Published: October 11th 2011August 17th 2011
Ek-Balam (meaning "star....Balam")
The main attraction (Acropolis) is in the background.
Ek-Balam or Ruins You Can Climb On
Ek-Balam is a not-so-visited ruins site north of Vallodolid. It comes highly recommended due to fewer tourists and fewer restrictions. We take another colectivo up early in the morning. The visitor center is much less impressive with no internal stores than the one at Chichen Itza. We walk down the path chopped into the jungle, follow the signs, and grey piles of stone lump out and up in front of us. We wander through the jumble of half-reconstructed buildings, I squeal over the iguanas, and then we get to the main Ek-Balam attraction: The Acropolis.
The Acropolis has an enormously long gallery-style base that stretches out on either side of the (very) steep stone staircase. Kurt is the honorary photographer of a large, noisome Spanish family and I check out restored figure at the base. All the restoration pieces are roped off and protected by a frond roof. The restored stone is a lovely smooth cream, so different than the grey-black-speckled stone all around it. We ascend the stairs, work out our calves, and take a side jaunt to see some archeologists at work. This is a fairly young team, PhD students from Mexico
City I’m guessing. They move in and out of a jaguar mouth entrance that has teeth ringing the entire way. The head is balanced on a platform of stone heads/skulls and full-bodied figures form the wall panel above and around the mouth. One figure in particular catches my eye: a rounded, lithe seated figure whose legs dangle off the lintel. It looks for all the world like the soft round arms, waist, and legs of a Hindu deity. It’s exactly that style, even to its oval face with just the suggestion of a nose and eyes. Kurt and I stare at the wall a long time, zooming in and out to try and remember all the detail and how each piece fit into the whole.
Eventually, we peel away from that incredible wall and climb to the top of the pyramid. Up here, we’re reminded about how flat the Yucatan is and how incredible these cities must have been to the ancient Mayan. There’s nothing else nearly this tall and this isn’t even Chichen Itza size! Green parrots dart across the open space, other birds call from the foliage, and the ubiquitous butterflies dance around. Workers are on the other
side of the pyramid, chopping away at the jungle that had once tried to soften this harsh stone. We make our way down, zig-zagging awkwardly down the steep steeps, casting another glance or two at the jaguar-mouth temple.
Stay cool, Tikul
We take a 3.5 hr bus ride for a 120 km trip (~76 mi) and we determine to never ever take the cheapest bus again…and to ask about the destination time at the ticket station. We rent a car in Merida, the largest city in the Yucatan state (where our conference will be in just a few days) and immediately head down south. We’ve decided to explore the Ruta Puuc, the series of ruins that are in Puuc style that are in a near-string directly south of Merida. We choose to rent a car because the bus system will just take too long. We end up in an SUV which these two ecologists find amusing. Driving is much the same as it is in the States but with more one-way streets in towns of all sizes.
We have no reservations in Tikul so we rely on our guidebook to get us to a hotel. After several confounding
This is the one that reminded me of some sort of Indian carving
twists and turns and U-turns due to the one-way streets, we get to the Hotel San Antonio that has a small parking lot and is our first real hotel of the trip. A quite place, not anything to write home about, but it’s located just south of the two main plazas in town which we quickly learn are THE center of life in Tikul.
By the time we get settled in, it’s dark and so we again rely on our guidebook to show us the way to dinner. Dinner is served by a brass-voiced, no-nonsense (or patience) mama where only three menu items remain on the painted wall menu. We’re the only customers and yet we still seem to slightly tax the woman’s patience. She’s the first impatient person I’ve encountered this entire trip! But, like every restaurant worker here, she waits to give us the check until we ask for it. I think it’s a sign of rudeness to drop the check off at the table. I can totally get that. A not-so-subtle way to shoo someone out the door.
We amble to the two plazas to check out the vibe. The older Plaza Mayor is fashioned
One of the street statues in Tikul
like all the other plazas we’ve seen with the rotunda in the middle and radiating paths. The newer, more concrete-covered Plaza de la Cultura is far less appealing but just as crowded. We take in the scene at La Plaza Mayor, parking ourselves in the stone S-curved love seats. We face each other but most of our time is spent gazing around us, sometimes commenting on one clump of people or spot of action. Everyone seems to be out and about tonight, marching practice, skateboarding tricks, two girls share a pair of flashing rollerblades, impromptu kid soccer, obese gossiping older ladies. Groups of pre-teens giggle, parade, clique, and fission constantly. After a while, we realize there are no folks our age (20’s-early 30’s). We suppose out loud that they are taking care of wee ones. There are few babies out here. The range goes from 5-20 and then 40 and upwards. Nothing in between. There are street vendors selling corn on the cob, marquesitas, and other goodies. We relish the sight (and the products) of another popsicle place. We sit out for a long while with the occasional meander, both of us relishing this small town feel where the only
thing to do at night is just cruise together.
There are more photos below