Sunday, January 29, 2012

Day 4 - Ruins, Caves, and Chocolate

Today, we left our wonderful hotel in Ticul (Posada Jardin) early to visit Uxmal, Kabah, Grutas de Loltun, Labna, and the Ecomuseo de Cacao.

The Mayan ruins at Uxmal are the most impressive we have seen yet. Although we couldn't climb the Pyramid of the Magician, I'm not sure I really wanted to.

The Governor's Palace had some of the most complete and impressive freezes and masks. These structures were free for us to climb around on. Uxmal is one of the most dramatic, famous, and popular sites for visitors in Yucatan. As you can see from the photos, we had this place nearly to ourselves.

Today was overcast and it began to rain toward the late afternoon. The weather is a little uncharacteristically wet. The rain has kept the heat down and it makes hiking to some of the more unexplored ruins in Uxmal very pleasant.

The Yucatan Penninsula was a hotbed for pirate activity from the time of the Spanish conquest on. On the northwest side of the peninsula is the Gulf of Mexico and the east side is the Carribean Sea. This carving below marks the cemetery courtyard at Uxmal. The skull and cross-bones remind me of pirates.

This is the ballcourt at Uxmal. How the game was played is well understood. The players, whom wear protective gear on the hips, elbows and wrists, strike a 12lb ball. The goals are about 0.5 meters, perpendicular to the ground, and raised about 4 meters off the ground. There is some controversy as to which team was sacrificed at the games conclusion. Scientists may not understand how to motivate an athlete, however I am fairly certain the "winners" weren't "playing their heart out" if that was the reward.

The "flying crane" just seemed like the right pose to strike at this moment.

Following our stop at Uxmal, we headed down the road to Kabah, the first of the smaller ruins on the Ruta Puuc route. If Uxmal was a metropolis, then the ruins of the Ruta Puuc were the suburbs. The above photo is of a bas relief panel depicting a battle scene in a unique building called Codz Poop, which was dedicated to the Mayan rain god Chaac and contains over 250 masks of Chaac.

This "diving god" frieze was found over one of the doorways on the Grand Palace at the Kabah ruins.

This is the arch at Kabah and was the beginning of the 30 kilometer Mayan road from Kabah to Uxmal.

The Grutas or Caves of Lolton ("stone flower in Mayan") are enormous limestone caverns. The explores areas are over 8 km and our tour only covered 2 km. The stalactites and tree roots that hang from the ceiling drip moisture. This was called "virgin water" and used in Mayan ceremonies. Our guide was great; he explained the rituals, the need to watch were we were going, and also most importantly not to panic if we lost power. And guess what? 3/4 through and 150 meters down, we lost power. Not to worry, we could see a shaft of light up ahead, and our guide had a giant flashlight to finish the tour with.

Following our hour-long tour of Grutas de Loltun, we headed back down the Ruta Puuc to the Labna ruins. A smallish but very impressive site, the Palace at Labna had some of the most ornate latticework we have seen yet. In the photo below, a crocodile frieze is visible on the corner of the foremost portion of the Palace. The mouth of the crocodile is open and the body itself climbs upward behind it.

When the sun comes out following a downpour, then so do the lizards. Although they are not known to bite humans, this guy still will give you pause. Nearly a meter long, these males will hiss and bob their head in a impressive display that will make you look for another route through the ruins.

It's been a long day. We are both tired. Well, perhaps one more stop at the Ecomuseo de Cacao. Great idea. Have you ever wondered how they make chocolate? They showed us every step, and we got to taste every step! There is no comparison between real cocoa and the mass produced chocolate. Cocoa beans were revered by the Mayans, they were used in cereomonies, and for currency. Only the wealthy enjoyed this treat. In the first treaty the Spanish entered into with the Mayans, a value for trading purposes was established at 140 cocoa beans to 1 spanish gold realle. Later the value increased to 80 cocoa beans to 1 realle.

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