Friday, May 27, 2011

Chichen Itza

Anointed in 2007 as a member of the "7 Wonders of the Modern World", Chichen Itza is one of the most famous and significant Mayan sites. Chichen Itza is located in the center of the Yucutan Penninsula and is famous for its large central pyramid known as the Castle which is actually a giant Mayan calendar. Today thousands of tourists visit each day due to its historic significance and proximity to Cancun.

The Castle was built so every facet of the building has some significance, most of which relate to the days, years, and cycle of the Mayan calendar. The serpent at the base of the Castle takes center stage twice a year, when on the equinox, a shadow comes into the view that forms the snakes body up the steps of the temple.
The main attraction, The Castle
A serpent at the base of the main steps
Chichen Itza's main ball court is the largest in Mesoamerica, nearly 170m long by 35m across. The game was played here around 5 times a year, with only royalty, people of prestige and power, and the familys of participants in attendance. The game was played 7 on 7, and ended after the first team scored a goal. Then winning team captain would then be decapitated by the king in hopes of a good harvest.
The enormous ball field
One of the goals in the ball field
Below is the Templo de los Guerreros. The top of the building in the center of the photo is a Mayan sacrificial stone where a freshly harvest heart was offered as a sacrifice. The heart was harvested at a nearby table where Mayan soldiers would hold a prisoner down and remove the heart using an obsidian knife.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Yucatan

The Yucatan Penninsula is a hot and arid place. The towns stay sleepy and quiet during the day because it is just too hot to move. At night, a cooler breeze moves in and the citizens come out of hiding. In Campeche, the seaside capital of the province, night time means outdoors concerts in the plaza and bingo two nights a week.
A small church inside the courtyard of a larger church

Sunday night bingo
The bingo boards use pictures in addition to numbers

Sunday, May 22, 2011

San Cristobal & Chiapas

San Cristobal de las Casas is a large highland town in the heart of Chiapas. San Cristobal is Zapatista territory and politics seems to be a popular topic in the city's many boutique cafes and restaurants. The town is beautifully restored and maintains the feeling of a place much smaller in size. The city has dozens of cafes and cuisine from all over the world and features an alternative vibe, with bike culture, art, university students, and good coffee all finding a place in the city. Due its high altitude, San Cristobal is hot during the day, but chilly and refreshing in the evening.

San Cristobal is also surrounded by Mayan villages that are still trying to maintain much of their traditional culture. Traditional medicine is the attraction at the Mayan Medical Museum in San Cristobal, where you learn the roll that candles, chickens, and soda play in the healing and warding off illness.
A recreation of a birth at the Mayan Medical Museum

Chicken Mole
Dave buying lychee

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Palenque & Agua Azul

Palenque is the home to Mayan ruins in the Chiapas region of Mexico. Palenque was the home to approximately 8,000 residents and peaked around between 600-800AD. You can climb most of the buildings at Palenque which adds to the appeal of the ruins, which can be explored in just a few hours. We didn't hire a guide so we got less historical information that I would have liked but there was a nice small museum where you could view a re-creation of the burial chamber found inside of the Temple of Inscription, which housed the body of a King.
Temple of Inscriptions (25m high)

The reconstructed Observatory

After Palenque we headed to Agua Azul, a set of turquoise blue waterfalls cascading down a frigid river about 60KM from Palenque. We hadn't heard anything about Agua Azul before getting to Chiapas which is surprising. Agua Azul was really stunning and even more beautiful than Semuc Champey in my estimation, although you cannot swim in most of the pools as you can in Semuc Champey.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Northern Cayes

45 minutes north of Belize City by boat is Caye Caulker, a small caye that is one of the jumping off points for those interested in snorkeling, diving, and enjoying Belize's renowned reef system. Many come to Caye Caulker to dive in the Blue Hole, the famous dive site that is a nearly perfect circular sinkhole going deep to the sea floor. But I will not be diving the Blue Hole because it costs $200USD, so instead I went snorkeling. The snorkeling was great, we spotted tons of marine life including Manatees, Black and Nassau Groupers, Tarpon, Stingrays, Nurse Sharks, and a Green Turtle.

Green Moray Eel

Nurse Shark
Southern Stingray
Black Grouper
Green Turtle

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Southern Belize

Hopkins is a small seaside town populated by the Garifuna, descendents of shipwrecked slaves who mixed with local peoples in Central America to form a unique culture and language.  Garifuna food generally features coconuts, plantains, and seafood or chicken.  There were a number of delicious bakerys in Hopkins with delicious coconut bread and coconut pies.  The Garifuna in Hopkins are in general very gregarious and extremely inviting and friendly.  If the locals weren't chatting as they passed on bikes they were dancing, laughing, and enjoying life.  While the town of Hopkins itself is little more than a strip of homes on the coast of Belize, the residents of Hopkins made it a very memorable and unique visit.

Downtown Hopkins
A girl explaining Garifuna street food

Kids playing and pushing each other off the dock