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Friday, February 17, 2012

My Mayan Quest and Journey to the Yucatan 2012

In the Jaws of Kukulkan 

(Links to each new destination at bottom of page or on sidebar
click on photos for slideshow)

I arrived at my hotel in Cancun very tired after the flight and late in the afternoon but by the next day I was eager to explore. At one of the many tourist kiosks I found that there was a small archaelogical site at Punta Sam that was easy to get to by public bus so I girded myself with backpack, camera and spanish phrase book and boarded the Ruta 1 bus to my destination. It turned out to be a lovely site, off the beaten path and with the added attraction of few tourists.  Don't forget to always bring (bottled) water with you wherever you go and comfortable shoes.

 El Meko

A contemporary inhabitant

 One Visitor of three there that day (one was the iguana)

continue on to sunbathers

Thursday, February 16, 2012



I checked the pool carefully before jumping in
My  hotel was very pleasant and the beds comfortable although the bathroom was a little tired looking and the jacuzzi tub didn't work. It was on the lagoon side of Cancun as opposed to the ocean but with very pretty gardens.   By 6.a.m. the mornings were full of jungle bird song and by the lagoon some unexpected guests were sunbathing.
I had actually wanted to swim with dolphins but I suppose I didn't read the fine print.

and by tour bus (tours from hotel) to Tulum and Coba 
(click on links for next chapters)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Day in Tulum and Coba

Gateways and doors were sacred spaces to the Mayans who believed that when you passed through you were entering into another dimension of the world and of life.

Not far from Cancun, on the Mayan Riviera, Tulum was built in the post classic period of the Mayan and as their civilization was declining. It's beauty lies partly in the wonderful setting and turquoise beaches of the Caribbean.

Coba is an older city through which the Sac be (white road) connected to other cities of the Mayan world like the roads of Rome. It runs for 100 km through the jungle.  With palaces, temples and ball courts Coba was one of the largest Mayan cities but not as restored as other sites such as the well known Chichen Itza. I gathered my courage and strength and climbed the crumbling, perilous pyramid steps in the humid heat and  got a touch of vertigo. Descending is much more daunting as you can imagine one misstep and your broken body lying far below, a sacrifice to the merciless Chac Mool.Posted by Picasa

riding the sac- be (white road

And on to the the ADO bus station ( dowtown Cancun) to Valladolid and Ek Balaam


Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Plaza in Valladolid

Cathedral in Valladolid

Beautiful Cenote Zaci

A lively marching band
Valladolid is old and charming and I stayed at El Meson del Marques, a lovely colonial looking hotel, reasonably priced  with courtyard, fountains and a great restaurant in front of the main Plaza of town.  Walking down the narrow streets the following day a taxi driver was shouting "Ek Balam! Ek balam!! It sounded like arabic  (al kabam?) to my untrained ear as opposed to Spanish, but it turned out he wanted to take me out to the most fantastic ruins by the same name which translated means "Star Jaguar;" perhaps the name of the king whose tomb was found there. Again, with a thought of adventure and a little faith I hopped into his car (always under the protection of Jesus or Mary who either ride the dashboard or are displayed reverently in almost every type of vehicle), and for the fare equivalent of maybe 5 dollars headed out into the countryside at break neck speed.  Though not as well known as Chichen Itza I'm so glad I decided to go!! The beautiful glyphed and fantastic carved facade of the palace/tomb was in perfect condition as were the ball courts as though the players had just left to go celebrate- or cut off the heads of the losers-  they didn't believe in handshakes or "well played old chaps"  type of sportmanship!! I couldn't help but think of my brother and his basketball and soccer team. I wondered if threatening them with decapitation would make them play a better game!!
There is also a cenote close by called Xanche with rapelling and zip lines for the daring.
Within walking distance of my hotel was the beautiful Cenote Zaci in a park like setting and right off
Calle 39.
Today the Mayan people are mainly Catholic, sweeter than honey and as honest and helpful as you could wish. Everyone drives like a maniac though and my taxi had only one half seat belt but I was still charged full price.
At night the streets have a carnival atmosphere with people on the go, smells of food, hawkers and music blaring and some times cars with loud speakers drive by advertising God knows what as I don't speak Spanish yet.  In the afternoon a marching band played in the plaza outside my window every day so I was allowed no siesta!

Tomb of Ek Balam

view from the pyramid, farewell to Kukulkan

Cenote Xanche

Morning in Valladolid


The beautiful cavern -Dzitnup Cenote


Monday, February 13, 2012

Descent into a magical Cavern at Dzitnup

Caves, caverns and cenotes were sacred to the Mayan, and the transition points between the physical and the spiritual world,  - today cenotes are more like local swimming holes but still enchanting.

This was all I had imagined!
Not too far from Valladolid and the most mysterious and beautiful of all cenotes.

Yes, I swam in the very cool waters where little blind catfish dart around your toes! Dipping my feet in slowly I felt it must be a similar experience to entering the sacred waters of the Ganges in India.

You can find transportation to both Ek Balam and Dzitnup at two separate taxi stands on Calle 44. Ek Balam taxi is 2 blocks north of C39 and Dzitnup a block or two south toward C 41.

Again the bus station to Chichen Itza! and where I learn more about Mayan spirituality.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Chichen Itza

I had to laugh when I saw this sign as I frequently stay at this hotel in the Interior of BC.  The bus from Valladolid  (with the ADO line you have the choice of first class) was very full and you are treated to mariachi music the whole way, so no napping there either.  It arrived at Chichen Itza late morning but I needed to find a hotel first and refresh so I ended up taking another cab (3 dollars US) to the little town of Chichen Itza where the first place I found was a Best Western!!  After changing clothes and a shower I headed back to explore along with the hundreds of tourists that flock there.  You  must take advantage of one of the guides which await you  if you want to learn about the place which is huge and divided into 3 areas; Old or pre classic Chichen,  Central which contains the observatory ( my favourite) and the North group which contains, the ball courts and  the Pyramid of Kukulkan with it's wonderful creeping serpent of the Equinox light! 
In Mayan belief the serpent symbolized movement and change. The Mayan understanding of the cosmos and of numbers  along with their calendar (called the long count) was profound and their lives, customs, poetry, art and buildings were bound up in the sacred mystery of time, the stars and  the seasons. Their entire lives were lived in sacred ritual.
 Chichen Itza  means " the mouth of the wizard's well."  Guides usually ask for 4000 pesos or 40 dollars  for up to four people and the tour takes a couple of hours.   I was lucky to get a guide who explained the spiritual aspect of the Mayan beliefs and the significance behind their symbols and numbers.  The wizard's well (chen) is a cenote at Chichen Itza where human bones have been found by archaeologist divers.  Blood rituals and finally human sacrifice played a large role in religious ceremony especially in the later period of the Maya.
At night there is a narrated light show that begins at dusk. Bring an umbrella as it sometimes rains. Lightening and thunder were added to my light show the night I was there.
I had a bit of serrendipitous good fortune too as when I arrived pre dusk there were few people on site and one of the  workers took me into the grand caracol (observatory) or "snail" (called so because of the shape) where the public is no longer allowed entrance. It has two outer doors and a circular corridor in the interior with two inner doors - something to do with the solstices and the four cardinal directions?   I placed my hand in greeting on the ancient  hand that is imprinted on the outer wall of the "snail"  and went inside. From there I watched the death of Kukulkan, the feathered serpent,  in the form of the setting sun who would be reborn in the morning.   The four cardinal points of east, west, north and south are in all Mayan buildings including their houses and are called bacabs. They  symbolize the four jaguars that held up the sky.
It was a dream come true for this amateur astronomer as this building captured my imagination when I was very young.  I tried to imagine Stephens and Catherwood coming out of the jungle and upon this for the first time in the 1800's.

Oh great Kukulkan

Ball courts

Merciless Chac Mool


The Snail

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Dream come true

inside the Caracol

 The witches well or cenote at chichen itza

and on to Merida where more adventures await.


Saturday, February 11, 2012


Merida is another bustling colonial town, and bigger than Valladolid. The streets are narrow and crowded and even at cross walks cars always seem to have the right of way. In the spacious square the Cathedral is the focal point and the plaza itself is full of  trees and flowers as well as people socializing, relaxing  or selling goods. Surrounding the park  are many shops and cafes. Policemen blow their whistles frequently as they direct traffic in this part of the city.
 I browsed a bookstore and bought the English version of the Popol Vuh (one of the few surviving codices of Mayan written literature) and spent time in a beautiful art gallery and bought an opal pendant representing a stylized  Kukulkan.  The churches are beautiful and some of them are a fusion of Mayan and Catholic tradition.

 "On to La Ruta Puuc and the Lol tun caves"

(also in archives)

Friday, February 10, 2012

On to La Ruta Puuc, Labna, and the Lol tun caves.

Royal Mayan Palace at Sayil- dark day, dark gods
doorway to Labna

In the Jaws of Kulkulkan

These ruins are  about a 2 hour drive from Merida.
They are beautifully restored and are in a beautiful park setting.  Our guide translated in both English and Spanish the various depictions on the buildings of serpents, jaguars, turtles, the diving or descending god  and the rain god Chac with the long nose. When the nose is up it was a supplication and when down it signified the blessing of rain.

Rain god nose

The descending god

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Magnificent Lol tun

Descent into Xibalba

Olmec mask



Caverns measureless to man
 Lol tun  means flower stone. Sacred to the Mayan since pre classic times it was the crown of my journey to this region. Caves were doorways to the terrible underworld called Xibalba but also the place where life began according to their mythology and where the hero twins defeated the lords of the underworld in a ball game. There are signatures of hand prints on the walls of this cavern where areas are still being opened up as more is discovered.  My guide was Pablo who showed me the musical stalactites that played an om like melody in two tones when struck with the palm of the hand.
I must have pleased the gods as I emerged unscathed and pondering the rituals and and terrifying visions the ancient Mayans must have experienced in this mysterious and dark portal of life and death, creation and destruction.
 This site is harder to get to than most but worth every bug bite as well as sore feet.  Wear good hiking or running shoes and bring Deet spray. This site is part of a tour called La Ruta Puuc out of Merida but only leaves on certain days and only if there are enough people (min of four). Fortune again smiled as my group  only had three (myself and  a lovely Spanish couple)  but was a go ahead anyway. Next time I will check into a possible bus ride there. 
I felt blessed to have completed the quests I had set out for myself when I planned this trip and there was still more to come.
intrepid spelunker

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Temple of the Wizard

I got to this beautiful site by bus from the central Merida bus station. It takes a couple of hours to get there and is one of the most beautiful Mayan sites with the colossal Temple of the Wizard rising above the trees. There even were two Conneticut Yankees in the court of Uxmal.  We met at the bus station and travelled together that day. One of them was a professional photographer and the three of us wandered the historic landscape together, climbed a pyramid, and got soaked in the jungle rain before stopping for lunch. In cavalier fashion  gallant Sean offered me his rain coat and I took it.  I unfortunately ran out of battery power and had to use my cell phone to take pictures. That alone separated the photographers from the shutterbugs. It was a  huge temptation to sit on the Jaguar throne in the square that says sitting prohibited!! My two friends vanished briefly and I have been checking Dex's photo website to see if he has any  occupied throne pictures but nothing yet. You won't see it here as I missed the shot!!

two Conneticut Yankees in the Court of Uxmal


the real photographer


success!!  and now bloody hell! we have to turn around and go back down (rain coming!)