Mayan Ruins and Chocolate (Part 1)

December 3, 2021 – Part II >

If you’re going to visit the Yucatan Peninsula, you simply have to see some Mayan ruins. And the best place to do that is the enormously famous Chichen Itza, right? So we thought. And so we’d planned. It is after all, one of the seven wonders of the world. But one of the advantages to staying at a hostel is that you get to meet some experienced and knowledgeable travelers and locals who are full of tips. And literally everyone we talked to who had been to both Chichen Itza and Uxmal (and there were quite a few of them) reported that they preferred the latter. Chichen Itza, they informed us, was certainly worth seeing, but it was crowded, and not nearly as impressive as Uxmal. So we made a change of plans. Chichen Itza will wait for our next trip here. This time, it’s Uxmal for the win.

The bus from Merida to Uxmal left at about 9:30 a.m., and the ride took about an hour and 45 minutes. The bus leaves from the Ado terminal (Ado is a major bus line), which is only a short walk from our hostel; the actual bus line that handles this route, however, is called Sur.

The fare was 84 pesos (about 4 dollars) each, and there was about a 20 minute wait in line. Having paid, we were given a plastic card with a balance on it, and our initial understanding was that we’d had to overpay a little because tickets were handled only by issuing cards, which were sold only in round increments. But we soon realized that the card was not the ticket, but a sort of “frequent bus-er” pass with a 14 peso bonus on it.

And this fare was one-way only. When we inquired about a roundtrip ticket, we were informed (via a translation on a phone) that there’s no such thing, because there is no return bus from Uxmal; the only way to get back is to take a bus from Uxmal to a town called Muna, and from there catch a bus to Merida. This turned out to be not exactly true. But we’ll get to that.

The announcements for departures in the station were in Spanish only, so we really had to be alert and ask around to make sure we didn’t miss our bus. When we got on, the seating was catch as catch can, but we found two good ones together and settled back for a fairly comfortable ride — the vehicle was even equipped with a toilet.

The bus dropped us at the entrance to Uxmal across the road is the entrance to ChocoStory, which is a much-touted museum dedicated to the history of chocolate. We just might be persuaded to drop in there after we finish touring the ruins. That was in fact one of the factors that nudged us to choose Uxmal over Chichen Itza. Actually, Chichen Itza has its own ChocoStory, but the intelligence we’ve received Uxmal over Chichen Itza in the chocolate department as well as the Mayan ruins department.

We were struck by the picturesque setting of the facility, with well-landscaped surroundings and a rustic hotel. Hmmm… maybe that’s why they tell you there’s no bus back to Merida. They want you to be stuck overnight so you’ll have to pay for a hotel. Forever.

Uxmal, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, has a great deal of mystery surrounding it. It was once a city occupied by as many as some 15,000 inhabits, though their exact dates of occupation, and the construction dates of the buildings are unclear; but apparently construction was in several phases and was completed by about 1100. As the guide on our walking tour of Merida mentioned a few days ago, most of the Mayan records were destroyed when an overzealous priest decided to burn nearly all of their books (codices). As a result, an unknown body of knowledge was lost, including perhaps folk annals and useful medical knowledge. The Mayan Uber driver we had a couple of days ago was able, at our request, to sing two Mayan songs; if the books had been preserved, he might have known songs much older.

The entrance fee to the ruins was a little over 400 pesos (about 20 dollars) each. We had to check our bags upon entering, but after some deliberation, they allowed us to keep our water packs. Which was a relief, because we didn’t want to pay for bottled water.

So then it was down the path and around a bend, and suddenly, we were face to face with one of the most whap-in-the-face sights we’d ever witnessed: the so-called Pyramid Of The Magician, the tallest and most iconic of the structures here. It’s the one that everybody has to get their picture taken in front of. And for us, just standing in front of it wasn’t quite enough.

Walking around to the other side, you come to a large quadrangle that appears to have been a public forum. It’s surrounded by structures that remind you of a movie set of some kind or other, though you can’t quite name the movie. Look closely and you see motifs paying tribute to various animals — most notably the serpent, which was a symbol of good rather than evil in Mayan culture. It’s unknown just what many of these buildings were used for.

Continuing along the tour route, you come to the ball court, where the game we now call Pok Ta Pok was played. It’s a very oddly designed rectangle, with slanted platforms on either side where the hoops are located. But the hoops seem to be turned the wrong way, perpendicular to the court. We’d really like to read the rule book for that game. Too bad it got burned up.

One thing you’re certain to see at Uxmal, in addition to lots of tourists, is lots of iquanas. There are so many of them standing sentinel everywhere you turn, and that you half suspect they’re the reincarnation of the ancient inhabitants of this city.

One of the more intriguing looking buildings was off limits, and a bit in the distance; It was near the Governor’s Palace, which of course was among the largest and grandest of structures there. And it was strategically placed on a hill so the Governor had a good view of the ballgames (and other activities, no doubt).

When you get right down to it, Uxmal isn’t really all that large, and you could walk through it pretty quickly if you wanted to. But that would be foolish; and indeed, probably very hard to do for anyone who has a sense of wonder and awe. You should allow a good two hours to stroll around these grounds. The time will be well repaid.

Part II – Visit to Choco-World

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