Monday, 1 November 2010

Mexico - Part 2 - 2010/10

Part 2 in blue (Merida --> Uxmal --> Chichen Itza --> Tulum)

Second part of our trip had passed much quicker, but it wasn't any less enjoyable. We survived the 18 hour overnight bus trip from Oaxaca to Palenque without too much problems and the following day's 8 hour trip to Merida, despite numerous army baggage checks. The only thing missing at the end of the trip is our secondary backup small camera. Not too much of a loss. All our traveling is done, we've visited all the ruins we wanted and now decided to spend the last few days doing nothing on Cozumel Island and Cancun before we fly back home.

Patrol control

stands along the way

The most magnificent ancient ruins were definitely at the Chichen Itza site with fascinating Kukulkhan pyramid, but unfortunately it's also the most touristy and swarming with cheap souvenir vendors. It's a shame as somehow it takes away something from the experience.
The most enjoyable site was for me Mt Alban. Set atop a 500m mountain the air is cool, the ruins are amazing, although not as huge as Chchen Itza, or Palenque, and the site is a nice break from the hustle of the city down below.

We were lucky to be staying in some great cheap hotels and it seems like the cheaper the hotel was the better quality it was. The nicest was certainly the Villa Marionettas in Merida, decorated in Mexican style, with a nice patio, a small pool and top class margaritas served by the poll. It was closely followed by the Villa Archeologica, located right beside the Chchen Itza ruins site entry (not the main entry were all the busses and souvenirs stands were), with a huge swimming pool and small but very pretty and cozy rooms.

Merrida - hotel Marionettas and best Margarita

All in all the trip way exceeded our expectations. We've only scratched the surface of the attractions of this intriguing country and realising how large it is I think 3 months would be needed minimum to really explore it properly and get into some of the more original, remote areas such as Chiapas. It would be a highly recommended trip and well worth the 13 hours flight from London, as the people are so friendly the food and drink is great and cheap and Mexico has to offer so many diverse places worth visiting, from the mountains and the deserts to the pristine coral reef beaches. To really experience Mexico and try "proper" mexican food you need to go further inland, away from the resorts area of Cancun and Playa de Carmen - why? we will try to explain in part 3.

Uxmala - Maya's ruin spread on the hills, 80 km from Merida. Before going there we were beginning to joke - another ruins, maybe we should stay in our lovely hotel instead. But deep down we knew it is not an option and we were not going to miss it. Getting there was a bit more tricky, as the ruins are served by few local busses and you never know if there will be any space on the bus (especially getting back). The ruins were spectacular, the most decorated from all we've seen so far, not crowded - we had a great time there exploring it slowly, climbing up and taking a lot of "not standard" photos.

Uxmal means 3 times built, while in reality it was constructed 5 times. The prime time of the city was between AD600 to AD900, after which time the city was abandonment probably because of the long draught.

view over ruins from Gran Pyramid

No natural water supply in the area meant that Maya had to relay on the rain water. Uxmal is a true testament to Maya's engineering skills, who built a series of reservoirs and underground cisterns (chultunes) to catch the rain water and store it. This explains why Chan (the God of rain) was so worthshipped here with most of the facades decorated with Chan masks or turtles (because Maya believed that if the people suffered from draught so did the turtles, therefore turtles and people prayed together)

Casa del Adivino (House of the Magician) is probably the most photographed Uxmal temple (39 m)

Palacio del Gubernador

When getting off from our bus at the Chichen Itza entry, we realised that our holiday is almost over - uncounted number of tourist buses, big crowds and lots of souvenir stands indicated that we were back to the civilization. From all the ruins we visited, Chichen Itza is definitely the most commercial one, invaded by the big crowds from the Cancun resorts (only 2 hrs drive). It is really hard to explore the ruins without being distracted by the souvenir stands and constant shouting "it's almost free" (indeed the prices are affordable but the choice is so big that it's hard to decide what to buy)

Determined not to fall inside the tourist trap and explore the ruins properly, we hired a guide (he turned out to be the best one we had so far). So this is what we learned about Maya:

Maya studied human body in details, everything in Chichen Itza has meaning, is related to astronomy or human body.

Let's look at Kukulkan pyramid - the giant sophisticated sundial, which is 29m high and is built on the square base (has 4 identical sites):
- it has 9 levels divided into 2 by staircase, total 18 terraces (= months in sun calendar)
- each of 4 staircase has 91 steps + 1 platform at the top, total 365 steps (= days in the year)
- each facade has 52 panels (= century in Maya's calendar, every 52 years sun and lunar calendar meet)

Kukulkan God was represented as a serpent. Each year thousand people arrive here during the equinox to see the serpent moving (the shadows form a series of triangles that look like the snake is moving)
21 march - sun eclipse - snake with 7 parts, and 7 is related to the human body
7 holes in the head (2 ears, 2 nose, 2 eyes, 1 mouth)
7 joins in upper body (2 wrist, 2 elbows, 2 shoulders , 1 neck)

21 september - moon eclipse - snake with 6 parts, and 6 is related to the human body
6 joins in lower body (2 ankles, 2 knees, 2 hips)

Pelota - is a game ball, cross between tennis and basketball; the stadium had 2 stone rings attached the the walls; the aim was to put the ball through the stone ring without using feet or hand; Pelota was a very important game, in Chichen Itza there were 8 stadiums to play it (it was played in Mt Alban and Palenque as well).
- the ball was hard therefore the players were wearing protection
- each team 7 players, 6 on the ground, 1 on the upper level (number 7 again)
- the game was finished when one of the team managed to score
- loosing team's captain was sacrificed

Pelota player

Pelota stadium

Maya's believed in reincarnation, 1st you go to hell (they believed it had 9 levels) then to heaven (they believed it had 13 levels); After a death of a royal or high society an incision in the skull was made (to let the soul out) and the body was buried together with all the belongings (each belonging had a hole so it could go with the soul); poor people bodies were cremated.

Temple of Skull

The high society aimed to look different (this is probably the most shocking thing we've learned):
- small babies head was squeezed so the skull become pointy
- cross-eye was in fashion, the small stone on the string was attached between the eyes which attracted the baby's attention and caused the cross-eye
- teeth were decorated with small jade stones (I guess it's still in fashion but the jade stones have been superseded by the gold teeth)

In X century, Maya become heavily influenced by the Toltec, who really believed in sacrifice to the point that the human sacrifices were made on the daily basis. Once apparently hundreds of kids aged 7 were sacrificed in one day in order to please the God.

Temple of warriors

Tulum - dating from XII to XV century, are surrounded by sea and the thick and high walls; They are small in comparison with other ruins but are main destination of the tourists group; our 1st impression when we walked in was "it looks like one of the mini golf courses, so popular in Florida"

Location is really spectacular but the presentation didn't appealed to us.


uma said...

i can see that you're keeping your butts on the move:)
a map would help to retrace your route as it's quite confusing to put all those ruins you've visited in order..
any TP problems so far?:P

MichaelK said...

as requested the map has been added
we are impressed that you are following our blog so closely :)
pity we have to go back in 2 days

uma said...

any TP problems?:)