Diary/Photo Journal

Week of November 23, 2003

One more ruin to go before spending a few days roughing it near Cancun.  Chichen-Itza (Chee-chin eat-zah) is the most popular ruin in Mexico as it is only a couple of hours from Cancun.  Because it is so close to the tourist destination, we counted no less than 10 different languages being spoken as we walked through the ancient city. 

The city was established by the Itzaes sometime around the 9th century CE.  There remains a debate as to whether the Toltecs and the Putun Maya coastal traders invaded and built this magnificent metropolis or if Chichen-Itza was a continuous Maya site influenced by association with the Toltecs, but not by invasion.

The city itself occupies four square miles, with its recognizable pyramid, El Castillo.  Something to keep in mind when you look at the pictures is that El Castillo was built with the Mayan calendar in mind.  There are 364 stairs plus a platform to equal 365 (days of the year), there are 52 panels on each side (which represent the 52-year cycle of the Maya calendar), and there are nine terraces on each side of the stairways (for a total of 18 terraces, which represents the 18-month Maya solar calendar).  If this is not proof enough of the mathematical precision of this temple, visitors are asked to come on the spring or the fall equinox (March 21 or September 21, between 3 and 5 p.m.).  On those days, the seven stairs of the northern stairway and the serpent-head carving at the base are touched with sunlight and become a "serpent" formed by the play of the light and shadow.  This serpent appears to descend into the earth as the sun hits each stair from the top, ending with the serpent head. 

El Castillo and view from
El Castillo to Juego de Pelota
across the main plaza

Juego de Pelota - the largest playing field
for the game that was played in many of the cities. Look closely and you can see the hoops - not an easy task to get the ball through by use of your hips, torso or knees. 


Platforma  el Tzomplanti (skulls) prisoners were sacrificed here and their
heads placed on display. 
There are hundreds of skulls
and notice the corner detail -
a tad morbid

Gerson being eaten by
one of the many "serpents"
Beautiful jaguar carving
and often seen jaguar
and eagle carving

Another noteworthy and thought provoking building is the El Caracol or the El Observatorio.  Does not this structure look very similar to how our observatories are designed today?  Keep in mind, this structure was built sometime around 900 CE.  Also, Chichen-Itza is known for its Market and its Plaza del Grupo de las Mil Columnas (thousand columns).  These columns are perfectly aligned and you are hard pressed to find a stagger or any deviation in the placement of the columns.  Remember, the Itzaes did not have a laser or other similar guide to keep a straight line.  What they used (other then their sight or a rope) is unknown.

El Observatorio
(fantastic, isn't it!)
Templo de los
Guerreros and the
thousand columns. 
Incredibly straight
line of columns.
Guard carved in
tomb doorway
La Iglesia and its
ornate carvings
Sacrificial bench
inside of El Castillo

We stayed in Puerto Morelos, just south of Cancun.  Dan and Pat (the couple we met near Nautla and that were moving here from Vancouver, Washington) were expected to arrive at any time so while we waited, we decided to take in a local dive, unique to this area. 
The Yucatan is home to what are called "cenotes"  (this one was a water source for Chichen-Itza).  These "sinkholes" are often filled with both fresh water and salt water and create caverns and caves with crystal clear water for diving.  Imagine being in the Marengo Caverns , yet seeing the stalactites and stalagmites under water.  Because of the unique cavern/cave formation, we were able to come up into air pockets and swim within these incredible limestone formations.  Also, large tree roots that have found their way to the source of water were an interesting object to swim around.  (if you get the National Geographic magazine, you can read about a fantastic cenote in the October, 2003 edition).

Another noteworthy aspect of diving a cenote is the mix of fresh water and salt water.  The fresh water, being less viscous, sits on top of the salt water.  Had our dive master not instructed us about the blurring effect on our vision when you swim through the disturbed portion where the fresh and salt waters meet, I would have immediately thought my mask had fogged up.  But, with a small adjustment of swimming above, below or to the side of the displaced intersection of water, the blurring ceases and the visibility is once again 100' or more.  The best way I can describe what the water looks like when fresh and salt water are disturbed is like swirling oil and water together. 

This was after our first dive and I had to lighten the picture a bit.  The water is about 15' deep
and crystal clear here.  You enter the cavern by going under this wall.  Also, that is a large tree
root behind me.  The water temperature is a consistent 75 degrees.

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