Our guide Alphonso leads friends Cynthia, Lisa and I through the cool, shady Mexican jungle. On either side mangrove trees look impenetrable with their dense, knotted roots. I now understand the need for machetes.
Iguanas lounge on rocks and branches. These animals are like squirrels in Mexico. They’re everywhere, and thank God, not aggressive.
To really see creatures of the jungle, Alphonso advises us to come back at night. “Then you really see the snakes,” he said. We decide to sit that one out.
Ten minutes later we come to a clearing with immense collapsed stone structures, as far as the eye can see. This is what’s left of the Mayan culture in Tulum.
A grid of dirt roads leads past once-regal houses for the aristocracy, temples and official buildings. Every dwelling has remnants of pillars. Some have secret passages and tunnels.
In one residence there’s a hole in the living room for burying the dead, a common custom. The largest building, a temple, sits on the highest hill with a commanding view of the Caribbean.
I walk these streets trying to imagine how they looked a thousand years ago, bustling with activity. Like us, these people lived. They loved. They cooked. They shopped. They argued with their spouses. They raised children. They grieved for lost loved ones. They each had stories and secret hopes and wishes.
A ripple goes down my spine. I can’t help picturing future generations examining remnants of the Empire State building or Eiffel Tower. Every civilization thinks they’re invincible.
Even at 10:00 a.m. the sun beats down and I try and find any shade as Alphonso tells us how Mayan society was organized around city-states. They charted the moon and planets, had their own written language and of course, that infamous calendar.
They also had a savage side with human sacrifice, teeth filed to points (better to attack your foe’s jugular) and were known to rip beating hearts out of their enemies.
Alphonso shows us a small album of pictures he’s taken over the years, displaying the ruins at various times of the day and months. His love of this site is evident. He tells us how the Mayan culture’s heyday went from 250 AD to 900, but eventually vanished. No one knows why.
Some say it was the Spanish arrival in 900, although it about took 170 years for the Europeans to gain complete control. Some say it was environmental, maybe drought. Perhaps it was disease.
And yet to me, the Mayan culture still prevails in Mexico. It’s in the art, the architecture, and of course, the faces of the natives.
Maybe the Mayans never really went away. Like any clever people, they adapted. They blended in as best they could.
Still, we’ll never know why these immense city-states now stand empty, in rubble. Only the jungle remains.
One thing is certain… judging by the immense, international crowds, the Mayan mystery still tantalizes.
Have you seen ancient Mayan temples? All comments are welcome and if you like please share. Thank you!