Thursday, February 2, 2017

Dzibilchaltun Ruins and a Cenote Swim

Having been in Progreso for two weeks, we decided it was time to do some touring. We arranged for a guide to take the six of us to see the Dzibilchaltun ruins (still can't say that yet) and do a tour of Merida. We arrived at the ruins around 9 a.m., which was great because it wasn't crowded, and it was overcast so it wasn't too hot yet.

Dzibilchaltun is a Mayan city and is the "place where there is writing on the stones." It was once a prosperous port and had a population of 20,000. Archaeologists have mapped about 35 km of the city although much cannot be seen due to growth of trees and vegetation. It was inhabited from 300 BC until the invasion of the Spanish in the early 1500s.

The Mayan civilization was one of the  most advanced in the ancient world. It was spread over what is now Guatemala, Honduras, Belize and Mexico. 

The site is well maintained with a museum and gift shop. Walking the path to the museum...


Our guide, Juan, explaining some of the statues. The more primitive ones are from the earliest period.


The plant in the foreground is the agave plant from which they get sisal rope.

This is from a later period when they developed a system of writing and numbering. They were one of the first ancient civilizations to have these systems. They had no metals with only hard lava rock for carving.

Human sacrifices to their gods played an important role in Mayan life. The reclining figure has holes to accept the blood of the sacrificed person.

This is a statue of a ball player who played a game called "Mesoamerican Ball Game." A similar game is still played and is called Ulama.

They would hip check the ball (which weighed several kilograms). Players were only allowed to move the ball with their shoulders, hips and knees, hence the padding. The balls were either stone or a human skull. The losing team might be sacrificed. Yikes!

The aim was to get the ball or skull through the hoop shown below. Rough game!

The snake or serpent is an important figure in Mayan culture. It represents fertility or a life force and the sloughing of the skin represents rebirth.

Masks...

The skull has deep meaning in the Mayan culture...

One of the most important discoveries at this site was the Temple of the Seven Dolls. It was named after the small effigies which were discovered in the 1950s.


Pretty cool...

Juan giving us an excellent tour through the museum...

With the Spanish invasion, the Mayans adapted some of the Christian symbols and objects to their own religion.


Mexicans have long used the agave plant for sisal production. Some of the factories used during foreign rule were dangerous to work in, but were needed for the production of ropes so important to the maritime industry.


From bales on the right to finished product of sisal rope on the left...

With our museum tour finished, it was time to head to the ruins and to the cenote.

This plant is used in the making of thatched roofs...


Some of the ruins that have been uncovered...

This road leads to the Temple of the Seven Dolls, which you can glimpse in the far distance. It was a long walk and we were not able to enter the temple, so we opted to use our time more wisely and carry on to the other ruins.

Our group with Barb and Ed, Josie and Larry, and our guide, Juan...

The temple was discovered by archaeologists in the 1950s under the ruins of a larger pyramid that was constructed over it. Building temples on top of temples was a common practice with the Maya.  An interesting feature of the temple occurs on the Spring and Fall equinoxes, the beginning of the planting and harvesting seasons. The doorways were constructed to capture the light of the rising sun on those days. As the sun rises it is visible directly through one door of the temple and out the other, filling it with sunlight. The site is opened at 5:30 a.m. on those two days so visitors can view the phenomenon.

Juan told us that many visitors all dressed in white come to see this spectacle.

These ruins would likely have been facing an arena for watching games...

Part of the ruins you are allowed to climb...

Juan took us down a narrow staircase to show us these symbols that were discovered...

A stone carving of a family...

When the Spanish arrived, they dismantled some of the buildings and used the stones to construct their own buildings including this 16th century chapel.

Juan pointed out some Mayan symbols on some of the stones...


Quite a bit of the chapel has stood the test of time...

And then we arrived at the cenote. I was pretty excited about this part as I was anxious to have the experience of swimming in one. There are many cenotes in the Yucatan and we look forward to finding others to explore. This one is shallow at one end and 140 feet deep at the other.

A cenote is a natural pit or sinkhole formed by the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. They were sometimes used by the ancient Mayan for sacrificial offerings.

The water was crystal clear...


Juan was trailing behind to make sure I didn't kill myself getting in.

Success! The water was so warm. The rocks were pretty slippery so I took my time getting in. I also didn't want to disturb the man beside me who was enjoying a free fish pedicure.

It was beautiful!

The others enjoying the view...


And it was time to move along...Juan pointed out this oriole in the trees.

And then it was on to Merida...this sculpture is a tribute to Mexico's history. Sadly it was hard to see with all the scaffolding...

A photo showing it without the scaffolding. Beautiful work by Romulo Rozo.

Amazing detail...

The houses along the beautiful main street of Paseo de Montejo were once grand private residences of the owners of the sisal factories. Some are now owned by businesses or banks; others are for rent.

Amazing detail...

The cathedral in Merida is one of the oldest in the Americas, built during the 1500s.

We were promised the best tacos in Merida and this was our lunch stop for the tour. We were drooling thinking of yummy fish tacos. The girl on the right in the striped top was selling bracelets "for her family."

How can you resist that?

We had an English menu which was nice, but we weren't seeing any fish tacos.

Juan telling us they don't really eat fish tacos. Say what?! Dang. Beef tacos it was. The meat was strangely a reddish colour, no doubt from some sort of spice they use.

The interior decor of the restaurant focused largely on skeletons...


A Burger King nicely tucked into the surroundings...

We were hoping the cathedral was open so that we could visit, but it wasn't. We'll have to go back another time to explore it. It was built between 1561 and 1598 using stones from ruined Mayan pyramids and temples.

The lovely town plaza with many people enjoying the surroundings...

Pigeons everywhere...

Merida!

The cozy chatting chairs...

Located on the south side of the plaza is the Casa de Montejo, a 16th century Spanish style building and former home of the Montejo family, the conquistadors or conquerors of the Mayan cities.

This carving on the outside of the building shows one of the conquistadors standing on the heads of the Mayans..."we have conquered you." Nothing like rubbing it in!

Merida is a beautiful city, but is growing quickly with some fears that it will one day become another Mexico City. Hopefully not. These beautiful carriages looked enticing.

Ha! So this is the red beef that was in our tacos. Looks like donairs with  more colour.

We had covered all the items on our tour, but Juan asked if we would like to visit the cemetery. Sure, why not?

Sadly, much of it is also in ruins and abandoned.


A black Jesus...

I love these statues so  much. Ever since we did the tour of Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, the statues and their symbolism have taken on a greater meaning.

These mausoleums belonged to Merida's wealthiest families...


I could have wandered around all afternoon looking at these statues...


Fascinating...

And behind the wall above, less impressive but better kept graves.

Pretty colour and life amidst the dead...

This statue was the most beautiful...

And with that wonderful day over, we asked Juan to drop us off on the malecon back in Progreso. We stopped at one place for margaritas that were lacking in tequila, but holy moly they were cheap. Two beers and four margaritas for 150 pesos, about $10 Canadian. That's even after we sent them back for another pass by the bottle of tequila.

We ended up back at Eladio's where Ed ordered and received a shrimp cocktail. What the heck is that and how do you eat it (or drink it)? I was still laughing at that the next day.

A lovely end to an interesting day. Always great to learn about other cultures...



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