The morning after visiting the Tres Conotes, I was again to be found at the bus station at an absurd hour. Two hours later I stepped off a bus in the midst of the ancient Mayan city, Chichen Itza.
Guarding the entrance to the ruined city is an impressive and entirely modern tourist facility, as well as a traditional Mayan marketplace. Skipping past the marketplace and heading to the complex, I was happy to find that by chance Sunday is entirely free. This was especially good to hear seeing as how I didn't know there was an access fee anyway, and the fee is a surpisingly steep $85 pesos (almost $10US -- hey, it's a third of my daily budget). Pleased by the serendipitious timing, I walked past the spinning gates and onto the trail to the city proper.
My first stop, as is probably typical for most everyone, is the center temple itself. Housed on top of the structure's ten terraces tall, and accessed by ninety-six extremely steep steps, the ceremonial chambers offer cool respite from the exhausting climb. As a reward for the morning effort, every direction provides an incredible view of the surrounding jungle and ruins. Also at the top I ran into two German friends I met at a club just two nights before (and accidentally stiffed with my drink tab, causing extreme chaos as they tried to exit). After a brief chat, I left Alexandria and Sergev (?) to their own devices, enjoyed the view and soft breeze, and took the steps down to the courtyard.
After the major temple I walked back to an area with hundreds of tall columns slowly crumbling into the ground. Back behind this temple I sat alone in the forest, the sights and sounds of the area utterly without trace of modern civilization. After a spell alone, I was visited by a very large iguana -- the first of many that I'd see throghout the Yucatan. I approached cautiously to attempt a picture, but just as my finger neared the button it scampered into a deep hole that I dared not enter. That hole, like many others that burrow into the temple stones, piqued my curiousity but escaped the reach of my tiny flashlight probes.
Continuing around back I headed to a Mayan steam house where I listened to a tour guide explain how it's one of the few structures with known uses, and that it was thought to purify the soul. Crawling through the tiny entrance (terribly small given that the actual floor of the complex is covered under a foot of dirt, leaving open only the top), I sat where the Mayans must have sat to seek purity one thousand years before. With my soul cleansed, my hunger quickly grew and I returned to the tourist complex for an early lunch before the noon crowd.
Deciding to splurge, I went for the $50 buffet and got a large glass of horchata. First, I have to say that the horchata down here is fantastic. I first tried it in a San Jose burrito shop (Iguana, with "burritos as big as your head!" Incidentally, I haven't seen a single burrito shop down here, and the only place I've seen them advertised is in very touristy restaurant. I'm starting to think they're a Taco Bell invention and not truly Mexican), and I've been hooked ever since. It's a drink made from rice, sugar, and cinnimmon, looks like milk, and tastes like... well it tastes darn good. It's perfect for a hot day like it was that day. Anyway, the rest of the buffet was rather unremarkable, though the melon was particularly memorable.
Hunger sated, I headed back for my second round of exploration. As I walked back to the observatory, I again discovered my two German friends. We decided to go grab a drink at a nearby stand to escape the afternoon sun, then head to the sacrificial cenote. The cenote, resting place to dozens of jewlry laiden bodies offered to the gods, is ringed by deep cliffs and jungle brush. Ending the road from the main temple, jutting over the edge, is the platform from which victims were tossed in alive, consumed by the hungry spirits above much as I consumed the juicy melon below.
After the cenote, another drink in another stand (there are only two in the entire complex, topped with a thatched roof in a cabana style). From there, back to the temple where we discovered and climbed the interior stairs to the central chamber. Steep, claustrophobic, and extremely humid, the result was a jade-encrusted puma in a tiny, anticlimactic chamber.
Tiring from the heat and walking, we then wandered the courtyard to find a tall tree under which to laze away the afternoon. After our nap, we headed back to the facility, took a taxi to a nearby town for dinner, found a bus, and headed home to Merida.