Chichen Iza: A Mayan Mystery

November 2017–Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula


After my tequila-filled, cultural tour of Mexico City for the Day of the Dead celebrations, I jetted over to Cancun, Mexico for the sole purpose of exploring the massive architectural complex of Mayan ruins that is Chichen Itza!

In my mind, Chichen Itza consisted of one major step pyramid, with a few other buildings surrounding it.  I was VERY wrong. To be honest, I LOVE to be wrong on my travels.  It always proves to be an enlightening experience and opens my mind to learning strictly from the locals. So do I research my travels?  Somewhat, but I much prefer to learn as I go along, directly from the people who know it best!

And this is exactly what I did at Chichen Itza.  I learned the history first hand from a local archaeologist who proudly shared knowledge of his culture. Chichen Itza is actually an area of land that was once known as one of the largest Mayan cities at around 740 acres.  It dates back to 600 AD-1200 AD, giving it the well earned title as a new seven world wonder.

First and foremost, I was fascinated by the acoustics!  I came to Chichen Itza knowing about the bird-like echos produced by clapping your hands at the base of the Step Pyramid, but I wasn’t aware there was more!

IMG_0843

Let’s start with the Step Pyramid, also known as El Castillo (the castle).  91 steps make up the layered echo sound you hear as you clap your hands while standing at the base of any one of the four staircases.  The locals call this the ‘singing of the bird,’ but it’s said to have warned the Mayans of intruders coming into the city.

Now if that sound wasn’t amazing enough, moving over to the Great Ball Court took the cake.  Imagine this: You are sitting at the end of a 500 foot long open stadium and you are holding an effective conversation with a Royal family at the other end of the court, 500 feet way!  I couldn’t believe this was even possible, so of course my curiosity got the best of me, and I had to try it. With a few of our group at one end, and some on the other end, we spoke messages back and forth.  Even though we couldn’t sneak into the raised royal seating where the Mayans spoke in a whisper to converse on the opposite end, we still maintained conversation.   And surprisingly, for the most part, IT WORKED!  These unexplainable acoustics brought me a lot of laughs and pleasure!

IMG_0890
Stone carvings to honor the winner

Another fun fact I learned while at the Great Ball Court, was the game the Mayans played and their ‘reward’ for winning.  Pitz, an ancient Mayan ball game, was a one and done sort of game. It consisted of one rubber ball being bounced into a stone hoop without using hands.  One basket was considered a game win.  The winning captain then brought himself and his precious head to the losing captain to be decapitated.  HUGE WIN!  Why would anyone win a game and then lose their head?!?  In the Mayan culture this was considered the highest honor.  Not only did they receive a stone carving memorializing them on the wall of the Great Ball Court, they also got a direct ticket to heaven.  Pretty steep stakes in that game!

 

As I walked around Chichen Itza another stone temple that really attracted me was the Temple of a Thousand Warriors.  On the top of this temple sits the Mayan Rain God, Chacmool.  Chacmool is a male, life-size figure who sits in a reclined position with his stomach horizontal and his head up and turned 90 degrees. The Chacmool’s didn’t appear to be worshiped by the Mayans, but instead they used his stomach to hold sacrificial offerings to the Maize or Corn God. There were many Chacmool statues in Chichen Itza, but this one really stood out due to its placement on the top of the temple. The Temple of a Thousand Warriors also was surrounded by hundreds of columns that continued well into the jungle.  Shaped tall and massive, much like a warrior stance, from a distanced eye you may mistake them for warriors surrounding and guarding the temple.

One of my last fascinations while discovering Chichen Itza was the Wall of Skulls.  Most of you know, I have a passion for Halloween and all that it entails, so I really peaked an interest in the Wall of Skulls.  This wall had an eerie, but intriguing look to it, and  I couldn’t help but to take loads of photos and spend my time wondering why it was carved. Unfortunately is not much known behind the meaning of the wall, but because it is located right outside the Great Ball Court, it is believed that humans were sacrificed on the wall, and their heads were left to be displayed.

Chichen Itza checked off my third visit to a world wonder from my discover journey in began in June.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, and would recommend an entire day to explore the ruins, and learn about the history that is this phenomenon!

Sunshine and Rainbow Dreaming

November 2017–Cancun, Mexico


I do not do cold weather. It’s actually comical to everyone the amount of layers I pack on anytime I have to go into temperatures anything less than 60F. If you’ve see ‘The Christmas Story’ (not sure we can be friends if you haven’t), Ralphie’s little brother Randy and I have a lot in common. You would think after spending half of my life in Wisconsin I’d have thicker skin. Nope.

So as we ease into the cold weather of winter, I can’t help but to want to get back to the perfect skies, temperature, and sunshine I embraced while in Cancun early November. After spending a few days in Mexico City for Dia de los Muertos, I flew over to Cancun for a quick three nights for a stop at Chichen Itza and a little bit of R&R. I even convinced a friend I met along the way to jet over to Cancun, instead of heading home. Poor guy was deadly ill the whole time, but still sucked it up like a champ and managed to leave the room a few times to watch me eat. Let me tell you…the food in Cancun was top notch! From little dive corner restaurants, to Michilan star cuisine, we tried a bit of everything. Fish tacos, shrimp ceviche, fish ceviche, pesto shrimp pizza, lobster bisque, seafood soup, fresh tuna, I could go on and on! Everything was fresh and delicious!

The skies were the most incredible shade of blue, mixed with marshmallow clouds and sun bursts. Pure paradise, and perfect temperatures. I managed to snap a few photos on a day out to a few different beaches for some sunshine. Enjoy!

Journey to the New Seven World Wonders

June 2017–Agra, India


It all started with a quick 36 hour escape to Delhi to visit a few temples, with a day in Agra to experience the Taj Mahal.  I needed to cash in some Etihad flight miles… So what better way than to see a World Wonder?

In all honesty, I didn’t have a strong desire to visit India.  I had a vision in my mind of crowded, loud, intense streets filled with people shoulder to shoulder, barely able to move. I blame it on movies…they always manage to put an unrealistic image into our heads. But even with these crowd-frightening thoughts, I wanted to experience India for myself and make my own conclusions.  Plus, I’m a sucker for romance, so seeing this “Labor of Love” was right up my alley.

36 hours later, I was hooked.  The Taj Mahal exceeded my expectations; the inspiration, the architecture, the reflecting pool, the outlying buildings, all were a vision of pure beauty.

It was on my plane ride back to Abu Dhabi, that Saturday night, I made the decision to experience ALL seven of the New World Wonders. I wanted to start jetting around the world at that very moment, and forget about work. But realistically, I only had a few more weeks until summer break, so I managed to suck it up and finish off the year.

If you’re not familiar with the New Seven World Wonders, let me lay it out for you.  In 2000 a campaign was started to choose new world wonders from a list of 200 existing monuments. It was somewhat of a popularity pole with people voting by internet or telephone. Seven years later, how fitting, the winners were selected and publicly announced.

So here I am, ten years after the big announcement, making it my personal mission to visit each of the new wonders withing a twelve month span.

Just for clarification, because this was more of a private initiative, UNESCO has not jumped on board with affirming the list as scientific.

So here they are, the official, or unofficial, who knows…list of the NEW SEVEN WORLD WONDERS!

Great Wall of China (China)

Christ the Redeemer Statue (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

Machu Picchu (Cuzco, Peru)

Chichen Itza (Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico)

Taj Mahal (Agra, India)

Petra (Jordan)

The Roman Colosseum (Rome, Italy)

I’ve had in my mind all this time that The Pyramid of Giza was a part of this list, but after a bit of research it turns out the pyramid received honorary status due to being the oldest and only surviving original Seven Wonders of The Ancient World. Since I’ve already visited Egypt and the Pyramids, I may try to go again, but it’s not at the top of my list.

Starting in June, on that exciting 36 hour visit to India, I’ve made it to the Taj Mahal, Petra, and Chichen Itza.  I’m off to the Great Wall of China in January, and am working on plans for Christ the Redeemer Statue and Machu Picchu for February.  That only leaves planning a trip to Rome for the Roman Colosseum, in April or May.

As I’ve made my way to each wonder, the history and story behind them is what has drawn me in and given me the desire to experience them entirely first hand.

Are you still curious about that 36 hour stint in June??  Stay tuned, I have plenty to share.  It was an eye-opener to say the least, full of adventure, enlightenment, and forgetfulness.

Dia de los Muertos Festivities

October 30-31, 2017–Mexico City, Mexico


Arriving a few days before Dia de los Muertos, the festivities were in full effect!  I was lucky enough to stay in the heart of the Centro District, right smack in the middle of all the excitement.  There was a festival to my right, and a festival to my left.  Food, costumes, decoration, vendors, all right outside my doorway.  A photographer and adventurers dream!

My absolute favorite part of it all??  Parents did NOT dress their children in cute elephant or teddy bear costumes, they were full on horrific!  From babies young enough to be in a stroller rocking the Chucky doll costume, to toddlers dressed as Harley Quinn and the IT clown.  Every time I saw a child in their spooky dress, a glorified smile crept across my face.

I was lucky to have picked an Airbnb located on Avenida Juárez, one of the main streets in Mexico City’s downtown, filled with extraordinary museums and the well-know Almeda Central Park. The city was busy!  Filled with tourists and locals alike, moving with no purpose in mind, just enjoying being in holiday mode!  The park was a sight to see, well decorated with lady skeleton statues in preparation for Day of the Dead.

To the right of my Airbnb was ‘Calle Madero,’ a bustling street, filled with shops, restaurants, historic buildings, and cathedrals.  In addition to the beauty, the street gave you the feeling of being on Hollywood Blvd. in LA; with the money hungry characters, gold and silver still statues, and homeless. The street led the way to the heart of Mexico City, the Zócalo. One of the world’s largest squares, the Zócalo was fully prepped and ready to celebrate Dia de los Muertos!

To the left of my Airbnb was a small festival with food vendors and stalls selling various Mexican souvenirs and skulls.  I couldn’t resist bargaining for a few creative hand carved skull women and painted head skulls.  I even managed to catch a small street parade full of bobbing skull heads! In these two days of exploring and taking in all the colors of Dia de los Muertos, I was in my element and fully embracing the cultures of Mexico City.

Into the artistic side of Mexico City

November 2, 2017–Mexico City, Mexico


A walk into the streets of Mexico City, Mexico filled with artistic creations.

Enter into Mexico City’s fascinating street art culture, from vibrant paintings filing building walls, to Dia de los Muertos skull displays along the strip, Mexico city did NOT disappoint!  Flooded with art deco, I was lost in the in the streets of the city; my eyes enjoying the liveliness that is Mexico City!

 

First, a walk into the art that is graffiti; colorful, spray-painted street art.  We walked for blocks along the city streets taking in the beauty and dynamic colors each building held.

On a Uber ride home thru Paseo de la Reforma, we began passing large skull, after colorful skull.  It wasn’t even a second thought to get out of the car and view the beauty in the streets!  Not only did we peruse the decorated skulls, there were also ‘creatures’ created and designed for Dia de los Muertos made from paper mache.

Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) ” There is no life, except by death”

November 2017–Mexico City, Mexico


Ask any one of my people…”What’s Trish’s drink of choice?” They will answer with extreme clarity, TEQUILA!  With this in mind, I absolutely could not pass up the opportunity to come to Mexico to celebrate Dia de los Muertos with the locals.  

 

November 1, 2017: Continued…

After a picturesque cruise into the sights and sounds of Xochimilco, we met up with the tour operator and a few others from the ‘tequila crew’, who had finally arrived to the boats.  We were a step ahead of them, and not willing to waste precious time, so we said our greetings, and hopped on the empty bus to catch a ride to a nearby cemetery called Panteón Jilotepec.   This particular cemetery was the perfect place to be, open 24 hours during the festival, a graveyard where many of the Royal Families of Mexico are buried.

Before I dive into my experience in the cemetery, let me give you a brief history into the meaning of Dia de los Muertos.  Day of the Dead is a long-standing Aztec tradition to celebrate, rather than mourn, dead family members.  Much before the European conquest, the Aztecs buried their loved ones in the kitchen floors in order to keep the dead a part of their family.  The Aztecs made alters, called ofrendas, to welcome the souls of the dead back into their homes to reunite with the living.  They used these ofrendas to provide the deceased with the elements of nature, and used flowers to light the path for them to follow.  (You will see many orange flowers called Cempasuchil in my photos, these brightly colored orange/yellow flowers have a strong aroma which is said to attract the spirits, helping them find their way to their loved ones) The elements offered to the dead are water, fire, (smoke from incense to connect to spiritual world and harmonize with nature) earth ( fruits, food) and wind (paper). Photographs are placed on alters to dedicate relatives, and plenty of food and drink the deceased enjoyed are left on their burial site so they can rejoice when they visit.  A common site on the tombstones are tequila, beer,coke, bread and cigarettes.

“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.” — Marcus Tullius Cicero

This quote says it all…As we entered the cemetery we walked into a lively scene, a commemorative wonderland if you will; filled with the sounds of mariachi music, light filled vigils, savory aromas of food from families and vendors, brightly colored flowers, tequila, smiles, painted faces, animated costumes, laughs and offerings for the departed.  I had no expectations walking in, but this exceeded any thought I had in my mind.

Walking around the tombstones we were greeted by a family who welcomed us in as their own.  Jorge and Ericka were at the cemetery to rejoice in the life of their grandfather with their entire family; cousins, brothers, sisters, and children.  As soon as we began talking we were greeted with shots of tequila and conversation.  As much as I was intrigued by them, they were intrigued by my curiousity.  We took pictures, we laughed, we drank, and we enjoyed each other’s company.  After spending about an hour with this fun-loving family, we were filled with tequila, stories, and an upbeat experience.  It was time to grab some food and continue our adventures around the cemetery.

This was not the only family that gave us such a warm greeting and welcomed us into their celebrations, we stayed in the cemetery for over five hours, talking with many families, and spending an extended time with three other families.

The second family we encountered had a different way of celebrating.  They removed themselves from all of the noise and festivities to embrace the tradition in their own more personal way.  They sat inside a mausoleum, drinking and chatting quietly among themselves.  The mausoleum was particularly beautiful and I could not resist asking if it was ok to photograph the moment.  We were welcomed warmly and invited to come inside to talk and, of course, drink some tequila with them.  This was a particular somber moment for me, knowing that each family celebrated in their own way, but most were pleased to embrace the intrusion of foreigners.

Our next encounter was a few younger kids outside, having a few beers and talking around a fire they made in front of their grandfathers tomb. This impressed me because it showed how these traditions hold strong in the minds of the young and old.  It was humbling to be able to speak to such a variety of ages about the culture and traditions, and to feel and hear how important this celebration was to them.

The last lengthy encounter we had was with a lively bunch with a private mariachi band, a microphone, and a great deal of singing.  They were immersed in the festival with upbeat spirits and more tequila than one could ever dream of.  At that time, it was into the morning hours, but we attempted to sing and be a part of their graveside party.

After all of this fun, we could see the sun was starting to rise, and it was time to head home.  My head was clouded with tequila, but also filled with all the information I took in and all the beauty I experienced. My heart was filled with joy and warmth from the abundance of love we were shown as ‘outsiders’ to the tradition.  I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.  I recommend this celebration to ANY and ALL who have an interest in Dia de los Muertos!