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A tour with Paco

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A tour with Paco

As mentioned in my last post, Paco – our Chichen Itza guide – was incredibly entertaining, though this leads me to doubt whether some of his stories were told in full seriousness, namely 2 and 3.

Having settled into our seats on the coach for the long drive to Chichen Itza, Paco’s voice came out over the microphone…

1. Hola and welcome, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Paco Rosas, that’s Paco with a P not Taco with a T. Now, before you all fall asleep, can I have your attention for a short while – I will give you time to rest, don’t worry, I just need to tell you that we will stop on the way for a quick break where you can use the toilet and visit the gift shop. There is a toilet on the coach, but that one is only for peepee! Not for poopoo!!
(Thanks to his poker face, I had no way of telling nor will I ever know if this was said genuinely, or purely for comical purposes)

Interesting gifts

Doctor, doctor, I don’t have a body…Oh, you too, huh?

After getting back on the coach for the remainder of the journey, he proceeded to give us a short historical background, regarding the Spaniards’ and their arrival in the land of the Mayans.

2. When the Spaniards arrived, with their rifles, steel armour, and physiques which most likely terrified the Mayans, (who were short people – I saw a man whose head came up below my shoulder), they asked the Mayan people who they were. The Mayan people didn’t understand this strange, foreign tongue. They replied in their own language, saying something sounding like ‘ma ya, ma ya!’ meaning “don’t hurt us!” Obviously, the Spaniards took this as their answer, and thus called them Mayans.

3. Yucatan was similarly named. When the Spaniards asked the locals the name of their place, the Mayans simply replied “I don’t understand what you’re saying”, which to the Spaniards, sounded like ‘Yucatan’.

After this genuinely interesting lesson in history, Paco said:

4. Thank you for your attention. I’ll come round if anyone has any questions. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll make up a good one for you.

As he wandered round to our seats, I overheard the following conversation between another passenger and Paco:

5. “Where did you learn your English, Paco? It’s very good!!
“I learnt it at school, sir”
“Where, here in Mexico?”
“Yees, yesss I had a beautiful teacher… ohhh she was gorgeous!”
“Oh um..okay, I was ju-”
“Aaah it was a good way to learn!” *Paco looks off into the distance in a daze*

6. Before disembarking:

We’re going to put a sticker on you all… because you all look alike, as tourists always do…

7. …and we then proceeded to explore the ancient city of Chichen Itza with our ‘Paco’ stickers clearly plastered onto our clothes.

8. I’d like to leave you all with something though, that was the most interesting exchange of the day by far, for me at least. Around Paco’s neck was a string, from which hung a small, white skull. I know what you’re thinking – “Well, that’s tourist-friendly”. But before you judge, just wait. We asked him why he was wearing a skull, and its significance. I found his answer to be quite refreshing, actually. He replied that skulls are particularly important to the Mayans because they are somewhat symbolic; a reminder, if you like, that regardless of one’s external appearance, including skin colour, and regardless of one’s beliefs and practices, ultimately we are all going to end up the same way. Inside, we are all the same. “We are all just human beings”, ended Paco.

I found this analogy so…nice, albeit different, and it just left me so pleasantly shocked at this long-standing, open-minded attitude which we could really use a lot more of in today’s world.

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Chichen Itza

Also often referred to by tour guides as Chicken Pizza.

Chichen Itza was a city of the Mayan civilization, which we visited on Thursday (just this time last week!) It was a 2.5hour drive from Cancun, and on our way, we stopped for a short break by a souvenir shop, which I really liked for all the colourfulness within.

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Jumbo-size sombreros!

The sun was hot as we wandered the site, with our guide explaining the historical purposes each building served.
(Our Mayan tour guide, Paco Rosas, was fantastic. Knowledgeable and funny, he filled me with a sense of respect and appreciation for his people, who I previously knew literally nothing about.)

This building was an observatory

This building served as an observatory

The Mayans were great mathematicians and astronomers, ‘observers of the sky’ as Paco put. They wrote down all their observations and findings but these were later burned in the 16th century by the Spanish Inquisition.

We really got to see the difference between Mayan architecture and structure and that of the Aztecs. In the first picture below, the extent of detail on the Mayan building is clearly visible.

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Typically Mayan

Just opposite this Mayan building stands the building (what’s left of it) in the picture below: the structural difference is apparent immediately, with the pillars.

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Aztec structure

The main attraction of Chichen Itza is the Temple of Kukulkan, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Visitors to the site used to be able to climb up it, but this has now been closed off.

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Is it just me or does the sky look strangely unreal in this picture? I promise it’s real!

There are 91 steps on each side of the temple, making a total of 364 steps. At the very top of the temple, there is one final step, totalling 365. It is no coincidence that this is the number of days in a year. Did I mention the Mayans were great astronomers?

Finally, if you stand in front of the steps on any side, about 5 meters or so away, and clap your hands (it’s much easier to hear with more than one person clapping), you’ll hear a sound from the top of the temple, which is apparently the sound that the quetzal bird makes. I wouldn’t know how accurate this was, having never heard a quetzal bird myself, but the echo was indeed an odd sound. My siblings and I were fascinated by it. That’s not to say we stood there, eyes fixed on the top of the temple, grinning and clapping like mesmerised imbeciles or anything… Of course not.

Moving swiftly on…
There was a ball court, where visitors to the city would have to play a ‘courtesy game’. This involved having to hit a ball with your hip into a relatively high hoop on the wall on the side of the court. “This game, you definitely wouldn’t want to lose”, said Paco, as he explained that the head of the losing team’s captain would be presented as a sacrifice. This game takes extreme sports to a whole new level…

P.S. Apologies for the slip of the ting earlier.

Mayans, Mexicans, and many moons

So I’m currently on holiday in Mexico with the family. We left London on Saturday and arrived in Cancun the same night.
Here’s a short summary of what I’ve been getting up to and my thoughts so far.

Sunday
At around 8am, we left the resort to go to an old Mayan city called Tulum where we saw the remaining ruins of the High Priest’s Palace, temples of the ‘descending god’ and a castle overlooking the sea. The views of the beach were absolutely stunning and a really big iguana crawled right up to the rock I was sitting on at the beach!

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We also saw The Flying Indians (voladores) at Tulum: atop a tall pole sat four costumed Indians, though really it was more precarious perching than sitting. They were recreating a ceremonial ritual which involved some music and a little dance performed in each of the cardinal directions by another at the bottom of the pole. After this, those at the top attached ropes to their legs and dangling from them, came swinging around the pole, upside down!

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I’ve discovered a new appreciation for how beautiful the moon and sun can look. While having dinner on the Moonlight Terrace, I saw a red circle low in the sky, floating above the ocean, its glow creating a sliver of light on the sea below.

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Monday
This morning I had my first of two treatments at the spa. Having arrived earlier than the appointment time, we were allowed to use the facilities, which included a sauna, steam room, foot spa, jacuzzi and a cold pool (if that’s what they’re called). It was the first time I’ve been to a spa, and with my hibiscus drink in hand, I made the innocent mistake of going in the jacuzzi first… I didn’t make it out until it was time for my treatment.

After lunch I didn’t fancy getting in the pool, with my skin feeling all good, so I lounged around the pool for a while, and then went for a long walk on the beach where we discovered the kayaks, which occupied us for the next hour or so.

On Monday night was the Mexican themed dinner. There was live Mexican music, a dancing troupe, a fireworks display, and a donkey had been brought in…

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Again, I was left speechless by the moon. My phone camera has not done an awful job of capturing it, but naturally it’s never going to be as good as the actual view.

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¡Adiós amigos!