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Mexico

The Site of Palenque...with rain


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large_938978_13681854649702.jpgKapok tree, a very important tree for the MayasPalenque is called a fairly small site compared to some of the others (like Tikal). It does however tell much about it's history through the hieroglyphics that are found there. They estimate they excavated about 10% of the entire site so far.

Same as the other Maya cities, Palenque was abandoned by the Mayan people because of lack of rain/water. Mayan civilization prospered, but they cut every single piece of jungle to do so. Because of the lack of trees (so it is told) the rain stopped falling (after several centuries). Since they were dependent of the growing of maíz, that would not grow without the rain, there was a food shortage, and they were forced to leave.

It was fairly quiet at the site in the early morning, and because of that we could make pictures without a lot of people on it.large_938978_13681854554221.jpgTemple of Inscriptions (the big one) and the Tomb of the Red Queen (the one with the roof)There is standing a huge Kapok tree. Kapok trees (Ceiba) are very important for Mayas. They symbolize the Tree of Life. The Maya believed that a great Kapok tree stood at the center of the earth. It's canopy symbolized the heavens and its flowers symbolized the stars. It was a connection of Earth, Underworld and Cosmos.

The most important discovery was the tomb of Pakal, in the Temple of Inscriptions. There are a lot of texts/hieroglyphics that tell a lot about the city and the ruler. Inside the sarcophagus of Pakal, they found a jade mask, a lot of jewelry and other valuables. The one who discovered the tomb is buried on the site as well, opposite of the Temple.

Pakal's mother, The Red Queen, ruled the city when Pakal wasn't yet old enough.large_938978_13681868927607.jpgThe Palace, from the side, with the observation towerShe is buried in a lower structure next to the Temple of Inscriptions. When they found her, the the coffin was covered with mercury, hence the red is what the guide told us.

Then there is the Palace. It's a big complex of different buildings and courtyards, connected by long hallways. Those hallways were decorated as well as the walls and stairs of the Palace itself. Just as we walked around and started our way to the palace, it started to rain...Rain season wasn't supposed to start untill May 7th ;) It was just a few minutes though...and not much, more a bit of misty drizzle.... There is also a big watchtower/observation tower. The building itself is very thoughtout. Like the snake in Chichén Itzá, they build the colomns of a specific hallway exactly so the sun made light and shadow play with the equinox, and it shone straight through the chamber on the winter and summer solstice, or windows were they could see sunrise and sunset on specific dates.large_938978_13681854784160.jpgTemple of the Cross. That's the way up.

Many important Maya buildings were laid out in accordance with astronomy. They aligned them based on the position of sun, moon and stars at specific times of year. Not only solstices and equinoxes were important. Temples and pyramids were build in such a way that the sun, moon and stars would be visible from the top or through certain windows at important times of the year, like when the rain season started.

After the palace we had some free time to see the Temple complex. There are three temples, Temple of the Cross, Temple of the sun, and Temple of the Foliated Cross. We climbed one of htem, the biggest one, Temple of the Cross. It was even steper then the Governors Palace in Uxmal, and several stairs higher as well...together with the sun (and about 35 degrees Celsius) it was a pretty heavy climb...but the view was more then worth it!

After several pictures and a way down, we went on to the museaum close by. You can walk through a little bit of jungle. At the museum we saw the tomb of Pakal. That was the main reason we went there. they also have quite a few valuables, a maquette of the palace, and several hieroglyphics, statues, tablets with drawings, and totems.

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Uxmal and Palenque


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large_938978_1368126312929.jpgThe nex day we set out a little early, about 6.30 am. Today we planned to go to Uxmal, another Maya site, this time in the jungle. This on the contrary to Chichén Itzá, which is a flat, nearly treeless site compared to this one. Also way more busy then this one because it is reasonably close to Cancún, and this one is a bit further away.

As said, Uxmal lies in the jungle. Because we arrived early, neary no one was here. and it was stil cool. As soon as the sun starts shining...hide ;) so the first thing you simply notice, is that it's green, trees everywhere. Also this site isn't completely excavated. Sometimes they even only did the fronts of some temples, and the back would still be covered in jungle. The guide told us that this was because the jugle preserves the buildings.large_938978_13681263021584.jpg ..so it wouldn't cost money on upkeep. Not the entire entrance fee goes to the specific site or a cultural fund, it's split up in different parts and only a little bit is used for the monuments.

Uxmal is a very decorated city/site compared to Chichén Itzá. The first temple you see is huge! It is called the Temple of the Magician or Temple of the Dwarf. The most well known legend is that when a certain gong was sounded, the town of Uxmal would fall to a boy "not born of woman". One day a dwarf boy, who had been raised from an egg by a witch, sounded the gong and struck fear into the ruler, who ordered him to be executed. The ruler promised that the boy’s life would be saved if he could perform three impossible tasks, one of which was to build a giant pyramid in a single night.large_938978_13681263089080.jpg The boy achieved all the tasks, and became the new ruler of Uxmal.

The next thing we saw was the Nunnery, or so it was named by the Spanish, it was probably a goverment building. Here you could see the very ornate decorations, the faces of the rain god Chac are really well preserved. There are different decorations above each of the four buildings.

From there on we walked to the ball court, it was like half the size of the one we saw earlier. The rings were gone as well, only the sides were standing. Straight ahead was the Governors Palace, this was a very well preserved building as well. The climb up was pretty steep, the steps are a bit comparable to those of the Great Wall, pretty high for steps. Certainly if you imagine that Mayan people werent very tall. Later on it was explained that the stairs were also used as benches. The view was gorgeous, especially when the sun came through as well. When we went on our way to the exit, we saw a lot of lizards, bathing in the sun.

Palenque would be the next stop, it was still a couple of hours driving though. We had lunch about halfway, close to the Gulf of Mexico. We arrived at our hotel in the late afternoon. Palenque is a colonial city as well, and named after the archeological site close by.

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Mérida


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large_938978_13681133446734.jpgAfter spending most of the afternoon on Chichén Itzá we went on to Mérida, a colonial city where we had a nice dinner and an evening off. It's a nice city with a central square, a lot of pigeons. We only saw a little of it as we only spent one night there.

We visited the Governors Palace, it's full of symbolic paintings, about Mexico and the suppression of the Mayan people, and the revolt against the slavery of the Spanish. There is also a beautiful cathedral and several shops around the square. We didn't see much more o it unfortunately. We ate our dinner at Pancho's, a café/bar/restaurant. Not expensive, and the food was really nice. A nice place to sit as well. We only took something small because we weren't really hungry. After that it was back to he hotel since it was a long day and an early start in the morning.

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One of the (new) World Wonders


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large_938978_13681133428884.jpgKukulkan Temple. So after a good sleep we went to pick up the 'strays' the next day, before we set out to Chichén Itzá.They arrived around nine i the morning, and about an hour later we were at our first of many sights to see...Chichén Itzá. It means At the mouth of the well of the Itza in he Mayan language.

An amazing site to see. It is just so big...wide spread so to speak. A lot to see. Too bad the entire path was full of souvenir stalls, but still, amazing. And another wonder to scratch of the list ;) We only were the for a few hours, we saw the famous Kukulcán Temple, the Great Ball Court with rings still intact, the temple of the warriors, the platform of venus, and the obervatory, called El Caracol. There are also several wells, where the people threw in gold, valuables, and human sacrifices, at least human bones were found during research of those wells. The Great Ball Court in Chichén Itzá is the biggest one out there. There are several smaller ones as well.

Not everything is excavated, because of lack of funds. Most of it is still buried underneath ground and jungle. You don't notice it that much at Chichén Itzá, because there aren't much trees and it's hidden underground, but on the other sites in the jungle you can see all those hills covered up in trees and dirt, which are all smaller temples and pyramids.

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A not so smooth start


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Our flight...a long one. First from Amsterdam Schiphol to London Heathrow. Then from Heathrow to Miami, and from Miami to Cancún. We barely made it. Heathrow was fine with the connecting flights, easy to find (the purple signs help a lot ;), reasonably fast through passport controll, even though we had to catch the skytrain to the gate we still had a little time to spare. Miami was a disaster though. We only had two hours to get to the connecting flight...it took us 1 hour and 50 minutes just to get through passport control, bag check, another check etc and we barely made it...We weren't the only ones though, a lot of people were worried because of their connections...and then we had the luck we didn't have to pick up and check in our baggage again because we flew with British Airways instead of American Airlines... I really felt sorry for the people who did have to go through all that...

Some of our group even missed the flight because of the whole...procedure. A stressfull start unfortunately. Once it was clear some would have to spent their night in Miami, we went to our hotel, we had a little dinner, not much because everyone was pretty tired of the entire day traveling.

Unfortunately it is common that people miss their flights like this. It was decided we would pick the other people up the next morning, they had seats on the first flight out of Miami to Cancún, so that was a little luck.

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