The last day of 2010 was definitely one to remember! We started the day by taking a van to Chichen Itza. When we arrived, we were greeted by our tour guide who showed us El Castillo (The Castle), the ball court, the wall of skulls, etc. Our guide had been working at Chichen Itza ever since he was 8 years old, so he had a lot of stories to tell, both personal and historical. After spending some time with him, we were let loose to explore the rest of the ruins on our own. During our free time, most of the group went to see the Well of Souls, the Rows of Columns, and the Observatory. With the large abundance of Maya vendors; it was hard to make it out of the ruins without a souvenir or four!
Many vendors sold hand carved Maya masks. They were intricate and beautiful; pieces that took time and true skill to create. After learning what the vendors sell these pieces for, we were shocked. Neither of us can imagine working on something for 20-30 hours and selling it for $10. In Minnesota, minimum wage is $5.25 per hour, In Mexico it's around $5 per day! Knowing this makes us feel guilty for ever taking a job in America for granted.
It was so fascinating to think about how much work and planning went in to each structure at Chichen Itza. It was important to learn about the Ancient Maya number system because most of their structures were built around angles and distances in reference to the sun and the stars. In fact, many of the structures were even built in a way that would showcase each eclipse and solstice. Another aspect that was interesting was learning how the Maya people really lived. They weren't this bloodthirsty society that sacrificed their entire society like some may believe. They were a very intelligent, religious community that followed their beliefs and trusted in their gods.
When looking down the road in 5-10 years we feel that there will be a lot from this particular trip that we will remember. First is the awe factor of Chichen Itza. The monuments are so breathtaking when you take into consideration the time period that they were constructed. Secondly, is the intelligence that the Maya people held with the sun and the stars.
After some time spent gathering in all there is to see at Chichen Itza, we all hopped back in the van for another exhilarating experience. We drove down the road about ten minutes and hung a right into the cenote park. A "cenote" is a limestone sinkhole that usually holds fresh water. The front of the park looks much like a resort with a hotel and such, but the real site was tucked in through a weaving path. We made our way to the first observatory and were all astonished by its beauty. The thing is literally a circle hole in the ground that descends down about 150+ feet into a pool of cool, fresh water. This particular cenote was special though because near the water there were ledges that allowed people to plunge. The ledges altered from heights up to about 20 feet, so for some it was a little daring to scary. I think we got a glimpse of everyone's inner dare devil, because it takes some guts to let your body go and not fully comprehend what's beneath you. But readers don't worry, there was about 200 feet of water below so all your fellow Gophers were safe and full of adrenaline!
Once all the excitement dissipated, we had some lunch and got in the van for our 2 hour trek back to Akumal. Everyone was a little exhausted and needed to watch the back of their eyelids to prepare for the New Year. To ring in the New Year, one of the CEA workers prepared us quite the meal and we gathered outside to eat and celebrate before the year 2011 countdown on the beach began!