Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Mayan Time

Ah ruins, our old friends. For us there´s nothing better than spending a few hours gazing at raggedly buildings and trying to imagine what they were like when they were at the heart of living cities. In our trip to Mexico we are getting into Mayan territory, which means there are scores of ruined cities waiting for us. We called it quits after six.

All the sites were cool, each having a different highlight. We started with the newest and most famous one, Chichen Itza, which is top of the pile for impressive buildings. The pyramid is one of the new Seven Wonders of the World and deserves its title because of how brilliantly it was built. It is aligned so that when you clap in front of it you get an echo like a strange bird call, and at the spring and autumn solstices the light falls in such a way as to make a ´moving serpent´ illusion, a homage to the Feathered Serpent Kukulcan.

Uxmal was next, which had an unusual pyramid with circular corners, lots of beautiful carvings, a more laid-back atmosphere than Chichen and - bonus - iguanas.

The Pyramid of the Magician

Kabah is a relatively small but interesting site, with an amazing facade with more than 200 faces of the all-important rain god, Chaak, while Palenque is famous for its beautiful setting in jungle-covered hills, and was Lauren's favourite.

The Palace at Palenque

Bonampak's chief claim to fame is its amazing murals, probably the best in the Mayan world. Like the stonework the murals can be pretty grizzly though, as the Mayan kings loved to show themselves torturing, sacrificing and generally being mean to captives.

Captive bleeding after his nails were removed.

My pick of the bunch though was Yaxchilan, which is deep in the Lacadon Rainforest on the Guatemalan border. Getting there required a 22km trip through the jungle down a crocodile-inhabited river, which was almost worth the journey in itself. There was hardly anyone at the site and best of all, there were howler monkeys in the trees. You would not believe the racket they make. If you did not know they were monkeys you would think they were jaguars, or the smoke monster from Lost.

Yaxchilan´s main plaza.

Sadly we did not have time to fit in what is said to be the most amazing city of all, Tikal, or Copan in Honduras, famous for its stonework. But at least that gives us another excuse to come back to Central America!

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