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Chichén Itzá

By Cindy CalderPublished 28 days ago Updated 21 days ago 6 min read
Top Story - May 2024
El Castillo or Temple of Kukulkan (The Feathered Serpent)

The air hangs hot and humid, reaching nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Sweat trickles beneath your clothing as you move along the pathways. Whispers of long silenced echoes lift in the occasional breeze, surrounding you with an eerie sense of something other worldly, foreboding and long lost. Dust particles stir to settle in your lungs with each breath and step you take beneath the intertwined tree limbs hanging just overhead; they provide relief - momentary shelter from the sun’s rays. Each movement, each stir of dust leads you one step closer to whatever beckons. Not knowing exactly what you will find ahead, you still obey the summons. It's that for which you traveled one hundred miles inland.

Temple of the Warriors

At the end of the lengthy path, you clear the tree lined lane and step into a grass-filled field, nearly blinded by the blazing sun overhead. Before your eyes, it materializes directly before you, as though from the depths of your imagination: a large, imposing ancient structure in an otherwise desolate region. It dominates, demanding your complete attention as ancient wonders envelop and fill your senses. Chichén Itzá, Mexico’s massive, immortalized and meticulously designed Mayan city in the Yucatan state, its largest pyramid, El Castillo, front and center as you enter the clearing. The wind unexpectedly surfaces and whips about you with a force as the ruins speak without words of the many dead, those sacrificed in ritualistic Mayan ceremonies. While those unfortunate souls are long gone, they are hardly forgotten, their skulls eternalized, etched and lining more than one stone structure in the ancient city.

Wall of Skulls

Wandering throughout the geometric assemblage of carefully constructed stone edifices, lingering echoes from the past permeate your being, filling you with a tumultuous array of emotions. At first, you are not sure how you should feel - its only the sheer wonder of it all that enraptures you. Your mind cannot help but question the reality of such structures in the ancient city. How on earth did they build such a magnificent pyramid and other gigantic buildings during such a primitive era? It appears quite unfathomable, surreal, and you’re left to wonder about the possibility of aliens assisting with the construction in the face of such impossible feats. As you walk and take note of the many details, the wonder begins to dissipate, and you’re left with something more that fills your soul - something akin to profound sadness. A need to weep emerges from within.

Skulls. Skulls appear in your line of vision everywhere you look. Stone walls and structures are filled with rows upon rows of carved images of skulls, symbolic of those sacrificed in crude, ritualistic Mayan ceremonies. Seeing the vast number of emblazoned skulls is unsettling and sets your mind on a path to wonder just how many people were chosen each day, week, or month for the supposed sacrificial "honor". You are torn between wanting to understand more about the Mayans' daily existence in 700 AD whilst being horrified at the thought of such primitive, barbaric rituals.

Wall of Skulls

In addition to skulls, there are a multitude of snakes and jaguars, their images and sculptures reflected on many stone edifices. Both of these creatures were thought to be deities and worshipped by the Mayans. Due to years of repeated climbing and episodes of graffiti or destruction by tourists, it is now forbidden to ascend the steps of the large pyramid, El Castillo; however, the steps are so steep, not every individual might want to attempt the endeavor. There is said to be a large, red jaguar at its peak with bejeweled or jade eyes, that was worshipped and was the primary sacrificial spot. Vendors along the paths of the property sell an assortment jaguars and snakes carved from onyx or wood, each replicating the revered creatures of the Mayans.

Serpent on a Building

You’re wandering a bit aimlessly, attempting to see all that you can in the short amount of time allotted by your tour guide when you turn down a previously untraveled path. There you encounter another vendor, a middle-aged woman from a nearby rural community who speaks no English, but instead, entreats you with dark brown eyes, beneath the intense heat of the sun, hoping you will buy one of her handsewn handkerchiefs. Pausing to look closer at the items in her basket, you’re suddenly uplifted by both their simplistic beauty and the timid smile of the seller . Here is something that records your visit to such a famous landmark without focusing on the sacrificial brutality of the Mayans. Instead, each handkerchief reflects a group of people residing each day in Chichén Itzá’s massive shadow. Compelled, you offer her forty dollars for four small handkerchiefs – much more than the amount she’s requesting. You instinctively know this woman feeds her family with the sale of the simply sewn handkerchiefs, and you cannot find it in yourself to barter for the purchase of her treasured goods. The American dollars you pay will be highly valuable in the Mexican economy. Each handkerchief is lovingly stitched with a flower or an image of the pyramid accompanied by the words “Recuerdo de Chichén Itzá” – “Do Not Forget Chichén Itzá”.

Handsewn Handkerchiefs

It is the end of the visit and you make your way back to the van where the tour guide waits. You’re glad you made the two-hour trip all the way inland from relaxing, luxurious Cancun to see one of the New 7 Wonders of the World (that’s a check off your bucket list), but it’s left you overwhelmed with a depth of unexpected emotion. Vibrations resonate deep within as you settle back in the van, looking out the window at the receding foliage of Chichén Itzá . While immensely interesting and impressive, what you’ve seen has been overwhelming to fathom, and even more difficult when it comes to understanding a primitive way of existence. While being thankful for the experience and the historical information gleamed, you know the most impressive memory you’ll take home. Try as you might, you will never be able to forget the dark brown, pleading eyes of the female vendor, even though the few words exchanged with her were stilted, broken Spanish and the handkerchiefs simple, sewn cloths. The vivid impression this woman made will continue to reside in your memory because, for you, she remains the true embodiment and essence of Chichén Itzá.

Recuerdo de Chichén Itzá.....Always.

El Castillo (& Me)

NOTES & REFERENCES:

****All photographs included in this story were taken by the author (July 2018).

Chichén Itzá is reported to have been constructed between 600-900 AD during the Terminal Classic Period of the Mayan lowlands, with secondary construction completing closer to 900 AD. It was a powerful Mayan city in the northern part of the Yucatan Mexican state. The name translates to “at the mouth of the well of the Itza”. The naturally formed open well or water-formed sinkhole (known as the cenote sagrado or sacred well), enabled the Mayan people to participate in water-borne peninsular trade along the north coast while also providing them with necessary water for everyday living. The cenote is located near the rear of the property but remains fenced off from tourists as it declines into a deep, unstable area and is under renovation. Archeological records prove that the city was looted by groups of individuals, including the Spanish over the years. The ancient Mayan city, according to historians, met its decline and desolation at some point in the 10th century. It remained hidden beneath lush and overwhelming shrubbery growth until 1841 when an American explorer by the name of John Lloyd Stephens. In 1894, Chichén Itzá was purchased by Edward Herbert Thompson. Following his death in 1935, the Mexican Supreme Court reclaimed Chichén Itzá and restored ownership to its heirs in 1944. The ruins now are now considered federal property, and the site's stewardship is maintained by Mexico's Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (National Institute of Anthropology and History).

Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chichen_Itza

The Cenote Sagrado

travel photographysouth americaculture

About the Creator

Cindy Calder

From Charleston SC - "I am still learning." Michelangelo

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Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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  1. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

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    The story invoked strong personal emotions

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Comments (9)

  • Micall16 days ago

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  • shanmuga priya22 days ago

    Congratulations 🎉

  • JBaz23 days ago

    I had always wanted to visit this beautiful sight , then in time forgot. You have brought back the urge and renewed my interest. Congratulations on Top Story

  • Ada Zuba23 days ago

    Wow! Just wow! so descriptive. Definitely subscribing!

  • The Dani Writer24 days ago

    Majorly wowed! Talk about a step back in time! This is a location full of emotion and ritual, deep, dark, and heavy. It would be hard to leave. Thank you for sharing your journey and well done on the top story!

  • Great story and wonderful pictures and I was lucky enough to be able to climb Chichén Itzá and shared it in one of my recent Wander pieces.

  • A nice top story!

  • Alyssa Nicole24 days ago

    Such lovely writing, Cindy! I love how you capture the beautiful connection with the local woman selling the handkerchiefs. Your use of the second person really emphasizes the emotion and puts the reader at this amazing site. Well done! Congrats on the Top Story! 🎉

  • Christy Munson28 days ago

    I love that the dark eyes are the embodiment of this experience. As you were telling it, I was feeling it. Those human to human (or sometimes human to animal) exchanges, for me, are deeply compelling and a significant reason why I love travel. Enjoyed your story, pics, and storytelling. For many years I haven't read a story that put me into its pages (literally with your use of "you" throughout). Wasn't sure I'd like that at first, but you definitely won me over by the end.

Cindy CalderWritten by Cindy Calder

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