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A Bit More

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


The lure is the sparkling white sand beaches that never get hot under my feet. The lure is the brilliant,
shimmering, green, warm welcoming Caribbean waters that soothe and refresh simultaneously. The lure is the patio where we sip cool drinks, kick back and watch provocative Isla Mujeras signaling us from the horizon while the waving green palm fronds cajole us to stay. The lure is looking to my left and watching the Marina’s beautiful boats coming and going. The lure is the rich Mexican culture steeped in fact and mystery.

I really love the beach, but there is just too much to see. First on our culture list is Chichen Itza dating from a pre-Mayan era and located three hours from Cancun. Visiting the ruins at Tulum several years ago, we were blown away, but Tulum pales compared to Chichen Itza’s magnitude.

At one time in the ancient world, “all roads led to Chichen Itza” through a road system cut through the dangerous jungles and paved with crushed white coral. The coral reflected the moonlight making night travel possible, thereby protecting travelers from the oppressive heat and some of the daylight dangers.

But forget history momentarily. Enjoy the Chichen Itza we see, voted as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Its centerpiece is the huge Kulkulkan Pyramid with 91 steps up and a platform at the top, the total number creating several types of calendars for the Mayan world.

Look at the size of the pyramid. It honors Kulkulkan, the snake/feather god who came once and promised to return. The snake head is at the base of the pyramid, and as your vision rises up the corner of the pyramid, you can see the snake’s body rising skyward. At the equinoxes, the shadows make the snake appear to undulate. Clap your hands in front of the pyramid, and the incredible acoustics make the sound of a bird flying away!
Snake & Feather

BTW, the acoustics are such that Pavorotti gave a three hour concert here for several thousand people, the last hour without a microphone!

If this pyramid were all, that would be enough. But there’s so much more.

The game of this ancient world was El Gran Juego de Pelota played in a magnificent ball court, the ruler sitting in his “box” at one end of the 545 foot long court. He could speak and be heard the entire length of the court. If one claps hands, the echo is heard seven times. In 1931 the great Leopold Stokowski spent four days here to try to determine the secret of the acoustics so he could apply it to concert halls. The secret remains.

The game was played by two teams of seven. The players had to hit a rubber ball with their hips through a stone ring high above their heads. The prize—the captain of the winning team was beheaded by the losing captain. It was considered and honor and a ticket to heaven. Carvings on the ball court walls illustrate the rules as well as the “reward.”

The Warriors Temple is also a magnificent late-Mayan structure. It is presumed that sacrifices occurred here. One theory is that maidens were taken here several days prior to the sacrifice and were systematically drugged until they were incapable of understanding what was happening or of feeling the pain. Their bodies would be cut, hands would reach in to extract their still beating hearts, and the watching crowds would interpret this as divinely inspired ecstasy.

I am only highlighting some of the structures we examined. Take a tour here. You can take any of the tours from Cancun or from wherever you’re staying on the Yucatan Peninsula, or you can come to the site and hire a guide at the gate. While I like to prepare by reading beforehand, the guides bring this ancient place to life, and the result is stupendous and mind boggling. You leave with the questions that have haunted scholars through the ages about the mysterious disappearance of the Mayan civilization as well as of the knowledge that created this incredible and very scientific area. One theory can be found in the book Chariots of the Gods. Do do do do…. (That’s supposed to be the Twilight Zone theme)

Chichen Itza is so huge that we could not see it all in one visit, but we will be back in the area, and we’ll get to see the rest the next time.

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