Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Back to the Seadust Buffet

The Infamous Buffet

TRAVEL THERE: THE RUDEST WOMAN IN MEXICO

As If We Didn’t Already Hate the Buffet

So why did we hate the Seadust buffet?  Well, it had a myriad of choices for every meal, but somehow few of them were anything we were interested in.  What’s more when we finally did pick out something to eat, it was at best mediocre.  The way some people filled up there plates, cleaned them and then went back for more and more and more, we know there were people who like the food, but we didn’t.

We also resented the tiny plastic cups provided for cold beverages – we’re talking juice glasses.  By the time you got a little ice, there was barely room for three good sups of soda.  There was also a tap for beer, but the glass barely held the head of foam, much less providing enough room for a reasonable serving.

Locating a salt shaker was a true challenge and pepper?  HA!  What pepper!

In an effort to be efficient, they whipped up your plate the moment you hesitated in the consumption of your food.  Therefore, one of us had to stay at the table at all times or the food we’d gone to so much trouble to pick out would be picked up.  Since you had to keep going back and forth to get more soda or beer, we didn’t spend much time actually eating together.

How Rude!

The final nail in the buffet coffin was the grill chef at this particular meal.  I decided to try a hamburger, freshly cooked at the grill.  At the grill window, there was a selection of entrees in pans from which to serve yourself, as well as a small refrigerated case with options you could order.

The grill chef was involved with grilling what looked like a couple of large pork loins, so I waited patiently, hoping I could catch her eye.  As I waited, I looked at the small cards defining the offerings in the case, which were in both Spanish and English.  In case you didn’t know, “hamburguesa” is Spanish for “hamburger” and “hot dog” is Spanish for “hot dog.” 

You know how it is when someone is trying to ignore you and hoping you will go away.  I can’t say that I blame the woman.  It’s not like she was the only outlet for food in the room and she was busy flipping the pork.  However, I really wanted that burger.

When she finally gave up and darted a glance at me, I smiled and said, “Hamburger, please?”  A fire flew into her eyes and disgust landed on her pursed lips.  “Espanol,” she demanded with a sneer.  I’m sure I looked a bit gobsmacked as I glanced at the card in the case to remind myself of the syllable which would make my request Spanish rather than English.  I made an effort to wrap my mouth around the Spanish, which she responded to with a snarky correction of my pitiful pronunciation.  She was absolutely gleeful to have the opportunity to do that.

I want you to know this rude lady was the only person who treated me this way throughout the entire trip.  I possess a very pitiful Spanish vocabulary for someone who lives in Texas and passed two semesters of high school Spanish.  I’m pretty good with signage and menus, but conversationally I’m a mess.  Still, I try to communicate in Spanish as much as I can.  I ask for cerveza and mantiquilla, instead of beer and butter.  I say por favor and gracias, instead of your welcome and thank you.  I greet people with hola que tal and if they respond with bueno y tu, then I struggle to come up with a word like magnifico.

This woman thought she was having one up on a stupid Americano.  She didn’t realize I was a blogger with over 2500 followers on various social sites or over 200,000 readers on Trip Advisor.  If you work in the public eye, you don’t know either.  That pain in the neck you’re waiting on might just be a social media maven who can ruin your online reputation.  As it is, I won’t be giving Trip Advisor a glowing report about the Seadust, but I’m also not going pick out this lady and make a big deal about her.  Who knows?  Maybe she was just having a bad day and too many of her other fellow employees worked really hard to make me have a good time.

Besides, I was about to go out to the beach and have a good time.  Come along with me next week.

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Saved by the Balcony

Seadust’s Adult Only Pools

TRAVEL THERE: FINALLY, THE SEADUST DOES US RIGHT

After our breakfast, we explored the hotel a little more, discovering a few spots we’d missed before like the adult pool and the ball courts.  After that we returned to the balcony.

Our Favorite Spot

I’ve said it before, but I will say it again.  Our balcony was our very favorite thing about the Seadust.  We stayed out on the balcony for several hours.  I continued to read my book and Bill browsed the internet with his tablet.

I can’t tell you how much we enjoyed our time there, silently sharing some time of relaxation.  Occasionally Bill would show me some nugget the internet had served up.  There would be movement from time to time, shifting our chaise lounges to avoid the direct sun, stepping in the room to get an item or just putting down what we were reading and standing at the railing.

Eventually, our breakfast faded away and it was time to find our lunch – even though that meant going back to the Buffet.  We made a list of the things we wanted to do else where in the resort.

  • visit the gym
  • fly our kite
  • drink margaritas
  • try out the adult pool

A Quick Visit to the Gym

Before we started eating again, Bill wanted to try out the gym.  We’d taken a self-directed tour of the facilities before.  The gym is on a lower floor near the spa.  The entry area is beautiful and serene.  The spa looked quite inviting, but since I can go to a spa at home, I don’t use my vacation dollars there.

The gym was very clean and well-equipped.  A nice attendant welcomed up and offered to help if we needed him.  We went on into the gym and made ourselves at home.

I was wearing flip-flops, but didn’t intend to workout in them.  As I dug in my bag for my closed shoes, the attendant popped by to let me know I was not allowed to workout in flip flops.  Well, duh!  That’s the reason I’m over here in the corner digging in my bag, but thank you for sharing this very obvious information.  I guess they do have people who think wearing flip flops is appropriate for the gym.  I’ve seen people who thought they were appropriate for funerals, too.

Bill was already on the weight machines when I climbed aboard a stationary bike for some cardio.  I was on vacation, so I didn’t dial in a vigorous workout, but after 10 minutes I realized it was a little warm in the gym to workout in comfort.  After another 5 minutes I was off the bike and ran into Bill, who was coming to tell me he was experiencing the same difficulty.

We’d put it off as long as we could.  We were going to have to go back to the buffet.  It was that or the outdoor snack bar at the pool.  We’d watched other people fight off the aggressive gulls and curious pigeons.  So we went to the buffet – again.  This time it was a little more of an adventure than it had been before.  Come back next week and see what I mean.

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL, WRITING

The Beauty of Our Balcony

TRAVEL THERE: AN EARLY MORNING REVERIE 

Our third day at the Seadust was devoted to enjoying whatever pleasures we could derive from the resort.  The food was horrid and while the recent renovation of the property had been adequate, it didn’t give us the appropriate quality to feel as if we were in a luxury resort.  So what did we do?

First Up!

I woke up early, which is SOP in this family.  I wasn’t quite up to visiting the gym, so I went out to the balcony with my travel journal and my book.  First, I caught up in the journal.  Looking over what I wrote, I see little that hints at the parallels I was beginning to draw between the ancient Mayan culture and our modern state of  devolving affairs.

After getting the journal up to date, I opened up my book and dove into the story.  The narrative was focused on bullfighting at this point.  We’d learned who the characters were and why we were there, but the story line seemed overly devoted to the matadors and their bulls.  I began to wonder if I should have chosen another book to read, which could have given me more insight into the Mayan culture.

I confess the bullfighting story did not hold my attention very well.  I constantly found myself staring off into the beautiful scenery just outside my balcony.  In the serenity I went through my prayer list, thinking of those in need, those I love and some friends who were vacationing together in another part of the Caribbean.  I’d pick up reading where I had left off, but soon I’d been soaking in the green of the palm trees and the blue of the water.

Mr. Lag Abed

Bill slept very late and after a short visit with me, decided to go back to bed for another nap.  I didn’t mind.  I returned to the balcony and continued dividing my time between the outstanding view and the book which was slowly turning its focus to the time period I was most interested in.

Michener rarely tells a tale with gripping speed, but instead slowly binds you in his tale like a python, slipping around an intended victim.  His reputation gets you within proximity and you snuggle up with the book to see what it is like.  You are aware of slowly changing positions, but you wonder why the snake has the reputation it does for devastating its victims.  Then all of a sudden it is too late.  You’d only been reading the book as a distraction and now you have to finish it to find out what happens to these people, who you now care very much about.

In spite of my interest in the book, my stomach decided it was time to have breakfast.  I roused Bill and suggested we use our breakfast time to plan our day.  Then we could return to the room to dress appropriately and gather up what we might need.

Breakfast of Victims

The only restaurant opened for breakfast was the buffet, so like the sacrificial victims in Chichen Itza we went where we were forced to go.  I hoped over breakfast I’d convince Bill to visit the Mayan museum and archaeological site right next to our hotel, but Bill had put up with all the Mayans he intended to.  Today he was going to get his money’s worth out of the resort.  Our accommodations might have been comped, but we’d paid the airfare, a small daily fee for tips and for the excursion to Chichen Itza.  So far, he felt the account wasn’t quite even and he was going to do something about that.

So after breaking our fast in one of our least favorite places in Cancun, we headed back to our room.  Come back next week and see how we spent the day.

 

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL

This Is an Italian Restaurant?

TRAVEL THERE: SEADUST’S LIGHTHOUSE RESTAURANT

Hungry, thirsty and exhausted we had no desire to visit the room before having dinner.  Seadust’s website promised an Italian restaurant with a focus on seafood and that sounded good to us, but we couldn’t remember the name of it.  The only restaurant with a lobster tank in it was The Lighthouse, but the pirate-themed decor left us wondering what made it  Italian.

There is a Small Wait

It was about 8:30 and all the restaurants were busy.  The Lighthouse had about a 20 minute wait, so we left our name on the list and made the rounds of the area to see if anything else looked more promising.

  • The Buffet held no interest for us.
  • Big Ben, the steakhouse had an even longer wait than The Lighthouse.
  • Manhattan was the Seadust’s version of a NY Deli, which didn’t sound like what we wanted.
  • Samurai, the Sushi joint was closed for the evening.
  • El Maguey, was a Mexican restaurant and we’d already had a Mexican meal for lunch.
  • The poolside snack bar was closed.
  • We’d been at Maison d’ Michelle the night before and I was afraid of being served another helping of duck chunks, regardless of what I ordered.
  • The only other venue for food was a breakfast place for “Club” members.  It wasn’t breakfast time and we weren’t Club members, whatever that entailed.

That journey ate up about half our waiting time, so we made our way over to the bar we had visited the night before.  We grabbed some wine and cheese to hold us over until the The Lighthouse could seat us.

The Lobster Tank and Other Disappointments

Front and center in The Lighthouse is a lobster tank, announcing the seafood opportunities awaiting its patrons, but like the wines offered by the previous day’s supercilious sommolier, a significant surcharge accompanied the enjoyment of the crustaceans.  First strike!

The menu provided the answer to why the restaurant thought it was an Italian place, but you really had to read between the lines of the  poor translation to figure that out.  Nothing really sounded like what we imagined we might be served, but we settled on some choices.  Bill picked some kind of fish and I went with some fried seafood.  I’ve learned when the menu is a little shaky, go for either the mixed grill or something fried.  My dish was kind of a deep fried mixed grill but it would have to do.  This was more like a foul ball, rather than a strike.

Instead of appetizers, The Lighthouse offers a “salad bar.”  OK.  I went to check it out, because Bill didn’t want a salad.  There was a bowl of greens, but most of the choices on the “salad” bar were cold seafood options – large prawns, crab claws and other selections.  I came back to the table with my prawns and crab, which inspired Bill to try the prawns.  Strike two!  The prawns were overcooked and the meat of the crab claw did not justify the extreme measures required to get to it.  I’ve eaten crab claws my whole life.  I had never faced an enemy claw quite like these.  The shell of the crab was like a concrete casing and after you labored to get to the meat, it wasn’t very good.

The Iberostar

Our entrees arrived and it was another foul ball.  Mine was adequate.  You can get better at the Golden Corral, but I was hungry and it was edible.  I don’t think Bill’s entree could even be called adequate, but he did try to eat it.  All the while, Bill was Googling the Iberostar and the other accommodations in the Hotel Zone.  He decided then and there that all-inclusive would no longer be in his vocabulary!

To finish the meal, there was a dessert bar. Strike three. It did have desserts, but nothing we couldn’t have gotten our hands on in the dreaded buffet.  I chose a few small items, but Bill walked away.  He walked right over to the Maison d’Michelle and arranged for us to have dessert there.  He impatiently waited for me to finish the little tarts I’d picked up and then we revisited the duck chunk restaurant.  They served us two desserts and Bill ate both.

I was exhausted.  I was also sick and tired of hearing about the shortcomings of our resort.  Just because I didn’t waste my energy cataloging the irritants didn’t mean I was oblivious to them, but it also didn’t mean that I had to be disgusted with the whole vacation.  I could still have fun.  We returned to the room and I went directly to bed.  Things did get better the next day, but unfortunately, not in the restaurants.  Come back next week and see what I mean.

ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Libraries, Music, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Books

Back on the Bus

TRAVEL THERE: A LONG RIDE HOME

It had been a very long day and there was still some left as the bus headed back to Cancun.

The Joy of a Good Book

I had read it before, but even so, I had chosen James Michener’s book Mexico, as my reading material for the trip.  Unlike many of his novels, which begin even before the appearance of man in a locale, this novel focused on a modern day journalist covering a bullfight festival, who was at the same time Mexican, American, Mayan and Spanish.  The book does look back at the ancient residents of the country, but instead of choosing an actual tribe, such as the Mayans, Toltecs, Aztecs or Olmecs to showcase, Michener made up a sort of conglomerate tribe called the Altomecs, allowing him to comment on them all.

So many years had passed since my last reading of the book that it seemed fresh.  Occasional scenes gave me a sense of deja vu, but I was still following the plot with interest, unsure how it would end.  (I still haven’t finished it as I write this post, but the more I read the more I remember, and I have recalled the end.)  On the bus ride back to the Seadust, I was only a third of the way through and the Altomecs had not even entered the narrative, except a brief mention from time to time of the pyramid which was near the primary locale of the story.

It had been a long day and several times I caught myself dozing off.  At one point, I woke from a dream to discover it was pitch black outside.  I had been asleep for quite a while.  In my dream I was back at Chichen Itza.  I was among the crowds watching the sacrifices, but somehow I was doing so as a character from Michener’s book and at the same time, I was privy to all the knowledge I had accumulated in my actual lifetime.  I stood on the plaza remembering scholarly data about the Mayan civilization, our own lifestyle in America and the many other civilizations I have studied and observed.

When I woke up it took a few moments to figure out exactly where I was.  I soon noticed the guides were fiddling around with the technology.  TV screens folded up and down as if on their own and the guides huddled over a remote control.  I suspected something was up, but they still managed to surprise me with their tequila service.

The interior lights of the bus flashed on as a rather loud rendition of the song “Tequila” played on the loudspeaker.  A man in a strange costume, his face covered with a stocking mask was standing in the aisle.  Though I was pretty sure it was supposed to be entertainment, a part of me was still under the influence of my strange dream.  It wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience, but I understand they intended it to be.

Bill had a little tequila, but I had no interest.  My stomach was ready for its next meal and had no interest in alcohol.  We were soon back to Cancun and we were fortunate enough to be the second stop.  Unfortunately, the first stop was the Iberostar which had refused Bill entrance the previous day.  Before the night was over, I was also wishing we could visit the Iberostar!  Come back next week and find out why!

Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Many Refreshing Experiences

TRAVEL THERE: A BUFFET AND A SWIM

For lunch we returned to our shopping experience venue, but this time we only had enough time to take advantage of a delightful buffet.  The buffet offered both Mexican and International selections.

Yummy for Your Tummy

We hit the Mexican buffet first and it was delicious.  Rice, refried beans, tacos and other favorites from the native cuisine.  It beat the Seadust all to heck.  Bill in particular loved a chicken-rich soup they served.  The international-ness of the International offerings was somewhat questionable.  They had tortilla chips covered in Cheez-Whiz, a sort of Mexican casserole and fajitas.  They also offered hamburgers, which I guess is what made it international.  I found it amusing and enjoyed the irony of ballpark nachos in the middle of the Yucatan peninsula.  They also had Huevos Ranchero, which I didn’t try, because I don’t do eggs, but Bill did and he said they were good.

As we ate our generous lunch a trio of ladies, dressed in the gorgeous embroidered dresses of the region, performed traditional dances for us, including the dance with the tray of beer bottles on their head.  It was a nice touch to a day which had already been wonderful.

There was a beautiful presentation of fruit, a refrigerator of gelatin and other chilled desserts, as well as hand-scooped ice cream cones.  Bill sampled the fruit and we both tried the watermelon ice cream.  Time for a quick potty stop was the only other thing we had time for.

Swimming in the Cenote

Our next stop was the Il Kill Cenote. I confess I am not much of a swimmer.  There was a time in my life when I had passed a Red Cross life-saving course and taught swim lessons.  That was a very long time ago.  Nowadays, I lounge by the pool and occasionally take a stroll through the shallow end.  I am almost embarrassed to confess I usually don’t even care that I have completely forgotten my swimming skills.  I am perfectly happy on the side of the pool.  However, on this particular day, I was somewhat envious of those who climbed down to the water’s edge and swam in the cenote.

Bill was one of those people. After we took a cursory stroll around the grounds, he changed into his swim trunks in the dressing room and showered off to protect the pristine waters of the cenote.  I climbed part of the way down to the cenote with him, so I would have a good vantage point from which to observe his brave swim in the virtually bottomless pool. 

When he reached the pool, he had three choices for entering the water: terrifying, less terrifying and sedate.  One glance at the terrifying height of the cliff from which many people dove told him that was not where he wanted to go.  It was quite a drop from where he was standing and he’s past proving anything to anyone.  The sedate route was set of wooden stairs, near a rope across the water.  Many people slipped into the water from the relative safety of the stairs and grabbed the line rather than actually swimming in the cenote.  That was a little bit too tame.

So Bill watched a few people dive into the cenote to see how they fared.  When they cleared the area in front of him, he dove in.  Seconds passed between his brave dive and the moment his head bobbed above the water.  I was sure he’d reappear, but I held my breath with him nonetheless.  He swam over to the rope and looked for me at the level above, but he chose the wrong me.

I smirked from the corner I’d chosen for observation, as he waved in vain to a woman who did not know him.  When we reunited after his swim he confessed he’d been disappointed his greeting had not been returned and he was glad to know I’d watched him in the water.

Almost as soon as Bill had back on his street clothes, it was time to get on the bus.  It was late afternoon as we headed back to Cancun.  I settled down in my seat and pulled out my book.  Come back next week as we re-enter to city of Cancun and return to our hotel.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Amusing Distractions

TRAVEL THERE: KUDOS TO CANCUN PASSION

Waiting for us beside our tour bus after the tour of Chichen Itza were our hosts from Cancun Passion.  Cancun Passion was the actual touring company we’d booked through Shore Trips, which had been recommended to us by Sandra Rubio at CTC Travel.  I can heartily recommend all of those entities to you. 

I love my friends at CTC Travel.  They are like cheerleaders, urging me on in my efforts to see the world.  You will love working with them as you plan your own travels.  Shore Trips is a great way to book excursions, all over the world.  They offer a wide variety of tours wherever you might go and their website is secure, informative and easy to use.  When it came to visiting Chichen Itza from Cancun, Shore Trips curated the very best choices of tours, in my opinion.  But let me tell you about Cancun Passion.

Service with a Smile

From the moment we connected with Cancun Passion, in the lobby of our hotel, we knew we’d made a good choice.  Their representative spoke perfect English, welcomed us with a hearty smile and ushered us into a pristine vehicle, which still had its new-car smell.  I can’t say that the next hour or so of picking up fellow passengers was all that much fun, but what I liked was that they kept us abreast of what was going on, so we weren’t left wondering if we’d actually ever depart the city of Cancun.

At one point, a guide showed up wearing my hat down the aisle of the bus.  I’d left the hat in the first bus we’d climbed onto, when we changed to the larger vehicle.  I don’t have any idea what difficulties they went through to unite me with my hat, but it showed a level of care which I really appreciated.  I’ve left many hats in many vehicles around the world and this is the first that was ever returned to me.

The light breakfast they served on the way to Chichen Itza was more than adequate.  They had generous baskets overflowing with all kinds of pastries from the sweet to the savory.  They served coffee and orange juice.  I drink neither of those on a regular basis, but I know I am in a very small minority and should I have asked, they could have given me water.  The repast was offered with good cheer and second, thirds and fourths were available if you wanted them. 

At every stop we knew exactly why we were there, what opportunities we had for necessities, shopping or entertainment.  We also knew exactly when we were supposed to be back on the bus.  We always had a convenient parking spot and not once did we have to wait for very long, before everyone was on the bus and we were back on our way.

As we got off the bus at Chichen Itza, they gave us a nice bottle of water, not one of those half bottles some folks give you, but a bottle generous enough to provide hydration throughout the visit.  They also had a big basket of small bbq sandwiches to keep hunger at bay as we visited the site.  The meat-filled roll was delicious.  

I particularly appreciated our tour guide.  He was not a pedantic as our Egyptian guide nor silly like some of the other Mayan guides, who had their guests clapping and yelling at the monuments.  He also did not engage in guessing games to present the pertinent information about the site, like the jerk who showed us around Passau and scolded us because we didn’t already know the information we’d hired him to tell us.  Our guide at Chichen Itza was proud of the accomplishments of his ancestors, but also honest about the horrors they committed.

Boarding the Bus at Chichen Itza

So far, our excursion had been almost perfect.  Perhaps a private tour would have been more accommodating to our personal needs and desires, but it would have cost a whole lot more.  For an affordable group tour, they did a great job.  However, even if I had harbored some minor grudge against them, all would have been forgiven as we approached the bus, hot and tired from our tour of the archaeological site.

Waiting for each guest was a cool wet hand cloth to wipe away the dust and heat of Chichen Itza.  Also, from the chilly interior of an ice chest each guest was offered a beverage.  Water, soda and beer was available.  I can’t remember when a Corona had tasted so good.

We have a buffet and a swim coming, but that can wait until next week.  Join me then for more adventures.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Where Did the Mayans Go?

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.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

Just How Civilized Are We?

TRAVEL THERE: MORE IMPRESSIONS OF CHICHEN ITZA

Last week I shared my first impressions of Chichen Itza.  The longer I stayed the darker my thoughts became.  As if in response to the cartwheeling girls in front of the pyramids, I felt the lives of the Mayans deserved to be carefully considered and now, days later, I am still pondering my observations.

Marketplace of the Macabre

As if to emphasize my train of thought, I realized the structure adjacent to the altars was the marketplace.  Beautiful rows of columns raised their heads to the sky, but like the Hypostyle Hall in Karnak, these columns once bore the weight of a heavy roof to protect the items of commerce available in the market.  Like us, Mayan traders traveled to distant lands and brought back beautiful items used for adornment, which were sold next to agricultural products and weapons and cosmetics.  Did the market close during the sacrifices?  I doubt it.  Instead, like a big box store getting ready for Black Friday, they’d hired extra help and filled their shelves with extra merchandise.

After showing us the main plaza and describing the crowds that once filled it during the days of sacrifice, our guide took us to the back of the pyramid where evidence of vandalism was apparent, but the vandalism is not recent.  The Spanish came and disregarded the value of the Mayan ruins by peeling off layers of stone to build their own homes.  The Spanish were not alone in this type of activity.  The beautiful marble which once covered the Egyptian pyramids was used to build later monuments for people who saw little reason to protect the beauty of past engineers.  How is that different from the cartwheeling girls?

Men of Science

At the back of the pyramid, the guide gave us a choice.  We could stay in the plaza to shop and take pictures or visit the observatory.   I was hungry for more, so we followed the guide.  Removed from the plaza, but still in the shadow of the pyramid stood an edifice for tracking the stars.  They performed accurate science in this place, science that measured the routes of the stars and their dance across the sky.  The statistics they calculated have proven to be as accurate as those of our own scientists, with their modern equipment, almost to the second.

The men of science in that day, knew from centuries of observation, the days would get longer, just as surely as they watched them get shorter.  It had always been that way.  Instead of proclaiming proven fact, they used their data to pick the day the sacrifices would be made.  To declare the truth would have reduced their own power, so they ignored what they knew and instead worked hand-in-hand with the politicians, celebrities and leaders to deceive the general public – those standing below the pyramid and those falling lifelessly down the steps.  Does that sound at all familiar to you?  It does to me.

The Pleasure Palace

Just beyond the Observatory, still in sight of the pyramid, is a huge palace, mostly still standing.  You can see intricate lattices of stone decorating the walls of the building, graceful columns in the walled garden and steps winding up to a balcony.  Was the spot chosen for its proximity to the pyramid?  Did they walk to the plaza or watch them from their pleasant garden?  Who were the royals who lived in the shadow of so much death and right next door to a scientific institution that could have used their data to end the grisly performances of religion?

The palace marked the beginning of a residential area.  Their neighbors were priests, other members of royalty, high level political appointees, the families of warriors and of the successful merchants whose businesses filled the market.  Their primitive HOA offered a steam bath and water was delivered daily from the cenote by slaves.  Other slaves brought food from the harvests to feed them.  Their house slaves swept the floors, served their meals, dressed their hair and raised their children.

It was fantastic, this life the powerful had built for themselves.  Certainly, it was also horrific, but did they notice or even care?  What if you had lived in those times, at that place?  Would you have joined the circus that protected your place in society or would you have lived each day in horror, wondering how your lone voice could make a difference against the odds?

If these impressions seem different to you from my usual travelogue, I must agree with you.  They seem different to me, too.  Wherever I travel and whatever I see, I try to put myself in the place of those who lived the life I am observing.  I try to use their experiences to better understand what I observe in my own world. I’ve stood alongside ancient monuments like Stonehenge and the Temple at Karnack.  I’ve visited magnificent cathedrals and breathtaking palaces.  I’ve walked through significant battlegrounds and beautiful gardens.  Never have I been as disturbed by what I saw as I was at Chichen Itza.

I’ve barely touched on the influence of the Spanish in Mexico.  At Chichen Itza all you really see of them is the stones they took away from the pyramid, which is in many ways symbolic of the other things they took away.  What they brought with them was a religion, which would replace the grisly sacrifices of thousands upon thousands with the sacrifice of One, but were they in truth any more benevolent than the murderous priests of Chichen Itza?  Let’s talk about that next week.

TRAVEL

The Marvelous, Malevolent Mayans

TRAVEL THERE: IMPRESSIONS OF CHICHEN ITZA

Is Chichen Itza filled with vendors hawking junk and and tourists taking selfies. Yep, it is, but if you let that stop you from visiting then you aren’t a true traveler. UNESCO has named it one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. My TV friends visit here often – Josh Gates, Giorgio A. Tsoukalos, Don Wildman and more. They come looking for everything from new discoveries beneath the pyramid to evidence of ancient aliens. It is a magnet for the curious and the bored. You must visit.

First Impressions

If you let it, Chichen Itza can turn you off before you’ve seen a single structure. The parking lots are a maze of tour buses. Pouring off of the buses en masse are all your least favorite tourists. You enter the park through the official obligatory shopping experience and for the rest of your visit you are avoiding the offers of the unofficial vendors hawking their wares on all the pathways through the park. It’s distracting and I wish they would go away, but that’s just Mexico.

Our guide led us quickly through the crowds, passed up the pyramid and took us to a shady spot just outside the infamous ball fields. There he began an education related to the rigorous castes of Mayan society. If you were born a noble, you remained a noble, living off the burdensome taxes charged to the rest of society. If you weren’t a noble, you weren’t going to become one, but you might become a human sacrifice or a slave. This is an aspect of Mayan society I had learned of previously, but this reminder colored the rest of my thoughts as I experienced what the Mayans had built.

The Marvelous and Malevolent

You learn quickly that the Mayans built all their wonderful cities without the wheel. What our guide, a Mayan himself, pointed out, was that Mayans knew all about the wheel. The evidence is everywhere from their calendar to the ball hoops, but the wheel was sacred, because it represented life. The wheel was there and could have made life easier, but from reverence they labored without it and their labors are magnificent.

In the famous ball court we learned the traditional game had to be modified to be played in such a huge stadium. They had pads and clubs not usually part of the game, but needed to reach the goals and cover the distances. The entertainment was for nobles only. Unlike the Colosseum in Rome, where everyone was welcome, in Mayan society only the priests and the royals observed the national past time, which would end in human sacrifice.

For the common man, just outside the ball courts were a series of open air altars.  During some ceremonies, thousands upon thousands would be sacrificed to the odd stone man, laying on his back, holding a bowl for the still warm hearts of the sacrificial victims.

From these auxiliary altars, between the ball field and the main plaza, our guide took us to stand before the main pyramid, but my mind was still back on the thousands and thousands of victims who would have their hearts ripped out, not over a century or a decade, not even over a year or a month, but in a matter of days.

The modern keeper of the altar.

I’d always known the Mayans were pretty brutal.  I’ve read about them, seen TV shows about them and even visited some of their other archaeological sites, but this was different.  Somehow, standing there in the shade of a tree, watching an iguana traipse around where once life upon life was snuffed out, it all became very real.  This excursion was not going to be a casual adventure to tick another item off my wish list.  It was going to impact my world view.

It was then the amusement park atmosphere of the main plaza began to grate on my nerves.  Scantily clad young women with piercings and tattoos performed acrobatic moves, like cartwheels and splits.  Young men performed their own antics to get the attention of the girls.  People took selfies of themselves, kissing before the altar, where bodies once stacked up during sacrificial ceremonies.  Guides were making jokes.  The activity was incongruous to the site.

A part of me listened attentively to what the guide was saying, but in my mind I was an ancient Mayan.  What would I have felt about the horrors I watched.  Would I have been sickened or entertained?  Did the Mayans behave as the tourists were behaving.  Then unwillingly I thought of our modern day killing sprees and realized we weren’t all that different than the Mayans.  My thoughts grew darker and darker.

I’ve used up all my words for today and I wish I could tell you next week would be more fun, but just as I share the good meals as well as the bad meals, I will tell you what it was like for me at Chichen Itza.  Please come back then to visit the rest of the site with me.