings made to the Water God.

This is a major tourist location so be prepared for long lines, vendors selling cheap merchandise inside and outside the ruins, tour buses and confused travelers of all shapes and sizes but that is part of the fun if you just accept it for what it is. Like Cantona before I was admitted free (240 pesos) because of my teaching card which a nice little bonus so I had a very nice lunch after wandering around for 3 hours.

Main Temple At Tulum
Tulum was a different animal all together. The town itself has an interesting feel to it, a hippy wanna be place peppered with coffee shops and cafes. I am sorry I did not stay here for a couple of days but I did have a clear blue skies and a warm day to enjoy so off I went. When you leave the bus station, turn left and start walking. I bought fresh pineapple and water melon along the way for breakfast, loaded up on cold water and was on my way. I walked the 40 minutes from the bus station to the Ruins site at a leisurely Mexican pace.

Showing off the new travel hat that I bought in Ajalpan
Tulum sits on the coast and the views are are breath taking as you are imagining. Azul clear waters, warm ocean breezes, iguanas sunning themselves everywhere and the smell of the ocean side all embrace you as you walk through history. If I was Mayan this is where I would be, to hell with the sweaty nasty jungle and all the creatures of the night.

I did not learn a whole lot about this site. It was such a great day I did not care to really. I just wandered the site and took it all in. It was however the opposite of Chitzen Itza with lack of tourists, there were some but nothing dramatic and there were no vendors inside the site itself. Everything was contained to a huge "welcome centre" between the parking lot and the entrance. They did sell ice cold beer for $1 so there was that.

After about 3 hours of wandering Tulum I decided to head back into town. I figured I would see what there was to see. I took the ADO bus to Tulum, as I did to Chitzen Itza but figured there must be a better way. I found some Wifi and a with quick search I discovered there were collectivos that ran between Tulum and Playa del Carmen and then another from Playa to Cancun. They were faster and cheaper. The ADO bus was 220 pesos. As I was wandering I saw a micro bus with a Playa/Cancun sigh and waved him over. Yes sir a third option, the local bus for 60 pesos. It would take a bit longer but I justo had t yell where I wanted to get off when the time came. Sure enough a loud "oye, aca" and I was dropped off in front of the ADO in Cancun. Always remember there are options and usually cheaper than any guide book tells you.

I had one more day in Mexico and I was heading to Isle Mujeres for a day of sun, sand and a cold beer. For as much time as I have been in Cancun it has been the trips out of Cancun that have been the best. Remember that the next time you decide to go "All Inclusive" because there is so much more to do than hang around the Hotel Zone where you overpay of the American Experience if you leave your resort.

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