Friday, April 25, 2014

EK BALAM (finally)

Well, got a little busy there for a while. Finally able to sit down and finish up the last of our Mexico trip from February (yikes, where does time go?).

After leaving Chichen Itza, we went to a charming little colonial town called Valladolid, where we ate lunch.  Here are a few photos:

As we finished lunch the boys pined to go back "home" to our lovely casita in Akumal, but Kathleen had read about a well preserved ruin just 19 kilometers from Valladolid, and she would not be deterred, even if it meant paying the boys ten bucks a piece not to whine about it (yes, that did happen--my boys have perfected the art of whining, to the point where it approaches hydrogen bomb weapon status).

In any event, it was worth the twenty bucks.  The ruin, called Ek Balam, is lesser known, not very crowded, and contains perhaps the best preserved plaster frieze  in all of the Maya world -- providing a slight peak at how these building really looked, when they were in their prime a thousand years ago.

Maybe it was the ten bucks, but Keegan was very game to climb everything with me, no whining involved whatsoever.  Here he is on one of the buildings that overlooks the entrance to the city.  It was fun to see him scramble around.

Another of the ubiquitous "ball courts."  There were game- and sport- obsessed people long before we norte americanos laid claim to it.

Here are the kids at the base of the main pyramid. It gives you a little sense of the scale.

The climb is a long and steep one. These people had to have been very fit.

When you see how flat and forested the surrounding landscape is, you begin to understand why they built these things, though. It was your only chance to see more than a few dozen feet in any direction, for miles on end.

Look at those faces -- I think they decided that their mother was ok after all, despite the tyranny of forced sight seeing.

As you climb, you get the sense of just how hefty and large these buildings are-- some of the base levels seemed to extend as far as the eye can see in this forested place.

Besides a hug at the top from my kids, the best part of the climb was seeing the plaster frieze's below, which had been preserved because they were hidden by a wall that was accidentally poked through within the last decade.  Here is what it was hiding:

Now imagine all of that painted in the bright reds, blues, greens and blacks from earlier posts.  Thinking of every ruin and pyramid we had seen on the trip with this type of detailed plasterwork and that kind of color all over surely changed my view of this ancient culture.  Artisans and artists, architects, astronomers, and more, they were a sophisticated people wresting space from a relentless jungle, and they did it with aplomb.

After seeing the friezes we headed back down -- the photo above gives you another perspective on how steep the stairs were.

Turns out that we were not done discovering things once we hit the bottom though, as Keegan had a surprise waiting for us in one of the many chambers that line the base:

We had a hard time convincing him that it would be next to impossible to fly a Mexican stray dog home to the States, but finally he was willing to leave them.

From there, we headed back to Akumal, to enjoy paradise for another day before our departure. But for anyone visiting this part of the world, we highly recommend Ek Balam.

Here is a last look back at the ruin -- imagine all of that with colorful plaster frescos everywhere, and it may take you back in time . . .