Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Mayan Ruins Explorations in the Yucatán

The lure of México for some people, including me, is the ancient civilizations. México was home to 2 of the 3 major Native American civilizations: the Aztecs and the Mayans. While I plan to hit up the Aztecs (in the interior near the Ciudad de México) on the return trip, we are currently exploring the Yucatán, which is the home of the Mayans.

Starting in Villahermosa, we visited the La Venta museum, which houses several relics from the Olmecs. The Olmecs were an ancient civilization believed by some to be the predecessors of the Mayan and Aztec civilizations. They are famous for their large, carved stone heads.
It was interesting to see their artifacts, but there was also a small zoo as part of the museum. I decided I needed a margay. Too cute! And almost house-cat size!
DSC02999 I want one!!!
From there we made our way towards Calakmul. On the way, we stopped at Balakmú. While the structures themselves aren’t that impressive, the frieze that is kept under the largest pyramid is impressive.
Next site was Calakmul. I think this was our favorite site. It is a large complex with 3 large pyramids. In fact, the tallest pyramid in the Yucatán is located there. As an added bonus, you can still climb these structures. While the site did not have as many intricate details in the architecture, it was climbable, extensive, and nearly deserted.
After that we decided to do some of the sites along the Puuc route, starting with Uxmal first. Uxmal is nicely excavated and has many intricate designs, but even at the end of the day in the off-season after a rainstorm, Uxmal was pretty crowded. Between the crowds, the smaller area, and the fact that you can no longer climb up the pyramid of the magician, it was not as enjoyable as Calakmul.
DSC03154 Apparently, it is  illegal to use a tripod here without a permit, as obviously having a tripod means you are professional. Sadly, it means that I don’t have many pics with the both of us.
DSC03162 Notice the intricate decorations in the stone on the building.

We visited three more sites along the Puuc route. For the price (less than $4USDpp), I was really surprised at the quality of the sites. Additionally, there was generally no one else there. You could also see what many structures look like before they are excavated. It is amazing that they are ever able to reconstruct them in many cases.
DSC03268 A partially-reconstructed building at the free site, Xlapak.

DSC03220 Not-yet-reconstructed Grand Pyramid at Kabah. It was huge.
The sacbé (the white roads the Mayans created) at Kabah. Used to lead directly to Uxmal.

Cobá was a bit of a surprise as well. There were at least two ball courts there. It was pretty busy, though.
Last, but not least, was Tulúm. This one is unique in that it was actually occupied when the Spaniards arrive. In fact, as it was right on the ocean, it was one of the first places conquered. It was disappointing in that you couldn’t actually explore any of the buildings, but it was picturesque. Plus it had a wall surrounding it (not common).

The wall entrance. Even assuming that time has added a couple of inches of dirt that the archeologists forgot to move away, you can tell the Mayans were a short people. Someone with Jonathan’s height would have been a giant.

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