05 June, 2008

A visit to Tulum

Tulum #1
Another painfully early start this one (quite unfairly) as Tulum was only a short way away (as the Psittacidae Ara Macao flies), but we'd opted for a half-day (our visit to Chichen Itza having been a bit of an epic) so getting up early was part of the deal...in retrospect we probably should have got a cab (would have been quicker and cheaper), but we hadn't discovered that fact at this stage...anyway, the coach finally dropped us off in Tulum (the nearby town has the same name as the ruin) in a half derelict single storey shopping centre, only the stores on the outside had survived, blocks and blocks of empty space, signposted by faded, cracking paint signs pointing to long ago deceased "Pizza y Hot Dog", "Fresh Burger" and other failed tourist amenities, only "el Banos" remained with working electric light-
Mexico #219
- complete with hilarious sign asking those that were in need of relief to (please) demonstrate their level of schooling while doing so (but there was no attendant to enforce it, so I quickly muttered "one plus one equals three" and scuttled out guffawing at my naughtiness) -
Tulum #2
- we boarded the (undisguised) tractor-driven "Wally Trolley" (having been warned that it was quite a walk from here to the site entrance) and it whisked us past more busy roadside shops -
Tulum #3
Tulum #4
- (and it was actually quite a long way, so we felt justified in our laziness) and then we arrived at the main entrance -
Tulum #5
- here, while we waited for the walkers to catch up and the people with camcorders to pay their taxes at the office (yeah, you don't just pay your tax once, it's a fresh payment every time you approach anything interesting)...
Tulum #8
Just inside the entrance our guide stopped us to point out a "Ceiba" tree (called "Yazche" or "wacah chan" by the Mayans) -
Tulum #13
- he explained that this tree was worshipped as a "tree of life", they planted them at compass points outside their cities, but this one was probably a descendent, being both not on a compass point and rather small (they can get absolutely enormous), the spreading branches represent the heavens (stars etc.), the trunk (typically they swarm with insects) represents the earth, those living on it and it's stability -
Tulum #14
- (and very spiky it is too), and the roots represent the underworld and death, very nice...Anyway, we followed the outside wall for a long way -
Tulum #18
- until we came to one of the four (deliberately small) entrances to the site (each of them are simple Mayan arches) -
Tulum #20
- here we stood for a while, as the guide told us quite a lot of interest - This was an important trade port, the wall was a deliberate fortification (with watch towers on each corner) -
Tulum #23
- protecting the elite ruling class who dwelt within, the Mayan Arch deliberately small (to limit the number of foe that could enter at one time).

The main trade route from here cut it's way through the jungle, straight as an arrow (you can see where they got their modern road-building habits) to Coba (more on that later) and from there other (similar) paths linked up with Chichen Itza and other smaller sites. These roads were well constructed, consisting of several layers, the uppermost being crushed shells or coral rendering the surface completely white, from this the conclusion is that the movement of goods was conducted mostly at night (it being easier to lug stuff around when it's cooler and less humid) meaning the road needed to be clearly visible by moonlight...and then it was time to risk banging my head to enter the city itself -
Tulum #24
- (phew!)...Next, we stopped at one of the first dwellings (on a very low step, and Tulum is right by the ocean, further evidence to debunk the "flooding" theory we were fed at Chichen Itza). It was the house of a minor noble or a respected warrior. Most interesting here was to spot the pigment still *clearly* visible on the steps (the red house at Chichen Itza being only a little bit red by now, comparitively)...
Tulum #25
Here we learned that Tulum was still being actively used by the Mayan elite at the time Cortez (the first of the naughty conquistadores) arrived. The poor natives having never seen anything like a fully decorated white European (one previous Spanish shipwreck did happen but most of those poor souls were used as novel sacrifices by the various tribes), honestly thought that one of their gods, who looked similar, had returned from the sea (as had been foretold in their holy writings) - the Spanish, of course, did little to correct their honest mistake, smiled, traded a little and then returned to Cuba gushing with tales of a huge untapped source of silver and gold ripe for the plucking, even though it was *actually* extremely rare in the area. Their enthusiasm was obviously enough of a catalyst, however, and thus began 150 years of torment for the native people of Mexico...

Our next stop was one of the extremely high status buildings, the so called "Great Palace" -
Tulum #30
- this one was obviously particularly special for one very good reason - up on the cliff there is a small temple dedicated to the "Descending God" (if you zoom in you can see him above the door doing his thing)-
Tulum #34
- now, note the very small hole in the far wall (near the top), on a certain date each year, the sun lines up perfectly with the hole and brightly illuminates the "Great Palace" (the rest of the area being in shadow), thus transferring the power of the sun into whoever it was that lived there...powerful stuff, even though calculated, it would have seemed akin to an act of God for the lowly...next we stopped off at the "Temple of the Frescos" -
Tulum #36
- on each of the front corners you can clearly see a face carved into the wall, one is awake -
Tulum #48
- and one is asleep -
Tulum #41
- inside it is almost impossibly small (and according to the guide this is again deliberate - "when worshipping the Gods it *shouldn't* be easy or straightforward and also to enter is itself an act of penitence, you bend to visit the Gods house"), amazingly here you can still clearly see painted murals and other signs of decoration -
Tulum #46
Tulum #47
Tulum #45
- we also learned a very peculiar thing about the Elite, which was going to form a part of a mental jigsaw puzzle that would be completed during our visit to the ruins in Coba, and that was that the ruling Elite used to deliberately change the shape of their children's heads by using wooden moulds and cords to massively elongate it (picture White Egyptian Pharaoh crown, but being your actual skull)...anyway, here the guide left us, so we went exploring the rest of the site -
Tulum #37
- including the imaginatively named "Main Temple Castle" and the staggeringly beautiful coast below -
Tulum #53
Tulum #56
- in the distance, where you can see the breakers out at sea, this is where the waves are hitting a coral reef -
Tulum #64
Tulum #66
- Flyingpops went for an impromptu swim (not many archaeological sites where you can say that, and this was now the *second*, out of two) -
Tulum #67
- and, refreshed, we braved the heat of the day and headed back to meet the coach (the pool beckoning)... ;)


Flyingpops said...

A couple of things to add on this post...

We had been warned about this swim, so I arrived prepared (I'm not sure the public could have coped with me swimming in a thong again!) ..

Secondly, upon returning to resort, I went for a nap (having had too much sun and a wee headache)... when I awoke 3 hours later, fink was found at the pool bar with some friends we had met, absoulutely hammered... they had encouraged him to drink rum and coke and so I watched him wobble across the swimming pool bridge into the apartment to shower and get ready for our evening meal.. quite how he didn't fall in the pool, I'll never know! When I returned 1/2 hour later to pick him up, he was flat out, on his back snoring (and not showered!)
I'm such a cruel wife, as I woke him up, moaned a bit as I was hungry, so he showered/tried to sober up and then sat through a meal (in the steak house) before going back to bed - oh and he didn't have a hang over the following day either! :)

¨°º©[ Fink ]©º°¨ said...

Write your Dolphin post cheeky! ;)

Anonymous said...

WOW amazing beach!

Tom Hopwood said...

LOL, it was Rum and Blackcurrant when I was a sprog but same effect. Another WOW posting, you certainly picked the right place to honeymoon. Fink, your gonna love playing Drake's Fortune, it'll be like being there again.