Chichén Itzá Ruins
Yucatán, México

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Chichen Itza"Rollin', Rollin', Rollin', Keep those buses rollin'.... " If the place weren't so damned important, I just might avoid it altogether. It's those buses - all those tourists from Cancún - the place gets really crowded. That's why, to truly see Chichén Itzá, you must spend at least a night there. Get in early, leave for a long leisurely lunch when the buses arrive, and go back in around three in the afternoon until closing time. It'll take a day and a half at least but it is definitely worth it. The place is just magnificent.

Chichén ItzaIn the world of the Maya, Chichén Itzá stands out as "the" ceremonial center. Everywhere you walk within the main group, a feeling of pomp and circumstance surrounds you. Unlike many other sites, this ain't no place to be quiet. You clap your hands to hear the echoes. Most people clap in the ballcourt but try it in front of the temple steps. You might hear something unexpected.

Chichén ItzaChichén Itzá was not ruled by a single king, but rather, by a council. And the council ruled a city of warriors with military precision. Festivals were more parade-like. You can almost see it; you can almost hear it; you can definitely feel it. Blood and sacrifice were the norm. The bones of the dead lie just below the surface. A little farther down reside the Lords of Xibalba, the Lords of the Underworld. Chichén Itzá was built to appease them.

Chichén ItzaAt night, the Lords of Xibalba rise to take their place in the heavens. The movements of the stars and planets foretold the planting of crops and the assembling of troops for battle. From the well-planned alignment of temple buildings, the elite tracked the night skies as well as our best scientists can today. The Maya Calender is accurate to within minutes over periods of several thousand years. Not too shabby for people who didn't use the wheel.

Chichén ItzaBut the mystery still remains today. Why did these people abandon their great cities? They didn't vanish; they still live in the areas around these cities. You can see agricultural practices that haven't changed in three thousand years. Many still practice other traditions and beliefs of their forefathers. Some even speak the evolved language of the ancients. Oppressed for centuries by the Spanish, now the Maya can walk these sacred grounds again.

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