Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Chichen Itza - the pinnacle of Mayan astronomical related architecture

26 Julio 2015

Merida to Chichen Itza

Several years ago, I sub-contracted to a Mexican company building a transit system in San Juan, Puerto Rico. There was a flurry of excitement through the office with everyone being urged to send in their vote to have Chichen Itza accepted as one of the “new list” Seven Wonders of the world. Although I had not yet seen it, I had been to Palenque and thought the Mayans deserved some international recognition. Of course, I resolved to visit Chichen Itza soon. As we all know, soon is a relative word, especially in the life of a cruiser.
El Castillo
The Lonely Planet Guide Book did not give the small town of Piste, which is beside the ruins, a very good report but it was so convenient for a brief stop we decided it would be fine. I managed to find a room on line and made a reservation. Being a very small town Piste was only serviced by the chicken buses or the big tour bus operators that were much more expensive. Obviously we were on the chicken bus again.

The trip from Merida through Yucatan State was a continuation of the lowland plains we had been seeing since coming out of the mountains in up-state Chiapas. The agriculture gradually diminished as we passed from fields with a few rocks to rocks with a few fields. The scrub vegetation was thick, so cross roads and small villages, and we stopped at every small village, provided the only views of any distance.

The High Priest's Tomb
Finally, we arrived in Piste and probably could have been dropped in front of our motel-like hotel if we had known where it was. We chose the center of the village to get off and as the bus rolled away, a 3 wheel motorcycle taxi rolled up and we were away to the Piramide Hotel.

The owner’s friend told us about a laser lightshow they project onto the main pyramid at the ruins so we walked to the site that evening in time to see an incredibly good lightshow depicting the history and development of Chichen Itza. It is a new feature that will have an entry fee once the winter tourism season starts but for now, with the Mexican tourists visiting, they are working out the bugs of night time crowd handling and show presentation all for free. It was good getting our first look at El Castillo Pyramid during the night as a backdrop to the presentation.

The following morning we were back at the entry gates before they opened at 8:00 am. Two backpacking girls from Germany and another girl from the UK were the only ones ahead of us as the gates opened. The early morning jungle air had a mist that gave a soft shrouding to the ruins once we got into the open field area to get a perspective on El Castillo. The perfection of balance is sublime, especially when one realises it is not purely a beautiful architectural accomplishment but also a precise realization of astronomical understanding with the equinox orientation and chronological precision reflected in the numerology in the construction.
El Castillo
Some detailed stonework
The largest ball court in the Mayan world
Some of the thousand columns
One could leave having only seen El Castillo, feeling the trip was worth the effort, but, there is so much more. The level ground at Chichen Itza is very different from all the other sites we have visited, where the mountainous terrain gives glimpses of what is to come and reveals vistas out over the canopy. At Chichen Itza the trails lead through the dense overgrowth opening into courtyards, extensive expanses of columns that had supported roofs, intricately detailed stone structures, a cenote, a natural circular water reservoir used for sacrifices and El Carocol, an observatory dome shaped structure.
The Sacred Cenote
Arriving in the cooler morning air permitted us to walk at a good pace through the site while the hawkers were arriving and setting up their blankets of wares and showing little interest in our exploration. By the time we were leaving at 11:30, the site was filling up, the parking lot was full of monster coaches from Cancun and Merida. The other notable difference with Chichen Itza is that due to its accessible location and popularity, the ruins are protected by barrier ropes. This is both necessary and to be expected but the hands on feel of climbing to the top of the more remote, lesser known sites is not there. As Palenque, Yaxchelan, Tikal and Copan’s popularity grows and the numbers increase they too will have to restrict access.

Chichen Itza to Cancun, Quintana Roo and onto Vancouver
All too soon it was time to flag down the chicken bus for the ride to Cancun to catch our flight back to Vancouver.

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