From Cancun, I took a tour to the famous Chichen Itza but on the way we stopped off at the Cenote Suytun. A cenote is a sinkhole with exposed rocky edges containing groundwater. They have established that a series of networks connect several cenotes over the Yatacan state of Mexico. Climbing down several stairs I was not prepared for the marvellous sight ahead. A huge cave opened out to reveal stalacmites and stalactites, surrounding a massive pool of clear water. The light reflecting in the water was a sight to behold continually changing as it went from jade to turquoise to jet black and was so clear you could see small fish swimming around in it. Quite a lot of people were jumping in and out of the water but as it was going to be a long day, I only went in as far as my knees. The soil on the bottom was quite soft so I was glad not to go any further. An impressive natural phenomenon though.
The next stop was at a village market where we were encouraged to buy local products and to have our name grafted in Mayan hieroglyophics. How could I refuse! We also got to see local dancing, including the dancers balancing water bottles on their head whilst spinning round and dancing elaborate moves. How set up it was I cannot say- after all it was a tourist village!
By the time we finally reached Chichen Itza it was already 2pm and did not leave much time to explore the site - a major problem with taking a tour! So some potted history of Chichen Itza. It was one of the best restored of the Yucatán Maya sites and demonstrated many of the Mayan astronomical calendars. This was done through the ´time temples´which depending on the levels, indents etc could demonstrate periods of time. The Mayan calendar was actually more accurate than what we use today. The Mayans were great astronomers and used the heavens to depict their calendar. During a period in November Venus was hidden and so the villagers would not go out during those 5 days - creating our modern day halloween.
This accuracy and skill of the Mayans was best demonstrated in the main temple which makes Chichen Itza so famous. On the equinoxes (March 20-21 and September 21-22), the morning and afternoon sun produces a light-and-shadow illusion of the serpent ascending or descending the side of El Castillo's staircase. Magical.
The site was built in the late Classic period and was pure Mayan. In about the 9th century the city was largely abandoned, for reasons unknown. It was resettled around the late 10th century, and shortly thereafter it was invaded by the Toltecs. Toltec culture was fused with that of the Mayan, incorporating the Toltec cult of Quetzalcóatl (Kukulcán, in Maya) and the introduction of human sacrifice, transforming the once peaceful Mayans into a more violent society.
It was an impressive site and extremely well restored. Many of the temples still had carvings, including one covered in skulls. There was a ball court here as well- the Wembley of the Mayan ball courts. It was at this site that there were carvings depicting human sacrifices, these being the winners of the ball court game who would then go on to fight the gods (well you would want your winners, not your losers hey!) The court was enormous and showed what a political importance it had for the Mayans. It would also be used to settle political disputes, land disputes and so on but was only for the rich though.
Behind the main temple was another fascintating temple, with detailed statues and more carvings and a space where the local market was held. Finally we were shown the road that the Mayans created which stretched all the way to Coba and connecting other main Mayan cities. Quite incredibly it was also absolutely straight. It would be hard to construct with our modern technology, let alone what was avaliable to the Mayans.
At this site there was also a cenote, but open to the air. It must have been used for water supply. Unfortunately the main areas were ruined by stalls and locals trying to sell their goods. Apparently in the early 1900s, the Mexican government sold the site for $75. Later on when they realised the importance of the history there, and the tourist potential, the government did a clamp down and restricted what the land owners could do. This basically took away their profit and as a result the land owners now lease some of the land to locals to sell their goods. It definitely took away the magic of the site.
As large as Chichen Itza was, it was too touristy for me and I much preferred the sites of Coba in the jungle and Tulum by the sea. Next stop Merida.