Our friend Elvis and his girlfriend Andreas picked us up at the Tapachula bus terminal after a 21 hour (comfortable) bus ride from Mérida, drove us to his hometown and then turned over his cozy room behind his welding shop to us for our stay. We met him through my friend Nancy when he was visiting Canada last summer. He lives in the border town of Ciudad Hidalgo and we are having an enjoyable week with him roaming the countryside seeing local sights, hearing great music, meeting his good friends, all while experiencing the most delicious authentic mexican food.
At the home of Elvis’s friend, Ipolito, we had a wonderful lunch of taco’s (the tortillas in Mexico are made fresh every day, sometimes with a mixture of wheat flour, but often with just corn flour), and a variety of exotic fruits that he has on his tilapia farm. He gave us a tasting tour and we enjoyed so much fruit.
Chichen Itza is one of the seven wonders of the world and the ruins, ancient pathways and sacred cenotes were indeed a wonder. I had downloaded an audio tour was able to listen to the history and stories of each ruin while looking at it, making the experience even more absorbing.
After a long period of prosperity Chichen Itza was attacked (roughly around the 10th century) by the Toltecs (a tribe that came from central Mexico) and the two cultures merged to create a massive metropolis that dominated the Yucatan for more than 300 years.
The massive temple of Kukulkan (the serpent God) is a pyramid that is basically a huge calendar constructed with incomprehensible precision that can measure time using just the sun. There are 91 steps on each side (and one at the top) making 365 steps over the four sides. Each side represented a season and was used to figure out the best times to plant and harvest. The temple has nine terraces (one for each level of the underworld). The terraces are divided in half by the stairwells giving 18 terraces on each side of the temple. There 26 panels on each side of the stairwell giving 52. With this math they were also able to create an amazing phenomena twice a year, during the spring and fall equinox when the light patterns from the sun shine on the northern stairway. The light connects to the big snakeheads at the bottom and as the sun moves it looks like the serpent God himself is coming down the stairway. Wild! And to think I patted myself on the back when I built a little bookshelf that stayed standing.
The ball field was a big stone court with a very small stone opening on each side and felt like a quidditch court. The Mayan ball game was a celebration that recreated how the holy twins defeated the nine evil Gods of the underworld. (A brief history – the twins won challenges against the evil Gods with the ball game being the final challenge. Soon after the twins were victorious they were transformed into the sun and the moon. As a reward for this great deed the Gods released the souls of 400 of their ancestors and they were transformed into stars. So it’s thanks to the twins victory that the world exists as we know it today :)). The Mayans created several ball courts in every city but the only one that was used for ceremonial purposes was Chichen Itza, the largest one. Each team of seven players prepared themselves in advance to be worthy by fasting and sauna and other interesting rituals for days. The game lasted several days and the first team to score a point was the winner. To score the point a six pound rubber ball was put through a small hole high on the wall. The trick was only the shoulders, head and hips could be used – hands and feet were not allowed. The game ended with the captain of one team holding the severed head of the opposing captain. They are still not sure which captain was sacrificed – the winner or the loser. Some say the losers but since being a gift to the gods was a great honour it’s also believed that only the winner was worthy of the sacrifice. Honour or not, I think I’d pass on being a captain.
The city was abandoned in the 13 century around the time of the crusades for unknown reasons.
On arriving in Cancun we made our way to our hostel where, at the reception, we were greeted with a bed sheet and a pair of ear plugs. Cancun’s reputation as a party town is well deserved. Not being a party girl I made use of the ear plugs, got some sleep and we set off first thing the next morning for Valladolid, a less boisterous town in the Yucatán that is close to Chichen Itza and cenotes which were our next destinations.
A cenote (pronounced say-NO-tay) is created over centuries by eroding limestone caves that collapse and fill with water either by rain or underground rivers. They come in all shapes and sizes, some with closed roofs and some with open. With over 6000 cenotes in the Yucatán we lucked into a great one that was only an hours walk from our hostel.
We descended the narrow, winding cement stairway of the Oxman Cenote into the underworld, or so the ancient Mayans believed. They also believed that all cenotes were sacred ceremonial spaces. At the bottom sunlight filtered through the open roof high above the crystal clear (45 meter deep) water, tree roots and vines hung all around, and vertical, blackened rocks reached way up. It truly felt like a sacred and magical place.
A group of young folks were taking turns gracefully flying off of a swing rope into the turquoise water. Naturally I wanted to try it. Standing on the sketchy wooden platform clutching the slippery dowel it looked way higher than it seemed and was much scarier than the youngsters made it look. I did it and was glad I did…but no one could call it graceful.
We have enjoyed some great street food. Unfortunately I forgot to take pictures. I’ll do better next post. I did remember to take a picture of our little homemade tacos. Fresh warm tortillas with chopped tomatoes, onion, cheese and doused with some delicious red Mexican blend of sauce. It wasn’t fancy but the freshness (and of course the sauce) sure made it yummmy.
Tomorrow we are off to Chichen Itza and then on to Merida.
It’s that time of year again! Time to pack up my sleeping bag, tent, solar charger and trail clothes into my beloved back pack and head to kinder climates. While this years winter has not been hard so far, I’m still itching for T-shirt weather.
On January 18th Gord and I will fly to Cancun. The plan is to travel through Mexico and into Guatemala. With no set trail or itinerary, we will go in whatever direction we feel inclined, on foot and by bus, steering clear of the dangerous areas.
I love Mexico! I love the food, the people, the scenery, the history, the weather, the language and the culture. I haven’t spent a ton of time there – mostly traveling back and forth en route to Belize when I briefly lived there – so it will be great to get to know the country better. And I’ve never been to Guatemala so that will be another new and interesting place to explore. I’m looking forward (read super intimidated) to practice my oh so meagre Spanish skills. But it’s good for the old grey matter. And I really want to come home with better speaking fluency so I will push past the fear of ridicule and humiliation. I just wish they didn’t speak so crazy damn fast!
I’m going to miss my little granddaughter, Cadia so much! At almost a year and a half she continues to amaze and delight me in every way and the thought of not seeing her for two months literally makes me tear up. But I’ll try to utilize technology to get me through. Wow – those are words I’d never thought I’d say!
As always, I’ll blog all the adventurers. Next post from Mexico! Or should I say – Siguiente mensaje de Mexico! (Imagine that I’m speaking with a really awesome Spanish accent.)