March 10, 2017

Exploring the Ruins of Chichen Itza

Wednesday morning was an early one for us cruisers, a brutal throwback to reality! We had to meet in the ship’s theater at 7 am (7 in the morning!) to make sure we left with enough time for our excursion. We dashed off to the shore and said a quick hello to Cancun before jumping back on a boat—this time a high-speed ferry that would take us 45 minutes down the way to Playa del Carmen. Oh dear reader, that ferry was rocking and rolling so terribly that the crew handed out bright green plastic barf bags! Thankfully I didn’t need one that morning...that afternoon was a much different story but I digress.

Our wonderful guide Jorge

Having reached Carmen, and having kissed the ground, our entire tour of around 20 other passengers met our guides: Carlos and Jorge. We piled on the bus and began our 2-and-a-half-hour journey to Chichen Itza! Throughout the trip, Carlos gave us background information about the Mayan ruins because we only had a little over an hour to actually explore the ruins before it was back on the bus. Jorge led us around the site and gave us even more information about the ruins we were seeing.

A newly-minted Wonder of the World, the Chichen Itza ruins have several structures including, the most famous, a temple dedicated to the Mayan god Kukulkan. Interestingly, inside the famous another pyramid-shaped temple! And inside that one, there’s a third! The Mayans had several calendars, including one that re-started every 52 years. This meant that every half-century or so, the Mayans would completely burn down their town and start over. Well, they weren’t about to destroy a temple—so they simply built a bigger and better one on top! Kukulkan is a god that is half-snake, half-bird and on the two equinoxes in March and in September, the shadows form the figure of the god coming down the side of the temple towards the earth.

The detail that the Mayans undertook when erecting these monuments is simply incredible. The amount of intricate work that went into the carvings on the pillars and walls of the structures, and then the actual mathematical and scientific calculations that were required to erect temples in specific locations with specific purposes (such as aligning with the sun to form the appearance of the god Kukulkan) is mind-blowing.

My beautiful momma

The other standing structures at Chichen Itza include the Temple of the Warriors where great Mayan warriors were once sacrificed to the gods for fertility of land and the continuation of the civilization. The warriors that were sacrificed, their beating hearts cut out of their bodies and burned, believed it was an honor to be sacrificed in this way and that they would be reincarnated as royalty.

This carving details the outfit of a sacrificed Mayan warrior

The temple of Venus, who the Mayans believed chased the Sun around the Earth, is also visible at Chichen Itza as well as a platform of stone heads. (No, it is not the same as Stonehenge) This platform is where the Mayans would impale the heads of their fallen enemies on spikes to scare off any would-be attackers.

The final standing structure is one of the biggest basketball courts you will ever see in your life! The teams would play on this huge structure with a 4-pound rubber ball by bouncing the ball with their knees, hips, or elbows to their captain, waiting on the runner-wall on the side of the court. The captain then had to somehow pass the ball through the hoop (several meters off the ground) without using his hands or feet! These games took days to play, and the first team to score a point had their captain sacrificed to the gods. This was an honor for the captain, same as the sacrificed warriors.

All-in-all despite the immeasurably long bus rides and nauseous-making ferry rides, Chichen Itza was a breathtaking site and one I encourage anyone to hop onto the next bus, ferry, or car to visit! The remnants of a society that was once so powerful and so intelligent and so culturally rich should be paid the highest homage and Chichen Itza should be at the top of your must-see bucket list.


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