#3: My First Pyramid and the Tour Guide From Mayan Hell!

A few weeks before the cruise, Carol had sent me an e-mail asking if I would be interested in making day a trip to Chichen Itza. My answer: Heck, YES! I’ve always been fascinated by those ruins, and I was so excited to have the chance to go. So early on Jan. 29, Carol, Lynn, James, and I boarded the bus at Progreso. After we settled in and started the drive across that glum causeway and bridge, our tour guide, an elderly man of Mayan descent named José, started what proved to be an interminable lecture about “Chi-CHEN Eet-ZAH.” He droned on and on, along with the grimey panaromas of Progreso and then the flat, tedious landscape beyond. He finally shut it after Merida, but not after hawking a Mayan calendar book (available for either $10 or $30, depending on which one of us heard what!). After about two hours, we stopped at what José billed as a convenient bathroom stop, which was more like additional shopping opportunities (for which, I’m sure, he received a cut). James and Carol bought Pringles (take that, vendors!). One mile later and around noon, we were at Chichen Itza, which, oddly enough, had plenty of rest room and shopping opportunities!. José wasted more time by handing out our tickets and wristbands, something he could have done on the bus. Finally, we passed through the turnstile, and there it was, the magnificent Pyramid of Kulkulkan (a.k.a. El Castillo) under a bright-blue sky. Awed and antsy, I wanted to bolt right over to it, but José had other ideas. He ordered us to gather so he could give us an introduction and tell us where to meet at 1:45 p.m. As he blah-blah-blahed, we had to fend off diminutive overly assertive Mayan ladies pushing embroidered handkerchiefs (“One dollar, lady!”). José then led us over to the Ball Court, where he waxed on and on about heads rolling and blood gushing. I’m baffled by the conventional wisdom (echoed by our verbose tour guide) that contends that ball players scored by hurling a rubber ball through the stone rings without using their hands. Those rings are so high off the ground and the openings so tiny, Roger Clemens probably couldn’t hurl a fastball through one, even on HGH! Still no word about our rendezvous point.

Jos-HAY moved us over to the Platform of Skulls, then the Platform of Jaguars and Eagles, where we continued to be accosted by those miniature Mayan ladies. A nearby tour group had a hunky younger tour guide, causing us to wonder why we hadn’t drawn him as our guide! By then, we’d been out there for 45 friggin’ minutes and still didn’t know where we were to meet up. At last, José acknowledged the presence of El Castillo while making no move to guide us to it, repeating his lecture about how the pyramid encapsulated the Mayan calendar and the dang book. When a ten-year-old boy (José’s grandson, perchance?) showed up at that very moment, bearing a satchel of –– surprise! –– books, that did it. The four of us bugged over to El Castillo.

Words like “awe-inspiring,” “breath-taking,” and “impressive” seem too paltry to apply to the pyramid. But that’s about all I can wrap my head around! It’s so much more magnificent when you’re standing at its foot. I would have loved to climb up, but that’s no longer allowed. The entrance to the stairs was cordoned off by a wimpy little rope; we could have easily hopped over and scampered up before José-Head even noticed! We skittered back over to the group in time to hear him issue directions to the Sacred Cenote (with yet another reminder about human sacrifice) before saying to meet him back at the main entrance! By then, we had 20 MINUTES left! So we trudged down to the Cenote, a trek lined by –– what else? –– more vendors selling the same old tchotchkes! James bought a sacrificial dagger (I think it went through Customs, with no problem!); he almost got into fisticuffs with the vendor, who tried to give him change in pesos! The Cenote itself was stunning and worth the trek, even if it was the site of the occasional human sacrifice. As promised, it was hot, hot, hot, even for this Texas girl, so I don’t know how some of the older folks in tour groups handled that little walk down and back.

One look at the time, and we headed back to the entrance. No José. So We went out to the bus, where Jose-A and Jose-B (our bus driver) were handing out pathetic sack lunches as we re-boarded. We were not only covered in dust, but we were all rather crabby about not really getting to see the whole site and the lunch wasn’t edible (well, except for the bag of chips). Then as we started back out, so did Jose’s pontificating. I wished that Carol had had three more sets of earbuds for her Nano! (I think she listened to Bill Maher and Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, the lucky girl!). When he finally quieted down, we dozed off. As we approached Progreso, he passed out trip evaluations, which of course we took full advantage of.

Still, I was thrilled to have actually seen those magnificent structures for myself, and we at least have great pictures (Yoohoo! Carol, James! where ARE those pictures?!)

Postscript: Back home, I looked at several Chichen Itza Web sites and got riled up all over again. Because of our nattering tour guide, we didn’t even explore one fourth of the site; there was so much more we could have seen had he turned us loose. Someday …

2 Responses to “#3: My First Pyramid and the Tour Guide From Mayan Hell!”

  1. 1 Tobey February 27, 2008 at 11:04 pm

    You mean the three of you didn’t try to reinact any of the old “rituals” on the bloody altar with Jos-Hay? Bwahahaha.

  2. 2 cyndle February 28, 2008 at 6:41 am

    Well, there were a few cracks about creative uses for James’s dagger!

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