The Adventures in Wonderland

Trip Start Jun 12, 2011
Trip End Oct 22, 2012

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Where I stayed
la candelaria

Flag of Mexico  , Yucatan Peninsula,
Monday, February 27, 2012

We stayed in Hostal La Candelaria in Valladolid and it was awesome. The rooms are set in an old terraced house or in converted out houses and there is a huge garden stretching back with hammocks at the end and a kitchen and lots of different private seating areas.  The resident cat had 3 kittens too which I played with as often as I could and Bob the resident chiwawa took a liking to sleeping on the chairs outside our room.

Valladolid is a beautiful town and not touristy at all.  As with the centre of all towns in this part of Mexico (and maybe the rest too, I'm guessing) it has a central square which seems to be the centre of the community.  Sets of two white chairs are set out for couples and pretty painted benches surround the central fountain.  The square and the rest of the town and its smaller squares are dotted with brightly coloured buildings.  At night the churches and the square are all lit up and fill with couples and families of all ages cooling off in the evening temperatures, eating ice cream and generally soaking up the atmosphere.  On some evenings there is a live band that plays and couples salsa dance in the street, awesome!

We used Valladolid as a base for visiting Chitchen Itza, one of the seven wonders of the modern world.  As there were six of us we were able to get a guide this time and couldn’t have asked for a better one!  He started with a half hour lecture on the history of the Mayans before taking us through each of the ruins and its significance in detail.  He had been working as a guide for over 50 years and really knew his stuff.   He kept talking for 3 hours,  I think I switched off after 2 but it was all really interesting. 

I can’t even begin to recount the all information that he gave us that day but I’ll try to summarise the highlights that I can remember.  The early settlement by the Mayan’s set the layout and built the original city of Chitchen Itza around 800AD.  We were told that the Toltecs came along and pretty much enslaved the Mayans and asked them to rebuild some of the structures there.  They wanted a pyramid with a temple on top but the Toltecs didn’t specify any style for these buildings and so the Mayans built them to their own specifications.  So the ground was raised and the new buildings were built on top of a new floor which is why some of the site is on raised ground and the older Mayan buildings are on lower ground.  Apparently at the time the entire floor would have been paved and painted red.  All the buildings would have been covered in ornate stucco work and painted bright colours too.  Unfortunately most of the colour has now gone (despite being there on a lot of the building when they were 'rediscovered’) as in the 30’s they failed to cover them in order to protect the dye.

The main iconic pyramid is El Castillo and was built as a temple to the Mayan god Kukulkan who was a feathered rattle snake. The snake’s head is featured at the bottom of the stairs on the north side of the pyramid and on the spring and autumn equinox, the late afternoon sun casts a shadow on the side of the staircase which provides the body of the snake. During the winter solstice, the sun appears to climb up the edge of the staircase until it rests momentarily directly above the temple before beginning its descent down the other side. Our guide showed us pictures of these events that he took and it looks amazing.

El Castillo was also seemingly built to represent the Mayan calendar and each of the pyramid's four sides has 91 steps which, when added together and including the temple platform on top as the final 'step', produces a total of 365 steps (equal to the number of days of the year in the Mayan calendar). There are nine main platforms which are thought to represent the 18 months of the Mayan year, and the 52 panels on the side of the platforms represent the number of years in a calendar cycle.  The temple was built on top of an earlier Mayan temple the structure of which is still intact underneath El Castillo and was found by archeologists in the 30s. Inside the older temple chamber is a Chac Mool statue (a human figure in a reclining position with the head up and turned to one side, holding a tray over the stomach) and a throne in the shape of jaguar, painted red with spots made of inlaid jade.  

Another amazing thing about the architecture of this building is that if you stand away from it and clap you get an echo from the chamber at the top of the pyramid which sounds like a Quetzal bird which was a bird highly revered by the Mayans.  The biggest ball court of the Mayan game is also found at Chichen Itza and this also was built with an amazing echo from one end of the arena to the other.  At this site the winners of the ball game would be decapitated as usual but their heads were then placed on poles on the skull platform to rot and dry until only the skull remained.  The mason would then carve an exact picture into the side of the platform of that skull so that no 2 skulls are the same.  The Mayans were also into disfiguration and would from childhood place the head in a vice type frame to create for example a flatter forehead or adorn their teeth with jewels.  The ball game players would also have spikes in their noses and ears.  I’m glad I wasn’t alive in the Mayan times!

There is also the Temple of Warriors where there is a sacrifice stone.  Apparently they would kill their prisoners of war by cutting out their still beating heart and some believe it was then laid on the tray of the Chac Mool as an offering.  There is still some evidence of the red paint that once adorned these buildings on the pillars around the warrior temple.  There is also an observatory which was used to monitor the stars and the sun and moon and which is aligned to Venus.  Other buildings there include the temple of the jaguar and a sauna as well as a ton of buildings depicting the face of the rain god and a couple of cenotes which provided the water supply to the city.  The whole thing was really interesting, I just wish I could remember more of it!

While in Valladolid we also visited the ruins at Ek Balam which is interesting because some of the original stucco work still remains there showing a giant jaguar mouth.  We also went to another cenote, this one in an underground cavern that you climb down into and the only natural light is a small hole where the roof of the cave has collapsed.  We also said good bye to Heather as she only had a week for her holiday and her and Levi went off to Isla Mujeres for a few days, but not before another night sampling the local tequila’s.
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