The End of the Maya


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North America » Mexico » Quintana Roo » Tulum
March 12th 2017
Published: March 12th 2017
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After seven Maya sites in the past eight days, it has finally happened - I've run out of time. So enjoy my final blog from Mexico, mis amigos!

Tulum is only about an hour south of Cancun by a nice highway, but it took four hours to get there from the time I was picked up at my hotel at 5AM. Let me just get my griping out of the way, first. We were told we would have 3 hours at the site, but that clock began ticking as soon as we got to the entrance of the area while still on the bus. Then we had to wait to be let in, then we all made a pit stop at the first souvenir store, then we had to wait for a sign, then we had to walk 600 meters to the main entrance, and then we got our tickets and followed our guide up the steps and into the walled city. So we were already down at least 30 minutes. Also, this tour claimed that it would beat the crowds getting there – and I’m guessing that several tour companies now off this kind of tour, because there was never NOT a crowd when we were there. Plus, our guide was no archaeologist, as the tour indicated. Aside from the false advertising, it was all great.

I was so glad to get to Tulum, because I had such fond memories of it from the last time I was there, a few years back. In fact, Tulum was the 2nd Maya city I ever visited. And on this trip, it was number seven. I guess it also has the distinction of being the only Maya site I’ve visited more than once.

Anyway, it was hot. And the sun was relentless. There were clouds in the sky, but I don’t think they had any effect. Also, since it was morning, the sun was behind most of the stuff we were looking at because the path you walk upon takes you in front of all the buildings, which are facing inland. Tulum is on the Caribbean coast, which means that all the buildings face west. So when you’re looking at a carving or a particular part of a building in the morning, the sun is in your eyes. I don’t know if they took this into consideration when planning this early-morning tour.

Tulum also has a distinct wall around the city. As our guide pointed out, it’s probably better to call Tulum a town instead of a city. It’s quite compact, and it’s not primarily ceremonial, like the other Maya sites I’ve visited. While the city dates to an early time (maybe 300 AD), it was always in the shadow of larger cities, and so its buildings are not as grandiose. It also apparently didn’t start building more permanent constructions until the fall of Chichen Itza in 1200 AD. So the history that we see on display isn’t as longstanding. What is interesting, though, is that several of the original wooden lintels above the doors, which provided extra support, are still there because they come from the same trees that are used to make rubber and gum, and so the wood was coated. Pretty cool.

The first building you come to is a palace, and in fact a good number of the buildings still standing are royal residences. A few temples still exist, such as the one dedicated to Venus, the primary god of the town. And Venus is male in Mayan cosmology, not female like in the Roman pantheon. Just so you know. And then there’s the Castillo at the top, which is still in pretty good condition. One of the highlights of the day came just after we walked into the walled city. We were looking at the palace, and the guide was talking about it, when someone noticed a creature coming out of the foliage near our group, atop part of the lower section of the wall. I immediately turned my attention to the critter, because I had heard most of the Maya spiel before. Once he got done talking, our guide told us that it was called an agouti - smart and fast, but stealthy and with sharp teeth. So we should watch our belongings, because these little mammals like to make off with them in a hurry. I was impressed with its really long tail. It looked like a raccoon a little bit, but that tail was so long. It was nice to see something lurking around besides iguanas.

There aren’t any hieroglyphs, so I was a little disappointed about that. But there are some cool inscribed images of Venus and other characters. Because of the way the sun was angled, though, I could only get pictures of them with my good camera, not my phone, so I wasn’t able to upload those on the laptop that I take with me when I travel. Sorry. Also we got to find out about some of the alcohol that Mayans used at this site, and the way that they “ingested” it so as to take more of it in without throwing up. Ever seen a picture of a Mayan ceramic figure with an alcohol-loaded enema-jug sticking out of his butt? I have now. And I’m pretty sure frat guys have been trying this for years, too. At least I’ve heard stories about it…

One of the main reasons to see Tulum, though, is the Caribbean Sea. It sits atop a great viewpoint of the crystal blue sea, and there’s a natural barrier to any unwanted vessels approaching – a reef that extends for much of the coastline. There are great places to get pictures on the path that takes you behind the Castillo (in other words, between the buildings and the sea), so we were happy to get that view. And there’s a wooden staircase taking you down to the beach below, which is really only accessible to people who’ve paid to enter the ruin site. Unfortunately, it was off limits today because of the wind and tide. Our guide had warned us that might be the case, but we only found out when we got to the top of the hill and saw that it was closed off. Bummer.

At that point, our tour was over, and we had free time to walk among the ruins and make our way back down the path to the market area outside the ruins. In total, that was about an hour and 15 minutes for wandering. One thing that was truly sad about Tulum is that you’re not allowed to climb upon any of the buildings anymore. They all are roped off, with signs posted in Spanish and English. Some of the hillside is available for wandering around, but all of the stones or piles of stones are off limits. So when you have all this free time to walk around, there’s really not much more to see if you’re not allowed to walk down to the beach. I went around and tried to get pictures of good angles of buildings, or getting closer looks of things that we zipped by on our guided tour. After another 20 minutes or so, I was satisfied, and I made my way to the exit with a little bit of sadness – this was my final Maya site of the trip, which I had dedicated to this very purpose.

It was hot, though, and while the thermometer might not have agreed, it was well above what I found comfortable. Maybe the sun’s intensity was to blame.

Outside of the ruins, I meandered around the shops until it was time to go. I got some helado – basically ice cream, but they had a vanilla that tasted amazing. And then I got this little donut pastry that was homemade and filled with chocolate. It was only 10 pesos. I was again accosted by all these people trying to sell their wares, and frankly I wasn’t interested. The one thing that did catch my eye, mainly because I hadn’t seen anything else like it on this trip, was the huge amount of American college merchandise. I imagine that none of it is licensed (does it have to be, in Mexico?), but they had wooden masks and local bags decorated in team colors, with team logos and everything. They also had pro sports teams, but the college ones caught my eye because that’s so weird. I happened to be wearing a TCU shirt, and when I passed by this particular merchant, he didn’t have anything with TCU on it. He did have a UGA mask, and I was tempted. But I didn’t want to pay 500 pesos for it (he had already talked himself down to 400 before I moved on). The next time I walked by, however, he and his associate had found a TCU mask and proudly asked me to come over and see it. Hand-crafted indeed, since I know they don’t make them in a factory. But I passed, because I already got one souvenir for this trip (which is one more than I usually get) and plus I would have nowhere to put it in my bag for the plane ride home tomorrow.

And with that, my Maya expeditions come to an end. This trip started on a whim, just to get out of America if I could. And once it built momentum, it had a mind of its own. And I didn’t really even know if I’d be able to get to all my places the week before the trip, and even then I had to wait until I arrived at a few spots before I could be truly sure. It’s my last night of Spring Break, of doing international travel for the first time this year. I’ll be glad to sleep in my own bed tomorrow night, don’t get me wrong. But it feels like I’ve lived an entire lifetime in the 10 days I’ve spent on this trip. I hope that it’s enough to last me until my next international jaunt.



I’ve got a flight at 8:15AM tomorrow, which means I’ll need to leave my hotel around 5:45AM. Huzzah! So I’m going to get some food and enjoy my final evening in Mexico and rest up. It’ll hopefully be an easy flight tomorrow (less than 3 hours), and I’ve already got a shuttle from the airport back to Athens. With any luck, I’ll be back home by mid-afternoon. Which is good, since I have to teach first thing Tuesday morning.


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What is this travesty?What is this travesty?
What is this travesty?

They were selling all sorts of college-branded merchandise in the market at Tulum. I could only shake my head and walk away when I saw this.


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