Before I delve into our week long vacation in sunny, sultry Cancun in Mexico, I think it’s only fair to kick off with where it all began. We shall travel back in time to the Pre-Columbian period & try to immerse in the rich culture & tradition of the Mayans.
Chichen Itza, an ancient city in the state of Yucatan, Mexico is about a 3 hour bus ride from Cancun. Since lazy & delayed mornings are a norm in vacations, 8am felt like the crack of dawn and despite all our bus mates being terribly groggy, self included, our tour guide Martin was intent on us learning about the Mayan people. From the little I could assimilate, I grasped a tiny bit of information about the Mayan alphabets, their calendar, language & about where tequila comes from. There was no escaping from his loud mike & “Well, Familia” every time I laid my head on my husband’s shoulders.
A stop at the local Mayan handicraft store was a mandatory and they took pictures of us as we were made to scream “Tequila” instead of the usual “Cheese” as soon as we disembarked from the bus. These pictures were then printed and glued onto a bottle of honey liquor which is the traditional liquor of the area and then sold to us if we wished.
Walls outside the store were painted with depictions from the Mayan civilization and although I couldn’t make sense of it with my limited knowledge, the artist in me couldn’t help but appreciate the vibrant, scintillating colours.
The handicrafts ranged from wooden masks & Mayan calendars to ceramic plates painted with electrifying colours to fish bone sculptures. What particularly caught my attention were the sculptures of skulls painted, glittered & decorated and when I inquired Martin about why they celebrate the ‘skull’, he told me that it represents death & rebirth and that afterlife is as significant as life on earth, if not more. As a matter of fact they are made with sugar for ‘Day of the Dead’ which he said is “something like Halloween”.
We finally arrived at the ancient ruins of Chichen Itza which literally means, ‘at the mouth of the well of Itza’ (Itza means tribe), the well referring to the ‘Sacred Well’ & as a sign of respect for water in a land where there are no surface rivers. It it was mainly a centre for the teaching of philosophy, science & art and to channel individuals into becoming efficient in every aspect of life so that they can be channelled to be better leaders. (It’s interesting to note that according to a book that I came across, the people here are apparently the inhabitants of Atlantis who managed to survive the sinking & settled here bringing their ways of life alongside, their religion, knowledge & culture.) This World Heritage Site of Chichen Itza has also been named one of the Seven Wonders of the World in 2007.
The Pyramid of Kukulcan/ El Castillo stands tall and is unmissable as we enter the site. It plays a huge role in bringing to light the knowledge of astronomy the Mayans possessed. Each side of the pyramid has 91 steps. The top of the pyramid makes the 365th. There is also an inner pyramid which represents the lunar calendar in contrast to the outer one which is represents the solar calendar. Not only a scientific monument but a religious one too with importance to the Serpent, Phallic & Solar Worship.
The site is also home to the Temple of Venus, Temple of Eagle, The Temple of the Jaguars & the Ball court among others. The book, Chichen Itza, The Mysteries of the Plumed Serpent says”The ball court is a place where a future adept underwent both physical & mental initiation through an extremely arduous trial.” It measures 146 x 36 metres, The ball game has 7 players and they are allowed to use their elbow & thighs to hit the ball around. The leader alone has the added privilege of using his hips to move the ball. How can I forget our dear Martin enthusiastically demonstrating that to us all.
The Temple of the Eagles is a square platform with a staircase on each side and adorned by two heads of serpents.
Below are pictures of a portion of the Group of Thousand Columns which in fact supported a roof and a potion of them served as a pubic market.
I wish I could have discovered more, learnt more & thereby shared more but time was running out. We had to bid goodbye as Martin had arranged an exquisite lunch & a swim at the Ik Kil Cenote, a 20 minute drive from the ancient ruins of Chichen Itza.
A Cenote( pronounced Znote) literally means a well, which is formed when a limestone cave collapses and exposes the underground water. The Ik Kil Cenote is no different and we forayed through a curved slippery dimlit limestone staircase gingerly thereof, that leads down to the water. Tilt the neck up maybe 45 degrees and we see the blue sky peeking through the open mouth of the well. Emerald green vines drop down and make it ethereally beautiful. While my husband swam in the cool waters I strolled around the gift shop to see if can ever carry off a sombrero;).
It was time to head back to the hotel and we were gearing up for a 3 hour ride back. You would think I used the time to get a well deserved nap but the mind refused and with good reason….I was engrossed in the pictures, swiping them over & over again on my phone and realised I was fortunate to have caught a glimpse of a life & tradition of the Mayans….a civilization that flourished eons ago but still lives on subtly through it’s people & culture.