Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Yucatan,Mexico - Valladoid,Merida, Celestun,Chichen Itza

With the exams all over, I decide to embark on another self-travelling journey before meeting up with my friend to travel together. (Monterrey at that moment was already beginning to become chilly)
Marking on the map, I decided on the beautiful cities of Valladoid,Merida,Celestun and Chichen Itza. Wanted to take the bus but decided it was too far and I had too little time to cover all that I wanted to hence I gathered all my blankets and suitcase and even my small pillow, but upon reaching the airport, i found out that my baggage was way overweight. My travelguide, my textbooks, my blankets, my pillows, my clothes... too much.
1st try- I took out the heavy stuff and tried to hold it in my hand but shucks, they noticed it and asked me to get out of the line.
2nd try - I tried to get the passenger in front of me to help me take one bag since he only had one, and he said ok but upon reaching the custom, he left my bag at the side and went inside. Goodness. Once again I was left with all my baggage.
After the 2nd try, the customs were already staring at me, so after thinking a little,
3rd try - I decide to leave my blanket at the side and check in my baggage first before trying to persuade the custom to let me bring my blanket and pillow in.
With my bags checked and all, they found that it was STILL overweight. I gave up and decide to just pay the fine.
I went back out to find my bag of blanket and pillow to bring since my baggage was already overweght and had to pay the fine, but alas, it was gone GONE! ran here and there asking them whether they saw it but they insisted they did not. With the chilly weather I was literally shivering. It was really cold. Coming from sunny Singapore, this chill was getting to my bones. I was shivering and really shaking. I sadly paid the fine and lamented myself for trying to save money but causing me more loss instead. The blanket and pillow would have come in very handy.
Okay enough of that. hahaha

Reached Merida via plane. Next I located the shuttle bus to get to the town and navigated my way to a hostel from the map.
Mérida (T'hó' or Ichkanzihóo (the original name), in Modern Maya) is the capital and largest city of the Mexican state of Yucatán and the Yucatán Peninsula. It is located in the northwest part of the state, about 35 km (22 miles) from the Gulf of Mexico coast.
I spent my day exploring the city architecture and spent my night watching contemporary dance performances which were free and amazing.

Dance performances

And next , my favorite place! Rio Celestun! - The birds paradise with Flamingos ! I love it.
I could stay there all day long!
Shall not keep you in suspense. here are the pictures:)

Reaching Celestun, I realised I had to walk to Rio Celestun
So I asked around and after about half an hour I found it.
The walk to the destination was exciting by itself.
Chanced upon many different species of birds nesting in the swamps

Upon reaching Rio Celestun, I realise a community festival were taking place and there was free dances from the children, free beer and free tacos.

Quickly searched for the boatticket office, I was told that I have to wait till there are enough people for the boat then it will set off. Waited for about an hr but still there was no one. After 2 hours, there was a tour bus and I was so happy then I was told that the boat was just right for the tour. I was at that moment so about to cry in anguish because I came all the way out here and I cant wait anymore else it will turn dark and I had to catch the bus back to Merida.
Pitying me by God's grace, he helped me persuade the boat driver to take in an extra person but guess what, half way through our boat stalled and we had to wait for a rescue boat to change our boat.

But what I saw later made everything so worth while.
First we saw the seagulls in actions
The way they glided and the squeaking sound they made -so near us :)

Then n the midst of the blue sky, the wind howling at your ears, I saw spots of pinkish from afar
what could that be?
Oh my goodness! Flamingos! How beautiful
The pink was mesmerising!

And off they flew :) Flap Flap Flap :)

And as we made our way back to the port, the sunset greeted us as if to thank us for coming
Lovely! :)

In the dark I walked all the way out to the main path where I found a bus to bring me back to Merida. It was quite scary to be frank, out in the dark all alone - there was no one on the road. Just me and the darkness.
I was glad to be back in my hostel where I then walked to the performing arts theatre for another dance performance - I love!

The next morning, I left for Valladoid, which is well-known for its cenotes.
Located halfway (two hours from each) between Mérida and Cancún, Valladolid is a bustling Mayan city with a special colonial flavor. This is where you will see the majority of the townspeople still using the typical dress of the Mayas, and the buildings around the Main Plaza painted pastel colors. You will surely get a sense of the laid-back pace of life.

Reached there in the afternoon to realise all the hostels here were fully booked. And the hostels only had 2 rooms so I had to pay for 2 rooms price even though I was one person which was expensive to me since I was on budget. So I walked around with my heavy luggages and all for around 2 hours before I decide to just settle on the one nearest to the bus station, but guess what, God has been good, he said I could rent a bed because there was also another girl who came a little earlier saying she wants to rent a bed rather than a room because she was travelling alone too! She was from Canada :)
Not wasting much time, I threw everything on my bed , quickly went to the bike shop to rent a bike to ride out to the cenote which according to the bike shop was around 2 hours ride away if I ride slowly. Since it was getting dark, riding slowly was not an option. Along the way, a policeman stopped me and asked if I wanted to meet him for a drink later. I was so scared. ( I told him I would consider and let him know when I ride back - hoping he would not be there when I rode back)
The grand cenote which was well-known Dzitnup, about 5 kilometers west was closed so I went to the smaller one opposite it Ik-kil -It was still amazing.
I parked my bicycle at the side, locked it hoping no one will steal it. Then slowly walking down a path of wet stairs into the 'caves.' Sitting in the cave like structure, with a whole in the centre where the sunlight shines into it, green blueish water all around you, silence and darkness envelopes you while baby fishes nibbles at your feet and body. It was strangely eerie yet such a comfort. I tried swimming out into the center, but it feels like it is going to swallow you up, shivers went up my spine so I quickly swam back to the edge.

As I rode back after the nice rest at the cenote, it was getting dark so I rode as hard as I could. A really good enjoying exercise. Goodness, the policeman was there. He came closer to me and asked me for my handphone number which I feigned ignorance and quickly said I had to rush off and would talk to him another time. Cycle on... hahahaha

Once I reached the town, I returned the bike which was really cheap - only cost me about $4 singapore dollars for half the day! And I went on my eating spree- trying out the famous Yucatan dish: Chicken in Capers
This traditional Campeche dish has its roots in Spanish cuisine. Chicken is prepared in a sauce of onion, chiles, peppers, tomato, saffron, olives, capers and raisins.

Like usual tourist, I decide to go to the Chichen Itza - since everyone who comes to Mexico talks about it. God was once again so good, he knows how I wanted a partner to enjoy the Mayan icons together, the Canadian room mate told me she was looking for someone to go chichen itza with. How apt right. And it was great fun! Because she could understand French, she eavesdropped on the tour guide explanation and explained to me the meaning of each structure - making it more interesting.

The Maya name "Chich'en Itza" means "At the mouth of the well of the Itza." This derives from chi', meaning "mouth" or "edge", and ch'e'en, meaning "well." Itzá is the name of an ethnic-lineage group that gained political and economic dominance of the northern peninsula. The name is believed to derive from the Maya itz, meaning "magic," and (h)á, meaning "water." Itzá in Spanish is often translated as "Brujas del Agua (Witches of Water)" but a more precise translation would be Magicians of Water.

The infamous structure El Castillo

El Castillo

Dominating the center of Chichén is the Temple of Kukulkan (the Maya name for Quetzalcoatl), often referred to as "El Castillo" (the castle). This step pyramid has a ground plan of square terraces with stairways up each of the four sides to the temple on top. On the Spring and Autumn equinox, at the rising and setting of the sun, the corner of the structure casts a shadow in the shape of a plumed serpent - Kukulcan, or Quetzalcoatl - along the west side of the north staircase. On these two annual occasions, the shadows from the corner tiers slither down the northern side of the pyramid with the sun's movement to the serpent's head at the base.

Mesoamerican cultures periodically built larger pyramids atop older ones, and this is one such example. In the mid 1930s, the Mexican government sponsored an excavation of El Castillo. After several false starts, they discovered a staircase under the north side of the pyramid. By digging from the top, they found another temple buried below the current one. Inside the temple chamber was a Chac Mool statue and a throne in the shape of Jaguar, painted red and with spots made of inlaid jade.

The structure of the Mayan where there is a serpent :
The carvings on a platform where they did sacrificial human offerings
Tzompantli : This monument, a low, flat platform, is surrounded with carved depictions of human skulls.

There was many iguanas all around. haha so dont worry, the snake serpent did not come alive :p

If you are interested about the Chichen Itza (read more below)

The alliance

Around 1000 A.D. the Itza allied themselves with two powerful tribes, Xio and Cocom, both claiming to be descendants of the Mexicans. This alliance was favorable to the Itza for about two centuries. During this time, the people of Chichen-Itza added to the site by constructing magnificent buildings bearing the touch of Toltec art: porches, galleries, colonnades and carvings depicting serpents, birds and Mexican gods.

Toltec influence

The Toltec influenced the Itza in more ways than just architecture. They also imposed their religion on the Itza, which meant human sacrifice on a large scale. They expanded their dominions in northern Yucatan with an alliance with Mayapan and Uxmal. As the political base of Chichen-Itza expanded, the city added even more spectacular buildings: the Observatory, Kukulkan's Pyramid, the Temple of the Warriors, The Ball Court, and The Group of the Thousand Columns. The Temple of the Warriors has pillars sculptured in bas-relief, which have retained much of their original color. Murals once adorned its walls. It is surrounded by numerous ruined buildings known as the Group of a Thousand Columns. The Cenote of Sacrifice was reserved for rituals involving human sacrifice involving the rain God. The victims were not only young women, but also children and elderly men and women.

El Castillo equinox event Kukulkan's pyramid

Possibly the best known construction on the site is Kukulkan's Pyramid. El Castillo (Kukulkan-Quetzalcoatl), a square-based, stepped pyramid that is approximately 75 feet tall. This pyramid was built for astronomical purposes and during the vernal equinox (March 20) and the autumnal equinox (September 21) at about 3pm the sunlight bathes the western balustrade of the pyramid's main stairway. This causes seven isosceles triangles to form imitating the body of a serpent 37 yards long that creeps downwards until it joins the huge serpent's head carved in stone at the bottom of the stairway. Mexican researcher Luis El Arochi calls it "the symbolic descent of Kukulkan" (the feathered serpent), and believes it could have been connected with agricultural rituals.

The end- In 1194, Mayapan broke the alliance and subdued Chichen and Uxmal. The city was gradually abandoned.

I think Yucatan is a very beautiful place- No regrets. Definately recommend this place for visiting :)

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