Chichen Itza and the Cenotes

Chichen Itza

Pyramid of Kukulcan (El Castillo)

May 2014

Day two took us to the much awaited visit to the Mayan civilization nested inland, 200km from Cancun. A $79 per person bus tour was organized from the Hotel Concierge, that picked us up by 7:30am. Breakfast, drinks, and lunch was included, along with narratives on the history and backgrounds of the Mayan people. If required, we also gathered a nice map for the site, which is regarded as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Until a few years back, tourists could climb up the stairs of the mesoamerican pyramids, but due to vandalism and to protect the ancient wonder, tourists are no longer permitted to climb.

Facts:
  • In Mayan, Cancun (Kaan Kun) means ‘Nest of the Serpent’. Watch out for the Iguanas in all parts of the area.
  • Chichen means the mouth of the well. Itz is the high priest.
  • About 800,000 people still speak the Mayan language, albeit the written language is not practiced anymore, possibly due to the large number of characters and complexity of the structures.
  • Apart from the Cusco area in Mexico, Mayans still reside in Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala.
  • Mayans followed the Venus cycle for the famous (or infamous) Mayan Calendar. The calendar counts number of days from the start of the cycle, which is when the Earth, the Sun, and the Venus align. This is the creation date.
  • Mayan Calendar: Two wheels rotating in opposite directions measure the number of days. The best way to display the LC (long count) day is: Baktun.Katun.Tun.Uinal.Kin. Details of the format can be found here.

In the entire tour, taking 3 hours, we came to know several interesting things about the area. That the area is covered with limestone, made the rivers to run underwater, and therefore provided unlimited filtered water to the inhabitants of the village. The Chichens were smart people, and had placed great values on family, GOD, and the tribe they belonged to. Multiple wars were fought in the days to gain power. They were engineers too. Built straight roads to the ocean, used zero, erected hollow pyramids, and created scientifically designed structures that marked the four seasons based on the Earth’s orbital cycles. By far the most important structure in the area is the Pyramid of Kukulcan (deity of serpent). The pyramid has staircases, designed in a way to make it look like two snakes winding up to the top, with their heads in the ground level. During the equinoxes, the shadows create the visual effect of the deity whirling down the staircase. Interesting: The four staircases have 91 steps, and the final step on the top adds up to the number of days in a solar calendar, 365 days.

El Caracol
Great Ball Court

Other structures we visited were the Great ball court (where the game of Pok ta Pok was played during specific events), the Sacred Wall, El Caracol (the observatory of the Mayans), Chac Mool (the lying human statue), and El Mercado (the market). The structures were all painted in different colors, and over the years, the colors have faded but the rocks still managed to exist even after 1000 years of existence. In essence the Mayans somehow reminded us of the Egyptian and Indus civilizations, albeit without any chance of communication among them. Similarities in the pyramid structure, reliance on the high priests on horoscopes and decisions, and worshiping of deities for food and income would run a shiver if thought carefully.

El Mercado
The Sacred Wall
Chac Mool

After the tour, we were taken to a so called ‘Co-Operative’ for Mayan people where we had a delicious Mexican and Yucatan style lunch buffet accessorized with local music and dancers. But the store up front, had mass produced items at an exceedingly steep price. Therefore, we took the less beaten path, and crossed the street to find a little mom-and-pop shop that had equally good souvenirs. A little bit of haggling for price, with the Calcutta trained shopper, yielded great results. 🙂

Ik Kil Cenote

 

Cenotes

The tour stopped for a little bit at one of the largest Cenotes (Sink Hole). The Ik Kil Cenote was a good place to be in a hot summer day. With a depth of about 140 feet, one can jump from different heights into the crystal clear water. There are underground tunnels underneath the surface of the water which is about 80 feet from the ground level. For the less adventurous ones, life vests are available for $3, and for the far less adventurous ones, the 80 step staircase would take you to the water level, where you can feel the water and soak the toes. The return phase of the trip was fun with unlimited supply of cerveza, and tequilla shots. Interesting way of getting people to slumber.

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