Up at 6:30 and to the lobby by 7:00. Bus takes me to “base camp” - where all the tours seem to eave from. There were only three other people on my tour, a couple about my age and their teenage daughter. They were quite nice but all three were fluent Spanish speakers, as was the guide, so there were side conversations going on that I could only partly pick up on, but most everything was in pretty broken English.
Off we went to Ek Balam (Black Jaguar) – two hours through the Yucatan jungle – not at all what you would expect. It's winter here so many of the tall trees had lost their leaves. Most of the other growth was less than ten feet tall and there were frequent savannahs. Only one or two farm like things, and they appeared abandoned. Almost no houses as well.
Finally got to Ek Balam and the parking lot was virtually empty. The “visitors center” had a map... Then as we started toward the ruin a young man in a Mayan costume blew a conch shell horn to announce our arrival – for a tip of course.
As we neared the site the three defensive walls were the first thing we saw – constructed in the 800s as a defense against the Toltec invaders, but by 900 the site was abandoned and Chichen Itza became the main city in the area.
The first large structure was called the twins – between the two the sun world rise on the equinox. Next to it was a large hill covered in trees and stones – one of the 30 or so unreconstructed buildings on the site. Then we could see the Acropolis as the main pyramid is called.
As we got closer it seemed to get bigger and bigger – not a pyramid in the Egyptian style, but a stepped building, with each step housing many rooms, some of whose purpose is know (like the latrine) and others can only be guessed at. This pyramid was actually the last of several that were built. Each 52 years they would build a new pyramid on top of the old. In reconstructing the site an older one was discovered that had as its entrance a giant mask of the Flower Mountain monster, the best preserved stucco from the entire Mayan period.
After taking several totally inadequate pictures of this, we headed to the top – 105 steps in all, a bit over 100 feet high. We could see the complex below and the jungle for miles and miles... and nothing else – not even a water tower or power line.
We left after poking around in many of the buildings and headed for Valladolid, a town founded in 1540, and visited the “Convento de San Bernardino de Siena,” who was adopted by the local peoples as their “Young Moon Goddess” and everybody was happy. This is also the site where the remaining Mayans rebelled against the Mexican government in 1848 and were crushed since Santa Anna had just lost ½ of the country to the US.
The town itself was quite festive as they are in the midst of Carnival. Lots of women wearing the traditional clothing – white dress embroidered on the shoulders and in some stripes, and about six inches of lace at the bottom of the dress. The young women looked like Americans. We had a buffet lunch, then headed to a local crenote – sinkhole – the whole peninsula has no surface lakes or rivers, being composed of limestone, but there are many underground rivers. Every once in a while the covering limestone collapses. There are over 2,500 in the Yucatan. This one was over 120 meters deep.
Then off we went back to the coast – and rain. At the hotel we said our goodbyes, and I thanked our guide, Jesus, for a most interesting trip.
Back to the hotel, then eat at La Linda – grouper and Almond sauce. Walk on the beach barefoot – cigar and Cuba libra... No internet in the room. Challenged by a guard. Then to the room and bed.