First Maya Sites, Edzná and Uxmal.
Campeche, the 15th of Jul, the boys are short of ransacking the tourist office, hide under some expensive looking costumes of an Indian princess, the staff is transfixed by twins laughing their butt off, the nice lady takes from the wall down the last map she's got from the Maya ruins, temples and pyramids and missionary churches and convents in the states of Campeche, Yucatan and Quintana Roo. We are on our way!
Edzná (wiki) is first, our first Maya archaeological site on this trip. I don't know how the boys would cope with the mosquitos, the heat in the day. Edzná was the most important pre-Columbian city in Western Campeche, I read, founded 600 B.C., occupied till the 15 c., 1000s lived here between 600 and 900 A.D., it covered an area of 25 sc. km., and had a complete system for capturing, storing and distributing rain water. Edzná was only discovered in 1902 (it's in the jungle, been submerged by it) and only excavated in the 60s through the 80s. I am startled, shocked, quit speechless. Here I have stumbled upon something phenomenally captivating but still I know nothing about - the Maya, their origins, their collapse (wiki), their language, script (wiki), and calendar (wiki); their culture...
The boys hunt for iguanas and all kinds of insects, after I buy them an ice-cream, they deserve it.
For the rest of the afternoon we search some more sites a bit south east, but only discover that all is closes after 5. We head north and spend night in Ticul.
A glass of milk and sugar for the boys in Santa Elena and we drive early morning to Uxmal (wiki). I read again: This is the Santa Elena Country, this is the Puuc Hill Country in the south eastern Yuacatan Peninsula. Uxmal first settled in 500 B.C. only in 12 c. became the seat of Mayan political and economic power in the Puuc region. 25 thousand people lived on 37.5 sq. km.
The architecture is Puuc style (wiki)...
This is so much at once. This came without a warning. The boys hunt for Iguanas. There are many. I am shaken. This site is so colossal, its dimensions, extensions, free space between the monuments.
Only after a while I can let go of the stunning Magicians Pyramid, or think I better run after my boys and the iguanas. Winding around the Nunnery Quadrangle and all empty plaza; the mosaics, the scripts, the stone rings, the serpent heads, it daunts perhaps a bit that it is in fact these impressive decorative elements that make the Puuc architecture. Across another immense empty field a bit south is another huge restored building, the Governor's Palace, its "frieze is the largest, most impressive example of Maya architectural sculpture, composed of over 15,000 mosaic pieces of carved stone, complexly but coherently organized" (reed.edu).
Again around the building and the boys start mourning; I still push them to climb the Great Pyramid in the Palace's back for a bit of a view over and onto the jungle and then there is a temple on the top, mosaics again. And further out are still more monuments in the jungle that have weathered 13 centuries amazingly well preserved … Daniel and David ask for ice cream.
Kabah, Sayil, and more.
Yes, Uxmal very impressive I note down, that's it! I am dizzy and it's not the heat. Salt and sweat itch in my eyes, I watch the twins gulp their green frozen sugar water while I down an almost frozen Pacifico for 35 Pesos, not cheap but cheap against everything else, 166 ticket, 22 parking, 40 two ice-creams, Edzna was only 39, ice cream not included.
Back at the van I think the boys would fall over and sleep, but nothing, we enter Santa Elena again and fall over tacos carne assada instead, I also find some more cerveza fria for the road. The boys still alive and kicking we reach Kabah (wiki), go round the site, the afternoon is very hot and steamy, mosquitos bite, the boys hunt for iguanas, spiders and centipedes.
Still no sleeping after so we reach Sayil (wiki) and head out again. The Great Palace and all is sunny still; on the way to the southern monuments and excavations the butterflies impress in all colors, white, lemon, orange, brown and black with yellow patches, over us the trees seem dark, over the trees the skies have turned black, very quickly. Thunder rolls, 5 minutes later it pours, we have 600 to 1000m back, pitch-wet we arrive. I strip the boys naked, wash them, re-dress them, then do the same to me, so wet. A banana, now David and Daniel find sleep!
Via Oxkutzcab, Mani and Mama back to Ticul and on.
Oxkutzcab, Mani, Mama and we knew it all the time, God, glory, and gold, were the drivers of the conquistadors, they were fascists, thieves and killers, the Franciscans were the same, the Maya temples just had to go, its stones were used for the convents and mission churches. What self esteem make today's Maya then such 'good' Christians? Have they really forgotten? The tortures, the burning of Maya hieroglyphic books and idols in inquisitional ceremonies, the attempted erasure of its cultural records, the genocide! They killed us but, hey they had a right to do so, they were white!?
Look up this guy, Franciscan Diego de Landa (wiki), a killer and fascist by todays standard, till today the slayer's statue stands outside Izamal's basilica and convent while Mayan priests and friars pray inside ...
The catholic churches' captivate for their colonial architecture and age; its histories and stories sicken, ...
We get back to Ticul and the boys play till late on the main square and sleep quietly under the mosquito net.
We wake Sunday morning to chants from the church. We get eggs and warm milk for the boys, I eat what is left. On Sundays catholic churches are going all morning, in Ticul most people are of Maya origin, half speak Maya, all, it seems go to church, just the boys have better to do …
We should have gone to Mayapan archeological site (P.S., was so-near), Oxkintok (wiki) though is more on our way. But stepping around the site reveals to me how tired the boys really are. Onwards to Maxcanu a few minutes away, David is already asleep, I go around with just Daniel and the whole town is out, girls and women worshiping in traditional white redeemer dresses, church is on all day on Sundays, the Mexican flags fly atop.
Driving out I stop to ask for directions, a man, a Maya, does he speak Spanish I wonder as it takes him some 20 seconds to become aware of his situation, he is totally drunk, leans in by the side window, this is high noon, some apparently don't attend church or has he been to 7 o'clock mass? Eventually he raises his head and utters some phrases, I make out Santa Rosa and gasolinera, he asks for some silver, he deserves it for the intellectual effort just accomplished, this gets him another beer and I need one too, 12 noon.
What made me figure out this very road onwards via Chunchucmil, then north? On such a hot Sunday, the road gets really bad with enormous water filled potholes, advance is slow and the boys suffer, regret not eating up their eggs. Very late we reach the fishing town Calestun on Yucatans west coast, find a cocina economica and pescado empanizado, then onto the beach till late, till it rains.
We manage to retreat to the van, wash off all the sand before the big pouring starts, I get a beer for the road, a Fanta and tortilla chips for the boys, this would become our habit. Later after the rains the red and white church in Samahil is nicely yellow lit by the setting sun, even later in deep dusk the evening sky blinks rose over the Uman church already very close to Merida.
We arrive so late, park outside McDonald's while the boys sleep already. There is no other sign my boys recognize more than the McDonald's M, delighted they wake me. McDonald's morning breakfast is awful, the boys love it and love to play, gives me time to check the internet over many coffee refills.
Merida (wiki) was founded by Spanish conquistadors in 1542 atop the Maya city T'ho, this might make Merida the oldest continually occupied city in the Americas, many carved stones from the Maya temples show up in the walls of colonial architecture. Today it has a population of 1 million and we go and explore its city center, its respectable architecture, squared numbered streets, the huge monumental Franciscan cathedral, Castro Pacheco's grand murals in the the governor's palace that recount the origins, blight and re-rise of the Maya, an eyeopener for me, we get ice-cream and beer on the main plaza, the boys run around, purple evening sets-in, the place really fills with tourists, musicians, hippie acrobats, artesanía sellers and sellers of Chinese-manufactured trash toys which really fascinate all children the most. Before I lose the boys in the crowd we go for some pizza, then drive back to our Mc'Donald's retreat.
It is the 19th of Jul around noon when we leave Merida again, exhausted from 4 days on the road I know we need a rest. Dzibilchaltun, an interesting site would be on our way, I give the boys an option to see it now or go straight to the beach making clear we would come back anyway to see the Maya monuments. They clearly opt for straight down to the beach! Progreso then is all beach and waves and a hotel and a shower and beach and waves again and at night pizza and Fanta for the boys and pizza and Michilada (beer and spice) for me, - and also uniquely for me, wash our clothes while the boys dream and my back hurts and outside the flashes of lightening flutter over the nightly skies.
American tourists only in Bikinis are coming our way, it is another hot day as we head out to Dzibilchaltun (wiki), these Americans now exaggerate, I think until I see the fresh water pool open for swimming, the cenote, a natural sinkhole use by the Maya for water storage, without which survival would have been impossible.
But Dzibilchaltun is famous for its 7 dolls temple built to align with the rays of the sun during spring equinox. Countless New Agers come and meditate and feel the energy and the universe, I have a hard time to convince my boys to move from the cenote to the temple, the approach over the Sacbe, the Maya road is arduously long, such a hot day today that ice cream promises just don't do the trick anymore.
Before we leave, we buy bananas, crisps, Fanta and beer, ice cream isn't readily sold everywhere, my poor boys accept. I promise something else: flamingos.
We drive back to the coast past Progreso east. This stretch along the coastal dunes and sandy beaches is most famous for being close to the Chicxulub crater (wiki) just off-coast that was created 65 million years ago by impact of an asteroid or comet which as a consequce led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Amazing how close to 'historic' places one does get when traveling...
X'cambo and a flamingo watching fiasco.
I am serious about looking for flamingos. Just unfortunately for the boys we come across Xcambo, a small Maya site first, a cross and decoration is planted right on the top of the pyramid/temple - probably to commemorate Christian atrocities. The ruins of a small colonial church sit in the centre of the site as well.
And then after a bit more touring we find a couple of pink flamingos stalking the marshes, scooping crabs with their bills. We get off, I take the long lens out, tell the boys not to go to far out; the morass' surface on the side is soft and wobbly but hard enough to support the weight of the boys, closer to the water, who knows. David, with his own agenda, doesn't want to believe and sinks in up to his knees and is stuck.
I put down the camera, climb on my fours as close to him as I can without breaking in. I reach out to my boy and pull him out and the very obvious happens, I stand with my own feet knee deep in the mud. Such a stinking mess, the rotten earth glues on pants and shoes; I am furious. Just glad he hasn't lost his stuck shoes in the mud. So it is to the beach for a good long late hour of cleaning boys, shoes, pants, the car just a day after I washed most of our clothes. And no flamingo watching!
Beach of Santa Clara.
Really late we pull in at tiny fishing village of Santa Clara, find a small hardly lit beach restaurant, the nice lady fries us tasty fish empanadas, the boys and I eat, we are so hungry, I down a few beers while many mosquitos bite the feet that are stuck in the sand, a fan helps a bit to keep them at bay. Where I parked the car we sleep under the net.
We take some shots of flamingos the next morning and the boys comment with ohs and ahs before we return to Santa Clara. We explore the beach and the boats, enjoy a warm milk and eggs and beans breakfast in the same small restaurant and the same nice people, then swim for a few hours. We stay even for lunch, fried fish and chips and rice, delicious! The boys play with the children from the house, help get the chicken out of the shed, those which the master hangs to kill through suffocation. I explain simply they'd become Schnitzel, but add only ever kill to eat! Maybe about time to understand.
Izamal, yellow city.
We drive to Izamal (wiki) and the boys sleep all the way. Izamal, yellow city, center of Christianity in the region, centre of Christians killing Maya, how many where slaughtered? The large monastery with an atrium second in size only to the Vatican was built right on top of the rubble of the pyramids, Izamal the city of hills, the hills are the ancient pyramids. Was it the time that required such profanity, around 1540, 1560? Or was there something particularly ferocious about the Spanish conquistadors and inquisition? Why were the Franciscans so misguided? San Francis taught and led differently, humbler. Forcing the cross upon the Indios with horse and sword reminds of jihad, which served as a pretext for conquest and thievery; the idea of bringing the light to a 'barbaric' people was absolutely secondary.