A good bit of the Mayan ruins at Tulum

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Bloggo Mayan Ruins II: Tulum

Buenos dias! I'd use Dottore Gianni's native Italiano - buon giorno! but after all, I write of a trip to a land where Spanish is spoken, much to the good doctor's frequent Italian-esque irritation. I assume that if you're reading this (and I hope you are, in great numbers), you have probably read or at least skimmed my other three posts on our (Dottore Gianni's and my) 5-day adventure in Mexico, this past January.

The good doctor at the Tulum ruins
On the day after my visit to Chichen Itza, early in the morning, well before dawn cracked, if you will, I boarded another bus run by Amigo Travel, and off I went on another organized day tour to Tulum, another city built by the Maya, but for a different purpose and in a decidedly different location. Again I took advantage of the shortest tour offered to Tulum, the "beat the crowds, arrive early, and tour the site with an archeologist" tour.

Sidebar on logistics: This journey took as long and seemed longer than the trip to Chichen Itza, even though that site it a good 2-hour drive inland and Tulum is only about an hour's drive down the coast. I write this so that you know the drill: tourists are picked up on different buses, which then stop at a central meeting point to divide the tourists and board them onto other buses depending on the particular site they will see that day. At one point in this slow trek our bus stopped and waited in Playa del Carmen, about halfway on our journey to Tulum for THIRTY-FIVE minutes (I timed it), with no announcement from the guide as to why or wherefore. I had been picked up at about 5:30 am and we arrived at Tulum at 9 am. Unfortunately the logistics of this tour company (and many others, in many other countries) make for a very long time spent riding or waiting in buses, in this case more than double the time we had at the site itself. I would never tell you not to go on an organized tour, as the information you get from the guide is invaluable, but you should be aware of the timing. And that's the end of the aside.

Tulum, the sign
So! After the lengthy and tedious trek, we arrived at the site of Tulum just before 9 am, opening time, the first bus there. One of the benefits of the "arrive early" tour is that we were almost alone at the site - wonderful. Only one problem, one that has occurred to/affected me just once before (in 1999 on a tour of the great opera house in Vienna). I was the sole "English-only" (meaning that I alone did not speak Spanish) person on a bus which had at least 20 other people aboard. The guide announced this to the entire group as we were about to disembark, and I immediately became embarrassed (Dottore Gianni was simply mortified!), because, for me alone the guide would have to do the tour in two languages, at which she was very adept, but still...for the rest of the people on the bus and mostly for myself, the cause of the problem!

Then the miracle occurred! While she announced this only as the bus parked at the site, she must have known it well before, as when we began walking to the ruins she introduced me to my own private guide! In Vienna all I got was a sheet of paper with a very brief synopsis in English. 

My own, private, and excellent Mayan guide

And what a guide! A middle-aged fellow who had degrees in both archeology and anthropology, one of the most knowledgeable guides I have ever had, anywhere - and Dottore G and I have been on MANY organized tours. 

One of several trees my guide showed me, possibly
like the "tree of life"?
He took charge of me immediately in a very friendly manner, and began guiding even before we got to the site proper. He showed me several different kinds of trees, one of which resembled the "tree of life" that was central to Mayan beliefs, two more which he said
Another candidate for the tree of
life - apologies, I don't
 always grow next to the other - one of them is poisonous, one of them the antidote to the poison (wow!). He showed me two iguanas, which apparently are everywhere, but which camouflage themselves so that if he had not stopped and shown them I'd never have noticed them. Then we walked up a little hillock and I got my first view of Tulum. Built in the late 13th century, during the Post-Classic Period, it is unusual in that it is walled, and even more unusual in that it is the only Mayan site that is situated on cliffs nearly 40 feet high, directly on the coast. The wall, some of which remains today, covers the three sides of the enclosure on land, and the  cliffs over the Caribbean make a good fourth "wall" (not to be confused with the theatrical meaning of that term. What, you don't know about "fourth walls" in theatres? Too bad. I do, but I don't have time or interest in explaining it here. Look it up if you like). Tsk, tsk, scolds Dottore Gianni...mildly.

A good bit of the site, including on left, the Temple of the Fresoes, to its right in the distance the Temple of the Diving God, and to the right of that, El Castillo
Why on the coast? Because its purpose, its business, was trade, primarily in jade and turquoise, but also in salt and textiles, and for a time (13th to 15th century) it was a very prosperous place. Even after the Spanish conquest it stayed active for 70 years, highly unusual. 
The beautiful coast just to the right of the Temple (as I face the sea) - an area where swimming is allowed, as you can see.
What remains today are the fairly substantial remains of El Castillo, at the highest point on the cliffs, 

El Castillo
the Temple of the Frescoes (shown above in the pic before last, named because, guess what my friends? There are frescoes in it!) and the Temple of the God of the Wind, which my guide said "sings" during high winds, as the wind whistles through its windows.

The Temple of the God of the Wind to the left of the more distant El Castillo
In the photo above I am looking southeast. The northern edge of the site is just behind me:

The northern edge of Tulum, where the old wall meets the cliffs
The Temple of the Descending or "Diving" god (see the pic just below) is akin to Venus worship. So the entry on Tulum in Wikipedia states, but explains no more about the similarity than that.

The pic is somewhat back-lit, but to the left of El Castillo is the Temple of the Diving God
And the old Palace, about which our guide told me nothing - no guide is perfect, I suppose.

As written just above, the Old Palace
I have said to people who asked me since my return which of the two Mayan sites I preferred. They are both wonderful of course, but my reply has consistently been, I am impressed with Chichen Itza; I LOVE Tulum. 

What's not to love? I'm at the left of the castle, looking towards the Temple of the God of the Winds

This section of the beach at the north of the site is forbidden to  humans,
as sea turtles leave their eggs here
After my guide left me, I wandered on my own for a while, 
Some of the other buildings I strolled around on my own.
then made my way back to the entrance, where I was to meet the rest of the group at the bus about noon. I had a little time to kill, so I stopped for some bar nibbles and a very tasty local beer at this inviting looking bar.

The bar

The brew - why drink Corona, which you can easily get in the US, when there's a tasty local lager to choose instead?
And that brew, my friends, makes a satisfying end to my tale of Tulum! Also the end of my posts on my also satisfying trip to Mexico. Vaya con dios!

Note: I wrote very little about the Maya people here, but there is an informative paragraph or two in my previous post, on Chichen Itza.