Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Best Day in Mexico - Part 1


I jolt awake. My arm flails around the nightstand searching for the phone.


"Mumble, mumble, mumble."

"Um....okay, thanks." I have no idea what the person on the other line said, but since we requested the wake up call, I imagine it was something like, wake up sleepy gringos.  

We tumble out of bed, dress, then head outside.

The sky is still dark, the resort paths are guest free. In the lobby we are greeted by a representative from Holbox Adventure. We climb into a vehicle that reminds me of the vehicles at the Dinosaur ride in Disney's Animal Kingdom.  The driver drops us off at the ferry. Ferry tickets are placed in our hands along with an envelope. We are instructed to hand the envelope over to Celio who will be waiting for us on the other side.

The ferry is a happening place at the crack of dawn. Before we can board we must wait for the ferry to be unloaded. Boxes brimming with avocados, bags filled with tortillas, and cases of soda are carried off the boat then stacked into organized piles. Local island businesses arrive and load up their golf carts with their needed goods. 

We are finally given the all clear to board.

On the other side we diligently hand the envelope over to the young man who introduces himself as Celio. He escorts us to a large comfortable van. We take the seats in the very back.  There is another couple from the United States joining us on the tour. They are not chatty, and seem interested in keeping to themselves, so the long van ride passes quietly.

Just before reaching our destination, the van stops. A gregarious man, who introduces himself as Jose, climbs into the passenger seat.  Jose will be our tour guide for the day. He wastes no time and plunges into disseminating information about the area.

Jose announces that he wants us to see our lunch being made, so we stop by a little roadside restaurant. Inside a wooden building a woman is using a long spoon to stir a huge metal pan of slowly roasting tomatoes. Three little girls, the oldest looks no older than eight, sit around a low table. A mountain of dough looms on the table's center. The girls use their small hands to pat down  balls of dough, then they use wooden dowels to transform the dough into flat tortillas. When we enter, the girls erupt into giggles, quiet, cast glances at us, and dissolve into giggles again.  I wish I had taken a photo, but in the moment it seemed too intrusive.

We load back into the van and finally arrive at Chichen Itza.

It's still early. We have arrived ahead of the larger tour groups/buses. Jose encourages us to hustle so we can remain well ahead of the soon to arrive crowds.

Our first stop is the main temple.

Like all of the other tour guides, Jose claps his  hands to demonstrate the echo. The temple was built so that when someone stood at the top, their voice could be amplified for all the people to hear. We hear the other guides clapping throughout the morning.

One of the best things about having a tour guide is having someone to take your picture

Jose was an amazing guide. Not only did he posses a wealth of Mayan information, you could feel his passion for Mayan history and culture oozing out of him with every word.

Mayan Fun Facts

- Some of the Mayans were very smart and figured out things like how solar/lunar eclipses worked and when they would happen. They kept this information to themselves, then when an eclipse happened they gathered all of the people together and pretended that they were the ones who made the moon or the sun disappear. The people thought that they were awesome magical gods instead of mere mortals and both feared and revered them. Super clever. 

The Observatory

- There was once a Mayan Queen named Fire Macaw (that would be my name too if I was a Mayan Queen). We got to see her office.

The office of Fire Macaw
-The Mayans played a game that involved putting a ball through a high hoop without using their hands. The players of the game would dress up like their favorite fierce animal. Some would be eagles, or leopards, or snakes. Sometimes instead of going to war, disputes were settled by playing the game. 

Game hoop

Ball Court
- The Mayans practiced human sacrifice. Instead of sacrificing weak virgins like other cultures, the Mayans sacrificed the best athlete or the strongest warrior. It was a great honor to be sacrificed. The sacrifice would be placed on an alter in front of everyone. A very skilled person would then use a knife to remove the still beating heart from the sacrifice and hold it up for everyone to see. The sacrifice was supposed to ensure that the sun continued to burn.

-The Mayans enjoyed their theatrics. There would be ceremonies and parties that included a lot of dressing in costumes, dancing, and pyrotechnics. They figured out a way to make the building's carved snakes breath actual fire. 

Our visit to Chichen Itza was great. Even when we had to walk through the pathways of vendors selling trinkets and souvenirs. 

I would suggest hiring a guide or going on a tour as Jose was able to tell us information, like interpreting the carvings on the buildings, that we would not have known if we just casually visited on our own. I'm glad we booked with Holbox Adventure. With only four of us on the tour, we were able to see everything at the site before it got too crowed. 

The carvings on the walls were used to record and tell the story of epic city evens

Some people might argue that Chichen Itza is a bit touristy, but that is no reason not to see it.  It's not the Mayan's fault that they built something truly spectacular. I'm sure they didn't think that someday people from all over the world would arrive in buses and vans to marvel at their history and architecture. I'm forever grateful that the ruins site is something we got to experience and  see with our eyeballs in person.

 As we boarded the van we had to exclaim,

"This is the best day!"

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