The ruins of Chichén Itzá were my first stop on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. As my first set of Maya ruins of this trip, I have to say, they’re quite a bit different from the temples architecture of Asia – and a good thing too because I got really “templed out” by the end of my time in SEA and India.
The Maya ruins are a whole different ball game though; the history behind the temples and the sacrifices and religious ceremonies held at Chichén Itzá are incredibly different from temples and religious beliefs in Asian.
I hired a guide for the ruins – something that I definitely don’t always do – it’s a hard trade off. On the one hand, I love learning new things and getting all of the nitty-gritty details and then on the other side is the fact that the only time I can afford a guide is when I’m en masse touring through a place with a dozen or so other English speaking tourists.
But I’m so thankful that I sucked it up and tottered around the grounds with my tour group learning about theories and history surrounding Chichén Itzá. As the tour guide explained the ritual sacrifices that took place at the various temples at Chichén Itzá, I had to really take a step back from my Christian upbringing.
I remember the hullabaloo surrounding the animal sacrifices in South Africa in preparation for the World Cup – and it’s kind of like that for me. It’s a completely foreign concept and I have to actively work not to place judgments on their religion based on my own upbringing and Western ideals.
The coolest part of the whole compound in my opinion was the ball court. Just north of the iconic pyramid temple of Chichén Itzá is a huge Mesoamerican ball court. The game was incredibly difficult to play and could last days and weeks according to archeologists. Although the information is mostly gleaned from the reliefs carved into the stone, in short, the popular theory is that the captain of the winning team was then decapitated upon his win as an honor to the gods.
The various temples are also all built to align perfectly with the solstices and movement of the sun along with strategic echo chambers that bounce sound off of the buildings and can then send the sound traveling around the complex – one of those things you just have to witness to really understand.
So, despite my feeling of being cattle shlepped from place to place around the grounds, I loved my guide and his fantastic introduction into Maya culture and beliefs!