Saturday 7/3/2004 - Ik Kil, Chichen Itza

We woke up at 6:00 am and showered (nice hot water with good water pressure). Our pickup was supposed to be at 7:50, and we were ready in the lobby by 7:30. At 8:00, a van arrived and picked us up, along with another couple (newlyweds Tracy and Jacob from Austin). There were several other couples already in the van. We were driven to a mall parking lot for our rendezvous with the bus that would be taking us to Chichen Itza. Our bus number was 41, and the bus was packed. We ended up sitting in the second to last row of seats, with Tracy and Jacob behind us. It turned out that one of the buses had broken down, so we needed to drop about half of the passengers off at Tulum. Once we had dropped them off, the bus was a lot less crowded. It was a nice, air conditioned bus with seatback tray tables and reclining seats. Gabi was our tour guide, Alex was her young assistant, and Roberto was our driver. They asked how many people would like coffee, and we raised our hands. Of course, as soon as they delivered the coffee, we veered off highway 307 and onto bumpy roads. Though the coffee cup was only half full, it was very hard to drink on the bumpy road, and I ended up spilling it all over the tray table and myself. Everyone else who got coffee had similar problems. The bus erupted in laughter as people tried in vain to avoid spilling their coffee, trying to take careful sips when the bus slowed down. We talked and joked with Tracy and Jacob. After clearing away the coffee, Alex brought orange juice and pastries (chocolate chip muffins and croissants). We left the main road and passed through a small Mayan village on the outskirts of Valladolid. We saw small houses on the side of the road flanked by orange and lemon trees, etc. Small children waved at the bus and Gabi told us that these houses now have electricity and TV thanks to tourist money. We passed by a small church with a whitewashed facade. We then passed through the center of Valladolid and saw the main church, La Parroquia de San Servacio. We stopped at a shop that had clean restrooms. Young children worked as bathroom attendants, handing out toilet paper and paper towels. I bought a pendant with "Steph" spelled out in Mayan glyphs. Artisans were making them on the spot, taking the metal charms, blow torching them onto the pendant, and scrubbing them clean. It was a little overpriced, but it was a unique item, and supposedly the money goes to community programs in the area. It didn't come with a chain, so I bought one from a young boy. Craig bought a few T-shirts for very little money.

We got back onto the bus after about half an hour, and headed to Ik Kil Ecoarqueological Parque. There we saw our first cenote, or fresh water sinkhole. From ground level, you could look down into the sink hole. Plants dangled their roots many feet down into the water. There were steps leading down to the water level so we headed down. The water was a gorgeeous turquoise blue, and there were fish swimming around. The cenote was 43 meters deep. The way the sunlight was flitering through the hole in the rock above was just beautiful. Some people on the tour brought bathing suits, so they went for a swim. We hadn't been told that this was an option (we were told by Best Day to bring an extra shirt because we might get sweaty, but noone said anything about a bathing suit so we could swim in such a beautiful and unique place), so we just watched. After about half an hour, we got back onto the bus. We drove for a few minutes to Hacienda Xaybe'h de Camara restuarant. Inside there were long tables and two buffets. We ate pork in ragu, pork cooked in banana leaves, spaghetti bolognese, bread, chicken Yucatan, rice, beans, watermelon, pineapple, rice pudding,and flan. The buffet was included in the price of the tour, but our drinks were not. So we ordered orange sodas called Mirinda. There were traditional dancers up on the stage, and they were doing rhythmic steps and dancing with trays and bottles on their heads. A teenage boy sitting across from us was constantly staring at us. It never failed that everytime Craig or I looked up from eating we noticed he was once again staring right at one of us and it started to really creep us out. We left the restaurant at 1:30 and made the short drive to Chichen Itza ruins. We hadn't known the schedule for the day ahead of time, and by this time we were starting to get a little anxious to see the ruins.

Alex passed out water bottles as we disembarked from the bus. Although our admission fee was included in the cost of the excursion, it still seemed to take a while for all of us to gain admission. Some people needed to purchase video camera permits, which cost around $4, roughly the same price as admission to the ruins. We didn't actually enter the park until around 2:00. It was quite warm in the sun, and Gabi tried to keep us in the shade whenever possible. This probably wan't the best approach, as by now we were all anxious to actualy see the ruins up close, rather than huddling in the shade looking at them from afar. But she had some excellent knowledge to impart, so it worked out well. She told us about the Toltec influence on Chichen Itza. Toltecs arrived and brought with them columns and the image of the eagle. Some of the structures still contained traces of the red paint which used to adorn the entire city. Gabi said that ball game players were not always sacrificed, but on the main ball court (one of nine in Chichen Itza), the best player was sometimes sacrificed. The ball hoops were still in place (there had been none in the Guatemalan and Belizean Mayan sites we had visited earlier this year). It was amazing to us how high the up the stone hoops were. Gabi explained that the majority of the players played on the ground, but there was a stone platform several feet high directly below the hoops, and that would be where some players were stationed and they would be the ones to try to get the ball through the hoop. Standing near the center of the ball court, we clapped our hands and heard amazing echoes. The length of the ball court seemed to be about equal to the length of an American football field. We looked at some carvings, including one that depicted a ball player being sacrificed, with serpents (a symbol of fertility and rebirth) emerging from his neck. After about 45 minutes, Gabi handed us over to Guillermo, a Chichen Itza guide. He brought us over to the observatory (known as "El Caracol", which means "snail", due to a spiral staircase found within the observatory).

At 3:10, we were finally given our free time and we had to meet back at the bus by 4:30. With so little time left we quickly took a few photos of various temples and ruins and then we climbed the main pyramid, known as "El Castillo" or the "Pyramid of Kukulkan." The north and west faces have been restored and can be climbed. The west face has a rope for climbers to hold on to if they so choose. We climbed up the more popular west face, but didn't use the rope. There are 94 steps on each of the four faces. 3 times 94 equals 364, and when you add one (the central platform) you get 365. Thus the pyramid was a representation of the Mayan calendar. There were serpent heads carved in stone at the foot of the stairway. During the spring or fall equinox, the sunlight creates a diamond pattern on the terraces, which looks like a body for these snake heads. When we got to the top of the pyramid, we had a great view of the entire site. Most buildings were fully visible, and the few that weren't were visible peeking up through the trees. We had a great view of the Temple of the Warriors off to the east, which is built with many columns inherited from the Toltecs. We were able to walk around the perimeter of the temple, as well as venturing inside the chambers which contained carved stone and wood beams. We descended the north side of the pyramid. Craig walked straight down. It was very steep, and with the heat and feeling slightly dehydrated, I followed the example of many other tourists and scurried down on my backside. There was a small door on the northwest corner of El Castillo, and people were lining up in the hot sun to enter. El Castillo was built on top of an older Mayan temple, and at various times of the day, tourists are allowed to go inside and ascend the one-meter-wide flight of 62 steps to the top of the inner temple to view a statue of a jade-encrusted jaguar. Gabi had warned us against going inside, due to the fact that it would be hot, stuffy, and claustrophobic. However, we were very intrigued, and would certainly have done it if time had permitted. But with only an hour and twenty minutes of free time, we were not able to.

When we arrived at the bottom of El Castillo, we headed down the road to the cenote around which Chichen Itza was founded. Chichen Itza translates to "Mouth of the Well of the Itza" ("Itza" being a water witch). This cenote was much bigger than the one we had seen at Ik Kil, but it was not as pretty. The water was green, and people had thrown water bottles into it. It was very deep, and you could not get down to the water level; you had to observe it from above. We headed back to the main site and viewed the Temple of the Skulls, which was covered with carvings of severed heads. We saw a Chac Mool statue. This is a representation of a reclining person with a sacrificial offering placed on its stomach. The first one to be discovered had red paint on its feet, so they are now generically all called "Chac Mool", which translates to "Red Feet." "Chac," the Mayan word for red, is not to be confused with "Chaac," the name of the Mayan rain god. Next we headed back to the ball court to admire it further now that most of the crowds were heading out of the park.

At 4:15 we headed to the exit to use the restrooms. Craig bought us little cups of lime ice cream. We got back ono the bus at 4:30. They were giving out free waters and sodas, and Craig bought a Montajo beer for $2. We got back into the same seats and settled in. Alex came around with leftover pastries. They showed us a video of "Freaky Friday", which was quite cute and made the ride go by quickly. We chatted some more with Jacob and Tracy and made plans to meet at a restaurant called 100% Natural on Quinta Avenida at 8:45 for dinner.

We arrived back at the hotel at around 7:30. We took quick showers, got changed, and headed for 5th Avenue. We arrived about 15 minutes early, so we sat on a bench across from the restaurant. The street was a lot more busy now than it had been during the day yesterday, and we found that it was a very fun place to people-watch. Tracy and Jacob soon arrived, and we headed into the courtyard of the restaurant. There was light music playing and it was very enjoyable in the open air. We got nopal planchade as an appetizer (grilled nopal cactus, panela cheese, basil dressing, and pita bread). It was delicious. Craig had a dark beer and I had a white wine (after they mistakenly brought me a glass of red). I had tacos de pollo (crispy chicken tacos served with cheese and sour cream) and Craig had fajitas de pollo (chicken fajitas). We had a great time, and found that we had a lot in common with Tracy and Jacob. At around 10:45, we headed to the Blue Parrot (their hotel). It is right on the beach, and is a very popular nightspot. We got a table overlooking the water (once again, the reflection of the nearly full moon on the water was amazing). Craig and I ordered margaritas. There was an outdoor dance floor, and lots of people were dancing. At around midnight, the entertainment arrived. At first, a girl and a guy came out and did some acrobatics. Then fire dancers came onstage. They had a variety of implements (long sticks with fire on both ends, short clubs with fire on one end, fiery balls on the end of chains). They swung them around making beautiful patterns. There were several young women, several young men, and one boy who seemed to be around 10 years old. It was mesmerizing as they danced to techno music. At times, little spurts of flaming liquid would fall onto the stage, and the dancers would dance through it in bare feet. I guess this explains why one of them had a bandage on her foot. Some of the girls came out with flaming fingertip extensions. They danced around, and when they were done, they plunged the flaming fingerstips into the beach sand to extinguish them. Girls did contortionist moves while spinning flames alarmingly close to their faces. Toward the end of the 15-minute show, some of the male dancers performed out on the beach near the water while the girls continued dancing on stage. It was a very high-energy performance, and once it was done, the crowd was all riled up. The dance floor was absolutely packed with people. It was a fun place to people-watch.

We said our goodbyes to Tracy and Jacob and then we walked down the beach to our hotel (very close by as the crow flies, but it would take longer to get there via road) at 1:15. We were brushing the sand from our feet on the patio near the pool. No sooner did we stop there when a guard came by doing a bracelet check to make sure that we belonged there. We went up to our room and I wrote in the journal. After a very long day we finally went to sleep at around 1:45.
Ik Kil Cenote from above

Ik Kil Cenote

El Castillo, Chichen Itza

Caracol, Chichen Itza

El Castillo, Chichen Itza

Temple of the Warriors viewed from the top of El Castillo, Chichen Itza

Main Ball Court, Chichen Itza

Dinner with Jacob and Tracy at 100% Natural, Playa del Carmen

Fire dancers at the Blue Parrot

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