TRAVEL TALK: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF A CULTURE
Last week I mentioned the Spanish and their influence on Mexico. I was horrified by the Mayan culture at its apex, but by the time the Spanish arrived, the jungle had reclaimed Chichen Itza. All that remained was a pile of stones to loot for building materials. The magnificence of that society had crumbled.
Peeling Back the Jungle
Historians and archaeologists have many speculations on the downfall of the Mayans. Their glorious city of Chichen Itza was first taken over by the Toltecs and then abandoned for reasons that are still unknown. How did it happen? How did such an advanced society merely fade into the jungle?
When you go to Chichen Itza today, you must use your imagination to understand just how astounding it would have been to walk among the monuments in their glory. The rain and the wind have softened the many carvings on the faces of the buildings and walls. Mere shadows of pigment hint at the remarkable murals once covering every inch of exposed stone. How overwhelming it must have been!
Standing in the Plaza
As I stood there trying to imagine the city ripe with the beauty it once displayed and the engineering it had taken to create it, I was distracted by those around me. Overweight senior citizens from America, sweltering in the sun and wondering why they had ever paid someone to bring them to this overrated steam bath. Younger and thinner tourists, from around the world, frolicking like they were at a theme park, rather than an archaeological site. Native Mayans leading tours, some trying to be comedians, while others shared the importance of the site’s history, but all hoping their meager salaries would be supplemented by generous tips from their audience.
And throughout the site, along every pathway, under every tree, were other Mayans. Their marketplace no longer had a roof, so they huddled, one after another in the shade, to avoid the blasting heat of the sun, selling their wares. One vendor offered pretty much the same thing as another. Some focused on wearable souvenirs, while others sold trinkets to decorate your home. Too many vendors demonstrated a wooden device that made the sound of a jaguar when you blew into it. We were sick to death of the sound before we left. More pleasantly, some vendors played melodies on rustic pipes. Occasionally, you would see a craftsman, carving a beautiful statue with his own hands, while a quick inspection of other souvenirs would reveal a label professing they’d been made by hands in other countries, where the workmen would earn even less than a native craftsman.
How much easier it would have been to join my fellow tourists in their boredom or their freewheeling photography sessions. I could have spent my time shopping among the tables of the modern day merchants, comparing the prices and workmanship of their offerings. Why was I mired in gloomy thoughts of horrific bloodletting and an advanced society which was doing almost everything wrong when it came to the good of their citizens? What was Chichen Izta trying to tell me?
This is not a conundrum I was able to solve in the few hours I walked among its monuments. Instead I would walk back to the bus with a heavy heart and conflicting thoughts. My conclusions would have to work themselves out over the coming days.
On to More Amusing Adventures
It was time to board the bus. A buffet lunch waited for us and then we’d be headed to visit a cenote. I shook over my pondering and looked forward to a good meal. The traveler in me made way for the tourist. Come back next week and we’ll consider lighter subjects.