I like old things. Older the better and if they can even be called ancient, I’m there. So when the JW Marriott in Cancun invited me down for a rare astronomical event involving one of the most famous ruins in the world, I didn’t hesitate before accepting.
The JW Marriott Cancun has fully embraced the end of the Mayan calendar in 2012, although not in the corny, end of the world kind of way. They realize that the end of one cycle means the start of another and not the end of the world, and have instead decided to highlight the unique areas in the Yucatan that make visiting so much fun. Chief among these sites is Chichen Itza, one of the Seven New Wonders of the World. I was in Mexico to see the famous Descent of the Feathered Serpent, which only happens twice a year on the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. It’s a remarkable event and I couldn’t wait.
That’s not where we started our day though, instead we packed up our stuff into the van to visit another Mayan ruin, Ek’ Balam. While the Mayan civilization was linked, it flourished as a series of city-states, including Ek’ Balam. At its height it was a large city, controlling a populous and prosperous countryside. I was overjoyed as we pulled into the parking lot when I noticed only a few other cars. I knew that Chichen Itza was going to be a madhouse, and the idea of exploring an archeological marvel all alone made me smile.
We traipsed around the ruins, climbing the oval palace and meandered through the ball court before arriving at the centerpiece of Ek’ Balam, the Acropolis. This pyramid-style structure was at the center of life for the Maya and still houses the tomb of one of its most famous rulers, Ukit Kan Le’k Tok’. (Yeah, had to look that one up) Looking up the steep staircase I struggled to imagine the thousands of ceremonies that took place on that very spot, all rich with meaning and importance. It was hot, much hotter than the coastal resort I left and I wondered if I could make it to the top of the Acropolis without passing out from heat stroke.
After a few breaks to catch my breath, I stood atop the mighty building and looked down. I saw the rest of the ancient city and looked across the nearby countryside, flat as a pancake and covered in dense jungle. The forest had almost completely reclaimed the land the Mayans took, returning it to a feral state of scrub and trees.
I descended the pyramid a lot less gracefully than I ascended, on my behind. The stairs are steep and I was nervous so I, and my fellow traveling companions, all slid down one step at a time. About halfway down the Acropolis, I stopped at a side temple that houses the famous tomb of the previously mentioned, and unpronounceable, Mayan noble. The display was amazing both in its level of preservation as well as its detail. What faced me was a massive representation of the earth monster with its jaws open wide. I just stood there in awe and reflected back at what this place must’ve been like in its heyday when instead of stray dogs it was a habitation for thousands of people.
I was hot and dusty as we pulled away from Ek’ Balam, thankfully on our way to a cool and relaxing cenote swim. As we drove away I looked back and not for the first time marveled not just at the history found throughout Mexico, but at how well it’s honored by the generations that have followed.