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Archive for the ‘Ruins’ Category

Mérida

Mérida sits opposite from Cancun, defending the western side of the Yucatan with its beautifully preserved Spanish Colonial architecture surrounded by increasingly more modern suburbs. I had envisioned a new years celebration full of fireworks and people dancing in the streets but alas, poor planning again. The real highlight of Mérida was the archaeological museum, amongst Mexico’s best and supposedly second only to Mexico City. Natalie snapped a ton of photos at the museum and they are posted on Flickr. By the time we were scheduled to move on, we had all tired of the inland sites of the Yucatan and longed for a little beach time. We killed our plans to visit Uxmal and the Puuc Route, in lieu of yet more ruins, we opted for even more splurging on the shores of Playa del Carmen.

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Chichén Itzá is considered one of the “new seven wonders of the world.” I’m wondering if the experiences of Tonina and Palenque clouded my appreciation of the place?

It is smaller both in size and in stature than the Mayan ruins we visited in Chiapas but not in the numberof visitors. It is crawling with tourists, so many in fact that the structures are now closed off to closer inspection and scaling, no doubt a wise decision considering the throngs. The scene suggests the attraction is more music festival or amusement park and less one of the world’s preeminent archaeological sites. The carnival like atmosphere is further advanced by the utter quantity of trinket vendors. The number of them diminishes both the atmosphere and the enjoyment of the ancient site. Imagine the entire length of the 17-mile trail up Half Dome in Yosemite, its vistas lined with vendors hawking miniature models of the valley, plastic waterfalls, and carvings of John Muir or George Washington and shouting “one dollar” or “almost free” at every step and you’ll get the picture.

Still the ball court, the pyramid and the astronomical sophistication are truly magnificent. I can only imagine it twenty years ago, unvarnished by the notoriety that beckons tourists from all over the world. Despite my cynicism it is pretty amazing and astonishingly beautiful – you can check out the rest of our pictures on Flickr.

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Palenque

The ruins at Palenque are incredible, not better or worse than Tonina, but definitely larger in land mass and quantity of structures, although Tonina is far more imposing especially from a distance. Hidden amongst the dense trees and vines, Palenque is composed of several groups of progressively larger complexes and structures ascending up the jungle hillside. The incessant wail of the howler monkeys gives the place an eerie haunted feeling as if the Mayan gods have been disturbed and are watching your every step, ready to release some mythical horror conjured up to keep their civilization in line and then regurgitated and twisted by the Hollywood machine. In Palenque you can see amazing examples of the way the Mayans redirected and channeled water, mastering the rivers and streams to protect their settlements and feed their agriculture. They incredible visages of ancient efforts and technology considering it was 1500 years prior; modern day Mexico still seems to struggle with controlling water and protecting their civilizations. Incredibly, the guidebook suggests that just a fraction of Palenque has been excavated. Unfortunately it doesn’t expand on the statement; it is possible that it just means the existing ruin complexes, since it is obvious that much of the visible ruins still lay under jungle and earth. But it is easy to imagine considerably more ruin structures snaking their way up the jungle ridglines, buried beneath hundreds of years of growth. Here, like at Tonina it is hard to fathom the reason for abandoning such sophisticated structures in favor of the wood thatch and dirt floor confines that the Mayans retreated to. While western civilization and archaeological academia were unaware of Palenque and for a longer period Tonina, the local indigenous cultures knew of their existence, it is thought continually since their abandonment. Why not return to an ancestral home and rebuild rather than toil in less modern housing that provides little more than daily sustenance? I can only surmise that religion played some massive role in this decision: most likely, some faulty superstition that would be replaced centuries later by the equally faulty religious superstitions of the Judeo Christian control complex of the conquistadors.

I am wondering if we will get “ruined-out,” since we are planning on visiting Tulum, Coba, Chichen Itza, Uxmal, and Xcalak, but we are going to take a break for some diving first. As always there are a few more pics from Palenque over on Flickr.

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At least that is the way the guidebook starts off its description. Tonina is one of those mystical Mayan ruin sites that no one ever sees. If it were four more hours from Palenque it would be a national monument and a mainstay on the tourist circuit. The Lonely Planet devotes little more than a page to one of the more imposing and impressive monuments of Mayan civilization. The archaeology guides tell another story, one of vastly more historically significant artifacts and importance to the rise and fall of the Mayan empire. We got our first sight of the pyramid complex the night before from the back window of a roadside comedor that didn’t have any food but let us use their sanitarios. I’m not going to make a judgment either way, Tonina really being my first exposure to true prehistoric

civilization ruins, but if Palenque is more impressive than we are even more stoked than I thought. We spent the rest of the day exploring the ruins and taking pictures with a Mayan group that was running the road between for the Virgin de Guadalupe, Emilie is a big hit with the locals. You can check out the rest of the pictures over on Flickr.

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