News | 2010 | Chichen Itza Redux

About a month ago, I found myself in Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula doing a bit of research for a story I'm writing. And while I was there, I knew I had to make time to visit the ruined Mayan city of Chichen Itza again. I was first there in the late seventies as a child, and I thought it would be cool to see the site again from an adult perspective.

El Castillo Temple of the Warriors
El Castillo (left) and the Temple of the Warriors (right)

While I clearly remembered some of Chichen Itza's highlights--such as El Castillo (also known now as the Temple of Kukulkan, which is being excavated again) and the Temple of the Warriors--other details had slipped away in the roughly thirty years it's been since I've been to the site. I remember climbing the stairs to the top of the Temple of the Warriors. I remember how steep, narrow, and uneven those stairs were. I also distinctly remember the layout of the Great North Platform and the relation of El Castillo and The Temple of the Warriors to each other (along with the Great Ball Court, too). And finally, I remember the crowds which were there, coming on the spring equinox to see the famed illusion of the snake of Kukulkan slither down the pyramid (we all ended up being disappointed--the sun hid behind some clouds at the crucial moment). I also remember how effing hot it was.

Chac Mool
Chac Mool

What I didn't remember were some of the smaller, less-spectacular features. This Chac Mool above I had no memory of seeing before, but I must have, because it's just before the sacbe (stone road) which links the Great North Platform with the Cenote Sagrado (which I do remember). I also didn't remember how to get to the Cenote Sagrado or Las Monjas or El Caracol, but I had fun trying to figure it out without maps (which eventually I did). I remember those buildings too, but not as clearly as the more famous ones.

Las Monjas El Caracol
Las Monjas (left) and El Caracol (right)

The biggest surprise for me wasn't the site at all--it was the people. Naturally, the crowds weren't as great as I remember (this visit wasn't during an equinox, so no anticipated light, shadow, and snake show). This time, people weren't crawling over the face of everything (in 2006, barriers were put up and the monuments were closed). While I was disappointed in not being able to recreate my previous temple climbs, I did respect the site and kept off. But it wasn't just the tourists who were the surprise for me this trip. I have absolutely no memory of hawkers selling souvenirs throughout the site from my previous visit. This time, I was hard-pressed to get photos without them in every shot. Although, I found being called "big man" so many times very amusing, and I laughed every time I heard that some souvenier was "cheaper than free," I did miss the relative peace and quiet I'd created for the site in my mind. And oddly enough, while there were heaps of people selling hats and warning of sunstroke, it just wasn't as hot. Go figure.

Chichen Itza Hawkers
"cheaper than free"

Back to 2010 News [...]