Thursday, 14 March 2013

Merida Day 8 - Chichen Itza

We actually had to set the alarm today and were outside of the house to be picked up for the tour to Chichen Itza at just after 9. After the van zigzagged around town picking everyone up we were on the way. Our group included a couple from India, a man and his mother from the US (Although she spends 6 months a year in Puorta Vallarta), a woman and her daughter from Thailand, a Mexican couple from Mexico City and a Chinese girl who was travelling all over South America. Our guide was Pedro
Our van was a nice new Toyota and fit the 11 of us and a driver and guide quite comfortably,
 with air conditioning.
The drive to Chichen Itza was 120 km through flat, scrubby land. Not much evidence of agriculture, a few small towns and a mix of what Pedro called "typical Mayan houses" and the single story cement block houses that we are used to seeing in Merida.
A typical Mayan thatched house.

We arrived at Chichen Itza by 11:30 and had to meet the van again at 2pm. Pedro guided us around the principal buildings that were closest to the entrance. He gave us a little history: both "what the books say" and "what I believe".
Our little group in front of the main pyramid, La Castillo.
Pedro is the one with the ball cap and hand out, he's explaining,
not asking for money.
There is a huge ball court, much bigger than the one we saw at Monte Alban, 20 years ago. Pedro explained that it was like the Mayan Olympics and there were 7 men on each team competing to get the ball through the stone rings on the walls. He said whichever team won, the captain was sacrificed to the gods. I have read that the losers were sacrificed and that they were all sacrificed, so who knows.
The ball court
The snake head at one end of the ball court. The rattle snake was worshipped
by the Mayan, along with the jaguar, sun, rain, fire,earth, but the snake
seems to be most prevalent.
The stone relief was amazing clear. What wasn't clear was how much had been restored.
Pedro indicated that certainly the walls of the ball court were higher than they used to
be and some of the relief work was pretty eroded, depended on how protected from the
elements it was.
This relief was along the side of the ball court, the top curved part is the body
of the snake, whose head is pictured above. Further down is the rattler of his tail.

The ring on the side of the ball court, for the ball to be shot through,
This was a huge platform, lined entirely with carvings of skulls. Pedro told us that when
excavated it was full of skulls. It was assumed that it was the heads of the winners of
the ball court games.
Temple of the warriors.
These are the snakes heads at the bottom of the stairs of the pyramid. You can no longer
climb the stairs as they were getting worn down. On the day of , and those days around,
 the equinox (March 21), when the sun is setting, the shadows on the pyramid link
 the snake tail at the top with the head at the bottom. We were there a few
days to early but its supposed to be crazy busy then.

As you can see from the pictures, it is a huge space and even though there were uncountable tour buses in the parking lot and thousands of people there, it didn't seem crowded. Parts of the site have been restored but other parts have been left as they were found and there are piles of unidentified rubble too. There is very little signage so you are reliant on the knowledge and fluency of your guide. Pedro was good, would gladly answer questions and kept us moving along while providing information to both the English speakers and the Spanish speakers. We saw only about a third of the site and didn't walk down to the cenote where the victims were sacrificed. George wandered a little when we got free time and I sketched. There are a lot of souvenir stalls outside the entrance, inside the entrance and all around the site but they tend not to bother you too much and will leave you alone with a simple "No Gracias". I think we will return by public transport to have more time there.
I took a couple of hundred shots and this is one of my favorites
Although La Castillo is very photogenic
This feels like enough for one post so I will save the rest of the tour for tomorrows post.

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