Marie had a four-day weekend coming, so we decided to check out the Mayan ruins of the Yucatan Peninsula on December 21st, the day of the Apocalypse. There may not be as much Art in this post as usual, but I promise Art and an interesting tour. We left on Thursday and it was a very short flight from Orlando to Cancun. We rented a small car and were in Valladolid just as it got dark.

A big town (small city?), Valladolid is flat, compact, with lots of people. An old town, with a beautiful central square. Our hotel, the Méson del Marqués, faced the square. Behind a modest façade, was a wonderful restaurant surrounding an open air courtyard.

The hostesses were lovely wearing white embroidered dresses, more elegant than the usual local garb. Past the swimming pool was the hotel desk. Our room was perfect. We immediately went out to the square to see what was going on. Besides the expected vendors, lights, and decorations, we heard drumming on the other side.

Young men were just finishing a performance on an assortment of native percussion instruments. But we were early for the Mayan dancers:

Back to the hotel for what must have been gourmet Yucatan. How decadent, for very reasonable prices. After a wonderful breakfast downstairs, we headed for Chichen-itza to see who was going to show up for the end of the world.

On the way, Marie explained to me that the magic moment was at sunrise which bummed me out because now we know the end of the story. But the freak show at the famous Mayan pyramid, did not disappoint. Nay, it surpassed my wildest expectations.

While the Mayan civilization was established as early as 2600 B.C. on the Pacific coast of southern Mexico, settlements in the Yucatan were much newer. Chichen-itza, for example, rose to prominence around 600 A.D. Based on the ruins we saw, the architecture was magnificent, awe-inspiring, surreal. It was fun to wonder what life was possibly like for these people. The archeologists have learned much from what they have dug up, but many speculate that the Maya were visited by extraterrestrials and that at least one of their deities, Kukulcan (also known as Quetzalcoatl by the Aztecs), may have been a galactic visitor who taught the Maya about agriculture, mathematics, medicine and astronomy. The Maya knew of planets that were not “discovered” until many centuries later, and they were the first civilization to use the “zero” in mathematics. How else could one explain the Mayan calendar, a calendar that to this day can accurately predict every lunar eclipse within 30 seconds?

Although it’s referred to as a “civilization” or even “empire,” it was really a collection of city-states that had allies and enemies, and fought to expand into another’s territory leading to the prominence of one city and the decline of another. It was only after Spanish Conquistador Francisco de Montejo returned to the Yucatan after being expelled in 1535, recruited Maya from Campeche and Champton and built a large Indio-Spanish army, was he able to conquered the peninsula. December 21, 2012 was the date was regarded as the end-date of a 5,125-year-long cycle in the Mayan Long Count calendar. The interpretations of its significance varies widely from signaling the end of the world to the dawning of a New Age. Well, the New Agers were in attendance at Chichen-itza that day:

There were more than a couple of television crews there doing reports. And of course there were vendors: It was a truly surreal day spent wandering among the Mayan ruins and beautiful people chanting, dancing, smiling. You cannot imagine a place with better energy. Groups morphed from dancing to kneeling. Circles started small and grew large. Through an ancient ball court and around the Platform of Venus. It was a great mixture of energies.

Afterwards we still had time to drive an hour or so to see the site at Coba. First settled between 100 B.C. and 100 A.D., the pyramid at Coba is the tallest at 120 steps and the public is able to walk them all. It’s a long walk to the grand pyramid:

We were to spend the next three nights in Mérida, so we drove three hours through small towns accentuated by a series of both marked and unmarked speed bumps designed to destroy the tires on your car, but also to slow enough to entice you to stop and buy a souvenir or something to eat. The only other speed reducers were the periodic roadblocks set up by the police. I thought the condition of the roads served as sufficient inducement not to speed. Not to mention the dogs lying in the roadway. While the hotel we stayed at in Mérida was a disaster, we enjoyed our stay in the city very much. Mérida is the capital of Yucatan and the largest city on the peninsula.

An old Colonial city, it has the highest percentage of indigenous residents at 60% of any large city in Mexico and is also the safest. We were very comfortable there sharing the sidewalks, exploring the markets, being invited into their museums.

It was hard to tell if there were borders to the Mercado Lucas de Galvez. There were stores, street vendors, small markets, huge buildings and even mind-boggling warrens. Everything was for sale from piñatas to pineapples. Marie bought dresses to paint in and we sat on small stools by a stall and ate big square tamales baked in banana leaves right there in the little stall. We even had a floor show. And all the ambiance you could want.

After considerable wandering we found ourselves on Calle 60 and there was the Museo d’Arte Popular. A smiling gentleman opened the door and invited us to register. There was no charge. They had some introductory rooms downstairs and six or seven more one flight up in the beautiful old mansion.

Jaguars by Alberto Bautista Gomez, 2001-02

Scenes on Calle 60:

Happened upon a show along the way:

Los pajaros de la flor de mayo by Manuel Lizama
Piramide de ladivino by Luis Falcon
La leyenda del enano de Uxmal by Manuel Lizama
Tulum y guacamayas by Luis Falcon

Museo de Arte Contempráneo de Yucatán better known as MACAY was down Calle 60, right across from the Plaza Grande. We began with an exhibit of stainless in the covered walkway:

Danza del Viento by Jonatan Solano
Une Extraviada en Tultepec by Won Lee

Admission was free for two floors of displays of a variety of media surrounding the courtyard:

Con Los Pies en la Tierra by Mar Hernandez, 2012
Serpientes Despues de a Lluvia by Gabriel Ramirez Aznar
Pared Azul by Javier Cruz, 1991

Casa de Montejo has opulently furnished period rooms and also houses the Museo Sitio with a show of photographs called el mexico de los mexicanos.  Photos not allowed, but admission was free.

On the streets of Merida:

As the sun was setting we drove north on the Passeo de Montejo, with all the American hotels and store names, sometimes referred to as the Champs Elyseé of Mérida.

Sociedad by Carlos Lores, 1989-90

Inside the Yucatan Convention Center Siglio XXI, we found a sort of New Age market which we just glimpsed at so we could grab seats outside to see the closing performances of the almost month-long Festival of Mayan Culture. First there was a chorus of children supposedly 300 but more likely 125 singing several songs under several directors. They were very cute.

Then newly-elected Governor Rolando Zapata Bello was invited as well as a bunch of others we had no clue about to proclaim this the Night of the Maya:

Finally we were presented with a series of dance performances by dancers from the National University’s Taller School, beginning with tango, moving on to interpretive dance, and more. From duos to full company. The same dancers changed and went out for something else. Sometimes in the lead. Sometimes in the company. All building to a grand climax. A wonderful performance.

I parked the car in the lot in front of Chedraui, a hypermercado if there ever was one.

Out front we spotted some suspicious characters:

The next day we headed south to Uxmal, an important district in the Puuc region.

Magician's Pyramid

Then we drove further south to Kabal, connected to Uxmal by an 18 km raised pedestrian walkway.

Palace of the Masks

Continuing on to Sayil:

 Then Labna.

That was enough for one day.  The next day, Monday, we checked out of Mérida and visited the Ek Balam site, north of Valldolid.

Entry Arch
Winged Warriors
View from the top.
The Yucatan is dotted with underground springs called Cenotes.  Many of these became Mayan religious sites as well as supplying fresh water.  Now many are opened up for swimming in the 78 degree water, and decorated with colored lights.  We visited the cenote southwest of Valladolid called Dzinup

We spent Christmas Eve in Cancun.  First being appalled by the hotel zone along the beach and then trying to find something to eat in a nearby shopping mall.  We didn't starve.  Flying out of Cancun was more challenging than I expected, but it was soon obvious that there were lots of families flying to Orlando to visit Disney World.  Oh well, it was a great trip.