A Glimpse of the Mayans

The Yucatan Peninsula has so much to offer for the avid wanderer. While most will come to rejoice the pristine, white sand beaches along the Riviera Maya from the Cancun Hotel Zone to Playa Del Carmen, we took a different path that for us meant something beyond the facade. Our sights were set on a more cultural experience through history, geography and gastronomic adventures. From the airport we quickly made our way down to Tulum, a 90 minute drive from the Cancún International Airport.

Even though we were exhausted from frustrating customs both on the US and Mexico side, a bumpy flight and the insane influx of traffic upon arrival in Cancún, we still couldn’t resist the urge to find some section of beach to catch our first sunset. This is the first time we have seen the open ocean in…?… 2 years? Wow. Our mountainous spirit has kept us along jagged ridge lines and towering pines for so long I forgot the rhythmic feeling of the incessant lapping of waves.

The pale blue sky faded while puffy white clouds tinted orange with a bulging sun behind our backs. Slowly we sipped a cerveza while lounging under a candlelit terrace. Off in the distance we could see the adventure of tomorrow sitting upon the cliff side, the ancient ruins of a Mayan civilization, the Tulum Ruins.

We have always found ourselves fascinated by the stories embedded into the earth’s many landscapes. Living in the Southwest of the United States, we are surrounded by a treasure trove of relics from ancient cultures. Ruins and evidence of civilizations that existed long before us. What I find most fascinating is the connection these people shared with nature, the way they built their temples and their archeological location sites all have importance in relation to astrology or the earth. The Tulum Ruins are unique in the aspect they are located on cliff sides by the ocean, facing the East, the rising sun. The remaining structures are so well preserved it is astounding to see what the Mayan people could build without modern tools. They were situated between jungle and ocean, the best of both worlds for nourishment and survival. Walking through this archeological site of an ancient civilization, one can almost visualize a day in the life of the Maya people.

Chichen Itza is one of the largest Mayan cities and considered a Seven World Wonder.

Walking through the ruins of Chichen Itza, we felt very humbled. Standing before the monument El Castillo, the most notable ruin in the park, we felt incredibly small. This towering temple extending up 181 ft from the base. The temple was built to honor the God Kukulcán, a Mesoamerica serpent deity whose name means feather serpent. Not only were the Mayan people builders, they were also Artists and storytellers. The temple is centrally placed in the city, the step pyramid consists of square terraces with stairways up all four sides of the pyramid. During the spring and Autumn equinoxes, the afternoon sun strikes off the northwest corner of the pyramid and casts a series of triangular shadows against the northwest balustrade, creating the illusion of a feathered serpent “crawling” down the pyramid.

As we walked around exploring the many ruins, we saw many engravings that told stories of their lives. The serpent symbol appeared quite often. When we came to the wall of skulls we both thought of war, perhaps it represented soldiers who had died, like a memorial. But we learned that in fact it was quite the opposite. The skulls were believed to have represented the human sacrifices that occurred there. There were carvings of Mayan warriors carrying heads and riding upon serpents, symbolizing their drive to sacrifice in honor of their serpent god they worshipped. Blood sacrifices were very common in Mayan civilizations.

Walking around the main site, there was so much to see, for instance the grand ball park. The grand ball park is the largest ball field in Mesoamerica, measuring 551 by 230 ft. On either side there are two hoops and the main game for this ball park was believed to be a game called Pitz. The object of the game was to get a rubber ball through the hoop without using hands. The games were often taken very seriously, resulting in decapitation for losers.

We continued walking through the site and just when we thought we had seen it all we found ourselves on an entirely different side where even more towering ruins stood.One that stood out to us in particular was la Iglesia. It is one of the oldest buildings at Chichen Itza. The building is adorned in carved masks, symbolizing different Mayan gods. The architecture was quite fascinating to us and just shows how intricately each building was designed. The Mayan people had so many beliefs and so much depth to their creations, I don’t know if we will ever truly understand all of their symbolism.

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