Today we explored some of the temples dedicated to the Mayan Rain God, Chaac (he's big round these parts as it doesn't rain often - or so they say), climbed up some Mayan pyramids (even more impressive than the Aztec ones in central Mexico), and sampled some freshly made chocolate. Oh and drank beer too. More of that later.
Our guide Pablo collected us at 8am sharp and after showing us the local graveyard (for reasons best known to himself - we didn't like to ask) whisked us two hours into the countryside for our first stop - the ruins of Kabah. Kabah is situated to the South of Merida and is "a monumental example of the Puuc style architecture in which each stone element is part of a total, linking men with its universe" (or so Pablo told us). Looked like just a load of rubble to us to be honest. But we could definitely make out the shape of the Mayan River God, the previously mentioned Chaac, in what was left of the temple wall when he showed it to us. We even nodded sagely when we recognised Chaac again on another pile of rubble. But wait. Then it started to make sense. Chaac was everywhere. It wasn't ‘just rubble’ at all. With his huge eyes, elephantine nose, massive jaws and funny ears Chaac was in every pile of rocks. The temple was originally one statue of Chaac mounted upon another reaching up to the sky. It was Chaac on Chaac on Chaac. Only the temple had been plundered by the Spanish and the European archeologists that followed them so that the multilayered Chaac temple was now in ruins. This rain god temple at Kabah had collapsed as the important bits of each Chaac layer had been stolen. These were relics not rubble at all. We were looking at a monument to 2000 years of Mayan civilisation. Destroyed. We were getting the hang of this.
Next up was the delightful ancient city of Uxmal. Unlike Kabah, Uxmal had been restored after the Spanish had 'visited'. And Uxmal was simply amazing. Set in rich green fertile land it provided the perfect setting for some of the most magnificent ancient pyramids, buildings and temples of the ancient world. Uxmal was an important city too; probably built around 700 AD, although inhabitants are thought to have lived in the area as far back as 800 BC - nearly 1,000 years before the city was built. It is a mystery as to why a settlement was ever made here: there are no rivers or local sources of water, and no evidence that they once existed. One of the features of Uxmal are the Mayan chultunes - or cisterns - which held water for the population to live from. Chaac features prominently in much of the architecture's carvings here too - no doubt an important source of water for these people.
The restored buildings of Uxmal include the curved Piramide del Adivino (Magician's Pyramid) which stands majestically above the other buildings, the Nun's quadrant, the Turtle temple, and the pyramid Cuadrangulo de las Monjas which when we climbed up its central steps offered up spectacular views of the complex. The whole place was breathtaking. Hey, they even had a Quiddich Court. Look it up!
On the way back into town we visited the Cacao-Eco Museum to see how chocolate was made (spoiler alert: slowly), watched a rather smoke-filled Mayan rain ceremony praying to our old friend senor Chaac again, and stopped off for some rather lovely Mexican lunch at a traditional hacienda.
The heavens opened when we finally got home (hey, that earlier rain ceremony must have worked!) so we dived into a local bar to share a few local beers with some of the local barflies. A nice end to an enlightening day.