Thursday, January 8th
One of the required readings of this course was Life Under the Tropical Canopy by Ellen Kintz. It mainly discussed the Maya city of Coba and today we got the opportunity to visit it. Coba was built in the classic era (600-900 a.d.) and was spread over 80 square kilometers. It is nestled among the scrub forest and is much larger than Chichen-Itza. Most of the group enjoyed Coba more than the other ruins because it gave a more complete picture of an ancient Maya community and was less touristy and commercialized. First, we stopped at a smaller temple where it was easy to see the additions that the Maya had made every 52 years. This practice was done because they believed that life was comprised of 52 year cycles where every cycle they increased the size of their temples by adding another layer. There were two ball courts but they were much smaller than the one at Chichen-Itza. Maya people from Coba would travel to Chichen-Itza to practice and have competitions. They would follow an agent sacbe, meaning road in Maya, 100 kilometers to Yaxuna, which is next to Chichen-Itza. Coba was the center of a web of sacbes, which main purpose was for trading. Unlike the other sites we have visited, there is a temple at Coba that people are still allowed to climb up. Everyone climbed the 138-foot tall Nohoch Mul, meaning large hill, even though it was really, really hot out. Nohoch Mul is the highest pyramid in the Yucatan Peninsula. We were rewarded with an amazing view of Lake Coba and other ruins.
View of Nohoch Mul and from the top of it
From there we went to a cenote to swim and cool off after our sweltering climb up Nohoch Mul. It was an underground cenote and it had some tiny catfish swimming around. It was then time for lunch at a local buffet.
Everyone at the cenote
Our last stop was at Aktun Chen, meaning cave with an underground river inside. It is an underground cave system that was formed by the ocean and was the first to be opened to the public in Quintana Roo state. There were many stalactites and stalagmites of different shapes and sizes. They are formed by water with minerals seeping through the ground and then fossilizing into calcium carbonate deposits. We could see fossilized coral and even a conch shell that was hanging in the ceiling, which is evidence that it was once part of the ocean.
Conch shell in the ceiling
On our way in, our tour guide showed us a fichus tree and told us we will be able to see its root system. When we first got down there, we saw the roots going straight trough the ceiling and then down into the floor again. As we kept going, we could see the roots of other fichus trees. Fichus trees have an amazing root system that will go really far down in order to find water. Our cave tour ended with a beautiful surprise. We entered a dark chamber, 45 feet below ground, where our tour guide pointed out some interesting things to us and ended the show by turning on all the lights in the chamber revealing a spectacular body of water. We got to see where the fichus roots reach the water and spread out on the surface. On the walk back from the cave, we got to see some Mexican deer and Mexican monkeys.
Fichus tree roots
The night ended with most of us exhausted and heading to bed early after our talking circle where we discussed the things we have learned here in Mexico that we would like to bring back with us into our lives in Minnesota. Some people, despite their exhaustion, went to Playa del Carmen to go dancing and enjoy the night life.
Written by Emily B., Audra and Sam