Friday, March 15, 2019

Adventure 6/50 : Visiting Chichen Itza

We went to Chichen Itza over a long weekend for Wil's birthday as part of our long-term "Seven Wonders" project. (Yeah, there are *always* projects!)

We flew down to Cancun, but knew that wasn't our scene, so had arranged to be picked up at the airport and driven the two hours to the Mayaland Hotel. The Mayaland Hotel was built in 1923, and is actually in the midst of the Chichen Itza ruins. After a lot of flip flopping -- do we want a bungalow? do we want a room in the main lodge? -- we booked a "Mayan Observatory View" and hoped for the best.

We arrived after dark, had the first of many margaritas and a lovely dinner in the outdoor restaurant -- and Wil was serenaded over a birthday dessert.

The room was big, and we had a huge jacuzzi tub -- about as big as our little hot tub -- with a picture window. It was nighttime so we couldn't see anything, but we sat in the rocking chairs on our big balcony sipping margaritas while the AC chilled the room to a frosty 75 (ha!).

In the morning we woke up pretty early -- I had that "where am I?" confusion for a moment, then remembered that we were supposed to have a view of the Mayan Observatory. So I sat up and saw this:


We had made no plans that day; we didn't want to "have" to get up early to visit the site, and had planned to go to the sound and light show that night. But we were up, so we decided to go to the hotel's private entrance to the ruins when they opened at 8am.

We got in line behind two sets of tour guides, which slowed things down as they needed written receipts. But we paid our two separate fees (one to the state, one to the national government), got our tickets, and were in the site by 8:05.

Let me say this: the time to go is early. We pretty much had the site to ourselves, allowing us to get photos of the principal pyramid like this:

I especially loved the less-restored sides of the pyramid:

And seeing these big iguanas sunning themselves on the ruins.

We didn't have a guide, or much of a plan, but we wandered around admiring the ruins, and marveling at the number of vendors setting up.

After a few hours the day was getting super hot... and the buses were dumping dozens of tourists who looked like they were there because someone told them they should see it, but they're hungover and hot and tired and have just spent 2 hours on a bus and really wouldn't they rather be at SeƱor Frogs? That said, I sure do love this photo of 4 tourists taking selfies... My favorite part is that they're all doing a pose with their legs, too.

After a few hours we left the ruins, went back to the hotel, and relaxed. We had a "chichen pizza" (veggie, of course...), had a nap, had a swim, and relaxed. Oh, and at sunset, we had more margaritas... with a view of the Mayan observatory...

Later that night we went to the "Nights of Kulkulkan" sound and light show at the ruins. I love a sound and light show -- lasers, projections, music, and over-the-top narration. This was especially lovely because before the light show you can walk around the site with an audioguide, and select ruins are lit up. Glorious!

I managed not to take any photos of the actual sound and light show; but the projection mapping was excellent. Of course, there are videos on YouTube, including this excellent time-lapse version condensing the half hour show to under 4 minutes. I especially love when the project an image of the unrestored side onto the restored side. 

The next morning we got up for our "sunrise tour", where the two of us went with a guide to walk around the nearly empty site before sunrise. Victor, our venerable guide, told us stories about the site, its history, ongoing renovations, and how things used to be when he was younger. He questioned some of the accepted theories ("Now, there's no way you could hit a ball through a ring 20 feet off the ground without using your hands or feet -- but you see they are pictured holding sticks..."), told us about why some of the buildings were better preserved ("Locals were still coming to these buildings to worship the water gods, so these were never covered by the jungle"), and, in a thrilling moment, simply raised a "do not enter" barrier and walked us past a ruin closed off to the public. Oh, and we got to see the sunrise, too.

Later that day we swam in a cenote, then took a trip into nearby Piste to wander around. The village was celebrating Carnival, with a funfair, bands, and food vendors. We watched kids play at the funfair while Wil conquered the Mayan pyramid:

Walked up and down the main roads in town...

And politely ordered beers in Spanish in a small bar. Okay, so that's not that challenging, but it still felt like a win.

Then we decided to get some food to bring back to the hotel, settling on Loncheria Fabiola because they have "THE BEST FOOD"...

And to be honest, our quesadillas and empanadas were excellent!

On Sunday we slept in a little... and then decided to go back into the ruins to wander around again. I always love a bit of stonework!

But we decided to leave and we were clearly leaving at the right time because we caught this glimpse of the main entrance:

Rather than coming back to the hotel, we walked the 2K into lovely Piste, much quieter on a Sunday afternoon.

We wandered around -- sad our little bar wasn't open yet, but it was only about 11am on a Sunday. We bought some supplies -- a small bottle of whiskey and some soda -- and then eventually came back to the hotel. We considered choosing a pool to hang out in, before realizing that we essentially had a private pool -- with a view of the ruins -- in our room. So we ran a cold tub and alternated between the tub and the balcony for the rest of the day. Not a bad view from a bathtub!

There was more swimming, some more overeating, and then it was time to fly home. Really happy to have seen Chichen Itza, had plenty of time to relax and enjoy the time away, and to have visited another "Wonder of the World". Now just the Taj Mahal, Petra, and Christ the Redeemer left to see!

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