Ruins and Cenotes
Trip Start Dec 15, 2006
18Trip End Feb 07, 2007
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Learning my lesson from Coba (Chels and Dan actually had Coba to themselves when they were there) we headed out to Chichen Itza first thing and were among the first few to be let in when it opened at 8am. The collectivo ride out was interesting. Collectivos are essentially minivans fitted with bench seats, operated by drivers who try to fit more people in that seems legally permissible or physically possible. You can't help but be amazed, and a little worried, as the driver keeps pulling over for more and more people during the trip. But they work well - sort of. They don't quite work like taxis - our one wouldn't budge from the pickup point until he'd filled the van to capacity, and then some, before leaving
Chichen is probably one of the more famous of the Mayan ruins in the Yucatan. It is said to be the best restored and one of the largest. It was initially a pure Mayan site, serving as one of the main cities around 600AD before it was largely abandoned around the 9th century for reasons unknown. It was then briefly reoccupied by Toltecs who built a few more things, before feuding of some sort lead to a decline in the importance of Chichen and eventually its abandonment again around the 14th century. The major pyramid structure, El Castillo, was built by the Toltec settlers around 1200 as is in great condition today. Mainly because you're not allowed to walk on it and they have spent a lot of time restoring and preserving it.
The entire site is littered with incredible structures. One of which is the Gran Juego de Polota, or great ball court. It's the largest ever built to play an odd game that's sort of like a soccer/basketball hybrid. There are large stone hoops a few meters up a wall that a ball (made of a rubber-like substance) must go through to score. They were not allowed to use their hands making it extremely hard to score by using only elbows and legs. Keeping with the sacrificial tendencies of the civilisation, the captain of the winning, not the losing, team was decapitated - apparently a great honor
There are a lot of structures used for sacrifice in the main city. The Toltecs were more into it than the original Mayan inhabitants, and most of their structures have something to do with someone losing their head in the pursuit of glory.
What was impressive was the buildings that were roofed by supporting a massive stone slab with hundreds of columns. All the roofs have collapsed by now, but they were covered in symbolic carvings and decoration and in their day would have been sweet.
Chichen's site is in a bit better condition than Coba and due to a great effort to maintain it. Being much bigger than Coba we were able to walk around and on the ruins for a good couple of hours. Evidence of the efforts to restore crumbled buildings are still there - plenty of dislodged bricks lay in sorted rows, numbered and waiting the the one day someone will put something back together again.What is cool about these sites too is that they were only really rediscovered about 80 years ago and even as late as the 80s and 90s some sites are having new discoveries made
After taking in the massive observatory structure and what is thought to be a building where the Mayan royalty lived, we headed off, just as the tour buses were turning up.
Back in town we decided to hire bikes and ride out to the cenotes nearby to Valladolid. They are large underground caverns with an opening to the surface above and a pool of water covering the bottom. They are apparently due to some geological phenomenon helped by the large meteor that hit the Yucatan about 65 million years ago. Millions of years later, around the perimeter of the meteor's crater cracking in the limestone layer occurred and these filled with rainwater, eventually eroding away intricate underground river systems and centers. Or something like that. Anyway, they're amazingly crystal clear fresh water swimming pools for the rest of us. Some sections were deep enough to allow us to jump safely from a platform about 8 or 9 meters above the water.
Valladolid is a pretty layed-back town. The main plaza is overlooked by a gigantic Catholic church looking like it should be in Western Europe, not Mexico. Like Playa, small footpaths and hectic traffic make walking around interesting, and cycling sort of fun. On our way back into town from the cenote we passed a fair going on and decided to head back later.
It was a smallish town fair that had a big market full of junk, some deathtrap looking rides, typical sideshows, and plenty of small stalls selling all sorts of deep-fried goodness. Our experience at dinner was my first experience with blatant rip-off merchants since Morocco. Having paid no more than 50pesos (about $5 USD) at every other place we'd been for a margarita, when we got the bill, not only was the food 50% more than we'd previously agreed but they were trying to charge us 110 pesos each for our drinks. Smelling a rip off we began haggling for about 10 minutes before they let us off about 100 pesos from what they initially asked, but sure we still overpaid by about 100 pesos anyway. Earlier we'd seen the aftermath of a bullfight being carved up and sold piece by piece to punters outside the bullring. No wonder we only ended up ordering one dish between the three of us at dinner.