How Many Wonders Are There?

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Days 160-163 – Thursday-Sunday September 27-30, 2007 – Merida to Chichen Itza and Valladolid, Mexico

On Thursday morning we took a two hour bus trip from Merida to the small town of Piste, which site about ten minutes from the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza.  When we arrived, it was incredibly hot and we found out that Piste is a very small dingy town, so we opted to take another bus to the larger town of Valladolid about 40km east. We are trying to learn from past mistakes, as we have been miserable in quite a few small towns like Piste on this trip. The other reason we chose Valladolid over Piste is that is makes a good central base to explore the region.

Valladolid is a fairly large town that seems to benefit greatly from the constant stream of tour buses that stop near its plaza on the way to and from Chichen Itza. Given the fact that some tourists (not just backpackers) actually make a pit stop in Valladolid, the central plaza is lined with fancy hotels and cheap souvenir shops. My first impression of the plaza was that it screamed tourist trap, but outside of this general area things are a bit different. When we departed the bus, it took a little searching, but we found a decent hotel at a reasonable price about four blocks from the plaza.

To be honest, all three of us have been anticipating our visit to Chichen Itza. It is regarded by most as the best Mayan ruins site and was recently voted as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Speaking of this new award, the government is making sure everyone knows about it. Signs and magazine articles are hung all around the area touting the attractions new title. Going in, we weren’t sure was to expect, but knew with our experience at Palenque being so wonderful, Chichen Itza had some large shoes to fill.

In lieu of hiring a guide, we opted to buy a book in the visitor’s center in order to gain an insight on the history of the particular buildings that we were viewing. By the time we entered the site at 10am it was already incredibly HOT! Not long after entering, we were taken back at the site of Chichen Itza’s most famous building, the Temple of Kukulcan. Licking our chops, we were ready to give it a climb, but found out that it has been closed to the public for a little over a year. This proved to be a theme for much of the day, as most of the larger buildings are for show only.

The ruins at Chichen Itza are spread among three groups which were built during two different eras. Making a left from the entrance, we headed straight for the massive Mayan ball court. The ancient Mayan ball game (similar to soccer), was a large part of their culture and most Mayan ruins sites have at least one court. The game was played mostly with elbows and forearms and in formal matches, the losing team would be sacrificed immediately after. Chichen Itza’s ball court is very large and much more impressive than its smaller counterpart at Palenque.

From the ball court, we worked our way clockwise through the other groups. Of these other areas, three areas really got our attention. The Templo de Los Guerreros (AKA Temple of A Thousand Warriors) area features a large buildings with hundreds of columns surrounding it, while the observatory (El Caracol) features very different architecture than any other building at the site. Of course, as mentioned before, our favorite buildings was the Temple of Kukulcan (Also known as El Castillo). No matter where we went around the ruins site, we just couldn’t stop looking back at the massive pyramid with its symmetrical design. It is an incredibly beautiful and striking building. To think that it was made around 1200 years ago, only adds to its character.

While Chichen Itza certainly earns its reputation, I didn’t find these ruins quite as impressive as Palenque. I feel one of the things that made Palenque so interesting was the fact that the buildings were open to the public. For some reason, standing on the top of the larger temples really added to the experience. I also didn’t really like that Chichen Itza is always mobbed with tour groups and packaged tourists from Cancun and Playa Del Carmen. The existence of tourists also makes the locals come out in droves to sell so called “Mayan” merchandise, which is in no way real. While I didn’t enjoy this part of Chichen Itza, I understand that people must follow the money and tourists bring plenty of it. The one great thing Chichen Itza has going for it is the ancient game of tic-tac-toe inscribed on one of the temples. Who knew?

Around the three hour mark at the ruins, I was ready to collapse from the heat. I don’t know if I had yet fully recovered from the cold and my energy level dropped quickly. Luckily, by the time this happened, we had seen all of the ruins and agreed to get some water before heading back to Valladolid. To be honest, I was feeling miserable. This is only the second time on this trip where I have been at the point where I couldn’t take any more. It was that hot! After sitting in the shade with water, we did catch our bus back to Valladolid and were at our hotel by 2pm.

In lieu of leaving for Cancun and our resort on Saturday, we decided to stay in Valladolid until Monday. With our schedule finally figured out, on Saturday we were able to nail down the exact details on the resort in Cancun and make sure it was available for a Monday morning arrival. The other reason we waited until Monday to leave Valladolid, was the make sure I had internet access to listen to the Packers game on Sunday. I am doing my best not to miss any football games, even if I have to listen to them in lieu of watching them on TV. (Poor me!)

One day when coming back to our hotel, we saw a postcard for a local attraction that peaked our interest. The postcard featured Cenote Tzunip, which is only 10 minutes away from Valladolid. The word cenote loosely translates to water well in English and in the Yucatan, due to the limestone in the ground, many cenotes have formed underground in caves. Cenote Tzunip is among these as it sits about 20m below the surface.

Upon arriving, we found Cenote Tzunip to be as beautiful as in the postcard. As we climbed down into the cave, the deep blue pool of water was a vivid sight in the otherwise dark area. Also adding to the atmosphere were the different formations of stalactites that hang down above the water. This place was so beautiful that we sat down for a few minutes just to take it all in before hopping in the water for a swim. Cenote Tzunip is a picturesque spot that provided us with an incredibly relaxing afternoon.

Every Sunday evening, the city sponsor’s a concert in the plaza with a local band. It turned out to be a great dose of local culture, as the plaza really came to life. From grandparents to babies and Mayans to ladinos, a wide range of people showed up. It really seemed as this was the activity that this community looks forward to the whole week. During the party, we were also able to get a dose of some of the local cuisine. While the same basic dishes exist in most areas of the region, each town seems to have a specialty as well. In Valladolid they make a great Sopa de Lima, which is a chicken soup made from Limas. Delicioso!

While we did enjoy our three plus days in Valladolid, by Monday morning we were chomping at the bit to get on the bus to Cancun. We made the decision to treat ourselves to an all inclusive resort in Cancun about three weeks ago and ever since then, have really been looking forward to it. After budgeting really tight for the past two months, we definitely deserve it as well. Next time I will let you know just how pampered and lazy we became in Cancun!

We want to thank everyone for the comments and emails. Your support is truly appreciated and keeps us going.

The Coomer Family

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