Monday, March 16, 2009

Chichen Itza and Basketball

I've mentioned being in the Yucatan earlier this month. While it was kind of a business trip and I don't talk about work, I did get out and enjoy the countryside as well as play some hoops.

I played basketball several nights. On our first night in town, us old guys were taken to the cleaners by these younger kids (whose ages ranged from 17 to 21--our ages ranged from 52 to 67!). The oldest of us "old guys" wanted to know why the guy in the middle was named Anna. At breakfast the next morning, we gave him a biology lesson. He was so humiliated having been beaten by a girl, that he played ever harder the next time. Even though we weren't as fast as the kids we were playing against, we began to use our height to our advantage. I liked playing against Mayans, I felt tall!

Another highlight of the trip was a visit to Chichen Itza, one of the largest Mayan ruins in Central America. Behind me is the Observatory--a really neat building. These guys were great astronomers.

The Pyramid of Kukulcan is the highlight of Chichen Itza. Snakes are a favorite subject on the stone work. Their worship seem to focus on the sun, snakes and the male anatomy.

This is one of two cenotes at Chichen Itza. There are no rivers in the Yucatan, only sinkholes that open up to underground rivers that flow through the limestone.

Although these look like artillery shells, they're actually stones phalluses... Use your imagination.

This was the location of the Mayan Final-4 for several centuries, the last big dance occurring long before Columbus arrived and turned the hoop 90 degrees... A closing shot. You can enjoy these photos without local craftsmen trying to gain your business, crying out as you approach: "one dollar, one dollar." If you ignore them, as you walk away they change their pitch to "ten pesos, ten pesos," amounting to a 30% drop in price! I couldn't believe how many vendors they allowed inside the grounds. They line the paths between the various parts of the site. I've also visited Copan, another Mayan center in Honduras. There, I only remember vendors outside the gate. Once you were inside, you were free to look at the sights without having to beat off salespeople.


  1. Sometime in the near future there is a movie coming out called 2012 which is when the Mayan calendar ends. It looks interesting as does your pictures...and the fact that you were considered tall there...and got beaten by a girl.

  2. Great pics! I love the final shot.

  3. Man, I loved Chichen Itza. That last photo is money. Gorgeous. You climbed it, right?

  4. Ruins interest me. Contain so much of History and Culture of a place. Loved those pictures.

  5. "Their worship seem to focus on the sun, snakes and the male anatomy."

    If you have to brag on it...

  6. Some cultures worship big brass balls and others big stone....

    Well to each their own.

  7. Murf, a group of old guys got beat by kids in their late teens, early 20s! I know their calandar ends in 2012--I suppose some will make a big hype about it like they did for 2000.

    Kontan, thanks.

    TC, they stopped allowing folks to climb it five or so years ago

    Gautami, the ruins are all we have of this civilization that had ceased to exist before Columbus discovered this part of the globe.

    Walking Man, assuming the antropologists are right about those cylinders... they must have had big egos.

  8. Great photos.

    I was there in 1988. I think the most peculiar thing about that whole area was the one road leading to Merida. One both sides of it were primitive villages, like Stone-Age primitive.

    I'm wondering if you noticed them and if they've changed much?

  9. Ed, So much of the explanation of what happened here is conjucture... But then I'm no antropologist.

    Fantasy Life, there is now a nice freeway that runs from Cancun almost all the way to Merida (300 km and cost 400 or so pesos... really quite expensive) I took the freeway into Merida, but came back along a more rural road. The villages all look more modern that the those in Honduras, but there is still a lot of poverty.

  10. If you ever make it to PA, I'll be happy to let you play me/beat me at basketball... and you can act as bad ass as you want and I'll pretend I'm losing because you're just soooo much better than me... not because I'm a girl, or short. ;)

    The photos are awesome! The one thing I've always hated about siteseeing anywhere south of the states is all the begging/vendors... we didn't have that problem in Europe. They had street vendors but they didn't hassle you the same way.

  11. Chichen Itza is wonderful. In order to graduate high school we had to do a 40 page typed thesis--I did mine on the Zoptec and Mitzec Indians of Oaxaca--but the Mayans hold a special interest to me as until recently there was very little intermarriage in and around Merida

    you learn how to get rid of the vendors--well I had my Manhattan street face--could scare anybody

    the weather in the South comes and goes quickly? We just had five totally sunless days

  12. We were there back in the 80's and there were no vendors on the site at all. I'm surprised they let them in now. My son climbed the observatory and I went to the top of the pyramid that had the chacmool on top, but not the taller one. Can you imagine trying to get a ball through that small circle?

  13. Basketball? Man that's so disappointing. I would have thought that you would play something less American there, like a good game of soccer (or as I call football because it really uses one's feet to play). I thought soccer is big there in Central America considering I only get soccer on a hispanic channel through rabbit ears. Yet the kids are playing basketball with you. Gosh, someone has to get down there to teach them soccer again!

  14. Very cool. Good thing, BTW, the hoops game didn't end in the traditional Mayan way, with one team getting sacrificed.

    BTW, did you get to Tulum. Another great set of ruins, but one needs to arrive early to beat the cruise crowds from Cozumal.

    I love the cenotes. Several years ago, I took the family to Akumal and we spend more time swimming in those for a few pesos than at the beach.

    Good times.

  15. Lisa, I was best in my game when in PA (but that was nearly 20 years ago). That said, for a short guy, I've been known to stuff a basketball down an opponent's mouth as I block a shot. Let that be a warning ;)

    PIa, I will write another post about some of the villages--where Mayan is still the main language

    Kenju, I got there too late, they no longer let you climb the pyramid today :(

    Mother Hen, In recent years, I played more basketball down south of the border than up here--most villages have a basketball court in the town square and it's often lighted at night...

    Randall, I didn't get to Tulum, I was either in Merida or in villages around Chichen

  16. These photos are awesome, Sage! The Kukulkan pyramid is amazing, as well as that last shot.

    Sounds like your Spanish is coming in handy in these parts.

  17. Fascinating. Those pictures just raise so many more questions. I'd have to study up before that trip to really appreciate the history.

  18. Once upon a time I went to the Pyramids of Egypt. It was about the same thing when it came to salesmen. Camel rides that would take you out, and then charge to come back, cokes (as you drank it they chased you wanting the bottle when you were done)and shockingly, drugs and prostitutes. But, you can't blame them for wanting to make a little off of Westerners.

    It looks like you had a fun trip. Those Mayans, interesting people. I loved Apocolypto, even though it was a little too "Adventureish".

  19. Well, next time you go, bring a football (I mean Soccer) and give it to them.

  20. Scarlet, my Spanish? You got to be kidding, I had two years of it in high school

    Beau, the Mayan history is interesting--they're different that the rest of Mexico and it was only in the 1930s that they signed peace treaties, ending centuries of war and attempts to be free

    Appalachianist, didn't see any prostitutes at the ruins nor had anyone try to sell me drugs

    Mother Hen, if I go back there, I'm bringing some good basketballs, ones that have some grip on them and that are not smooth as a baby's butt cheeks! (I have taken basketballs to Honduras). I know, I'm a corrupting Yankee

  21. What do you mean, you don't talk about work? It looked like the tortilla factories were whirring right along in last week's pictures.

    Great pics and interesting stories, Sage.

    Also, your "feeling tall" made me think of a line from Seinfeld when Jerry says he likes the opera crowd because it makes him feel tough.

  22. A real game would have been trying to launch one of the stone phallus's through the hoop...or maybe Columbus' head?

  23. Fascinating travels infusued with modern-day fun! THis Rocks, Sage! :)

  24. Wellllllll, since you brought up basketball....


    GOOOOOO U of M!!

  25. I went up the stairs on my knees, and down the stairs on my butt. My boyfriend at the time just kept running up and down the stairs . . .

    Not really afraid of heights, but those stairs are daunting!