5am, what a time to get up after a hot day's ride!! Nevertheless we were all dutifully gathered in the hotel foyer by 5:30 to meet our guide to the city of Chichen Itza. After stumbling along some dark paths we found ourselves on a flat plain with a dark 'something' just visible in the gloom. As the guide started his explanation the sky gradually lightened and a magnificent stepped pyramid appeared silhouetted against the purple dawn. Our guide explained that the pyramid was actually a calendar for the Maya. It is built, as are many of these ancient monuments, in line with astronomical principles. The cunning design also enabled a priest, hidden in an alcove on top of the pyramid, to project his voice in such a way that all standing on the plain in front of the pyramid could hear him. Our guide demonstrated an opposite effect when a hand clap at ground level was echoed by an eerie higher pitched clap seemingly coming from inside the room at the top.
We were also shown the warrior's temple where human sacrifice of vanquished enemies took place. Human sacrifice was not a usual activity of the Maya until they began to have trade relations with the Toltec neighbours who introduced some of their ideas how to appease the gods. Contrary to some movies the people sacrificed were usually children between the ages of 8 and 13. The 'excess' children of the nobility were frequently chosen and it was considered a great honour to be selected. Apparently the victim was suitably drugged and anaesthetised so that their heart could removed while they were still alive.
Another place of interest was the great ball game arena where opposing teams of seven players tried to be the first to get a 20cm diameter rubber ball through a high stone ring without, apparently, using their hands. What is weird is that the captain of the WINNING team was then beheaded as an offering to the gods. The beheading was carried out by the captain of the losing team. Apparently the warriors who participated all hoped to be the winning captain!!!!!
The final visit was to the ruins, as yet unrestored, of the astronomical observatory where all the observations that enabled the priests to construct the temples and then make their predictions were made. The priests were clearly very clever, I'm sure that they never had themselves sacrificed.
The day's ride began after breakfast on our return from Chichen Itza and we were on the road by 8:30 only to come to a halt in 5 minutes when one of the British riders had his bike derailleur collapse. We had to wait while a spare bike was set up for him. Fortunately the day was milder than previous ones and there was no wind. We cycled in a big loop to avoid major roads and made our way to the Samula Cenote which is a large pool in a sinkhole where we had a swim. It was very pleasant and refreshing especially after the last 18 km when the temperature suddenly ramped up to the high 30s again. Due to some of our long stops every 15 km or so and the time in the Cenote we didn't actually start lunch till about 3pm and didn't reach our hotel in Valladolid until after 5pm. Maree and I decided to skip the town visit today and to just relax. For dinner, since lunch was so late and so big, we just purchased a few yoghurts from the local supermarket and ate them in our hotel room. Y