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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Day 15 Day trip to Chichén-Itza and Izamal (263 kilometers)

After vistiting some of the more interesting places within the city I looked for a place outside to visit.  The most obvious was Chichén-Itza.  While I was hanging around the hostel I met several people who had been to Chichén-Itza already, it is the biggest and most well know site in the area.  They spoke of how disappointed they were because there were so many vendors and tourists in at the site. I put a bit of a sour taste on going but if you are down here this is the place to go so I decided to go anyways.

The hostel I am staying at offered tours but I did some calculations and determined it would be cheaper to drive over.  Additionally, I had planned on seeing Izamal so if I drove over I could pop up to see Izamal on the way back and not lose too much time waiting for buses and see two locations in one day.  A benefit considering I have a limited amount of time in Mérida.

I had originally planned on doing this loop on Saturday but I figured if this place is already going to be flooded with people I might as well go on a weekday so it would be a little less crowded.

They were not laying about the vendors, they were out in full force and they were EVERYWHERE.  The path that takes you around the entire site was lined with vendors for about 80% of its length.

Funny thing is, that though most of the stuff is distinctly "Mayan" I could swear some of the things that were being sold I had seen in a few locations in Ecuador a couple of years ago.  Regardless, you actually feel bad for the vendors, they are the locals from around the area.  They have to pay for a permit to be allowed to sell stuff in there while the government takes a little off the top in addition to all the money they get from admissions fees and the like (which were far more than any other site I had been to).  It is all around not a very positive economic situation.  It is something I have noticed with the government here and back in the states when it comes to "national or world heritage sites".  The people most closely tied to this heritage seem to be the ones who are last in line to reap any benefits or have any input into the interpretation of the sites.  With that in mind, here is why I came:

I was down on going but the spectacular nature of the architecture really made of for any of the issues that you could complain about.  It really is a "must-see".  

Not paying the ridiculous amount for a guide, who from what I overheard are spouting some very questionable "information", allowed me to get though the site fairly efficiently.   I was very thirsty, as I was walking around in full gear, but I refused to pay the outrageous prices for water, like at any tourist attraction, and hit the convenience store in the town of Piste on my way to Izamal.  

While it is apparent in all the cities in this area, Izamal captures the reality of Spanish conquest better than any other location I have seen yet.  The town is designated by the Mexican governement as "magical".  According to the requirements to be considered magical by the Mexican government, the town or city must be  small with rich historical tradition, but also must be near other "touristically interesting" sites or large cities, be accessible with good highways and roads, and there must be willingness by the locals to develop the project.

The thing that makes Izamal so "magical" is found in its nickname "The Yellow City".  The majority of the buildings in the town are painted yellow.  They were done so to match the Monastery Basilica of San Antonio de Padua at the center of the city.  

The history of the construction of the town is what brings out the colonial references which I referred to earlier.  In the 1500's the Spanish conquered and enslaved the Mayans in the area that is now the city of Izamal.  There was already a large Mayan city there and the Spanish were especially ferverent in their conversion efforts in this location.  The slaves were forced to tear down the city, which included many pyramids, and then to build churches, monasteries, or other official buildings on top on the location of the more extravagant architectural sites (about a dozen estimated temple sites).  The monastery was painted yellow and the rest of the town to match it as a message.

So everywhere you look you are just reminded of a sequence of quite horrible events and you see people who their very houses force them to remember what happened to them everyday.  I took one picture but just had an odd feeling about the town and did not enjoy it too much.

You may ask why I even went then.  Well, I read about this history when I arrived in Izamal.  This is not an indictment of the city.  As I live in Phoenix, Arizona and a large portion of the greater Phoenix metro area is on top of many different Native American sites.  I just had a particularly odd feeling about this location.

Sorry to leave on such a somber note but it was an interesting day navigating the negotiations between history and its contemporary ramifications.

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