After a bit of comparing prices we reckoned that it is cheaper to buy an excursion than organizing everything ourselves. The price: 50US$ each person, a painful payment for low rate backpackers as us but well worthed. So in a luxury bus we start from Tulúm early in the morning. The schedule is tide but for this we will see a lot in one day. First to Valladolid, just for not making the trip boring, because it was a hop-off/hop-on stop of 10 minutes to stretch our legs and walk a bit on the square of the (we are shure of) beautiful town in colonial style. Some pictures and back on the road.
Before midday we stop at a cenote. For the moment we had just seen open cenotes and this is one of the half open category. We are curious and excited to see this one. A big opening in the ground lies in front of us, a dark hole gaping at us exhausting its cold underground smelling breath in our faces. Entering a magical underworld sound tracked by the dark rhythm of some bongo drums we undoubtedly can feel the temperature drop. Darker and darker it gets as we penetrate further the narrow fissure that leads us deeper every step we take. Till suddenly we find ourselves in front of a big sphere shaped chamber, which is till the half filled with fresh water, with at the top a small opening about 3m diameter, barely lightening the big space. It is midday and the sun is standing high, just above us and just above the hole in the ceiling. An eye blinding ray of light comes straight through and hits the water surface with such a brightness that the water lightens up and glows. Glowing till unbelievable depts… Our eyes try to search for a bottom but it is such a spectacular diffuse glowing clear water that our vision starts to fail. We don’t know if we are looking at just ten centimetres depth or infinity. Even in this modern-everything-is-explainable-times it’s easier to say that it’s made by some Mayan Gods. I jump in the water for a refreshing but short swim because as heavenly it looks, this kind of cenotes has a very dark side. Not only swimming away the lighted area but it feels a kind of scary the moment a cloud covers the sun and everything gets pitch dark. It feels like a dark force might swallow you into the deep black and you would be never of heard again… just as all the other sacrifices made so many centuries ago.
At the same place but above the earth face we have our ‘Mexican-for-tourists’ included lunch and go ahead for the main attraction: Chichén Itzá. The most famous Mayan archaeological site in the world named as one of the ‘New 7 Wonders of the World’ since the 7th July 2007. The guide tours us around the different buildings and informs us about the smallest details. First of course “El Castillo” or “Temple of Kukulcán” that dominates the centre of the Chichén Itzá pre-Columbian city. As we by now expect from the Mayas, a true piece of art and genuine master piece of architecture. Just to give some examples of its rareness in every aspect:
- In front of every of the four sides of this pyramid there is a spot that is acoustically special, reflecting the echoes from handclapping, reproducing the sound of the quetzal (a tropical sacred bird) according to our guide. Personally doubting this theory, I’m quite sure that it has to sound great by any ceremony where ancient tribes use chants, drums and handclapping… I’m almost sure that it’s like the temple itself speaks and answers the demands of the Mayan civilization.
- At the base of the balustrade of the north-eastern staircase are carved heads of a snake/serpent. On the spring and autumn equinoxes in the late afternoon, the north-west corner of the pyramid casts a series of triangular shadows against the balustrade that evokes the appearance of a serpent wriggling down the staircase in representation of the feathered serpent God Kukulcán. It is almost inhuman, making a building this big and still having all the right angles to provoke this effect. Exactly on the moment of equinoxes, at exactly two important moments for such a big civilization their God Kukulcan comes to visit them. The arrival of the rains brings fertility and for this moment of preparing the soil and sowing and at the other side the time for harvest. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tq8OC2lGfJQ)
From there we pass the impressive ‘Temple of Warriors’, a structure with almost 1000 columns, big part of them decorated with carvings of Gods or people as well animals and serpents. Then the ‘Temple of the Jaguar’ and as the tour goes on, we pass by and visit some other structures of all kind with the most varied carvings, from eagles (not existing in this part of Mexico, indicates influences and contacts with other big Mayan cities) over jaguars to skulls and bones. The feathered serpent all over together with Mayan inscriptions.
The most impressive though is ‘The Great Ball court’ (168m long, 70m wide and 8m high). We have seen ball courts before but were never quite sure how it was played but here we find the solution in the largest and best preserved of all Mesoamerica. In a flash I see an image in front of my eyes… and after a day of looking between, with dust covered and far away stored, memories… I find ‘The Road to El Dorado’! An entertaining animation movie where two young man looking for the secret city El Dorado end up in a Mayan city, very Chichén Itzá-like, playing a ball game. In the movie there is even a hole with water in which is thrown a part of the treasure…, a cenote we do know now, just as there is in Chichén Itzá where they found thousands of objects made from gold, jade, copal,… as well as skeletons of children and men.
After a long day of being a tourist we go back to our Tulum hostel, download the movie and watch exited as we recognize lots of features we just have seen with our own eyes. A trip well worthed and after visiting lots of ruins of which the biggest pyramid base wise, the largest city… it was time to meet the most famous.