A Good Yarn

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Chichen Itza

Sorry about the break in my vacation tales - time flies even when you're not on vacation! The comments I've gotten from people have been so nice - I know it can be boring to hear about other people's vacation sometimes. This post is going to be photo intensive, so I apologize if you're on dial up service. My more regular posts will continue next time.

On Day 3 in Mexico I took time away from the knitting group to take a tour to the ancient Mayan archeological site "Chichen Itza". For those not familiar with Chichen Itza, here's a description I stole from Mysterious Places:

Deep within the jungles of Mexico and Guatemala and extending into the limestone shelf of the Yucatan peninsula lie the mysterious temples and pyramids of the Maya. While Europe was still in the midst of the Dark Ages, these amazing people had mapped the heavens, evolved the only true writing system native to the Americas and were masters of mathematics. They invented the calendars we use today. Without metal tools, beasts of burden or even the wheel they were able to construct vast cities across a huge jungle landscape with an amazing degree of architectural perfection and variety.

We started off bright and early in the morning on a nice bus. It was very comfortable, with food and drink provided and I spent my time on the bus knitting, so it was a pleasant drive into the jungle. Here I am before we took off - you can see my newly manicured nails:

As you can see, I brought a nice big bag along since our first stop was a Mayan village to do a little shopping. We drove through Valladolid, a more famous Mayan town, but did not stop there. Here's a photo of a couple of my fellow knitters from Minnesota who also took the trip to Chichen Itza doing some shopping:

The man in the white shirt between them in Luis, our tour guide. He is Mayan and so passionate about his people and their history. He was extremely knowledgable, interesting and funny. I loved the whole trip, in large part because of what I learned from him.

After the shopping we stopped at a hotel and had a bit of lunch. There was a lunch buffet and I tried a bit of everything and it was all really good. I was afraid to eat too much, though, because of the heat and humidity. There were also some native dancers to entertain us during lunch:

After lunch we travelled to a nearby cenote. Cenotes are sinkholes deep underground. As you can see in this picture, people can swim in them:

There are cenotes all over the Yucatan Peninsula. The owners of the land where this cenote is had dug a stairway underground so that we could walk down to the edge and jump in. It was really beautiful.

We finally arrived at Chichen Itza about mid-afternoon. The most famous structure in Chichen Itza is the big pyramid, "El Castillo"

As you can see, it wasn't too crowded while we were there. Here is a closeup of the snakes that are flanking the steps on each side:

The pyramid was constructed so that on the equinox days, the shadows fall on the columns rising up from the snake heads to create a diamond back snake body. Pretty amazing that they were such fantastic architects. In the above picture you can see the steps that rise up the pyramid. Up until about a month ago tourists could walk all the way up the steps to the top of the pyramid, but it was really damaging it. You can still walk on the steps on some of the smaller buildings and I can't imagine even being able to walk to the top of that massive building.

You can see that the steps are barely wider than the width of my foot - definitely not as wide as the length of my foot. The steps aren't wide, but they are very tall - much taller than the stairs we're used to. The pyramid is almost completely straight up, too. I think going up might be ok, but coming down would be terrifying. It was an incredibly impressive site - it's about in the middle of the site, so you walk through the jungle and then all of sudden there it is and it's HUGE!

Another impressive building is the Temple of the Warriors. Surrounding the temple is the Plaza of 1000 Columns:

I was quite taken with the site of all of those columns lined up.

The other famous structure in Chichen Itza is the ball court.

You can see the ring on the wall that the players had to pass the rubber ball through without using their hands, heads or feet to score. It's believed that the captain of the winning team was beheaded as a sacrifice to the gods - a great honor. Outside of the Ball Court was the Platform of the Skulls, which is where the Mayans displayed the heads of their conquests and of their sacrifices:

Here's a closeup of the carvings on the platform:

There were a lot of Mayan people selling handcrafts throughout the site. I bought some jewelry, some pottery, an embroidered handkerchief and a few other trinkets. It was an awesome day and I wish I had a lot more time to explore the site. I have one more picture to share, since I'm a crazy dog lady:

Yes, no matter where I go I find wild dogs. This guy struck several different poses for me to photograph, but this is the cutest one. I love dogs with their heads on their paws!

After that long day being a tourist I had a late dinner at the Asian restaurant in the resort - it was so good! I had all Japanese food and it wasn't exactly the way I was expecting, but I loved it. I had gyoza, which was fried and crunchy, but still good. Then I ordered sushi, which I expected to be nigiri but was actually a roll. I don't usually like salmon rolls, but this was excellent and I should have ordered more. For the main course I had a teriyaki chicken with noodles and an ice cream dessert. Yum, yum, yum!

Our final full day at the resort was spent knitting, reading in the hammock and on the beach. It was such a nice, relaxing day. We all had dinner together at the Italian restaurant and it was again absolutely excellent. We started with a stuff mushroom appetizer, then a great salad, then had a tri-color pasta course - it was a pesto sauce, an alfredo sauce and a marinara sauce on different pastas, so it looked like the Italian flag. The main course was Osso Bucco and dessert was a chocolate souffle with a chocolate ganache and a side of Bailey's ice cream. Oh, my, goodness! To die for! After dinner, a group of us went into Playa Del Carmen to check out the nightlife and do some shopping. We checked out one source of yarn that we had been told about, but it was just acrylic and cotton stuff - none of it was very nice. I had a little mistake in translating pesos into dollars, so I spent a lot more than I wanted on some shoes for my niece, but I got some really nice stuff, otherwise. I think the most popular item I bought in Playa Del Carmen were the wresting masks. Ben and Red loved them - they are familiar with Mexican wrestling from the cartoon "Mucha Lucha".

On the last day I just did my final shopping around the shops at the resort, enjoyed one last breakfast and soaked in a little sun. We had no problems with the plane ride back and it was darn cold and I was inappropriately dressed when we landed!