We could not leave the Yucatan without seeing one of the "new seven wonders of the world," so the family made the decision to get up before dawn and make the two and a half hour schlep across the Yucutan to see Chichen Itza. Keegan, being a very responsible young man, served as the alarm clock and rousted the whole family at about 5:30 am, so we could arrive when it opened at 8:00. As you can see from the photo above, it was worth losing the sleep -- we arrived and got into the ruins well before the crowds from Cancun flooded in, which made for some great moments.
First up we hired a guide, named Hisrael (first picture below), a wonderfully nice, proud Mayan who taught us how to say thank you in his native tongue (Um Bo Tique -- phonetic), which literally translated means “God pay you.” He explained that there are two million people in Mexico that still speak Mayan, and he himself spoke four languages -- Mayan, Spanish, English, and Italian.
Hisrael immediately took us into the great ball court. It was there where we began to learn why this is considered an architectural marvel.
The ubiquitous Quetzalcoatl (feathered serpent) greets you as you enter.
If you stand exactly at the center of this mega court, and clap, you will hear exactly 7 echoes. It was designed that way on purpose, with stones placed just so to keep it there and no further. You can also hear all the way from one end of this monster to the other, and a clap from the end will echo twice. Amazing to see the carefully planned acoustics.
In addition, the decor was not the whitewashed stone you see here, but blood red, and full of hieroglyphics, as you can see in the photo below.
Seems appropriate coloring for a place where the WINNING captain was sacrificed to the gods via decapitation. How they kept people from throwing games I will never know.
Happily, no decapitations occurred during the filming of this trip. With the family in the photo you can get a little perspective on the size of the field. Apparently, the goal was to knock a 12 lb. ball through those rings, using only hips, elbows, knees and feet. It hurts me just to think about that. On the bright side, I would have been at very low risk of decapitation.
From the ball court, we headed to the grand pyramid, where we learned even more about the exquisite precision of these great edifices.
If you stand right here, in front of the great pyramid and clap loudly, you will hear an echo that makes exactly the sound of one of the Toltec's revered birds: the Quetzal. It is created by precisely placed hollow spaces in the pyramid, and the way they interact with other nearby walls and buildings. To me, that is just amazing, that they could build something so large and so complex as this group of ruins, yet intentionally create that precise sound.
The pyramid is also positioned so that Quetzalcoatl, the serpent god, is illuminated precisely to appear alive at the summer and winter solstice, by virtue of the way sunrise and the steps of the pyramed interact to create light on these long stairway sides.
We also learned that the american explorer who first worked on this ruin removed a large number of stones to build a nearby hotel, which still stands. How shortsighted is that?
Just past the Grand Pyramid, we came to the Temple of the Sun. I don't think I have ever seen a building with more columns. How many, you might ask? Take a look at the photo below, and realize that those columns are connected to the temple columns you see above, but you can't even see the temple in the picture of columns below.
No Mayan ruin would be complete without an observatory, and the one at Chichen Itza is a fine example.
Their knowledge of stars and calendaring is legendary, and their buildings reflect that serious focus.
Being a full fledged teenager, however, nothing interested Kate quite as much as the wall below:
Yup, those are skulls. Go figure, a teenager and skulls. Must be 21st century America, except it's 11th century Mexico. The more things change, the more things stay the same.
Next up, the colonial town of Valladolid, and a surprise end-cap to our trip, the wonderful and intimate ruins at Ek Balam.