We’re back from a week at Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. (Seed companies offer the best customer rewards, in case you were wondering. :))
My feelings about resort tourism are too complicated and raw for a blog post, but my husband and I try to be respectful of the local culture and the country we’re visiting.
One of the reasons we wanted to go on this trip was to experience the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza and Tulum for ourselves. It was a rare chance to see ancient history up close and in person, and we were not disappointed.
Chichen Itza was impressive. The sheer size and scale of the ruins, the detail of the surviving Mayan glyphs ~ there aren’t enough words to convey the sense of time you feel standing at the foot of the main pyramid, or wandering past observatories and temples. I read Jungle of Stone by William Carlsen before we left ~ about John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catharwood and their “discovery” of Mayan ruins in Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico ~ so I thought I had some sort of historic context for what I was seeing. But nothing could have prepared me for the experience of walking in those shadows myself, hearing the Quetzal bird echoes from our claps and seeing the Mayan faces in the stonework.
Tulum, though smaller in scope, was so wild and beautiful I could have spent my entire vacation wandering around it. It was the last Mayan city built, and the last abandoned ~ thanks to the coral reef protecting it from the sea and the thick wall protecting it from the land, it was never conquered by the Spanish (a point of obvious pride to the tour guides).
The Mayans had a sophisticated written language capable of expressing complex ideas about religion, politics, culture, and history centuries before anyone else on the continent did. They recorded their words in books (nearly all of which were destroyed by the Spanish, and the fact that the few surviving books are held in foreign museums was a clear point of anger and frustration to our guides) and developed an astronomical calendar so sophisticated and accurate that NASA recorded a margin of error of only 23 seconds. (Also, just so you know, the Mayans never predicted the world would end in 2012, okay? That marked the end of one calendar cycle, not all of creation.) They built incredible temples, dwellings, and platforms. They built roads, wells, and playing fields for their sacred ball games.
And yet the Mayan civilization could not survive the combined forces of war, invasion, rebellion, disease, and environmental degradation. Today, our guide told us, there are something like 6 million Mayan descendants still living in the Yucatan. They follow the old religion and speak the Mayan language, but so much has been lost to time and the jungle.
It makes me wonder where we’re headed.