A road trip to the lost civilization
Spring of 2016; Setting out early in our rental car- an avocado colored ford fiesta as our vessel, Joel is strapped in his car seat in the back at 16 months, his bottled milk ready for the trip, and we took off to our first family road trip adventure deep into the peninsula. A total of 120 mile drive into the rich Yucatan, into the remains of what was the ancient mayan civilization.
I remembered blue skies with a very thin idle cloud in the horizon. Every nestled bird was out during this time. Traffic was steady and orderly before we entered the rotunda. I was neck to neck with the other local drivers on this early morning commute. It didn’t feel like driving in a different country until we hit the outskirts of the city.
Off Into the open wide street we go as the lights changed green. Acceleration is heard left and right as we picked up to gain speed. But somehow every single vehicle drifted slowly back into traffic. Baffled, I quickly eased up a bit on the gas. From a distance I calculated a figure of a man with his arms extended. Closer to a few yards and I can clearly see him now. He’s readied his whistle to stop me completely.
A local police enforcer in his dark brown khaki overall and a baton. Opening the driver’s window I hear him speak in Spanish. I answered him politely in english but he’s handed me a ticket and asked me to go straight to the police station back in the city and pay for the fee. I felt a cold chill run down my spine as reality sank in. As he’s glanced back into my sons direction he’s even more audible and firm now, exaggerated frown and wrinkled forehead. I apologized and pleaded with him. Crossing my fingers under my seat. To what seemed like eternity I sat there idle. Somehow a glimmer of hope quickly dismmised the thought as he bargained with my apologetic plea. He’s actually let me go off with this one time as I exchanged with him a few bills I had. He would soon crumple and toss my ticket in a nearby trash can. Be careful next time and follow traffic rules!
This was a humbling welcome for me. In disbelief of what just happened we took the longer route and into the barrios. A lot more careful now, slowly counting each alto signs and speed bumps- i’d open the window and breathe a fresh air and throw a smile or two to the locals- the present day Mayans, their very distinct dialect I could not decipher. But beautifully spoken in genuine succession of thoughts.
I slowed down a bit allowing the time to take part in creating the journey. It gave me time to absorb the surroundings and enjoy the local tunes on the car radio.
A beautiful blessing in disguise.
The chixulub asteroid
As the forest tree became denser and a lot less civilized land unraveled, the beautiful landscape of Mexico into the dense peninsula crowded us with subtle hints of archeologic remains. What once was the impact site of a cataclysmic event now thrive fertile and abundance for life.
It is believed that an asteroid stretching six mile wide impacting deep within the earth’s crust million years ago creating tsunamis and fumes of toxic air displacing anything along and within its path to the air as high as 12 miles up annihilating what was living and breathing. Collapsed bedrock by the hundreds form cenotes all over the peninsula. The remains of that day formed what is now Mexico and the gulf. Buried beneath the Yucatan peninsula is an impact crater chixulub that hold testament to that explosion some 60 million years ago.
Chichen Itza and the Cenotes
The present day Yucatan sits on a labyrinth underwater caves and caverns that were used as sacrificial and ceremonial ground to appease with the underwater God Chacc. Cenotes, a natural sinkhole from collapsed limestone, is an underground grave for those who were offered as a sacrifice when drought plagued the land within the grounds of the Kukulcan (Chichen Itza). Treasures , jewelry, pottery and gems lie the bottom river floor with skeletal remains untouched- for centuries. As these sacrifices were made, torrential rain would follow restoring the land and the Mayan belief of the underworld Gods. The younger the offering the more the Gods favored.
As you make your way around the Chichen Itza, you begin to see the El Castillo remains in its present original pale grey stone color standing tall atop any brush of trees around. Its architecture and design is a marvel to how geometric and precise each block form a pyramid shape. Its 91 stairs on each four side make up for 365 including the very top platform. Each equinox of the year the serpent’s shadow descends the staircase as the sun sets. A reminder of how this very place was a sacrificial ground for the Gods.
Joel finds friends in Chichen Itza
The Ceiba that towers over this majestic land was sacred to the Mayans as well. It was a sacred realm to the universe as it’s stretched out branches canopy over the heavens and its roots believed to be connected down to the abyss of the underworld.
Entering through the great ball court within the Chichen Itza, my son trails back with his carefully augmented steps. I could feel the heavy energy of the vibrating grounds as the men would play this very court desperately trying to win the game or pay the the ultimate price- their heads offered to the Gods.
Just a few meters around this ground lie still waters of the sacred cenote that open its mouth within lush vegetations and dwindling ceiba roots that point down and disperse into the underworld hinting an undiscovered world beneath. A spiny tailed iguana continue to crawl these grounds. The only living reminder of the pre historic Mayan civilization.
Contrary to the post classic period, the present day colorful painted streets of Valladolid depict a picture of how vibrant the monuments were in those days compared to its current pale organic rock color. This pre historic land sacred to the Mayans dating back before the spaniard’s settlement is a place of historical significance and culturally rich in diversity. Once a nation of intellectual- mathematically inclined individuals and power is revealed through archaeologic remains as it continue to unearth clues of the rich civilization that once ruled the land. How and why the ancient Mayans deserted this fertile and thriving land remains an enigma.
Playa del Carmen
South of Cancun, an hour drive along the coastal highway, is the coastline resort of Playa del Carmen along the Caribbean shoreline. Blocks of shops and restaurant line up along the splendid open seas of the turquoise Caribbean waters and the gulf of Mexico. Here it is a different atmosphere of lively and diverse culture that pave way to the influence of western civilization.
Dine in to a cullinary expression of the warm seas and Hispanic descent. A taste of central America fused with modern touch create a well balanced meal hinting seasoned palate of home made charm that will welcome you to a fertile land of ingredients dating back to the Mayan and Aztec civilization. The ocean breeze will surely enhance the romantic seascape and atmosphere as it dances to the dazzling- endless tantalizing waters of the Caribbean. A short drive here will surely inspire one to venture out more as remnant of the past mingle with the modern 21st century Yucatan.
Explore the Island of Cozumel, a divers paradise, abundant in coral reef adorned with the Museo Subacuático de Arte underwater transform this mystical peninsula into a snorkeling retreat for a breath taking underwater adventure that will surely inspire a different perspective of this majestic land.
the streets of Playa Del Carmen
Today the peninsula has grown to a vibrant state of entertainment and boast a nightlife well into the early hours of the day. The streets has transformed into an inviting tourist destinations parallel to any modern cities around the world. Its tropical charm bring young families alike with all inclusive resorts along the beach ready to welcome guest of different age.
A fun day at the resort with water slide parks and activities for the kids will sure bring smile and candid moment for the little once. We stayed at the relaxing and child friendly Wyndham Alltra Cancun – All-Inclusive Resort.
above: the colorful City of Valladolid | below: Mariachi band and dance at the Panaman Jack resort in Cancun
Tulum and the turquoise waters
A little drive further south about 40 miles from Playa del Carmen is where you find the ruins of Tulum. A cliffside 13th century Mayan kingdom facing the open Caribbean. Tulum was a fortress walled on 3 sides with the Caribbean sea on the other. It was believed to be the place for astronomical studies for the ancient Mayans and port for sea traders and merchants.
As the midday sun scorched through endless blue skies it also punctuated a deep blue green ocean that vividly enhanced every surrounding color into vibrant hues. Bring plenty of water, a nice shaded hat and ready a swim wear to welcome a warm caribbean waters as you dramatically desend down the cliff and into sugar white sandy beach against a lush greenery backdrop. Be sure to greet crawling inguana’s along the way. A wonderful fun experience for the kids.
The last few days was well spent walking along the white sandy beach of Cancun. A beautiful sunrise paved a way to a morning glow and a swift hurl of the seas rushed down the shorelines gently waking up everyone from a relaxing night’s slumber of paradise retreat.
The Yucatan is one of the safest places to travel with the family. In fact it is safer than any major cities in the united states alone. Renting a car was as easy as renting a car anywhere. The roads are well maintained and clean. There are many vistas along the way and a place ready to be explored.
The present day Yucatan
As new technology continue to advance like the new LIDAR beam that maps out archaeologic remains of pre-historic cities buried deep in the lush green vegetations; so are new discoveries of civilization emerging each day never before seen. Archeologist continue to piece out new ideas and clues as to how each civilization interconnect with each other.
The Spanish conquistadores explored the many seas and ventured new lands as the mayans studied the heavens and the underworld recording life events through scripts and drawing on tablets and stones. The peninsula is a gateway to understanding history non like any other in the world. The many beautiful colors in the street of Valladolid and Merida alike inspired by the Spanish settlers and colonial heritage was built on top a rich maya civilization that brought an intricate diverse woven fabric of culture to this land.
We look up to the universe where a vast enigma of heavenly bodies collectively form curiosity- striking a deep longing for answers in our minds. We humans have been in this quest for answers ever since we first set foot on new soil and journeyed our way through the deep sea’s and foreign land.
As the mayans used the heavens for astronomical answers and mathematical equations to give life order we continue to journey this life in fascinations for what is beauty in every street turn and new discovery- rooting deep in our own personal longing for answers.
Travel is a journey that bring a sense of identity to every artifact discovered and every significant historical events that has happened in the past. It brings us humans closer to each other as we learn a language very similar to every native tongue- to seek understanding | Thank you for the coffee!
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