Today we will be visiting Chichén Itzá, the crown jewel of our trip. The organizers have wisely kept the best for last. It is a UNESCO heritage site and in 2007 was selected as one of the new, seven wonders of the world. In brief, a place worth seeing.
Chichén Itzá, located in the state of Yucatán, Mexico, was first settled by the Maya around the sixth century AD. The name means “Mouth of the well of the Itzá”. It was later abandoned, and then settled by the Toltecs who came from the central highlands. The site therefore exhibits a mix of the two cultures as depicted in the architectural styles and carvings. This fusion led to the veneration of the Toltec deity Quetzalcóatl (the plumed serpent, aka Kukulcán in Maya) and Chac-mool (the Maya rain god). Their images were everywhere. Chichén Itzá was at its height from 700 to 900 AD. It was finally abandoned in the fourteenth century. The reason is still a mystery.
Mérida, capital of the state of Yucatán, is an old and beautiful city. Founded in the 1540s, it prospered by trading throughout the entire peninsula. The new wealth found expression in lavish villas along the newly formed Paseo de Montejo which was designed to rival the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Many of these villas and estates still exist, transformed into boutique hotels which allow a small glimpse into the laid-back life of the wealthy in those times. After the busy morning at Uxmal, we drove into Mérida to see the city.
We got up early for another walk through the lush surroundings of the hotel in Palenque. Our rewards were unique bird-calls and a healthy appetite. After breakfast we boarded our bus and started on the long drive to Mérida. The picturesque forested ruins of Palenque kept going through my mind. What could beat that, I thought! Little did I know of what was yet to come in Uxmal (pronounced Oosh-mal).
We rose to the twittering of birds and the unmistakable calls of howler monkeys coming from high up in the tree tops. My son and I quickly got ready and took a stroll through the lush forested grounds of the hotel, then headed for breakfast. On the way we saw an iguana with a bloody nose. Perhaps it had a run-in with a dog. But it plodded steadily on, where ever it was headed, unfazed. I admired its pluck and resilience.
Today we would be visiting the famous Maya ruins of Palenque. Located in the state of Chiapas, Mexico, where the gulf plain meets the rising mountains of the interior, it is an area of heavy rainfall and dense forests. Palenque was occupied from around 100 BC, reached its peak from 640 to 730 AD and was largely abandoned by 900 AD. The jungle took over until it was rediscovered and investigated in the nineteenth century. The forest covering was peeled back revealing magnificent buildings from a bygone era. But, only a very small fraction of the area has been explored and archeological digs continue. Who knows what the future may reveal.
After lunching at The China Poblana in Puebla, we headed towards Veracruz. The topography of the land changed gradually. We saw large wind-farms with their long turbine blades turning slowly in the wind —a cheap, clean way to generate electricity—no charge for the wind and no emitted carbon.