Second half of trip continued from blog labeled, “2018 – Honeymoon Resort Review: Riviera Maya”. Trip taken: January 2018.
My Montezuma’s Revenge occurred on the second day of our trip (which sidelined me for 3 days), and left us with just enough time to do only one excursion. 🙁 We carefully chose Chichén Itzá to appease our inner history nerd selves as well as the site being duly noted “One of the 7 Wonders of the World.”
At 7am, we started off our 2 hour journey in a jam-packed mini-van along with 6 other tourists. During those few hours in the van, we passed several pover-ish cities, miles of thick jungle, and mass quantities of stray dogs. About halfway through our trip, our first rest stop was at a store/gift shop where we could stretch; buy snacks, food, and gifts. Roaming the storefront grounds was a mama dog that looked like she had just recently gave birth, however no puppies were in sight. THANK GAWD! Who doesn’t love puppies?! She had saddest eyes and looked half starved for food AND attention. ARGH! Tearing at my heartstrings…and cue the ASPCA somber music and pictures of dismal looking dogs. Ugh. I’m not crying, you’re crying.
After about a 30 minute rest, we all piled back into the mini-van and continued our last hour of travel to Chichén Itzá. Upon arrival we were given one rule, “Meet back at the van at 2pm. If you are late, we are leaving without you.” OK then! I know “I” don’t want to be homeless in Mexico. Not gonna lie, I kinda felt like a kid on a school trip with our guides (chaperones) doling out snacks, giving us rules, handing out water, and asking us to “stay together” as we walked towards the entrance. Since we had to enter together as per our ticket reservation, our guides corralled us like cattle and continued to remind us of our strict timeline to meet back at the van at 2pm. Being Type A, of course I set an alarm on my phone for 1pm so that we had plenty of time to trek back to the meet up spot. I for sure was not about to live like the Maya and test my non-existent nature skills.
Once inside the gate we received a map similar to the one pictured below which will give you an idea of how vast the area was! I will cover the grounds in sections to stay organized (both you and me!). In the short video clip below, panning from left (Juego de Pelota) to right (Castillo) – this was only 1/8 of the entire property!
Our first task was to fight our way past the artisans who lined the walkway, trying to grab our attention by incessantly blowing their jaguar whistles in our faces and yelling, “Cheap, cheap…almost free,” while pointing at their goods and trinkets. Once through the peer pressure environment, we took a left and headed towards our first attraction, the Maya Ball Game Court. This was where the oldest and ruthless traditional team sport called “Juego de Pelota” was played.
This is loosely translated to the “Maya ball game” and was considered an ancient, sacred ceremony performed to resolve conflict and to promote victory of the sun over the night. It’s been rumored that there was a human sacrifice at the end of the game, but there is no record as to which team/individual was sacrificed – the winner or the loser.
The layout consisted of a long, rectangular field with sloping walls on the long length sides. The shape of the field was similar to an “I” and had stone hoops attached to the top of each long length side. The object of the game was to pass a rubber ball through these hoops by bouncing the ball to each other using only hips, thighs, head, and upper-arms. I would say, similar to soccer, but with a death match element. Wonder what those penalties were like! EEK! No hands, ma!
The backside of the court had a crumbling, sloped, rocky surface with a border shaped like a serpent’s back. We learned that the Maya mythology regards snakes as both a religious and social symbol. The snake shedding was symbolism for rebirth and renewal. They also believed that the snake was the gateway to communicate with gods and ancestors.
Our second stop was a short walk just past the backside of the court, where we slowed to admire the creepy Tzompontli (the wall of skulls) which prominently displayed the skulls of prisoners and enemies that were sacrificed. If you look closely, you will notice eagle and snakes embedded in this structure. Apparently this was meant to scare and freak out the enemy. Job well done! I scurried past this wall and quickly headed to the Jaguar Temple so I wouldn’t have nightmares later.
Our third stop was just across from the skull wall called the Jaguar Temple. This was located in the Southeast corner of Juego de Pelota and looking over the, “Ball Court”. This structure was speculated to be one of the first built platforms of Juego de Pelota. We were told that there’s an entrance located in the lower level of this temple that feeds into the main arena, as well as a staircase that leads up to the second level. There were barriers placed at the entrance to stop curious people like me from snooping around and possibly fall to my death. A drone would have been handy about now.
After taking a sharp left, we arrived at our fourth stop which was the Venus Platform. This serpent guarded structure was 83ft square, stairs on all sides, with side panels of art that were a combination of human, serpent, eagle and jaguar. This platform was used to track Venus (the planet) and to create the Mayan ritual and agricultural calendar. The stage portion of the platform was designed for public viewing – possibly for speeches, rituals or dance.
Our fifth stop – Table Temple, was just a short walk east of the Venus Platform. This structure got its name by the stacked “table” like formation of each level. The two-column temple rests atop of the fourth platform. This is basically a mini version of the, Los Guerreros Temple (Temple of Warriors) located next door.
The sixth stop – Los Guererros (Temple of Warriors), was a massive structure built over an older structure complete with a large scale temple at the very top. The plaza portion of this structure has over 200 carved columns of warriors and we were told that there were even a few women warriors among them. This plaza, Mil Columnas, was dubbed, “Plaza of A Thousand Columns.” To give you perspective on size, in the aerial photo below, the Table Temple is to the left of the Temple of Warriors. DAYUMMMM!
Seventh stop – House of Deer, or commonly known as the Deer Temple, has seen better days. This structure was named Deer Temple for the carved deer that was found inside upon first exploration. The carving has since disappeared, but the nickname has remained.
Eighth stop – The Casa Colorada (Red House) got its name from traces of red paint found on the inner walls of this structure. It is believed that this used to house royalty and has one of the best preserved carvings inside depicting a Mayan date correlating to 869 AD.
Ninth stop – El Caracol (Snail) contains an internal winding, snail-like staircase located in the central tower for which it was named after. There are several plotted points on this structure which have been identified that align with Venus, as well as the summer solstice sunrise and the winter solstice sunset which align with the northeast and southwest corners of a staircase. This site has been dubbed the OG observatory and from atop of the tower, the views of the sky are unobstructed and perfect for stargazing.
10th stop – La Iglesia (The Church). This is known to be one of the oldest buildings on site and is adorned with Chac god masks with hooked noses, a crab, a tortoise, an armadillo, and snail. This building was named the Church by early explorers as it was next door to set of buildings called the Nunnery.
11th stop – Las Monjas (the Nunnery) is a complex of three structures located in the very SW corner of Chichén Itzá. The name of “Nunnery” was given to the site by explorers due to similarities to a monastery. Archaeologists believe that this was instead a royal palace. Within these buildings there are carvings that depict events occurring around 880 A.D.
12th stop – Temple of Kukulkan or El Castillo (Castle) is located in the center of Chichén Itzá as well as the most well-known landmark. Appropriately named one of the “Seven Wonders of the World”. The Maya were math geniuses and expert scientists and the Temple of Kukulkan was a perfect example of blending both subjects.
Each of the four sides has 91 steps which, when added together and including the temple platform, equals 365 – which are the total days of the solar year. If each of the nine terraces are divided in two (which makes 18) this equals the same number of months in the Maya calendar. The total terrace panels equals 52, which is the 52-year cycle when both the solar and religious calendars converge. #MathIsNotHard
Fun fact #1: During the spring and autumn equinoxes, at the rising and setting of the sun, the corner of the pyramid casts a shadow in the shape of a snake, representing the god Quetzalcoatl (feathered snake). As the sun moves, the serpent appears to slowly move down the pyramid.
Fun fact #2: When you stand in front of the very center of the steps to the pyramid and clap your hands, the acoustics coming from the top of the pyramid sound like a bird’s cry (the quetzal, a Central American bird) that ancient Maya people believed was a messenger of the gods.
13th stop – Sagrado Cenote (The Sacred Cenote) is located north of the Temple of Kukulkan by way of the Ceremonial walkway. A cenote is a natural sinkhole which was the only water source for the Maya on the Yucatan peninsula. At the bottom of this creepy AF cenote the following were found: shells, rubber, copal, copper, incense, gold, jade, pottery, turquoise, obsidian, and bones of AT LEAST around 200 women, children and men. It is said that humans were sacrificed during drought seasons to appease their gods.
This entire site was built with the purpose of religion, culture, math, science, mythology and symbolism. Everything was connected in some way to the above including: the sun, stars, planets and then connecting back below on earth including: animals, water, nature and people. Life was truly simple ages ago but at the same time, ruthless. I am still left wondering who WAS sacrificed after the Juego de Pelota ball game – the winner or loser?!
Guess I’ll never know!
Due to my sickness cutting into our excursion time, I was unable to see/do the following (womp, womp).
- Tulum Ruins
- Coba Ruins
- Cenote snorkeling
- Jungle zip lining
Hasta la vista, Mexico! I’ll be baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack.