03 June, 2008

A tour of Chichen Itza

So, the coach pulled up into the rather crowded car park (after equipping us all with pre-pay entry wrist bands) -
Mexico #194
- and as we stepped out into the blistering heat of the day everyone was handed a bottle of ice cold water from the luggage area, we opted not to pay the camcorder tax, the authorities having missed the fact that most "normal" cameras now are perfectly capable of recording video (as well as stills) and then followed our guide into the site itself, anticipation building, through an enormous Mayan arch (housing a couple of shops, bars and restaurants)...
Chichen Itza #1
The walk through the jungle (blissfully mostly under mottled shade) to the start of our tour was absolutely *packed* with locals trying to hawk every sort of tourist tat imaginable, once again a great deal of it having arrived in Mexico via container ship from Chinese sweat shops (Flyingpops buying a very smart Mexicano-Chinese sun umbrella on the way for $5US, or about £2.50) -
Chichen Itza #74
- and just catching a breathtaking glimpse of the amazing sights to come through the trees to our left -
Chichen Itza #10
- we came upon the first sight of the tour, the (so called) "High Priest's Temple" -
Chichen Itza #14
- named because of an impressively elaborate burial found nearby. Being my first ever Mayan Ruin, it's state of repair was certainly impressive, and the amazing carvings (you can't appreciate them from the wide-shots more commonly seen), from the fearsome bird/snake God Quetzalcoatl (in this case the snake form representing rivers of water flowing from heaven) -
Chichen Itza #12
- to the guy with the big nose - "Bolon Dzacab" (catchy name) - the Lightning God, were incredibly clear...from the looks of things (although opinions vary) a temple dedicated to making sure the water kept on flowing (with fertility overtones thrown in for good measure) -
Chichen Itza #16
- from there it was only a short walk to the "Red House", and indeed, if you look carefully you can still see some of the red pigment -
Chichen Itza #19
Chichen Itza #22
- it's faded pretty fast, at the time the naughty Spanish decided to invade it was most likely vibrant (as was found on other sites like Tulum where even some murals survive) you get the idea that the place of old was one of bright colours...our guide also attempted (at this point) to convince us that one of the theories behind the stepped design was that years of flooding (from the underground rivers was that mate? Or was it a Tsunami from the sea 45 miles away?) lead the residents to build higher and higher platforms in an effort to escape the floods, you might be able to understand it on the coast, but in this setting it didn't really wash with me (a later explanation made *much* more sense, but I'll cover that in the relevant post)...we then turned our attention to the "Jaguar House" (so called because inside was found a drawing of a jaguar) -
Chichen Itza #23
- and here we were told that when this site was first uncovered practically all of these buildings were in a *terrible* state of repair, the jungle had taken over, tropical storms had blown stones down, and nearly everything looked like it had suffered several earthquakes (which they may well have done), comparing the Jaguar House to the Red House you can see the extraordinary (ongoing) efforts to restore these structures to their previous glory, matching up tumbled walls, stone-by-stone...from there we turned our attention to "El Caracol" (The Snail) also called the Observatory temple -
Chichen Itza #24
- the Spanish name comes from the stone spiral staircase that runs up inside the main (domed) building. The doors (and windows) are aligned to view the vernal equinox (the Moon's northern and southern declinations), sacred to (yet another God) Kukulcan (who is also a feathered-serpent, but this time one of (the oft connected) wind and learning). Inside, on certain days shadows indicated when the solstices would occur and around the edge are rock basins that were filled with water (thus creating a mirror) in order to observe the movement of the stars (without getting a crooked neck)...I didn't note down all the facts and figures but I know this monument was used to document a system accurate to something like 3 days out of every 6000 years when predicting the transit of Venus (in one of the couple of books that the Spanish didn't manage to burn and thus survived to the modern day)...anyway, we carried on past more spectacular carvings -
Chichen Itza #28
Chichen Itza #25
- stopping briefly to visit "el Banos", eat an ice cream and learn two amazing things about what we were about to see - "El Castillo" or "The Castle" -
Chichen Itza #29
- first was that there is now a regular hippy invasion to witness the incredible effect that occurs on the spring and autumn equinoxes when the particular design and alignment of the structure causes the snakes on the sides of the stairs appear to wriggle their way down the side of the pyramid (!), and the second is that (somehow) they managed to get Pavaroti on top of it for the millennium celebrations, and when he sang, not only was he clearly audible 16 kilometres away (with no sound system), when the volume of his voice was measured it turned out to be 33,600 times louder than normal (caused by the peculiar auditory properties, there by design)...so thoroughly impressed by the cleverness, we came through the last few trees and there it was, in all it's glory -
Chichen Itza #33
- simply breathtaking in scale...here our tour came to a close and we were left to explore on our own, first things first we went running up to the bottom of the pyramid -
Chichen Itza #32
- so perfectly preserved, apparently it was okay to climb up it until 2006 when an American tourist slipped on her way down (making herself the full stop at the end of a *very* long line of human sacrifices to Kukulcan)...and there is evidence to this, trawling the nearby Cenotes archaeologists have pulled up countless skeletons, but no skulls...they were all kept in here (x marks the spot, I guess) -
Chichen Itza #49
Chichen Itza #51
- anyway, standing right at the bottom, if you clap your hands you start to get some sort of idea of the really odd acoustics, each clap sounds like someone strumming on a giant guitar...quite extraordinary...
Chichen Itza #60
Anyway, from there we went to explore the Great Ballcourt -
Chichen Itza #34
Chichen Itza #41
Chichen Itza #45
- which called into question (equipped with the knowledge, as I was) how on *earth* anyone managed to get a six pound ball of solid rubber 30 feet into the air propelled only by the side of their hip, let alone get it through one of the tiny goal holes -
Chichen Itza #43
- (later on in the holiday we were to see how it was played, but it still didn't really answer the question as every other ballcourt (even the Mayan ruined ones) were about a third of the size, anyway (scratching our heads) we walked onward past the temple of the Jaguars -
Chichen Itza #54
- busy licking various detached human organs, watched over by more hungry feathery snakes -
Chichen Itza #56
- next (and last stop) was the "Templo de los Guerreros" (or Temple of the Warriors) -
Chichen Itza #62
Chichen Itza #64
Chichen Itza #70
- and then back along the other side of "El Castillo" (which isn't in quite such a good way) -
Chichen Itza #73
- to give you an idea (without going into any more detail (I could tell you, for example, that the Mayan's are one of the only civilisations ever to devise the mathematical concept of "zero", allowing full 10-base-T calculus), and there's no way I can sum up what it's like to try and take all this in while actually there), the impression we came away with (apart from being dazed by the scale and tragedy of all the lost knowledge) wasn't terribly far away from the one lent to us by the movie "Apocalypto", which (we were to discover) was actually pretty far from the truth...an incredible place, and an incredible privilege to even be able to walk among these ruins and really feel what it might have been like to be there when one of the most advanced civilisations ever to exist on the planet was in full swing...

A mind-blowing day...


Tom Hopwood said...

Wow, I'm living my dream through you. Always wanted to go there (and Machu Pichu). I've seen the Snake effect on a documentary but there's nothing like being there. Oh well, perhaps in another life. Did you find out if they killed the losing or winning team in the ball game? Opinions seem to vary, I heard recently it may have just been the leader of the losing team. There's your answer to how they got the ball up so high, big incentive lol.

Flyingpops said...

This was simply an amazing experience... After taking in the sites, I went off for a wee bit of shopping and spent lots of time haggling with the stall holders over a drum I didn't buy! (even when they agreed to the price I wanted it for... Fink had talked me out of it by this point!)

¨°º©[ Fink ]©º°¨ said...

Ah, no spoilers Tommo, we know *exactly* what happened to the winners and loosers from Coba...(they drew pictures)...and the worst fate was for the winners...urk!

Anonymous said...

wish I would go to maya ryins this is perfect puictures thank u

thinworld said...

Nice info fink... good job

Tomo (the crawley one)