Thursday, April 2, 2015

Chichen Itza & Merida

A two-hour drive west, bisecting flat-as-a-pancake, featureless Yucatan. We pass through a timezone (the coastal strip of Quintana Roo is one hour ahead of the rest of the horn, simply to benefit the tourist industry), through weirdly named villages mostly beginning with X, and arrive in Chichen Itza late morning.
Founded around 800 AD and abandoned 700 years later when the Spaniards came, Chichen Itza is the best-preserved of all the Mayan ruins. It is also the most visited, as we jostled with coachloads of tourists to enter.
Once in, though, it’s big enough not to seem too crowded. A central pyramid, utterly geometrical, dominates, with other buildings scattered around a large area. One of the most interesting is the Ball Court. This is where the Mayans used to play a kind of football, except they couldn’t use feet or hands, just hips, knees and elbows. No-one really knows the rules, but we know they used a big rubber ball and at least one of the objectives was to get it through two stone hoops set high up on either side of the court. Losing was pretty final, and we’re not talking about relegation to Division Two.

We then continued westwards to Yucatan’s capital, Merida, famous for hats and hammocks, and its cathedral, the first to be built in Meso America (1598). Nice place, full of colourful colonial buildings, street-side cafes and tree-filled squares, though very hot. Would have liked to stay longer but it was a three-hour drive back so we had to cut it short. 

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