After two and a half months in Albania, we had cause to head back to the Western Hemisphere. Based on the timing of certain external factors, we decided to make a stopover in Mexico on our way back to Florida. I’ve been wanting to study the Mayans for a forthcoming series for some time, and this was the best chance for that. We’re not party people, so under normal circumstances, we’d have visited the Yucatan at a time other than when Spring Breakers are celebrating. But like I said, the timing worked out that way so we decided to do our best to avoid contact with large groups.
We spent a couple nights in downtown Cancun, mainly because we needed time to buy some weather-appropriate clothes, as all we had was for winter in Europe. We found downtown pleasant, more similar to Florida than we expected, and not half so crazy as we anticipated. We were supposed to head next to Chichen Itza, but the government had temporarily closed it due to mask violations. So we said, “well, we’re here, we should at least see the beaches and see what the fuss is about.” Yeah, those beaches had some of the most amazing crystal-clear turquoise water you can imagine. We splurged and booked a room with an ocean view, which was well worth it, especially as we limited our time among the public by sitting on our balcony. And yes, the whole vibe between the beachfront Hotel Zone and the downtown zone was totally different.
Following our beach stop, we headed to Playa del Carmen and booked two tours out of there. The first was to see the Tulum Ruins and Coba Ruins, both epic Mayan ruins relatively close. In order to see the inner ruins of Tulum you duck through a tiny opening in the wall that gives the impression of a smaller site than it really is. We didn’t see the modern town of Tulum, but the ancient ruins show us a Mayan port town and I loved seeing it.
Coba is more open—though in the middle of the jungle—and most famed for a single giant temple. There were also lesser structures, including two stadiums for the famed ball game. In this game, both teams entered saunas and consumed psychotropics before going to play a match that could last for days in some cases.
After a day of rest in Playa, we had a tour to the awe-inspiring ruins of Chichen Itza, one of the seven wonders of the world. In the Early Post-Classic period, Chichen Itza was the greatest of many Mayan city-states in the Yucatan, and the acoustic effects of the structures are stunning. Claps in front of the temple of Kulkukan echo like chirping birds, while those made in the stadium some echo exactly seven times (a sacred number).
As amazing as the site is now, it is even more humbling to imagine what it seemed before the Conquistadors carried off stones to build their churches and before weather washed away the paint and color of the old city. Following Chichen Itza, we returned to downtown Cancun to wait for our chance to return to the US, and here I sit finally getting some work done.