Closer To The Sun

Leaving Belize at the crack of dawn, we made our way into Guatamala and headed straight for the ancient Mayan city of Tikal. Yet another fascinating anthropological and historical site. Image

There seems to be no end to the incredible information. Our guide was explaining to us how they can tell the social ranking of a Mayan’s remains through their skeleton: The most obvious sign would be the shape of the skull. Artificial cranial deformation was used frequently. The parents would bind their child’s head between two pieces of wood where it would stay for around six months. The process would usually begin when the infant was around one month old and would result in an elongated skull, not affecting the growth of the brain itself. Similarly, they would hang a bead of wax or gum in-between the child’s eyes in order to generate a permanent ‘cross-eyed’ appearance which was deemed attractive. Noses were also broken to create a more ‘hooked’ shape and teeth were implanted with Jade and other precious stones. Particularly amongst the royals.

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Photo courtesy of good old Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artificial_cranial_deformation

ImageThe site of Tikal constituted a large number of temples and grand structures that would have formed the centre of the city. A random bit of trivia: The area was also apparently used In the filming of ‘Star Wars: Return of the Jedi’! The climb up to the top of one of the tallest temples was, however, by no means an easy feat!! It seemed significantly hotter as if we had reached such height that the sun was closer to us! You can understand why they felt ‘closer to the gods’.ImageImage

The ruins are hidden amidst the dense rainforest, in which Howler and Spider monkeys are screeching as they swing around the tree tops, greatly adding to the atmosphere! We also were not too far behind a local jaguar as we found it’s faeces and an area it had clearly been sleeping in, along with the fresh smell of the beast marking it’s territory! Very exciting but also rather tantalising as we are unlikely to get a glimpse of the great cat itself.

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Here’s a frustratingly unfocused shot of one of the spider monkeys.

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We’re now staying on a little Island on a Lake in the town of Flores. Although we’ve thoroughly enjoyed the refreshing lake and the many opportunities that the piers into the lake present, we don’t have too long to loiter as we’re off again tomorrow to Southern Guatemala and the Rio Dulce!Image

The Meaning Of The Ritual

“Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.”

-Neil Armstrong

I occupied my sole day in Cancun with a trip to the Mayan ruins, ‘Chichen Itza’. It was without doubt the most fascinating historical site I’ve visited.

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I was persuaded by a convincing sales man at the airport to book a tour for $50 to the site. It was most definitely money well spent. We had a local tour guide explaining the history behind the ruins. Above you can see the Mayan temple. The acoustics are designed much like the ancient amphitheatres, in that sound echoes through the chamber at the top of the structure and is projected out over a large distance.

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The mural above is supposedly one of the pieces of evidence supporting the theory that the ‘pyramids’ were built by aliens. According to supporters of the theory the image is of an alien in an astronaut’s mask with a clear breathing device. Hmm…I’m not so sure!

Our guide also explained the Mayan calendar to us, based on the cycles of the moon and sun, it is actually more accurate than the current calender we use today as does not need the added ‘leap’ year. It was also very interesting to learn that the ‘dooms day’ theory was brought about by a Mayan carving of the date ‘21.12.12’, the end of a cycle of the Mayan calender; the day when the planet’s would become aligned and the universe would complete a ‘cycle’.

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This shot is actually a very close up snippet of a large wall of skull carvings, designed to commemorate the Mayan dead. The heads of enemies would also have been displayed proudly on this stand.

The ruins of the ‘military’ building (of which I will post a photo once my internet picks up again) displayed a statue of a man at the top of the steps. Our guide explained to us that it was here that enemies were brought to be sacrificed to the gods. The warriors themselves did not have permission to kill. They would dress up in Jaguar-skin costumes and hold the man’s hands and feet to the statue. A priest, dressed as an eagle, would then use a special implement to swiftly remove the man’s heart, within the fourteen seconds before it ceases to live, therefore literally holding a beating heart in his hands before the gods.

We also went into the very well preserved remains of the Mayan sports arena. I was amazed to discover how informative the Disney film ‘The Road To Eldorado’ is! The sport described, where the opposing teams need to hit a ball through a small vertical stone hoop on the side walls of the arena, is actually part of the film! The ‘court’ was so well preserved that I could practically see the ancient Mayans playing the game there. Aside from entertainment, the game was even used in place of wars, to solve conflict, with the conquered side loosing the game along with their heads!

 

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A brief pause from the Anthropology lesson to talk about the wildlife:The ruins were covered with these iguanas! Unfortunately they were pretty skittish so not particularly easy to photograph.

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Here is a very large (with a circumference around the size of the base of the temple) natural well where the Mayans would throw sacrifices of gold and human lives to the gods. When it was eventually excavated they found tons and tons of Mayan gold and around 90 skeletons in the down there!

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Cancun itself was much like a little slice of Las Vegas in Mexico. It certainly was extremely Americanised! Large hotels, bright lights and extravagant decoration greeted me on the drive in. Of course, my shuttle carried on past these fantastic hotels to the dingy side of town. However, I enjoyed the change, I must admit, to the extreme poverty of Bolivia.

This morning I meet the second tour group that I will be with until the end of April. Surprisingly there are a large number of retired couples which I wasn’t really expecting! We hopped on a bus down to ‘Playa Del Carmen’ another, equally Americanised, Mexican city. As an example of the extent of the westernisation, I popped over to the nearby ‘Walmart’ to buy a snorkle-mask. In the morning a few of us headed out to the coastal Mayan ruins of ‘Tulum’ which, although spectacular, I felt had been rather over-rated in that there were even larger swarms of tourists than at Chichen Itza. What did make Tulum very special, however, was the back drop of the incredibly blue Caribbean sea.

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