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Day 3 (Wednesday, 11.26.14): Chichen Itza

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After a really good night’s sleep for all of us, we headed down to breakfast at 7am.

We are at the very beginning of “high season” in this region – Jon says it really starts to pick up the weekend after Thanksgiving so we’re getting out just in time. So there weren’t a lot of people at the hotel. The weather was beautiful – high 70’s, no rain, relatively low humidity; very different from the day before which was very humid and mid-90’s. We were very grateful that all worked out!

The dining room was beautiful. The woman in black talking at the table behind us, Lucia, is the hotel manager. She stopped at our table and asked for our room numbers; based on that she asked “which one of you is Mr. Haas? Is that how you say it?” A lovely woman with beautiful green eyes and white hair – probably not Mayan native – she was extremely gracious and pleased that we were happy with our stay.

If you look closely, you can see a red bird perched on a ledge just left of center. The next two photos provide better shots.

 

The rooms were nice although we spent very little time in this, which isn’t all that unusual for us. Shower, sleep, go!

The view onto the balcony from the room Dan and I had. Jon’s room was down the hall and around the corner; his balcony was just on the other side of the left wall. In his room you actually entered from the balcony.
It’s a jungle out there!
I loved this room – the main lobby off the front entrance, with a grand staircase. That’s Dan in the middle fiddling with his phone.
Long outside hallway to the dining room.

After breakfast we walked over to the Chichen Itza entrance which was towards the back of the property. One of the reasons I picked this place to stay is it’s the only hotel in the area that backs up to the ruins, so when you’re ready to go you just walk on over. And, the price was actually beyond decent. Found it on Booking.com.

After we got our tickets and were walking in, we got asked if we wanted a tour guide. We initially said “no”, but as we started into the park we realized there wasn’t a lot of explanation provided with what you were seeing. Dan and I really enjoy the history behind stuff like this so we went back and got the guide. Meet Blario. The Yucatan is his home but he’s lived all over and speaks 6 languages. He was a tour guide for 27 years before he went to school to be an expert on the Mayans – a 3 year education required by the government – so he could give tours here. We were very glad to have him around. We learned a lot, he was very pleasant, funny, and patient with all of our questions. And he usually had an answer.

Blario is standing in front of our first sighting of the pyramid, from the south. This side is completely unrestored, pretty much as it was found in 1922, with the brush and stuff cleaned up. The picture below is one I took from this photo album he was carrying around – in fact on the page that’s open above I just noticed. This was how it looked when it was discovered.

It’s estimated this pyramid was built around 900 AD. There’s a smaller one inside built around 600 AD. You used to be able to walk up it but they shut that down on 07/07/2007 to help with preservation. Blario said people would complain that they couldn’t get a good picture on it because there were too many other people there! Well, duh.

Chicken Itza was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. It is considered the best representation of the Mayan culture and also one of the seven wonders of the modern world.

This is from the east. Notice the left side looks different from the right – the difference between “as found” on the left and “restored” on the right.
Blario went into Great Detail about what skilled astronomers the Mayans were and how there are actually three different calendars represented in the pyramid. I’m not even going to attempt to repeat it. Let’s just say you got a deep appreciation for how advanced they were for their time, at least when it came to understanding the solar system. Dan asked a direct question – did they understand that the earth revolved around the sun? We never got a straight answer to that question. It reminded us of something Jon had said earlier: in this culture, the men in particular have a hard time with “I don’t know” so you can never quite trust that you’re getting the right information.
Part of the Temple of the Warriors, the sight of, among other things, human sacrifices to the sun god.
More Temple of the Warriors.
Part of a large area called “the market place”, and also something about 1000 columns. This is just a small slice.
These were once faces, but erosion has left only skulls. Each represents a warrior who died and is literally based on their actual face. The skull would be sculpted first because it’s easier to paint the face on top of it to make it more realistic.

The ball court. Other than the pyramid, this is probably where we spent the most time, and it was a fascinating story. I’ll try to do it justice.

Although we never got the name of the game, this ball game is like a cross between soccer and baseball; eventually we decided it was most like volleyball. The ball is bouncy, in size between a tennis and baseball. 6 players on each side carry a 2 foot thin stick in their left had, used as defense, and a 1 foot thick stick in their right, used as a bat. Umpires up on the high platform drop the ball onto the field and the teams have to keep it in the air, with the goal of getting it up on this lower platform – about 5 feet high and 5 feet wide – where the team’s captains are. Once the ball is with the captain, the captain can place it wherever he wants, with the goal of bouncing it and hitting it through the ring in the middle of the wall. In the photo above, you can best see the one on the right. The two photos below show the ring on the left.

This is also the platform where the captain’s play. If the captain gets the ball through the ring, the game is over. Games can last anywhere from 10 minutes to 20 days, with a max of 2 hours per day. Any time the ball drops to the ground, the dropping team gets negative points. If a captain never gets the ball through the ring, at the end of the 20th day, the team with the most negative points loses.

Here’s where it gets interesting. This game is played all year long by various teams in the region. At the close of the season, at end of harvest, umpires pick the best players from all of the teams to play in this championship of sorts. This group of umpires also determined which team would represent the underworld, and which would represent – I can’t remember his exact language now – but essentially good and evil. Now a different set of umpires would actually run the game, and they did NOT know who was who on the field in terms of good vs. evil.

This final game of the season was a great ritual with significant symbolism attached. If the winning team was “good”, it was considered a predictor that next year’s harvest would be good as well, and everyone celebrated. If the winning team was “evil”, it was considered a predictor that next year’s harvest would be bad – and the captain would be beheaded in sacrifice in order to appease the gods of the underworld, his blood soaked into the ground to make it richer.

For regular games throughout the year, people can climb the stairs in the back of the court and watch it from the top platform. For the final game after harvest, the top platform is reserved for umpires. The general public is not allowed to watch the game, in case there’s a beheading required at the end.

This culture believed snakes were good, there are LOTS of snakes represented in their iconography.

This is a snake that begins the captain’s platform.

This was essentially a planetarium.
The full building, with people in front for perspective.
This and the remaining shots were the first buildings discovered, and have not been restored at all.
This was a place of worship.
Blario could explain in great detail every meaning of every symbol in these building. I won’t even attempt 🙂
The planetarium from the front steps of the hotel.
Jon & Dan in front of the hotel as we were leaving.

Although we let here about Noon, there really wasn’t much to the rest of the day. We went to a little town called Chemax where the plan was to have lunch, and then go to another cenote after. This was a very small, poor town and not very developed. To say that there weren’t any restaurants we were comfortable eating at is an understatement. Lots of sad, stray dogs though. We did stop for water and snacks and pushed on to Tulum where we would have lunch instead. Tulum is a big tourist down at the bottom of the Mayan Riviera so there were lots of eating options.  By the time we decided on a place and ordered, it was already 3pm. Short version – we realized we just weren’t going to have time to do it all, so took our time eating and walked around Tulum some more after.

We headed back to Playa del Carmen to catch the ferry to Cozumel. We made it in time to get the 6pm ride. Playa is also very touristy and 5th Ave was lit up and vibrant as we walked from Alamo Rental Car to the ferry station. Lots of people, including guys with monkeys and other animals we couldn’t identify! to have you pay to take your pictures with them. We passed.

A northern storm was kicking up and the waves were very choppy, making for a very rocky ferry ride back home. It didn’t seem to bother Jon and Dan much but I was nauseous for a good 2 hours even after we got back to Jon’s. Kept it down though, and was able to eat a couple of tacos for dinner 🙂 Jon rode on his scooter over to the place we’d gone to the other night and brought them back. Jon went to bed about 9pm, Dan went to bed around 11 I guess. I stayed up to do homework (working on a masters online with Golden Gate University if you don’t know that) and work on the blog.

And that was Wednesday!

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