Seven Modern Wonders of the World: Chichen Itza
Disaster. In my infinite wisdom, I thought I’d backed-up my Mexico pictures as I’ve done with every other trip, but much to my sheer devastation, they’re forever in the abyss of lost data having deleted them from the cloud. I hate technology. Thankfully, I’d sent three or four images to my parents via WhatsApp on the day I was there, so there is photo proof of my experience! Thank God for technology.
We were in Mexico for a friends wedding (a great holiday with some great people - I also got carried home blind drunk by the Bride and Groom on their own wedding night) for a ten day period. After a couple of days taking full advantage of the all-inclusive rum and food, some time away from the resort exploring was needed as we checked out TUI’s excursion list. I’m usually one for doing things myself rather than via travel companies, but went with the flow on this occasion. My initial reaction to the £120 cost of the trip to Chichen Itza was “how much? No way!”, but after a couple of hours by the pool contemplating it, I figured there was a chance I wouldn’t be out in this part of the world again and it was too good an opportunity to miss. Cue the very origin of my goal to see all Seven Modern Wonders of the World!
We were up early doors for the 6:00am coach to Chichen Itza, which is based on the Yucatan Peninsula and assigned UNESCO World Heritage status. Once on the road, there was time to catch a bit of shut-eye with the journey being two hours to the location, which saw us cross a timezone resulting in pushing our watches forward an hour. A couple of free muffins from the guide en-route was naturally most welcome for this fat boy, and I was happy to be on the road early with the thought of being able to witness Chichen Itza in relative quiet before the masses flooded in. Even upon arrival, there was a bustling atmosphere as market traders set up their wares at the entrance to the site.
Once through the doors, our guide gave the necessary do’s and don’t before taking us down the path towards the mighty Kukulkan Temple. With the bright conditions and early morning heat, the pyramid simmered in the centre of the site, displaying its perfectly crafted architecture famous for its acoustics that, upon clapping, mimics what sounded to me like a bird. It truly needs to be seen (or heard) to be believed, but the sound will quickly become familiar as groups of tourists and their guides clap to create this phenomenon. The structure itself is mesmerising, with layers of levels building up to its summit. It is believed it was built over a pre-existing temple some time between 800-900 AD, providing the centrepiece of a thriving, successful Mayan city, and I can only imagine how it must of been in its ancient hey-day.
For me, equally as impressive as the Kulkulkan Pyramid, was the Temple of Warriors which served as the second point of our tour. Boasting an array of columns in front of the temple, some of which still hold the carvings of warriors, behind follows a set of steep steps rising to its upper platform. Unfortunately you’re now unable to climb the structure but having read into its origins since, I’m led to believe there’s a “Chac Mool” at the top which was used to hold religious offerings. I vividly remember a point of discussion during the tour covered not only the sacrifice of animals, but also humans as gifts for the Gods. Lovely.
We turned around and made our way back across the square with the Kulkulkan Temple to our left, walking towards the Great Ball Court at the far end. Before this though, we were shown a platform with its sides adorned with the intricate carvings of skulls. Also known by the name Tzompantli (or skull rack), it represented the Mayan practice of displaying heads stacked and impaled vertically on a wooden post. Our guide explained that this was often used as a warning to other enemies as to what they could expect if they attacked the group, serving as a deterrent for any future conflict. Savagely simple, but I’m sure no doubt effective!
The final stage of the guided tour took us into the Grand Ball Court, an expansive arena used to play an ancient ball game by the name of Pitz. With a large stone hoop on either side of the court, players were tasked with shooting a rubber ball through these goals without the use of their hands; our guide explained this was often done with elbows and other area’s of the body. Impressive. Segregated area's for spectators based on their status were also pointed out, whether it be the Royal box at one end of the court, the richer members of society at the opposite end and the lower class populating the sides. One thing I’ll never forget is when the guide explained that if you captained the winning team, you’d have the high honour of being sacrificed to the Gods.
After duly securing ice cream before leaving the venue (you know it’s my weakness), we visited a traditional Mayan village for lunch. We were taken around the area, introduced to the local school and shown the fantastic talents of a skilful lady using traditional Mayan methods to weave a hammock. I’d be a liar if I said the hammock looked uncomfortable; I could have slept in it for hours! After tasting some beautiful local cuisine, we visited the Zazil Tunich Cenote, home to Xibalba, the Mayan God of the Underworld, which was an underground heaven consisting of stunning stalagmite structures and a crystal clear pool. It’s fair to say the temperature of the water took my breath away (especially as it hit mid-waist!), but ultimately once you were fully immersed it provided a thoroughly refreshing swim.
Looking back, this trip set the foundations for the lifelong goal I now harbour of visiting all Seven Modern Wonders of the World. Chichen Itza proved to be a fitting way to open my account, with its incredible ancient history and stunning architecture. The Mayan people were kind and friendly throughout and the education received about the ancient site only enhanced its magic and sense of wonder.
22nd February 2019. The adventure began here. It’s a memory I’ll never forget.