Big Question Marks

Friday, February 12, 2010

Getting Cultured...

Hola! It's been a while since the last update. How time flies in Cancun....

Today we escaped the hustle and bustle of the hotel strip to get a little Mayan culture: a tour of the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza. My dad and I both being into ancient history, we really enjoyed it. Chichen Itza is located in Yucatan state, about 2 1/2 hours inland from Cancun (including a rest stop at a tourist trap). The Mayan civilization flourished there from around 600 or 700 AD after choosing the site because of its excellent location for studying astronomy and such, and they came up with an amazingly accurate calendar, among other things-- it also held great religious significance. Over the centuries, the site was nearly abandoned and later repopulated by the Toltecs, who were thought to have influenced the architecture a fair bit (ie. the main pyramid standing today, the Pyramid of Kukulkan, is much wider than other Mayan pyramids like Tikal in Guatemala-- which was amazingly positioned at the magnetic north and captures the shadows exactly during the equinoxes and solstices). There's the tales of gory human sacrifices (though it was only every 52 years apparently), and then the eventual conquering of the site by the Spanish in the 1500s, where they dismantled many of Chichen Itza's structures and used the limestone to build churches. But the site was rediscovered in the 1800s by archaelogists and has been under looting and/or excavation since-- and luckily much more protected now.

That's one cool thing about revisiting places in the world-- how much even an ancient site can change over the years. When I first toured Chichen Itza in 1998, for one thing, climbing the Pyramid of Kukulkan was a must. 91 steep, hot steps to the top under the blazing sun... and a dizzying view down to the ground. For a few years now, that climb has been closed off-- too many idiots graffitiing the walls at the top, we're told. But with the number of tourists climbing that structure daily, surely it wouldn't be lasting for too long anyway.

There have been new discoveries and a bunch of new buildings excavated out of the ground since then too; the site has expanded quite a bit in 12 years. I can only imagine how much will have changed by the next time I'm back. There is one very bad development though-- the arrival of the high-profile music concert among the ruins. Sarah Brightman just did a show; before that, Pavarotti was there, and some other singers I think too; on April 3, Elton John will perform; and word is Paul McCartney's next. All great in concept, but even our guide Eduardo (who did his archaelogy Ph.D) was against the concerts-- because he shares the view that the intense noise of concert speakers is damaging the ancient structures more with every event (not to mention, has anyone SEEN what the ground looks like after an outdoor music festival?). So sad news there. Maybe someone will eventually shut that down....

So yes-- a good day of culture and history, with a few dashes of tourist-trap thrown in (think costumed Mayan dancers at our buffet lunch, dancing with a Corona bottle balanced so delicately on their heads). This time the tour had an additional stop at a cenote (a water-filled limestone sinkhole which the area is known for all throughout the jungle) for a swim-- sounded like a beautiful natural pool to take a dip in, but being surrounded by souvenir shops and landscaped with concrete steps and viewing platforms, not so natural wonder. Ah well! It's as natural as we can expect, I suppose. Gorgeous vines hanging all around though. And I'm sure if it wasn't a cool and cloudy day we would've been in that 150-ft deep pool in a flash!

(Fingers crossed the weather gets a bit better for our last two days-- boo hoo, you're probably thinking!-- as it's been getting cloudier and cooler with each passing day. At this rate we'll be coming back paler than we left. Anyhoo-- more updates soon!)


Anonymous said...

I kinda have been expecting this in a way...
But I reali dun think da world is going to end...start a new era maybe but the world is not ending.
That's not gonna happen till a thousand years later! Ok, I'm not sure bout that either but that's not the point! The world's not gonna end! Full stop!
]planet nibiru 2012
[/url] - some truth about 2012

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