Cozumel (Mayan: Island of the Swallows)
is a paradise where tradition, flavor and joy come together. It is an island (the only island in Mexico
) in the Caribbean Sea off the eastern coast of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula
, opposite the Playa del Carmen
, and close to the Yucatan Channel.
We however, had a date with Ancient History at Chichen Itza
, the communion place of the Mayan Civilization
. It was an enigmatic place filled with a blood soaked violence past. It's one of the more elusive place on earth to swing by. To get to this mysterious place, we chartered a private single prop Cessna
airplane to fly us to Chichen Itza. The private plane costed us USD650
but it was money well spent. We caught a taxi to the Aviacion General (Cozumel Domestic Airport) as soon as we leaped off the ship that was moored at the levee. We were quickly introduced to our pilot, Roberto
, as we signed in for our tour. Speaking with limited english, he uttered some pleasantries and signaled us to follow him to his plane. The single prop airplane was smaller that I had expected. It's overall height was just shy of 6ft
and the length was not impressive either - about 14ft
. Ling took the back seat and I had the co-pilot seat in front. I had to push my seat all the way back to avoid having my knees resting on the plane's manoeuvre handles. After some ground checks and the take off clearance given by the control tower, Roberto taxied our aircraft onto the runway and pull back on the throttle to start the roll. Within seconds, we were airborned and on our way. The journey was uneventful and smooth. 45minutes later, we arrived at Chichen Itza Airport
. The airport complex consist of only one single storey building with an area about the size of a football field. The airport was completely void of human; our footsteps were shadowed by delayed echo, and the flawlessness of the place gave me the feelings of being transported to the Twilight Zone
As we exited the airport, Antonio, our designated driver was waiting for us at the parking lot with his jalopy. We never thought that the deal included a bone shaking and skull shattering therapy along the way. We drove past some shanty towns and dilapidated roads on the way to Chichen Itza. It's a doleful feelings for us to see some of the locals living in such a deplorable state. Sigh!
Inexorably, we reached Chichen Itza after a 20minutes ride. We were assigned a personal guide by the gate keeper, and boy, were we glad that we got a good one. His name's Fernando
, and he's a bonafide Yucatan Peninsula dweller. Who's better to tell us about Chichen Itza, then a person who's been living there for his entire life. Fernando shook our hands and invited us to "Let's play ball!", a reference to the well known favourite pastime of the ancient mayan people, the Mesoamerican Ballgame
, played on The Great Ball Court
The first place that he led us to, was the most imposing structure that dominated the center of Chichén, the Temple of Kukulkan
(the Maya name for Quetzalcoatl
) often referred to as "El Castillo
" (the castle). This step pyramid has a ground plan of square terraces with 91steps up each of the 4 sides plus a platform at the temple on top. (91steps x 4) plus 1platform = 365
, denoting the number of days in a year
(incredible!). On the Spring and Autumn equinox, at the rising and setting of the sun, the corner of the structure casts a shadow in the shape of a plumed serpent - Kukulcan, or Quetzalcoatl - along the side of the North staircase. On these two days, the shadows from the corner tiers slither down the northern side with the sun's movement, to join with the stone head at the foot of the pyramid, completing the shape of the revered beast. Awesome!
We moved on to the Great Ball Court where the game of life and death was played. The objective of the game was to send a solid rubber ball through a stone hoop high up on the two 12m high, opposing wall. It was like the game of racquetball, volleyball and basketball all rolled in one. Players were only permitted to use their torso, head and a wooden stick to attempt to send the rubber ball through the stone hoop. According to Fernando, the winner will be rewarded the most prestigious gift of all, the honor of being sacrificed by his opponent for the greater good of all mankind. They believed that their sacrifice will pacified the Mayan Rain God, Chaac
, who will blessed them with fertile soil for producing sustenance so that life could go on. One word to describe their antics,.....NUTS!
Had you watched the movie "Apocalypto
", you would know how the human sacrifice was being performed. The Mayan Priest will cut open the human chest with the Ceremonial Sacrificial Dagger
(chipped from Obsidian - a black lava glass
), and reached in and pull the beating heart out of the victim while the victim was still alive. Oh those sadistic and masochistic maniac, they have all the fun. That sacrament wasn't performed atop of El Castillo like it's being depicted in the movie but on an altar called Chaac Mool
, atop of Templo de los Guerreros (Temple of the Warriors).
Fernando was an enormous reservoir of information, a walking encyclopedia of the Mayan History
. He imparted a vast amount of knowledge both critical as well as frivolous ones with zeal. We're highly impressed with his knowledge. After making sure that he has not missed out any important facts, he left us to roam around freely. He also left us with admiration and a lasting impression of him. Hasta Mañana Señor!
After rewarding him with a handsome tip, we wander off deeper into the forest in search of a sacred place, Cenote Sagrado
. The Yucatan Peninsula is a limestone plain, with no rivers or streams. The region is pockmarked with natural sinkholes, called cenotes, which expose the water table to the surface. One of the most impressive is the Cenote Sagrado, which is 60 meters in diameter, and shear cliffs that drop to the water table some 27 meters below.
The Cenote Sagrado was a place of pilgrimage for ancient Maya people who, according to ethnohistoric sources, would conduct sacrifices during times of drought. Archaeological investigations support this as thousands of objects have been removed from the bottom of the cenote, including material such as gold, jade, obsidian, shell, wood, cloth, as well as skeletons of children and men.
We did some souvenir hunting after that and bagged some nice T-shirts
and stone carvings
. Then we headed back to Antonio's jalopy. The spot he brought us next was a place out of this world. It's another Cenote situated not far from Cenote Sagrado. It was a surreal place that no amount of words could described. To simply put it without any justice done to it, it's a swimming hole 100ft below ground with water 150ft deep. The turquoise water was impregnated with cute little catfishes. Vines from trees above dangled down like the tentacles of jellyfishes waiting for unsuspecting victims. Enchanting!
With too much of excitement in a day, we had forgotten to eat anything since we left that morning, we were famished by the time we got ourselves out of that hole. Without any eatery in sight, we grab the next best thing. Turned out, we shared an ice-cream cone and called it our lunch. Best damn ice-cream we've ever had. Antonio sent us back to the airport after that insubstantial meal and bid us farewell. We searched the deserted airport (as creeepy as ever) and found Roberto waiting for us. We flew back to Cozumel and caught another taxi back to the levee.
As the ship was within reach, we figured that we could still afford to browse around a little more. We dropped by the self proclaimed, Smallest HRC in the World
, and indeed, we had no doubt that it was the smallest. With one shop lot space and occupied only the ground floor, it didn't take much imagination to visualize how small it was;-)
We marched into another Del Sol
outlet store and bought some more keyrings, can't resist those magical color changing items. When we were sure that we had exhausted our time on the island, we reluctantly made our way back to our ship. The moment we were back on board, it's straight to the buffet table without any diversion. After all, all play and no eat makes Jack, a weak boy.
Notice the date today? It's the eve of the day that they announced, the "New 7 Wonders of the World
". When we heard on the following day that Chichen Itza had became one of the new wonders, we couldn't contain our euphoria. We were there on the eve, we witness the birth of a new wonder, and most importantly, we saw history in the making. Been there, done that.....hah!(07-07-07) LAST DAY at SEA
Last day at sea was an emotional one for us as we sailed back towards Galveston. Over the past 6 days, we've developed an immense affinity for the carefree lifestyle at sea, wishing we could sail on forever to far flung corner of the earth and make stops at exotic destinations, but that's wishful thinking. We spent the day brooding about the impending end to this incredulous adventure that we had. Our heart sank alongside the sun that evening. We made our way to the Grand Dining Hall for the last time that evening. The food was as enticing as ever but our sombre mood bit deep and refused to let go. The spectacle that almost brought tears to my eyes was when all the waiters and waitresses gathered together to serenade us with their rendition of Elvis Presley's "It's now or never
", with devotions unsurpassed by anything I've ever experienced. They will be deeply missed by us.
We went for a Bingo Draw
and watched a special performance by guests dressed up in disguise as celebrity singers and crooned out those yesteryear's golden hits. There's Elvis Presley, Tina Turner, Frank Sinatra and a whole lot of them. Some were impressive and some made complete fools of themselves; we had great laughs from their goofy acts. We went back to our cabin with a big grin still hanging on our face. It was good and it helped us to sleep that night.