Chichen Itza…

January 6, 2011

Recently crowned as one of the “new seven wonders of the world,” a visit to Chichen Itza proves to be a theme park-like experience… just without the rides and games (unless you make your own, of course).  Throngs of people exit from tour buses throughout the day to stroll around on the grounds and catch a glimpse of the very impressive structures.  This is the site most well-known for its Mayan calendars, found in the buildings and columnar layouts around the site.

All pathways are lined with locals selling the usual Mayan fare.  Handmade (mostly) wooden and stone carvings, painted ceramic bowls, hammocks, t-shirts, statues and figurines fill your vision as you make your way from ruin to ruin.

In an effort to save a couple pesos (and the boredom that can often accompany visits to these piles of rocks), I was designated explorer and photographer.  The entrance fee is a cringeworthy 160 pesos and after I perused the area, I was very pleased at our decision to only pay for one ticket.    I arrived early in the day and traversed the organized walkways, making note of the massive buildings.

This is the attention grabber as you enter into Chichen Itza. Besides for being an impressive work of architecture, El Castillo is also a massive Mayan calendar. Click here to read more...

The observatory, El Caracol, in which windows of the dome align with certain stars throughout the year, working to allow priests to plan rituals and celebrations accordingly...

Chichen Itza is definitely the most renovated all of the ancient Mayan establishments...

Numerous chambers are found within these structures with hieroglyphics sketched inside, some which have yet to even be translated...

Jose, one of the stone carvers working within the grounds...

Many time temples grace the grounds, seeing an influx in visitors during the equinoxes...

And again, the columns... letting me know it's about time to find Kurt and head on down the road...

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Palenque…

December 31, 2010

More ruins?  Yes.  More ruins.  The Yucatan Peninsula is dotted with literally hundreds of ancient Mayan settlements, and we choose to visit some of the more well-known and sprawling.  This brings us to Palenque.  Outside the actual site, the nearby forest land is quite settled with cabanas and campgrounds full of fire spinners and Rainbow Gatherers giving the area a very hippy vibe.  It was not uncommon to hear trance music blasting around corners.

We set up our hammocks in a marshy field and planned our visit for the following day.  After a quick ride up to the entrance we negotiate leaving our bikes with the men at the gate (for a small fee) and take off to explore some of the most well-cared for ruins in the Yucatan.

 

Some very enthusiastic ducks we met along the way. They are but 3 weeks old...

Palenque spreads out over 15 square kilometers, but only this main section is excavated and cleared for viewing. The map helps to show just how much is going on around the center of the site...

Templo de la Calavera (Temple of the Skull) greets you as you enter the grounds. It's got a very cute but ominous bunny feel, as you can see...

At one time, the buildings were all painted very bright hues of blue and red...

From the rubble in the background you can see there is always some uncovering and discovery still in the process...

The layout as seen from the Templo de las Inscriptiones, which is noted as being perhaps the most celebrated burial monument in the Americas. It's also the tallest of the Palenque structures...

Eye-pleasing piles of rocks, really....

There are several waterfalls cascading from the flow of the Arroyo Otolum river...

... and plenty of dense forest to walk through. Though certainly not as old as the ruins, I find these tall works of nature much more interesting and appealing...

Bonampak…

December 29, 2010

About 15 kilometers off the Carretera Fronteriza, hidden in the dense Lacanja jungle, sit the ruins of Bonampak.  As one of the more recently discovered ruins (1946) they are a pleasant place to visit and proved to be much more fun to explore than some of their more crowded counterparts.  Archeologists are still in the process of uncovering other sites in the surrounding area.  Bonampak is most well-known for its brilliantly colorful murals, the very things that enticed us to pay it a visit one afternoon.

 

The road into Bonampak. The last 10 kilometers or so are impeccably packed dirt and currently in the preparation process to become paved. There is a fee to travel the road, 20 pesos for bikes...

Huevos de Toro. (Insert your chuckles here) They are not edible in any form...

Bonampak was never a major city and spent most of the Classical period under the rule of nearby Yaxchilan...

The area of jungle has been cleared to make the ruins navigable, but the borders of tangled green are ever-prominent and encroaching...

Within the Templo de las Pinturas...

Bonampak means "painted walls" in Yucatecan Maya. During some of its early uncovering, visitors splashed kerosene on the walls in hopes of bringing out the colors more...

 

Most images depict tumultuous battles and the sacrificing of prisoners...

 

The frescoes of Bonampak are arguably the finest murals known to pre-Hispanic America...

One of the unpainted Edificios located on site...

 

 

Monte Alban…

November 17, 2010

About an hours ride out of Oaxaca stands Monte Alban, what was once the center of Zapotec culture.

This monumental hilltop functioned as the Zapotec’s center place and capital as they succeeded in conquering much of the Oaxaca area between AD 300 and 700.  Supposedly Monte Alban was the first “urban existence” of the Americas, run by a highly priest-dominated society.  Over the course of time, and for various reasons, the population of the Zapotecs dwindled down to 1,200 and the Mixtecs, another indigenous Mexican tribe, sought fit to take it over, before loosing it themselves to the Aztecs.  During the period of colonization, it took the Spaniards four expeditions (at least) before they succeeded in their own take over of Monte Alban.  Hence, it was in 1529 that the Spanish moved into the nearby city of Oaxaca and caused the number of indigenous population to drop drastically.

Today you can stroll throughout the grounds, clamoring up some of the structures and imagining what life must have been like back then.  Besides for the awe-inspiring dated structures, there are also 360 degree views of the valleys which splay out in all directions.  Our timing couldn’t have been better, as we were able to explore the area in the last few hours of daylight.  Of course our real wish was to explore the caverns and tombs that lay beneath all of the well-preserved structures.  Perhaps we will get our chance at some of the other ancient ruins we will explore throughout the Yucatan…

 

Archeologists have separated the structures into time periods and phases of building, with many areas still left unexplored...

The real question is, "Who cuts all that grass?"...

Yeah, yeah. Some ancient ruins. As pretty as it all was, we really wanted to take the tour of the rooms underneath these grassy hills...

As usual, the little bits of plant life growing out of the stones captured my attention for a bit...

 

We made it only so far down the road, before stopping in Casas Grandes to check out some of the old town scene.  While circling around the park in the center of town we were met by Spencer, who said his wife and him had seen us on the road and he wanted to personally welcome us to Casas Grandes,  hoping with his encouragement we’d take some time to explore it.  As it turns out, Spencer was quite involved with putting Mata Ortiz on the map, having purchased two of Juan Quesada’s unsigned pots in a thrift store back in 1976.  Enamored by them, he sought out to find the artist behind them, eventually finding Quesada in Mata Ortiz.  From there they became friends and Spencer helped Juan’s pottery and Juan travel throughout the world, giving pottery seminars and the likes.  Spencer took us to a compound he is renovating and showed us some of the most impressive wood work I had ever seen.  Made by a local artist, all of the tables and chairs were made from fallen timber and still held their original form in some sense.

From there we visited Paquime, a maze-like settlement of adobe structures from which Casas Grandes  (Big Houses)gets its name.  It once was the largest trading settlement in Northern Mexico before being ransacked by the Apaches, so the belief goes.  We took time, at Spencer’s recommendation, to check out the museum there as well.  I really enjoyed looking at all the jewelry made of shells and bones, so intricate and unique in their colors and antiquity.  Further along we took another detour through Colonial Juarez, a settlement of Mormons tucked away in a lush valley.  There we met Fred who was out cruising on his bike.  He gave us as impromptu tour of the area…which consisted mainly of us riding up to the highest lookout point/massive Mormon church grounds and picking some apples.  Fred’s English was excellent and it was fun to practice my very frustrating a very poor Spanish with him.  From him we got the real scoop of what it’s like to grow up in a Mormon run area, while remaining on the outside in terms of religion and culture.

It was a beautiful evening as the sun set and we camped in a field not too far from Mata Ortiz, planning on visiting the town and its potters in the morning.

One of the many roadside shrines we see along the way. Some are elaborate, towering off the ground with brightly painted bricks, while others are more simple, made only of recycled metal and stone. They are usually filled with pictures, candles and other various offerings...

The washroom in Spencer's beautifully renovated compound. We made plans that once the trip is finite in a few years, I would possibly come back here to take a bath...

One of the rooms in the compound. Notice the intricate table and wooden bowl in the center, hard carved and polished. Interestingly, the brass bed in the back may have slept both Pancho Villa and Madero at separate times...

Some pottery shards discovered by archeologists staying at the compound. They say the area is slim pickings due to years of vandalism at the sites...

A view of Paquime, the ancient maze-like adobe settlement...

Fred, our buddy who showed us around Colonial Juarez...