A day at Chichen-Itza


chichen itza-signChichen-Itza, the renowned Maya ruin and UNESCO World Heritage site was only a couple easy hours by bus from my hotel in Merida.  I walked a few blocks from the bus stop to the pleasant, affordable, family-run Posada Oldalde in Pisté, which is the gateway town to the ruins. I decided stay for two nights—the ruins would take a full day, and I didn’t want to rush.

Chichen Itza is huge, hot, and sprawling. It is magnificent, but must be taken in measured doses because of the heat and complexity. I wandered around as long as I could, reading placards and stumbling across more and yet more graceful ruins that never make the picture postcards.

In its time, Chichen-Itza was no remote village or ceremonial site. It was a city as grand as Tenochtitlan, the Aztec metropolis that is now Mexico City. But it began as a humble Maya settlement that gradually grew to regional importance by about 600A.D.

A couple centuries later, the warlike Toltec arrived at Chichen-Itza from the central Mexican highlands. The new arrivals began to influence the city’s architecture, such as the plumed serpents on the iconic El Castillo pyramid, and its culture, such as a more pronounced focus on human sacrifice.

El Castillo, the iconic pyramid that's on EVERY picture postcard.

El Castillo, the iconic pyramid that’s on EVERY picture postcard.

The sacred cenote. A whole lot of stuff has been found at the bottom--jade, gold--and bones.

The sacred cenote. A whole lot of stuff has been found at the bottom–jade, gold–and bones.

Hundreds of colonades. Kinda looks Greek, no?

Hundreds of colonnades. Kinda looks Greek, no?

Called the Caracole--the snail--because of a spiraling staircase inside. It may have been used as an observatory.

Called the Caracole–the snail–because of a spiraling staircase inside. It may have been used as an observatory.

By the time the Spanish arrived in the 15th century, the glory of Chichen-Itza had dissipated, although it was still a Maya settlement and pilgrim site to the Cenote Sagrada (the sacred cenote). Today, it’s one of Mexico’s top tourist attractions, bringing  busloads of tourists from Cancun and the Maya Riviera.

Finally, as the afternoon sun blazed down, I threw in my very damp towel. Lightheaded and overwhelmed, I staggered to the entrance café for a refreshing agua fresca—limón or jamaica, if you please.

Yet another tour bus was disgorging clots of older people. I wondered at the wisdom of turning these folks loose in the heat of the day, but I’m sure they would be rushed along. They’d probably spent the day hopscotching across the Yucatán. That’s the thing about tours, useful as they often are—you will fill the day and get your money’s worth, exhaustion be damned.

I roused a dusty taxi some distance from the entrance, and paid Western prices for the one-mile drive to my little casa rural. I lay under the fan in the dark room and pretended it was cool. I talked myself out of visiting a cenote (the natural pools deep in limestone caves that riddle the Yucatán). I’m embarrassed to say that I never did visit a cenote during my time in that part of the world.

I recognized how lazy I was becoming—spending aimless days in lovely towns, not taking full advantage of the local sights. This bothers me even now, although I know it was because, after five months, the trip was ending: My thoughts were turning elsewhere; emotionally, I was pulling up the rug: I was less engaged and not as adventurous. It was an odd in-between feeling.

So I napped the afternoon away and went out in the evening for a nosh. In the morning, I’d take an early bus back to Mérida to wait out the final few days of my time in Mexico.

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3 Responses to A day at Chichen-Itza

  1. Veronica Jabrocki 26 September, 2016 at 9:50 pm #

    Well, I found this post and especially enjoyed the comment about the bus loads of old people being turned out to wander around the ruins in the sun. Hahaha! I still cannot believe that my daughter and I were likely getting off one of those buses. We took the day-long exhausting tour on Tuesday, September 13th. How I would have loved bumping into you in Mexico! Our other stop for the day was at an interesting place to swim so unceremoniously named a “sinkhole” by our tour company. Had I been a few years younger, or if it had been presented after our afternoon at the ruins, I`d have been in for sure. :-) Keep your posts coming please. You are living the life many only dream of living.

  2. J 25 September, 2016 at 8:07 pm #

    Your life… so full. See you soon.

  3. hoz 24 September, 2016 at 2:36 am #

    I’ve been there. Not Chichen Itza but that time when you are too tired to continue and just need to rest. All the miles traveled, the money spent, the time invested in learning about the sites take a back seat to a few hours in siesta…