The next morning, Friday, we went to Chichen Itza. This is the most well known of all Maya "archeological sites" (I was scolded by an employee at Chichen Itza for saying the word "ruins" since things are in remarkably well-restored condition). It is the place of the stunning pyramid (you surely have seen it in photos) called "El Castillo de Kukulkán" (ehl kahSTEE-yo de kookoolKAHN). The name means the Castle of Kukulkán; Kukulkán is the feathered serpent god whose image is found in many places in Chichen Itza.
We had been warned that if the weather was very hot we would be too tired after climbing the big pyramid to do anything else. Our luck was good, though. The temperature was not bad, perhaps 75F, and we got there before the sun was baking hot.
[Photo: El Castillo de Kukulkan, surrounded by morning clouds. That's Brian on the right in a brimmed hat.]
Judy and I went against the hot weather advice and climbed the pyramid while there was still a slight morning shadow on us. It was worth it. There were only perhaps a half dozen people at the top when we got there. There was a temple at the top of the pyramid. The carvings on that temple are preserved remarkably well.
The view was breathtaking. You could see how far the ancient city spread, see many of the buildings, and beautiful green foliage as far as you could see. Unfortunately, once we reached the top I realized that I had run out of film – these were in the days before digitals.
After descending the pyramid, we joined a small group to go into the center of the pyramid. This large pyramid was built on top of an older and smaller temple. There is a doorway that leads into an inner chamber where you can see the older temple and go to a small room with two altars. One altar is the ever-present Chac-Mool, an important altar to the rain god Chac. Chac-Mool sculptures seem to be everywhere in the Maya ancient cities. I remember seeing at least three while at Chichen Itza. The second altar was more unusual and precious; a red jaguar encrusted with jade stones and flint for fangs, with its back as an altar table.
Though we were the first group admitted that fairly cool day, the inner room was horribly muggy and it was hard to breathe. Even the arched hallway and stairway was small, as the Maya people are still very small people by US standards. (I am 5 feet 2-1/2 inches and taller than most modern people of Maya descent, male or female.) I was glad to see the altars and the carving on the inner temple. However, I didn't stay in there long at all. It would have been unbearable for a claustrophobic person.
We explored an area where there were hundreds, maybe thousands, of stone columns. It looked to me like a monastery or something. I am told it was really two buildings near one another, the Temple of the Warriors and the Group of a Thousand Columns. According to what I read in the literature, there is another group of columns almost exactly like it in a far away city of the same era. It was somehow very calming to see the rhythm of all those pillars, lined up for a long distance. The pillars were also handy for a little shade in the heat.
We found our way to some paths behind the most popular ruins and it was amazingly quiet. Even though by this time the tour buses had descended in full force, we were practically alone for a good 45 minutes. The only others we came into contact with were occasional unofficial souvenir-hawkers selling miniature pyramids and Chac-Mool sculptures. I hadn't thought we could get away from the crowds, and I enjoyed Chichen Itza more than expected because of this.
Unfortunately, I lost all of my pictures of the three of us on this marvelous journey in Hurricane Hugo so I have placed stock pictures here to show you what Chichen Itza is like.