Chichen Itza

Caribbean, History, mexico, Travel
 If you read my last post you know that I went to Chichen Itza recently, as a part of my journey through the Seven Wonders of the World. I am sitting at 2 out of seven and feeling pretty good about getting tot he other five eventually.

However, I want to expand on my journey through Chichen Itza as it was a really remarkable day and I highly recommend spending the time to visit if you find yourself in the Yucatan or Mayan Peninsula.

I never truly understood why Chichen Itza was considered a wonder of the world until we visited it, and we made the right decision in getting up stupidly early and going with an archeologist as a tour guide.

 

This helped with several parts of our day. First, we beat the heat by getting there early. Second, we beat the general public crowds. Third, we missed some of the harassment from vendors that set up all over the city grounds. Finally, and most importantly, it gave us historical and cultural backgrounds we would have not otherwise learned.

If you have an interest in this tour, click here, it’s through Viator and well worth the price.

We started the day with a somewhat late pickup from our resort, this was the only real issue on the tour, which I am unsure of what happened with it, but it was a minor hiccup that was fixed with a quick phone call.

One downside for my husband was that the van from Playa del Carmen was pretty small for his 6’4″ body, but we survived. However, do note that this will be up to three hours in the van/bus each way. Also, you may bring a hoodie just for the cool weather and/or air conditioning on the bus. This is also a great time to nap! Don’t worry about needing a restroom of food/water, there will be about two stops going and coming back for any needs you may have.

At the complex we met up with our guide/archeologist, Marco, who took us on what felt like a SHORT two hour tour of the main part of the city.

As you walk into the city complex you are met with the grand pyramid, or Castillo Temple that is so iconic. This is where we learned about the sounds that bounce through the temple creating a whistling like a bird, which changes in pitch and volume from where you stand and listen or clap. To the east of this is a remarkable temple that makes a rattle snake noise (tail rattling) when you clap at a certain angle.

All of this is meant to represent and celebrate Kukulkan, the feathered serpent man-god that meant so much to the Maya culture. They also, at this time in the culture, practiced human sacrifice to appease the god(s) through blood offerings where hearts were ripped form chests while still beating, and  backs were broken before being drowned. (This really isn’t so different from gladiator games, public hangings, warfare etc.)

From there we toured buildings set up for the king of this specific city-state and the intricate measures that were taken for the rulers and nobility. For instance, a king was never allowed to touch the ground, so there are no steps from his throne room at the ball field and other areas that reach the ground. Instead, the noble was transported on a Litter.

In addition to being blown away by just the scale of the buildings more auditory wonders came into play. For instance, at the ball field, for the Mesoamerican Ballgame, they had an auditory system set up where the King could hear conversation from the opposite side of the field.

Maybe you remember it from this movie:

Traditionally, visitors from other tribes and cultures would be placed here, so that the king could listen for any treasonous information or gossip and it’s likely that the visitors had no idea they were being spied on.

Finally, our tour was wrapped up with some free time, around an hour, where we were able to see other buildings that made up the city. We also had to note we were only seeing about 30% of the entire city as much more was closed off for restoration and research. However, it was exciting to explore the city and imagine what it would have looked like with thousands of people milling around. People that were praying, working, selling, cooking, talking and living their lives as people around the world do.

In the other areas of the city we saw what is believed to be an astronomy tower, additional pyramids, and royal complexes that housed people and worked in tandem with their beliefs and rituals.

We learned other snippets as well, like that the Castillo or main pyramid has several pyramids built inside of it and that the Maya would build new things, and burn the old every 52 years or so as a rebirth cycle with their calendar. Additionally, the majority of the city would have been painted in lush, vibrant colors, specifically red made from paprika or cochineal.

While many people jump on the bandwagon that the Maya were supernatural or even in touch with a greater power, I have to encourage additional research and thought. It’s easy to come up and write off ideas as beyond this world, it’s harder to do the research and actually learn where, what, when and how things came together. Pretending that an alien or outside entity must have created these marvels writes off people that fall into a minority as somehow unable to build such remarkable things. Which is complete garbage. These empires and cultures from the Americas lived in the same complex cultures and identities that Europeans held onto. While they looked, spoke, and existed differently, their mores, taboos, and livelihoods were very similar and equally important. There are also endless wonders in the Americas, some of which are just being discovered.

Anyway, get out, explore, be amazed!

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Seven Wonders of the World

History, italy, mexico, Travel
The “new” Seven Wonders of the World are not exactly “new” in any sense of the world. In fact the list makes up wonders and beautiful creations from cultures and peoples in the past. Which maybe makes them more impressive and engaging than if it were a list of mega stadiums and mansions from today. Not that engineering feats from the last 100 years are not important or impressive, but there is something whimsical and magical about those buildings that were created for a purpose centuries before we had cranes, automobiles. trains and other modern technologies that make building significantly easier.
What inspires me is that I am slowly, but surely, marking locations off of the list and I currently stand at two out of seven in my 26 years on planet earth. With two being seen in the last four and a half years! #killingIt
The list is as follows:
1. The Great Wall of China- China
2. Christ the Redeemer- Brazil
3. Machu Picchu- Peru
4. Chichen Itza- Mexico
5. The Roman Colosseum- Italy
6. Taj Mahal- India
7. Petra- Jordan
 
So far I have been able to visit 4 and 5 on my adventures and they have been nothing short of remarkable!
My first visit was in the summer of 2013 to The Roman Colosseum on my study abroad in Italy, where….well when in Rome, I had to take an absurd photo.
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The Colosseum was one of those odd locations where when you are fully aware of the blood and sacrifice that went into the stones you are standing on, it’s kind of eerie. This is also true for location five…
However, The Roman Colosseum is a fantastic gateway int the history of the region, especially when paired with the Roman forum which offers a full explanation on the life and times of the nobility in Rome. Besides the fact that the Colosseum was used for a bloody display of “sport” it is also an engineering marvel. Beyond that, did you know that the majority of the damage has nothing to do with time and wear over two millenia? Instead it is a reflection of thievery and people stealing materials in the middle ages, renaissance and into the 19th century for new buildings and moments. Which is pretty damn cool, and impressive that their skills and abilities have stood so greatly through the test of time.
Additionally, it is a part of Rome that is impossible to miss, a testament to the vastness and power of the Roman Empire, and the eternal city, showing the strength of the empire at its height. 
However, like all great things, they come to an end eventually. Which also brings us to Chichen Itza. 
Chichen Itza was found by Western explorers in the 19th century covered in jungle and abandoned for centuries.  Here it is in the 1890s:
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Due to being covered oh so romantically in greenery, some believed that the Maya people had lived “as one” with the planet and had a somewhat Utopian society. However, upon further research going into the next 100 years it was learned that they in fact had been a society that utilized slash and burn techniques and other methods to clear forests. This meant land for growing crops of corn and beans along with building an extensive road network that connected places like Chichen Itza with the rest of the Maya Empire.
Anyway, not to bore you with too much history, but the reality is that this city and subsequent cities in the area were home to a vast and powerful society. Additionally the use of sound techniques for spying, entertainment, religion and building the entirety of the area with the solar system, equinoxes, and celestial events in mind make it even more exciting. 
Photo Dec 08, 8 46 47 AM.jpg

Chichen Itza circa 2017

Naturally, the list of “wows” go on. Such as depictions of North American tribes that were visiting the area, such as the Mohicans. Then, there are mysterious pieces such as a man depicted with a long beard (most Native peoples don’t grow facial hair) and others showing a Star of David. Additionally, the auditory nature of the buildings is still somewhat puzzling and no one is positive how bird whistles and rattle snack sounds could be replicated. These aspects leave more questions than answers, that I look forward to hearing about in the future. 
To wrap up on the Maya, it’s important to remember this city also acted as a sacrificial area to the gods and especially Kukulkan. Many times slaves, prisoners, and even the “strongest” warriors and gamers were sacrificed for the benefit of all people in a bloody removal of organs, or sometimes drowning in a cenote.
Anyway, I’ll share more on Chichen Itza shortly, but I want to mostly say, it’s always a thrill to work through a list of exciting places in the world.
I do believe my next stop will be Peru and Machu Picchu where I am planning to hike the Inca trail and walk in the foot steps of another great civilization.