We got up before dawn as planned and put ourselves together so we could meet Rosalia at six o'clock. Even though we had a bit of a day off yesterday I think all of us are starting to feel the cumulative effects of these early days. But we were all very excited because today we get to see two of exceptional archeological sites, Chichen Itza and Ek Balam. So with great anticipation we piled into the car and, as our drowsiness overpowered our excitement, intermittently nodded off on the almost three hour drive.
Despite our sleepiness we all saw quite a bit of the countryside and were able to get a feeling for what a typical Mayan village looks like. They are small communities for the most part and many are composed of a single street along which there are homes and a few businesses. Most of the Mayans seem to be subsistence farmers though many produce handicrafts that they offer for sale along the highway.
Finally we arrived at Chichen Itza, a sprawling site with a series of immense structures. Between AD 600 and 1200 Chichen Itza was the nexus of power in the Mayan lowlands. The diversity of styles is due in large part to the influence of the peoples of central Mexico who are thought to have conquered an existing Mayan community over which they built the city as we see it today; one of the largest cities the Mayans built it was a hub for trade from all over the empire which helped to maintain its influence for centuries.
Although we arrived early there were still a lot of people there when we arrived. Thanks for Rosalia's experience and quick thinking we were able to slip ahead of most. She walked and talked us through the public areas starting with the central pyramid. Here she explained that it is a representation of the Mayan calendar and explained about their separation of days, months, years, and seasons. It was quite interesting and, as we moved on, we saw the Temple of the Warriors which was flanked by dozens of thick columns that not only survived mostly intact but almost all were upright when discovered. That is quite a feat of engineering. Then we saw a couple temples and platforms before visiting the Sacred Cenote, a natural freshwater well connected by a subterranean river that spans much of the peninsula. We ended our tour at the ball court which had its own temple as well as royal boxes.
With our tour of Chichen Itza finished we retreated to the car to go off in search of lunch. We had a simple meal at one of the nearby cocinas economica. It wasn't spectacular but it was a good meal with generous portions and was exactly what we needed before heading off to our next destination, Ek Balam.
A forty-five minute drive away was the city of Ek Balam. It is a walled city with no direct approach and was at its apogee from AD 770 to 840. What makes it significant is the wealth of information it has provided about the Mayan culture at the time. Many of the other cities, like Coba, are in relatively poor condition and what much can be inferred there remains a gap in information.
Once we passed the defensive perimeter we came to the the Oval Palace which is adjacent to two temples that mirror each other. At the top of the palace we had a great view of the temple at the top and the cloudy sky beyond which you can see in the picture below. Opposite the temples are a few platforms whose purpose is not yet clear but they are in good condition and I expect they will be mined for more information at a later date. Across from the Oval Palace is a temple referred to as The Throne and it is here that it is believed the ruler of Ek Balam was buried.
The Throne is huge, it is more than just a temple, it houses its own square and is riddled with interior tunnels. Archeologists suspect that before it was a tomb it was a sprawling residence for the illustrious king. Now the complex that is the tomb can be seen quite clearly because it was covered in rock. Once excavated the carvings were found to be in remarkably good condition. The room that would have been the burial chamber looks like the enormous open mouth of a predator. It is an imposing place and I am sure when the city was still inhabited it would have elicited awe and complete religious deference.
We climbed to the top of the temple and had a beautiful view of the jungle and pyramids emerging from the low canopy. All three of us sat at the top for a while enjoying the cooling breeze and taking in the panoramic vista. When we descended we stopped at a tree near the foot of the temple that was teaming with insects. Initially it was the butterflies that caught my attention but there were bees and flies as well as moths flocking to this one tree. Upon inspection we found them drinking the sweet sap from a few small wounds in the barks. It was a magical sight in such a beautiful place.
That was the conclusion of our visit to Ek Balam and we slowly made our way back to the parking lot to begin the trip back to modern civilization. It went rather quickly and we stopped twice along the way; once to buy oranges with chili and then to get a little more gas to make it back to town. We decided to have Rosalia drop us off in town for dinner because the food is not only cheaper but better than what we can get around the hotel. Instead of trying something new we went back to the seafood place of a couple nights ago because we all enjoyed it so much the first time.
You have to understand, the food is so good we were worried we might be disappointed if we tried something new so we ordered essentially the same thing. It was every bit as good as we remembered and once our plates were cleaned we stopped off at a grocery store for a few supplies before hailing a cab back to our hotel.
Tomorrow will be another early morning though not quite as early as today so now that I have finished my blogging and processing of a picture I think it is time to get some sleep. The adventure continues tomorrow!
Canon 1D X, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
16mm, f4, HDR of 1/5000, 1/2500, 1/1250, 1/640, and 1/320 sec @ 100 ISO