We arrived before the crowds. The Maya vendors were setting up their market wears on the side of the trails and under the trees; masks, pottery, woodwork, linen and so on. Our timing was great.We could photograph a lot of the nearly deserted main sites without mobs of people milling about. Let me briefly tell you about some of what we saw.
Temple of Kukulkan: The great pyramid is being restored for the Mayan end of the world celebrations on 12 21 12, when their calender apparently runs out. Workers were carting rocks in wheelbarrows, chipping them to size and passing them up ladders scaling it's steep walls in buckets. Quite amazing to see. I imagine long ago the workers would've fixed it the same way. Now here they are doing it again the same way 8-900 years later. I walked about the four sides, in various states of repair. Some are more weathered and crumbling than others.The original structure is still in admirable shape, despite the passing centuries. The snake heads at the bottom are still recognizable. The temple on top, with it's stone relief looked fine. Visitors can't climb up the steps anymore. I watched a worker fearlessly make his way up and down it's narrow steps, very risky. You may remember the pyramid, and indeed the whole Grand North Area as it was computer enhanced and reconstructed in the movie "Apocalyptico". Interesting fact. Yes, the live human sacrifices had their hearts cut out while they lay across the altar, that's till visible at the top, as a gift to the gods. However their heads were not chopped off until later. Still little comfort if you ended up spread out on the altar!
The Ball Court: The huge field still sported the original rock ball hoops mounted high up on the walls. The feathered serpent carvings at the top of the walls are still quite discernible. The north end temple is in remarkably good shape, the south one in rumble and ruin. Many of the stone bass reliefs around the court are quite clear and easy to see, others not. In my minds eye I could still imagine the excitement of the life or death games, like ghostly images from a time long past.
The Skull Wall: Outside the ball court, we followed it's length. The bass reliefs of vertically impaled skulls are weathered but easy to see. The Platform of the Jaguar and Eagles is being restored and it's very obvious to see they are consuming human hearts.
The Temple of the Warriors: The main temple building can still be made out but it is basically in ruins. The many stone pillars still stand erect each depicting a warrior hero, their names and deeds now long lost in the mist of time. Travel Tip: Come at dawn.You can walk among the jungle mist as it lifts to reveal the seemingly hidden city. It's said to have a very breathtaking and transcendent feeling.
El Melcado: The area around the stone shelved patio square where the original marketplace may once have been is still being regularly used by the Mayan venders. Please note, most if not all of the vendors are simply working on commission. Still the bartering is great. Most of the masks, sculptures and polished stones that we bought cost a fraction of the price at the souvenir stands, and hotel shops hotels along the Mayan Riviera strip. The selection was incredible. I understand the whole business is being run by the owners of the Silver Shop near the resorts.
The mid day heat was incredible. There was little if any breeze from the thick jungle surrounding the site. We were glad to have a picnic cooler full of ice cold drinks back at the car, when we returned totally drenched in sweat.
On the way back to the resort we stopped at an underground ceynote for a cool refreshing dip. The Mayan locals sat around the pools edge at the bottom of the cave to escape the unbearable heat, as I would imagine they have for the past few thousand years. The fresh river pool was 45 ft deep. Huge skatalites hung from the ceiling.Long thick tree roots dangled from the small sky opening far above, down to the water below.
We enjoyed ice cold bottles of Coke and plates full of very spicy handmade tacos at a little roadside stop. The food was delicious, perhaps the best I've had this trip. For our entertainment, Mayans in traditional dress danced before a huge painting of the great temple balancing open beer bottles on their head. Hmmm.
The city of Valladolid: We stopped at our favourite cafe in a hundreds of years old hollowed out stone Spanish building at the corner of the downtown plaza, or "parque". The parque is very much the centre of social life in any traditional Spanish city I've visited in Latin America and the Caribbean. Bedraggled Mayans tried to sell us home made hammocks. Across the street was a huge Catholic church. It was built atop an ancient Maya temple when the conquistadors arrived with cross and sword in search of Mayan gold, also eventually capturing Chichen Itza and using it as a horse farm. Much of the old city is built with stones from the original Maya settlement.
Afterwards most of the Maya scrolls or "codices" explaining the gods, their cultural, and accumulated knowledge were destroyed by the priests who considered them the work of the devil. Today, a million and a half Mayas still live in the Yucatan peninsula. Many work in the resorts, others sell souvenirs and artifacts on commission. Still others live a traditional life style in the countryside sans the human sacrifices. They do not have running water, electricity, schooling or other government services because they do not pay taxes. Instead they set up their own schools passing on their traditional language and ways to the young people. You can often see the Maya in traditional garb standing silently along the walls in the big tourist centres collecting the pop cans we throw away for the scrap tin metal. Truly they have been "saved" to become a lost people forgotten by time.
I visited the local church. genuflected, knelt in a pew and gazed at the elaborate Spanish altars, statues, and Stations of the Cross built atop the spilt blood of a lost civilization conquered for it's gold. I winced at the irony, in quiet prayer seeking forgiveness for the evils throughout human history done in the name of our different gods, be they Christian, Mayan, Hindu, Muslim or perhaps even moreso for the golden almighty dollar. I got up and left feeling rather wordless and ashamed of our flawed human condition which allows such horrors, from long past through to today. We have a lot to learn from the rise and fall of the Maya civilization. Perhaps some things never really change for the better, civilization itself but a thin veneer for the evil that still lingers within the human heart.
Maya workers repair the Temple of Kukulkan pyramid by hand as they must have hundreds if not thousands of years ago. More Chitzen Itza photos to be featured on this blogsite.