Monday dawned cloudy but very warm so Ty and I decided to visit the nearby Mayan ruin site of Dzibilchaltun, about 15 kilometers north of Merida. On our last visit to Merida seven years ago, we had ridden bikes to this place; unfortunately, on that occasion Ty’s bike had crapped out, leaving him with only one working pedal to get back home, not a very happy scene. So, this time we decided to take public transport. One website we read recommended taking a hired combi (minibus taxi) from San Juan park south of the main plaza, so we jumped aboard a city bus, walked a few blocks to the park, and negotiated a (ridicuously large) fare with a sleepy driver to take us out to the site. We knew that we’d agreed to pay way too much when the driver jumped up from his prone position on one of the back seats and made the sign of the cross while gazing heavenward in thanks before hopping into the driver’s seat and heading down the road.
We were amazed at how much farther north the city had expanded in seven years; what before had been large tracts of undeveloped land was now miles and miles of new shopping malls, big box stores, and auto malls along a ten lane highway. After turning off the main Merida-Progreso highway, our driver pulled over to pick up a couple of local people who were also heading towards Dzibilchaltun. I watched steaming in the back seat as the driver took money from them (and in Spanish told them how much we were paying as they all laughed) for what was supposed to be the private ride for which we’d negotiated a huge sum of money. If he’d asked us, we would have let them ride with us for free; but when he took money from them, that was too much. When we reached the site, I mustered my Spanish to tell the driver off; demanding to know how much the others had paid him for our ride, I deducted that amount from what we paid him.
The last time that we’d visited this place, we had been the only ones on the site. Today, though, there were several tour groups, likely from one of the cruise ships that comes into nearby Progreso on Mondays and Wednesdays. Once again, I was surprised to hear so many American accents all in one place (the last time this happened was in St Lucia on cruise ship day). It is still possible to climb the structures here and from the top of one small pyramid, we caught a beautiful breeze and could see far in all directions.
Down at ground level it was very hot and humid. After walking around the open chapel and through the main plaza, we headed towards the large cenote (fresh water sinkhole) in which many of the visitors were swimming, watching them from a nearby structure.
Although these waters seem clean, since there are fresh water organisms in Mexico which can give serious disease, neither of us swam.
As we climbed the stones, Ty’s flip-flop broke – damn! However, ingeniously, he was able to repair it using one of my string bracelets and a small piece of wood – huzzah! – enabling him to continue our walking tour.
Many small, almost invisible, lizards zoomed out of our way as we walked. Larger ones, almost the same colour as the ground, sunned themselves on the warm rocks.
We climbed the most important structure on the site, the Temple of the Seven Dolls, whose four entrances face east and west, and from there we had a great view across the most important structures of the area.
Since the site’s Museum wasn’t open on Mondays, we headed back out to the parking lot, trying to figure out how to get back to the city. After having paid a fair bit of coin to get there, and a fair bit to get into the site, we were not inclined to pay for a taxi back. One of the drivers told us that a local bus would be coming from the village in fifteen minutes so we made our way out to the main road and, amazingly, only waited for a couple of minutes before the big old bus approached, for which we paid a twentieth of what it had cost to get there.
From Yucatan Today: “Dzibilchaltún” means the “place where there is writing on the stones,” referring to the many memorial stones found at the site. There were settlements here from 500 BC until the Spanish conquest, around 1540 AD. It covers an area of about 19 square kilometers, with somewhere around 8400 structures in the round enclave. It is believed there may have been a population of as many as 40,000 inhabitants, making it one of the largest cities of Mesoamerica. [...]
The Temple of the Seven Dolls is also known as the Temple of the Sun, a square structure which was the focal point of the city. This second name may come from the phenomenon which takes place twice yearly, at the spring and fall equinoxes, when the rising sun is visible through one window and out the other, a tribute to the incredible mathematical knowledge of the Mayas. The temple is connected to the rest of the site by a sacbé, or “white road,” so called because they were originally coated with white limestone, built over stone and rubble fill.
The more well known name, Temple of the Seven Dolls, comes from the seven small coarsely made effigy dolls found in the interior of the temple. The one-story square building has a central chamber surrounded by a corridor. There are four entrances with windows alongside each one, facing east and west. It may have been used as an astronomical observatory. The roof was like a tower, which projected upwards from a vaulted ceiling. There are steps on all four sides of the building, which was built on a pyramid-shaped pedestal. There are eight stucco masks on the frieze of the temple, as well as serpents and glyphs, and beads, sea animals, and feathers, all made in carved stucco. It wasn’t until the 1950s that archaeologists discovered the temple buried under another building: for some reason around 800 AD, the temple was filled with rocks and then covered by another larger building. The remains of this second structure still partially cover it.”
Once back in Merida, we stopped for lunch at a newly-opened German restaurant downtown, a nice change from tacos …
Ty’s improvised shoe repair lasted until a couple of blocks from home, whereupon he had to replace the disintegrating stick with a fresh one he’d had the presence of mind to put in his pocket.
Such are the small joys of life on the road …
The large cactus near our casita is blooming; huge white flowers open in the night and, as soon as the sun hits them in the morning, close and die. While the blooms are still open, clouds of large and small bees enjoy them.
See more pics here.