My experience at Chichen Itza: A Mayan Pyramid
It was a crisp, sunny, perfect morning. We went downstairs and hit the buffet for coffee and breakfast. Coffee was a must this morning because it was going to be an eventful one, at that. After breakfast, we went outside to wait for our bus. As the bus was coming up the drive, I immediately noticed the bright red paint with a golden dragon down the side. As we entered, we received greetings from the driver and our tour guide. There were more people we had to pick up, so we all rode and talked amongst ourselves.
Once everyone was on the bus is when the fun was about to begin. We were on our way to the Mayan temple known as Chichen Itza. El Castillo. We drove through a few small towns, but it was mainly random houses and jungle along the highway. We drove by a prison and went through a couple of checkpoints. It was a 3-hour drive from our resort at Riviera Maya, so we were going to have to stop and eat somewhere.
As we were driving, our tour guide was giving us the rundown on his experiences and talking about interesting subjects on the way. I will never forget his name because it was such a memorable experience. His name was Berto. Berto informed us that "My parents, born in hammock. Berto, born in hammock. Berto's children, born in hammock." He claimed that he is keeping the tradition of "sticking to his Mayan roots as much as he can." Berto has two children, with no help from the government. He says he has to do what is best for the family. I can't say that I don't agree. He informed us if you mention organic food, people there won't know what you mean. All the food there is organic and locally grown. He was telling how tough it is to grow certain crops there because of the fertility of the ground. It also takes nine months to raise a hog from baby to butcher.
We were over halfway there, and it was time for a stop. Berto told us he was going to make a stop at the village he lived in and grew up in for lunch. We got off the bus to a big tent of merchandise and a table set up to show off their trades. They were doing multiple things. They were polishing stones, making jewelry, selling clothes, other souvenirs, and shamanic blessings. At the backside of the village, they had their cenote. To go inside, you have to walk down the stairs that come out from the ground. This stairway was roughly 60 feet. There were bleachers carved out of the earth to sit on. Three people were playing the drum, singing, and dancing around a fire. They were in the middle of the water, which had a walkout path, that led to a circle they could stand on. They wore attire that was from ancient Mayan ceremonies. The roof of the cenote had a hole just big enough to cast the perfect amount of light down into the cenote. It was pure beauty. I got in the water along with about a dozen other people. It was so cold, but that didn't matter. We swam in an underground river in a different part of the Yucatan a few years prior that seemed quite a bit colder. It was a different feeling down there. I felt like I could feel how old the cenote was. I felt like I could almost see the ceremonies that they practiced down there. It was an enjoyable experience.
Then it was time for lunch. We had rice, beans, chicken, pork, and other traditional foods. Servers were walking with the trays on their heads and singing and dancing. It was a great time. We were forced to eat our lunch with strangers who rode in on the same bus. They were a couple from I believe the eastern United States. One of them stated that he was a writer, and I want to say the other one said that he was a doctor. The whole experience is something you can only experience in the Yucatan. It was so out of the ordinary for someone living in the United States.
After lunch, we all got back on the bus. I was getting excited to reach the temple. I had wanted to go there for a couple of years now, and with being in the Yucatan 3 times prior, it was a must. Tulum was terrific, but nowhere near the same lore. Chichen Itza is the temple that attracts me the most. When we got off the bus, the first thing we did was establish a meetup point if someone gets lost. Berto went to the counter and did all of the paperwork and talking with the people letting us in. As we started walking down the trail, he was telling us about the ancient ruins, and the modern ruins. Archaeologists haven't even uncovered all of the temple grounds yet.
As we walked for a while, the trail finally opens up, and the trees stop. It was nothing but beauty. From here you get the first view of El Castillo. His tan-colored stone was towering to the sky, with the head of Kukulcan at the base of the stairs. On the spring and fall equinoxes, this head casts a shadow on the staircase. The shadow represents the beginning and end of the growing season. How did they know how to do this? The first place Berto was taking us was over by the game court. We were standing in the yard where the spectators would be. Berto informed us that not everyone in the community was allowed in. The Mayan elders wanted the community around to be outside the walls not being able to see, but able to hear the game. In doing so, it was used to control. It implemented the higher and lower branches of society. Berto was telling us how the temple became known. He said to us Andrew Carnegie was flying over the canopy when he noticed something. He was so intrigued he set out on his expedition to uncover the ruins. Berto asked me my name, and I told him, Andrew. He said, "kind of like Andrew Carnegie." He noticed one of my tattoos and told us the same symbol is on a rock at the edge of the property. The rock's engraving is there because of Andrew Carnegie. The tattoo and common first name led Berto to talk to me for a while.
From there, he took us to the game court. He had me look down the side of the wall, lining up with itself. He was having me look at how square the walls are built compared to the base. I remember telling him that it was incredible, and he just smiled. Berto talked to us about the carvings that were on the bottom of the wall, and what they meant. They depicted the teams who played the game. There was one team facing the other, with the captains represented differently. There was also a carving of a captain kneeling while getting beheaded. In the middle of this wall, there was the goal. The goal had to be 20 feet or more in the air. On the other side of the hoop, there are more carvings. These carving are a little different. Something happened in the Mayan society. Looking at these carving closely, you'll see that they have different shoes, hats, and shirts. These clothes come from a bunch of different parts of the world. They also had chains around their necks, attaching them from the previous to the next. They were slaves. Instead of sacrificing captains who wanted the sacrifice, they started sacrificing slaves. What caused them to go against their prior beliefs?. Was it power? Was it currency? He told us that no one knows to this day how they played the game. We believe the captain of the winning team gets his head cut off in front of the crowd. It was considered a sacrifice to the gods. There is a wall outside of the game court. Every stone of this wall has a skull carved in it from when a captain suffered sacrifice. Every mouth of these skulls has a smile because the captains considered it to be an honor to die in this manner. There was a stand set up where they recreated what they think could be a replica of the ball. The ball was dark and bouncy. Made from the same tree bubble gum is made. Berto believes that they couldn't use any hands and possibly feet on the ball, but anything else you could. Supposedly it was a bloody sport that included weapons and violence.
In the middle of the court, facing the yard where the spectators would sit, is where the ruler would sit. The throne was located right in the middle of the roughly 270 ft long, 28 ft high, 119 ft apart walls. The very first time I looked at this, an instant mental image bloomed. The ruler was sitting in the middle and had a guard on each side. The guards were standing while holding their spears. The ruler was seated in his throne with the most beautiful green feathered headdress, watching the game. It was so vivid I could have lived it. Upon writing that, I remembered peacocks are native to the region. The Mayans had an understanding of sound waves, and or vibrations that's not understood today. You can stand on one side of the court, whisper and the people on the opposite end will be able to hear you. The game court is not the only place that sounds are manipulated on-site. The ruler got a perfect view of the game and the crowd. He could probably even hear everything with the spectators.
Opposite side of the entrance facing the temple is another spot that Berto took us. It was where the access to the bottom layer of the temple is. We weren't allowed inside because people had vandalized the interior. This side of the pyramid is another place that sound waves may have been manipulated to sound a certain way. You can clap in front of the pyramid, and the echo sounds exactly like the sound of a quetzal. The Mayans supposedly thought the quetzal was a messenger from the gods. If the crowd responded with clapping to what the ruler had said, it produced the quetzal noise. That noise could have made the people think that it was god siding with what the ruler had to say.
From here Berto cut us loose, and we were allowed to roam the grounds as we pleased. We decided to take a walk to "The Sacred Cenote." That is where they performed sacrifices to the gods, a lot of which were to the rain god. Berto told us the people who would have been sacrificed had to meet a couple of requirements. Their birthdate had to fall between a certain period, I want to say it was August 9th-14th, but I'm not for sure. The sacrifice was usually between the ages of 3 and 12, if I'm not mistaken. The reasoning behind this has to do with purity. Children are more pure than adults and therefore carry more meaning behind sacrifice. The Mayans also sacrificed animals along with people. Berto said that there were only about 150 people pulled from the bottom of the cenote, based on the about of bones. The 20 minutes there and back walk took up most of our time. It was time to return to the group.
The driver took us on a different route on the way back. We made a pit stop in a beautiful old town called Valladolid. We stopped at a shop to use the restroom and get some food. We had the best churros we have ever had from a guy making them in a cart. The central area of the city has a park with people selling all different types of food. You can take pictures of the San Servacio church. This church, regardless of religious affiliation, is a beautiful piece of art with an exciting story. We only had 20 minutes in the city and had to make our way back to the bus. The ride home wasn't eventful due to it being dark, and we were tired. It was an active day.
Chichen Itza is one of my favorite experiences. It has sparked interest in traveling to other sacred sites around the world, and the desire to experience different cultures. Chichen Itza felt like it was very much alive. There is something to that place that is beyond words. I feel like there is much to learn from the ancient ways.