Wednesday, 12 November 2014

A trip to one of the World's wonder

A World Heritage Site status (UNESCO) and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, it’s no surprise that Chichén Itzá is one of Mexico’s most visited tourist destination. More impressive is that it was one of the "greatest Mayan centers" in the Peninsula of Yucatan. It was definitely one of the reason we prioritized the visit over closer sites such as Ek Balam (which had planned to go until we both fell ill).

No matter where you are in the Yucatan peninsula, it’s likely that a tour group will be offering a day trip to Chichen Itza but we decided to, like all of our day trips in Mexico, to do it individually. We took a coach to Valladolid, a colonial town closer to Chichen Itza is worth a trip on its own. We then took a collectivio the next day (after having possibly the best pancakes in the world) straight to Chichen Itza.

The Temple of Kukulkan 

A comparison of the restored and soon to be restored faces of El Castillo
Also known as El Castillo, this square based step pyramid is the the first thing that greets you as you enter the ruins of Chichén Itzá... after all, it's the thing we came to see. Now a little back story on the temple: it while it was built to show dedication to the Feathered Serpent God Kukulcan, it was also was thought to be used for astronomical uses. The beautiful pyramid can be seen as a massive calendar as each of the sides have 91 steps adding upto 365 (if you count the top platform). The number 91 also significant as it the number of days between the four phases of the solar cycle (new fact for me, yay).  

The Gruesome Mayans 

An eagle eating... a human's heart
Although the Mayans founded Chichen Itza, the city was invaded by the Toltecs, who brought their own culture with them. One such contribution from the invaders includes the introduction to and obsession with human sacrifices. Many of the structures, including the Platform of the Eagles and Jaguars, have cravings of animals grabbing (and eating?) human hearts which are suppose to be analogous to the brave warriors capturing sacrificial victims. There was even a Platform of Skulls which were used to exhibit the heads of the sacrificed victims. 

The Mayans aren't my favourite set of architects sadly...
I felt like I was constantly being reminded of how barbaric the Mayans while James was telling me about the ruins (courtesy of the Lonely Planet guide, before you think of him as Indiana James). The ruins don't give a day trip tourist a glimpse to their academic contribution My views of the once great civilisation went from awe to little more awful. Fortunately, the structures in Chichen Itza are more than just temples and palaces. El Caracol pictured below is an observatory that they used to study venus.

Maybe I should mention they observed venus to make decisions on their next battles and rituals...

Chichen Itza – A commercialised experience 

The minute you step out of your bus, you’re greeted by a myriad of merchants trying to sell you hats (the rows and rows of hats!). There's a small photo-op right outside the entrance and the standard restaurants and gift shop. The most prominent difference between the previous ruins I visited and Chichén Itzá were the abundance of market stalls inside. Now I can already hear Rishi warming up to talk about how commercialism is required for development and sure, people do depend on the tourist sales to make an income but I am allowed to complain about the chantings of "Only US $1" and "Almost free" following me everywhere I walked combined with the intense heat just made my experience a little less enjoyable.

On the way to the cenote - the pathway is lined with markets
Saying that... the level commercialism isn't as bad as I've seen in other countries and it's only a small drawback. I'm glad that they are wooden market stalls rather than permanent buildings. I also glimpsed a peak how the handicraft was being made, showing us how talented the people behind the market stalls were!

Overall, Chichén Itzá is full of impressive Mayan structures that anyone would be a fool to give this a miss!

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