Monday, February 23, 2015


From Merida you can day trip to either Uxmal or Chichen Itza, Merida sits about equidistant between the two sites. You have a choice; you can do either one or the other or both. We, for some reason, abandoned our normal modus operandi, and actually sought out advise on how to approach the ruins. Our instinct had been: one - get an individual guide to take us around and two - go to both sites. We started playing the role of inquisitive minds with our driver, Gabriel, the man we had arranged through our hotel to pick us up at the airport in Cancun. It's a four-hour drive from the airport to Merida and our hotel; Gabriel had plenty of time to pontificate on the wonders of the Yucatan. He had plenty to say about touring the archeological sites around Merida.
First was a comparison of Uxmal and Chichen Itza based on the number of people ponying up the two-hundred pesos ( at the time about fifteen dollars) entrance fee at each site. Since Chichen Itza is about a two-hour drive from Cancun and Uxmal would take you seven and a half hours from the same starting point, Chichen Itza wins the attendance competition hands down. About six thousands people a day go through the Chichen Itza turnstiles
while Uxmal has a mere five hundred. For me this a game similar to golf where the low score wins. Gabriel took a second swipe at the Cancun based Bermuda short Chichen Itza patrons telling us they frequently mispronounce it "Chicken Pizza". I'm not sure if they think they're going out for dinner instead of a cattle trip through ancient history. Because of the number of travelers being herded through Chichen Itza the authorities have been forced to make some adjustments to the way the site is viewed. You can no longer climb or touch any of the ruins at Chichen Itza. Your tour is well monitored and policed. My assumption is the Cancun crowd was probably a little more rowdy and possibly inebriated as well, Cancun being more known for its party atmosphere than its intellectual pursuers. Monuments were getting vandalized and since there's no real protection like railings once you've reached the height of ten stories there were too many accidents where intoxicated revelers either intentionally or inadvertently took to flying off the pyramids. His last negative for Chichen Itza was the vendors that constantly run along side pushing their trinkets in your face. We'd been to Giza and seen the, "Baksheesh" brigade constantly swarming over you looking for any kind of change for any little service. We weren't looking at having to swat small children away while we were trying to observe the ruins.
Gabriel's vote: go for Uxmal.
Once at the hotel, our host, Daniel, confirmed Gabriel's appraisal. He added a bit of information about the light shows at each site saying neither one was particularly breathtaking. Given the two tours you could sign up for: the nine to five or the noon to nine, he recommended passing up the evening tour and going for the earlier one. He also told us you have a choice between a group tour and an individual tour. Cost between the two types of tours was significant but the costs for individual or group tours were the same for either Uxmal or Chichen Itza: the group tour was 525 pesos per person including lunch but not the entrance fee where as the individual tours were 2000 pesos for one to four people excluding lunch, gas, tolls and entrance fees. Because Uxmal had far less visitors, more free time, and a free lunch with the group tour it seemed the best option for starters. Then if we were still interested we'd pop for the individual tour to Chichen Itza. We could request an earlier departure for Chichen Itza with an individual tour to hopefully miss the higher traffic time and the cooler weather.

At its most fertile time approximately twenty-five thousand people lived in the area known as Uxmal. The Mayans as the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans were a highly intelligent and sophisticated culture. Especially given their isolation in the midst of a very thick jungle. The land was rich for agriculture but limited in its sources of water. For their survival the Mayans created underground cisterns and a complex drinking water system of collected rainwater.
Architecturally Uxmal is a salient example of the Puuc style of architecture characterized by two horizontal bands. The bottom band being a very simple flat surface broken only by a series of doorways while the top band is highly decorative.
Uxmal itself is laid out not duplicating any geometric pattern but instead in a form relating to astronomical phenomena.
This is where the penis comes in especially as it becomes significant in the layout of Uxmal's sister city, Kabah. The phallus is instrumental in pointing out the days of the Mayan calendar as it whips its shadow through the arched portals along the top of the Palace. The portals when aligned with the sun help to establish the vernal and autumnal equinox.
The Mayan calendar is based on a nineteen month year with eighteen months each having twenty days and the one remaining month having a mere five days.
If you were Mayan and luck enough to be born in this five day month you got to be put on the list of potential human sacrifices, celebrity status I'd be willing to relinquish. At Kabah only the base of the penis is still in place although the head remains about fifty yards away lying circumcised on the ground in some sort of Mexican modesty. I'm thinking the natives don't want to scare away the conservative Christians by placing it where it belongs but leaving the mystery up to those astute enough to put two and two together.
The calendar dates held great significance for the Mayans. In addition to deciding if you were going to have a chance at old age or be sacrificed before you reached the age of nine, it also determined if you were going to be an eagle or a jaguar - good or evil.
Much of the architecture uses the eagle and jaguar imagery in its motifs and at Uxmal the Nunnery Quadrangle puts the eagles on one side and the jaguars on the other with what felt like a huge playing field between. For some unexpected reason if you ventured to the middle of the field and clapped your hands or spoke in  an announcer's voice the acoustics carried the sound to the far reaches of the quadrangle.
Another obstacle to old age, sorry ladies, was being a woman. The average life expectancy for Mayan men was around sixty while for women it was between twenty-five and thirty-eight. Because of the lack of any livestock women were forced to nurse their children until they were well past being toddlers. If you were giving birth to upwards of eight or ten children this put a real strain on your calcium. Childbirth was a quick route to no teeth, no breasts and then no life. It's also the reason you see reference to a king's second, third or fourth wife. They just didn't live as long. To this day the Mayans still worship the two female gods of fertility and suicide. Birth and death are considered destinies worth pursuing.
The most magnificent piece of architecture at Uxmal is the Pyramid of the Magician. It is the most photographed of all the archeological artifacts at the site.
I didn't see anyone try to climb the Magician's Pyramid but the Great Pyramid was another matter. A tip here: the best way to go either up or down this steep staired incline without becoming a sacrificial lamb is on your butt hands spread wide for support.
As we were returning and getting ready to board the bus to Kabah our guide inquired whether any of us had seen an iguanas or rattle snakes. The site is apparently infested with both. We did see an iguana or two. Thankfully we met none of the serpentine variety their rattles at the ready.
Please don't look for corroboration with any of the material I may have attributed to fact here. My only source was our tour guide who kept pronouncing knowledge with the "k" intact. I tried to look this information up and couldn't find a back-up source to any of it.
Our final decision: We decided that after Uxmal there wasn't any real reason to subject ourselves to "Chicken Pizza". Nine hours with 6000 possible inebriates in the sweltering ninety-degree Mexican sun was an opportunity we felt we would decline

Rick doing his best Indiana Jones inpersonation

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