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On the Maya road

by - 27 Okt 2010

Mexico is a huge country where you should be ready for some loooong busrides. To drive the 1300 km from Mexico City to Mérida we prepared ourselfs mentally for an exhausting 20 hour busride. But then we noticed that the uncomfortable bus trip costs almost as much as a flight. It did not take us long to change our plans, skip the bus and choose the two hour flight instead.
Mérida is a nice colonial town which served us as hop off point to Chichen Itzá, Mexico’s biggest and most popular Maya ruins. The site was truly impressive with huge pyramids and fascinating reliefs which have preserved the forgotten Mayan ceremonies and brought the customs back to life. We felt horror and fascination at the same time when we learned about the cruel rites of human immolation where the hearts of the sacrificed victims were cut out and burned on the altar in order to please the ever blood lusting sun good. The dead bodies were placed along this wall, the foundation of a now destroyed pyramide.

Mauer der Totenköpfe, Chichen Itza
Hauptpyramide in Chichen Itza: "Kukulcan"

Another very impressive place inside the ruins of Chichen Itzá is the ballcourt where the holy ballgame took place. The game was not only played for mere amusement, moreover it was a religious ceremony to worship the sun god. The ball itself was a symbol for the sun which is moving through the cosmos. During the ballgame two teams tried to score by hitting the ball through a stone ring on the side of the court. The ball was made from pure rubber, weighed about 10 pounds and was hit only with the well protected hip, knee, elbow or shoulder. On special occasions the captain of the loosing team was sacrificed and decapitated by the winner. Obviously they were not too sad about dying after the game since this was considered a highly honourable and desirable death.

Der Ballspielplatz, Chichen Itza

From Chichen Itzá we made our way to Tulum where Maya ruins are magnificently set on a cliff overlooking the turquoise Caribbean sea and white sandy beaches. It is impossible not to be amazed by the incredible beauty of the scenery and the stunning views. Nowadays it seems that Iguanas have taken over the place since the Maya left. They are sitting everywhere and encircled Friedrich curiously when he unwrapped his sandwich. One of them was even brave enough to jump on his lap trying to steal a bite.

Maya Ruinen ueber den Klippen, Tulum Maya Ruinen ueber Karibikmeer, Tulum
Iguanas lauern auf Beute, Ruinen von Tulum Fressattacke eines Iguanas, Ruinen von Tulum

In contrast to the picture perfect beachside, where we relaxed all day, the town of Tulum is like so many of Mexico’s modern cities an unappealing mix of only halfways completed concrete cubes which are lined up next to a noisy highway.

Strand von Tulum

Other travellers informed us that our next destination, the uninspiring town of Palenque, would not offer a change of scenery and they recommended to stay in a jungle lodge close by. We went to stay in a lovely little cabin with a porch right by a small river. But why did we want to go to Palenque anyways? Maybe you’ve already guessed that somewhere in this jungle there must be more Maya ruins! It was more for this special surrounding, where the sounds of the jungle accompanied us, than for the historic architecture itself that we went to Palenque. The jungle feeling continued in the evening when we returned to our jungle lodge where a group of howler monkeys welcomed us and shouted so loud that we could hardly understand our own words. We had a good nights sleep though, listening to the nightly sounds of the surrounding jungle and the ripple of the little river.

El Templo de las Inscripciones, Palenque El Templo de las Inscripciones, Palenque
Wunderschoener Wasserfall in Palenque

During the night a visitor came unnoticed into the room and fell asleep inside Friedrichs shorts. When Friedrich put the pants on in the morning, he was surprised by the visitor, a little scorpion, who than sat on his knee. In fear for his life the scorpion quickly made his way for the little hole through which he had entered the cabin before.

Unser Haus dort unten am Fluss, Palenque
Our jungle cabin by the river

So far we had only learned about the history of a lost Maya civilisation and now we were curious to see how the descendants of the Maya live their everyday life today. There are still a lot of Mayan villages in Mexico and Guatemala where the people speak one of the more than 20 recognized Mayan languages and learn Spanish only as a secondary language in school. We went to San Cristóbal de las Casas in the highlands of the Chiapas region which is surrounded by those traditional Mayan villages. The city itself exhibits an interesting mix of indigenous life and modern influences which the European settlers brought to the city. It’s easy to let the days go by in this colourful colonial city… sitting at the plaza mayor, drinking cappuccino in an Italian café or eating a delicious quiche in a French bakery and watching the Mayan women dressed up in their traditional clothing walk by trying to sell their weaved goods.
We started the day in this charming little city with a yoga class, before we went out for some window shopping in the jewelry and handicraft stores, drank coffee and hot chocolate from the region and sampled some very tasty Chiapatecan food. Our favourite place to sip a good cup of coffee was an unfancy sort of café where old men spent hours playing chess against each other and they always seemed kind of surprised to see us tourists walk through the door.

San Cristobal de las Casas In unserem Lieblingscafe, wo man sich zum Schachspiel trifft (San Cristobal)

We decided to go horseback riding to Chamula, a Mayan village close by. Because it was market day the village was crowded with indigenous people who wanted to sell or buy goods and visit the church for some prayers. The burstling market was a festival of colour, where the brilliant, beautiful dresses competed with the bright colours of fresh fruit, vegetables and dried spices.
Maybe even more intersting than the market was a visit to the church where we observed how the faithful made their offerings. Although officially a catholic church the ceremonies had very little to do with what we knew from home. It was a complete reinterpretation of the Christian religion according to the old Mayan beliefs and custums. There were no benches in the church, but hundreds of candles were burning so that the walls were already blackened. The floor was covered with needles of evergreens, families were sitting in circles on the floor lighting dozens of candles in front of them. Sometimes they rubbed the childrens‘ heads with the candles before lighting them and kept on swinging Coca Cola bottles over the candles while praying. Later we were told that sometimes a chicken will sacrificed inside the church – when special help is needed.

Sarah hoch zu Ross, Ausritt nach Chamula Ausritt durch den Wald von San Cristobal de las Casas
Unfortunately no pictures from the market or the church because of local restrictions.

Back in the hotel we were still thrilled by all these fascinating scenes and Friedrich almost forgot about his wounded bum which was hurt because our horses challenged each other to be first all the time. This made them walk in a very uncomfortable semi-fast speed and it made us bounce up and down in our hard wooden saddles. We were a little reminded of the feeling on our camel safari back in India. Luckily we had a day to recover before we had to get on a bus for the long ride to Guatemala…

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From → Mexiko

5 Kommentare
  1. That picture of Friedrich with the iguana is priceless.

  2. Eva permalink

    is the wall full of heads because it stands for all the decapitated enemies? The Maya sure were fond of chopping ones head of.

  3. DDlP permalink

    A scorpion in your shorts has the potential to ruin your day.

  4. How come you’re not stroking the iguana?

    Still love to hear from you, still wish we could be sharing it for while though!

    Marc + Josie

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