Ancient Mayan Culture on the Yucatan Pennisula

Such a pretty place,

One of the most compelling things about travel to me is that no matter how carefully you’ve planned and studied your destination, it will always surprise you.

I arrived in Cancun on September 14th and was met at the airport by my gracious host/driver/guide, Carlos, for the transfer to my hotel inside the Chichen Itza National Park.  While the weather was steamy at the airport, it was dry there.  For the last hour or so of the drive, we endured drenching rains, leaving me to wonder whether we would be swept off the road and drowned on the first day of my trip, as Hurricane Ingrid and the developing Tropical Storm Manuel generously and abundantly welcomed me to the land of the Maya with the fringe effects of their storms.  I felt guilty for my driver having to work in it, as there isn’t enough money in the world to compensate for those conditions, but I was equally relieved and grateful that I wasn’t the one doing the driving.

My room at Chichen Itza.
My room at Chichen Itza.

It was completely dark when we reached the hotel at 7:30 pm and the rains were still coming down heavily, but the hotel staff was prepared for my arrival and had an umbrella held over the door of the car as I exited the vehicle and was lead to the hotel entry for check in and a ice cold welcoming drink.

The best thing about this room was the huge private balcony overlooking the gardens with the view of the Temple through the trees.
The best thing about this room was the huge private balcony overlooking the gardens with the view of the Temple through the trees.

Shortly after my alarm went off the next morning, the birds in the surrounding gardens began to cheerily sing.  Clearly, I wasn’t in Missouri anymore.

Details of Chac masks from corner or the Ossuary.
Details of Chac masks from corner of the Ossuary at Chichen Itza.
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Close up of Platform of Venus.

After partaking of the included breakfast, we headed off into the park.  My Mayan guide’s love of his heritage was apparent and his knowledge of the history of the Mayan culture and the development of the park was excellent, though our tour was interrupted by the great god Chac in the form of more copious outpourings of rain as Hurricane Ingrid and Tropical Storm Manuel, now nearing hurricane status, combined their efforts.

Trapped under the market vendor's tarp waiting for a downpour to subside.
Trapped under the market vendor’s tarp waiting for a downpour to subside.

 

Church next to the Monastery.
Church next to the Monastery.
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The Observatory.

The rains subsided enough for us to complete our tour and return to the hotel for the included buffet lunch with local music and dance for entertainment.  The rains began again while at lunch, this time flooding the floors of the lunch hall.  The rains continued more on than off through much of the night and some of it even  found its way in through the window above my bed, damping the middle pillow.  It was just as well, as this normally sedentary North American tourist needed the break from being on her feet.  I tried the Chicken Mole Poblano for dinner (also included).  Much as I love chocolate, I wasn’t that fond of having it on my chicken, but it was something new for me to try.  I then retired early.

The rains finally gave us a break on day 3 and a bird from the garden entertained me at breakfast by coming in through the open glass doors and taking a perch on the chair opposite me.  Much as I hated to share the soft, warm homemade rolls, I broke off a piece and laid it on the table.  He quickly swooped over to carry it off causing the always attentive servers to giggle.

Then we were off to see the Walmart in Merida.  Well, maybe, not exactly to see that, but sad to say, they have one though.  Actually we started with the new Mundo Maya Museum where I spent way too much time trying to read all the plaques for the exhibits, not realizing how much of it there was to get through and I was truly aching by the time we left.  Many of the smaller, more fragile artifacts and skeletal remains from unearthed burials are on display here, as well as models of what buildings in the studied cities might have looked like new.  I was left to have lunch at a cafe in the colonial downtown while the driver sought fuel for the Mercedes (doesn’t that sound nice).  I was then given a brief introduction to some of the city’s colonial architecture and opportunities to shop before we moved on to our next stop–the Lodges at Uxmal.

There I was again warmly welcomed and presented a limeade drink, then shown to my room.  I took dinner when I was ready in the outside dining hall, trying the excellent red snapper this time.

My room at Uxmal.
My room at Uxmal. Roofs of the lodges are the thatched palm leaves.
View from the porch at Uxmal.
View from the porch in front of my room at Uxmal, with the Temple of the Magician visible.

Started the new day with an order of French toast, served with the usual fruit plate and basket of bread, coffee and juice, it proved to be way more than I needed, but I managed to finish it off.

Me at the base of the Temple.
Me at the base of the Temple.
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Temple of the Magician or Sorcerer.
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Courtyard and architecture, with my guide on the left.
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More Chac masks. They are everywhere.

My guide and I walked into the Uxmal park where I was treated to his expert understanding of this beautiful city and its impressive artistry.  Returning to the lodges, I was given instructions and demonstrations on authentic Mayan cooking and assembled what would be my meal for later-a chicken thigh and leg soaked in a rich marinade, topped with onions, peppers, tomatoes, herb leaves and wrapped in a banana leaf before being cooked in a pit (I think they cheated a little on the pit part, since I wasn’t there to watch it cook).

Such a pretty place,
Such a pretty place,

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We went on to Kabah, a city that would have connected with Uxmal, to enjoy its elaborately embellished buildings.  These buildings and their details are so impressive, especially given that we don’t have anything comparable for the time here in the north.

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We returned to the lodge where I rested a bit before enjoying my chicken lunch combined with a stuffed tortilla appetizer and some lime soup.  Goodness, that was a lot for lunch.  While I was away my towel swan from yesterday had transformed into a heart decorated with fresh flowers, which also now lined the edge of the tub.  Later they brought a large plate of fruit to my room.

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By 7:30 in the evening it was dark there and it was time for the light and sound show back at Uxmal.  If it is on the  list, I guess we must, but I was again tired enough to not feel much enthusiasm for it.  It has headsets that translate the story into other languages for the benefit of us tourists.  I returned back to my room to find chocolate mints left on bed.

Day 5, the last day of my tour fell on September 18th.  I rose early to get breakfast and prepared for the long 5 hour drive back to the airport.  This time the rain stayed light for us, but to the west Mexico was about to be hit again by what has been reported as one of its worst storms in many years as tropical storm Manuel was now turning into an official Hurricane.  I arrived back at the airport around 2ish, where I was met by another tour company employee who assisted me with my bags, helped me get my boarding passes, and escorted me to security. I finally pulled back into my driveway around midnight CST.

In spite of all the rain, I thoroughly enjoyed my brief visit to the Yucatan.  I wish it had been longer and am eager to return.  This five day trip seemed much too hurried and left me feeling like I still have much unfinished business in the lands of the Mayans.  It also left this soft American more than a little sore.  The employees of both the hotel and the lodge where I stayed were all very solicitous, friendly and attentive.  They made the stay more than pleasant.  My guide, Carlos, could not have done a better job at making me feel safe throughout the incessant rains.    He was always professional, charming, good humored and a wealth of knowledge on what was obviously his favorite subject.  I had no real worries during the trip other than the weather might interfere with my flight taking off.  Maybe next time Carlos can introduce me to Chiapas.  I think I will wait for hurricane season to pass though before I return.

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