Uxmal, Where the Ground Moves

February 26, 2019

This narrative goes with pictures posted yesterday. The WiFi is very sketchy in the jungle. Will try more pictures ASAP.

When it moves, it is usually an iguana. As long as you don’t step on them, they are cool. Today we visited Uxmal a place not nearly as famous as Chichen Itza but loaded with iguanas lazing on the ruins and frequently underfoot on the trails. Our guide for the day, Raul stands 4’6″ and sports red hair. Raul is a proud Mayan but with red hair and mischievous grin, he could easily pass as a Mayan Leprechaun. He was knowledgeable and helpful but it was tough to not see him wearing a green vest.

Uxmal is representative of the Puuc Maya. Puuc is range of low hills strung across the northern region of the Yucatan. Unlike other Mayan settlements, those in the Puuc do not enjoy the underground rivers through the limestone that have the Cenotes for a ready source of water. Instead they dug cisterns to hold rain water that falls during the 7 month rainy season. The region possesses fertile farmland that made the region valuable to the Maya. We actually saw farms for the first time in Yucatan. It was never invaded by Mexican Toltecs like in Chichen Itza so the local ruins are pure Maya. The site itself has been extensively reconstructed and is easy to walk around as long as you like stairs. Peggy was happy.

The first site was the “The House of the Magician” so named because the one hundred foot tall monument appeared after just one night. It must have been a busy night. The pyramid had unique rounded corners. Fortunately for me, the stairway was closed to climbers. Sorry Peggy. The most interesting feature were series of figures created on on corners that stair stepped up the pyramid. If you look closely, you can see the heads and catch a sight of Raul.

Corbels are a way create an arch. Stones are stacked with small overlaps to close the space. They are not like the Roman arch with a keystone. They can enclose large areas like Mycenaean Treasury of Atreus. These Mayan corbels found a unique way to increase stability. They used “shoe shaped” stones to provide additional leverage over the opening. The system works as many of the arches are over a thousand years old. They also took advantage of the local sapodilla tree with its wood that is impervious to rot and bugs. There was one original header that was over 1400 years old and still sound. The tree is also the source of chicle or the gum we chew.

The highlight of the visit to Uxmal was time spent exploring the Nunnery. The quadrangle of four buildings composing the “Nunnery” have been restored and Raul did a great job of explaining the probable function of the many rooms. It is believed that the building served as place for the education of the future astronomers and diviners that were so important to Mayan society. The stone murals with plenty of snakes and assorted creatures were fun to interpret. All the place needed was a few dozen Mayans besides Raul.

The Mayan ball court was less impressive than the one at Chichen Itza but this was compensated by the wresting iguanas. I don’t know if it was Alpha male (or female) supremacy at stake but the reptiles managed to create quite a crowd of fans. The struggle ended with a peaceable parting. Not sure who won but we were entertained. We parted with Raul at this point and headed for a pyramid to climb.

Actually, we first stopped at a building with plenty of steps and a great place for a picture. We then found a partially exposed pyramid with plenty of steps to climb. There was a collection of small bas relief medallions at the top. The best is always up a few dozen stairs. The view from the top also made it easy to see numerous un-excavated sites covered in jungle. This is true at virtually all Mayan sites where only a small percentage of the buildings are exposed. We managed the descent from the high point and found ourselves on a trail back to the entrance. On the way we passed through dozens of iguana lairs dug into the ground. It was obvious that they lay in wait for unsuspecting tourists. They ran across in front of us to distract us from the ones waiting to jump us.

We enjoyed a nice lunch at the visitor center before heading out to the small archeological site 22 kilometers down a very bumpy road. Our small group comprised the sole tourists at this site. We had a half hour to explore on our own. There were numerous carved Mayan glyphs to get close up and personal with. There were also stairs and two high relief warriors that we had not seen before.

We were quite ready to head back to Mérida and the hotel. Dinner was across the street after a walk to the Plaza Major and the evening street scene. Ready for the long bus ride to Palenque tomorrow.

2 thoughts on “Uxmal, Where the Ground Moves

  1. So, why aren’t we building with the sapodilla tree wood everywhere possible? Why aren’t we planting them where ever possible? Pretty versitile tree. Pictures, please.

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