Saturday, April 7, 2018

Exploring Mayan Culture at Chichen Itza

Please welcome Don Ward, our first guest blogger ever! We first met Don in 2001 at Town Creek Marina in Beaufort, N. Carolina, one of favorite stops along the Intracoastal Waterway. Since then, he had cruised on his boat Mine All Mine, and later roamed around in his motorcoach. He's a great writer and photographer, and we love to hear his fascinating stories. Here's his latest adventure - a shore excursion during a 30-day cruise aboard the Silver Wind.  Enjoy!

It all started in the fourth grade. Mrs. Johnson barely mentioned the Mayan Civilization as she gave her students a brief lesson about Mexico. But this was enough to send me running to the library after school in search of more information about these strange and mysterious people. There wasn't a lot of information about Mayans in Asheville, NC in 1956. From what little was available, I promised myself that, one day, I would visit a Mayan city.

I actually visited three Mayan sites. Quirigua Archaeological National Park in Guatemala where it was exciting to see my first small temple.

 Then on to Lamanai Temples in Belize. The High Temple at Lamanai was a thrill to climb at 280 feet above ground level. 

But neither site could compare with Chichen Itza.

Most Mayan ruins are far inland. Up in the high mountains of the rain forests. Fortunately, Silversea Cruises provided first class excursions from the Silver Wind to all three sites. It took about two hours for our driver to take us from Playa del Carmen, Mexico, North up the Yucatan Peninsula, to the Quintana Roo Province. Our guide was a direct descendant and a very proud Mayan man.  He produced a steady stream of information about the civilization as we drove towards Chichen Itza.

From the parking area, it's almost a mile hike to the actual site. This was my first glimpse of El Castillo, the tallest temple of Chichen Itza. 

Also known as the Temple of Kukulcan this temple is huge. Visitors could climb to the alter on top until 2011. After four falls produced significant injuries, no one is allowed to climb El Castillo now.

Detail high on the Temple of The Jaguar. Four Jaguars at the top and one each side of the entrance. 

The “Wall of Skulls” representing those sacrificed on the various alters atop the multiple temples at Chichen Itza. 

This small alter once rested atop the Lower Temple of The Jaguar. The Mayan rulers sometimes even sacrificed  babies to the various Gods. Our guide thought the red stains on this alter to be blood.

The Great Ball Court at Chichen Itza is huge. Mayans played with a solid rubber ball that weighed
8 lbs. and was 10 inches in diameter. Look closely, you can spot the stone rings that served as “goals” about 20 ft. above the court floor. The games sometimes lasted a full day. The winners were often sacrificed to the Gods in the belief there could be no higher honor for the players as the Gods would only desire the “best” in Mayan “heaven”. 

The tour of the most important temples, the ball court, and minor structures took about two hours and we had walked three miles or so. I was still fascinated by a glimpse of the observatory I had seen from the parking lot and asked our guide if I could visit it. With permission granted, I walked about half a mile down a narrow path through the forest.

The El Caracol Observatory. Like so many things Mayan, is perfectly aligned with Venus. 

Few venture out to see this small section of ruins near the observatory. This area showcases the fine detail work by the Mayans.

In fact, I was the only person present at this amazing spot. I looked up on a broken wall and spotted this young Iguana taking in the late sun of Chichen Itza. I thought this a fitting end to a day that had fulfilled a dream and a promise from 62 years earlier in my life. 

Do you have a favorite site Mayan site?

This post is shared on Through My Lens.

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