Chichen Itza is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and is one of the most visited Mayan sites in Mexico. After visiting so many Mayan ruins the previous week I thought we might be experiencing burnout on seeing so many by this time. We had visited England and Scotland a few years earlier and after a week of visiting every castle and cathedral we came across, we were burned out and did not want to see another castle or cathedral for a very long time. But we were actually looking forward to seeing Chichen Itza. We were not burned out, yet.
We got up early the next morning and after breakfast we walked up the street towards the back entrance to Chichen Itza. We stopped by a gift shop near the entrance and purchased an overpriced bottle of water. It was going to be a hot day. After paying admission we continued on a path towards the ruins trying to remember visual waypoints so we could find our way back to where we entered. Mexico is not renowned for their use of signage. After a short walk we could see the larger structures though the trees including El Castillo, the famous Chichen Itza pyramid whose Spanish name translates to, “The Castle.” We quickened our pace and popped out of the trees and into a large grass clearing with El Castillo in the center surrounded by many other large Mayan structures. The only thing we could think of was “wow.” This place was impressive and worth the trip alone.
We walked around the pyramid snapping lots of photos and feeling awe at the sheer size of the place and its structures built by the hands of the Mayans hundreds of years earlier. As we moved around the massive pyramid we came across something that wasn’t so Mayan and seemed a little out of place. It was Elton John’s stage in the process of being set up.
We made our way through the other structures and came across the famous ball court. This ball court was massive in size and had completely vertical walls. The ones we had seen at other sites had sloped walls and were not nearly this size. The rules are not completely known but they think the players could only use their hips, and maybe forearms, to keep the 9 pound solid rubber ball in play, similar to volleyball. The object was to get the ball through the stone hoop high up on the wall. Either the winners, or losers, were sacrificed. It is not known which team was sacrificed but many scholars believe that the winners were the only ones worthy enough for a sacrifice to the Gods. Not a lot of incentive to win the game!
The one thing we really noticed about Chichen Itza that set it apart from the other Mayan ruins that we had visited were the carvings. Every structure at Chichen Itza had detailed carvings covering them. And many of the carvings were really morbid. We saw skulls, monkeys eating human hearts, eagles ripping out human hearts, severed heads, and what must have been the God of Tic-Tac-Toe. A tic-tac-toe game board pattern with X’s and O’s where the O’s always win.
After a full day of exploring Chichen Itza the employees started to round up the tourists and herd them towards the exit. It was at this time that I noticed the shadow of the serpent on the great pyramid of El Castillo. During the equinox, and for a few days afterwards, the sun is at the correct angle to create a shadow on the side of the pyramid that looks like a serpent slithering into the underworld. This event usually draws massive crowds, but today, it was just us and another group of about 5 people. I snapped a couple of photos and then the sun went behind the clouds and the shadow disappeared. So, we waited. The employees soon came over to us and told us we had to leave. And still we waited. Just as I was about to give up and leave before the employees physically dragged us to the exit, the sun reappeared and once again cast the serpent shadow. I snapped a few more photos and we made our way to the exit.