A ruinous* tour of the Maya sites of the Yucatán *Not according to the traditional, or indeed correct, use of that word
02.12.2016 - 04.12.2016 33 °C
We left you in Cancún last Thursday night, and we left the city early on Friday morning on an organised tour. We met our driver, Raymundo, the burliest Mexican I’ve ever seen, and our diminutive and knowledgable guide Ricardo, who would be showing us around for the next three days.
Our first stop was Ek’ Balam, black jaguar in Maya, a ruined city that reached its peak in the 8th Century. Only a part has been excavated, but this area includes the Acropolis, a huge multi-platform building with decorative friezes and spectacular views over the surrounding jungle.
Looking down on a couple of the other buildings
We dropped in on Valladolid, a pretty colonial city with a nice church, convent and main square, where we devoured corn-flavoured ice cream, complete with real bits of corn.
The garden in the convent
And in the late afternoon we made it to Mérida, a bigger and probably more beautiful colonial city, also with a big cathedral, lively main square and grand municipal buildings surrounding the plaza.
The Governer's Palace
After dinner, we joined the crowds in the street next to the square to watch ‘the ball game’. Sometimes called Pok-Ta-Pok but sometimes left unnamed, this game was clearly played at Mayan cities for generations. Some cities have more than ten elaborate ball courts built specifically for the purpose. But the rules have got somewhat lost in time, and nobody knows exactly how it would have been played.
We saw the best guess. There were more pre-game activities than the AFL grand final, with smoke, speeches and ceremonies. The game itself was a bit of a let down. It consists of two teams trying to pass a big, heavy, bouncy rubber ball through a two-metre high hoop, using only their hips. It looks very difficult, but also a bit boring – it’s not that hard to see why it died out. There were two goals, but they took a while to come.
The next day we sprinted off early to Kabah, a relatively small but stunning ruin that we had almost entirely to ourselves. (There’s so many in this area that tourists are spoiled for choice.)
We saw the Mayan-style arch that was one of the entrances to the walled city, and then walked around the partially reconstructed palaces, replete with symbolic masks as decoration, and iguanas sleeping in the morning sun.
Then over to Uxmal (pronounced ush-mal), a huge Mayan city that our veteran guide said was his favourite to visit on the whole peninsula. It was incredibly hot and there was a lot of walking up stairs, but what was really breathtaking was the architecture. From the bold oval pyramid, to the gargantuan plaza surrounded by four awesome temples and everything in between, it was awe-inspiring, and in the top couple of sites we’d seen.
By the time we reached our hotel, it was late in the afternoon. But there was no rest. After a quick swim we were off to the sound and light show at Chichén Itzá, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World (the archaeological site, not the sound and light show). We wandered around the site first, seeing the great pyramid and gigantic ball court in semi-darkness, and then had our minds blown by high velocity lasers and eardrums destroyed by high volume speakers.
The light and sound show did ruin the surprise a bit for the next day, I thought. We went back and saw the whole site in daylight, but having seen it the previous night there was less of a wow factor. It's a difficult life. Even so, it was pretty great, and the pyramid of El Castillo is spectacular.
Skulls decorating one of the altars
The 'Temple of a Thousand Columns', which actually has many more than a thousand according to Ricardo
We finished the grand tour with a swim in the pool of Cenote Ik Kil, another of those limestone sinkholes that have crystal clear, cool waters. It wasn’t that busy, and the water was suitably refreshing.
Lunch, and then a long drive back to Cancún, where we said goodbye to Raymundo and Ricardo until next time.
Ricardo is pretty short
The rest of my family were supposed to arrive in the evening, but thanks to US Customs they missed their final leg, and were stuck in Houston. Unfortunately for them they also missed out on this:
Due to Mum wanting to spend all the money on her salary sacrifice card, we’re staying at the Marriott for two nights, and it’s pretty, pretty good.
Anyway, better be off to see if the Heselev/Hughes clan have made it. This will likely be our last entry for a while, given the difficulties with internet access in Cuba. We'll have a mega update when we get back. Adiós amigos!