Ruins, Ruins and S'more Ruins
|Written by Jared on January 09, 2012|
Start: December 27, Campeche
This week took us from Campeche to Merida, the largest city on the Yucatan Peninsula. All told we've covered about a third of the peninsula, most of that heading north across flat, sparsely-populated jungle.
Between the colonial cities of Campeche and Merida we spent a couple nights camped near Uxmal, one of the largest Mayan archeological sites. We drove the Ruta Puuc, a road that winds through five other Mayan cities, named after the Puuc Mayan culture. Needless to say, we had our fill of ancient ruins!
Campeche is the first of three states in the Yucatan Peninsula that we'll visit. It holds a much-restored capital city bearing the same name. Founded in 1540 by Spanish conquistadores, it was built atop a Mayan city. Much of the materials used to build the original city's churches were plundered from the ruins of the original Mayan civilization. Much of the historic downtown area was recently renovated and restored. Colonial buildings line the streets, painted in pastel colors.
Campeche is unique by Mexican standards because it used to be surrounded by a defensive stone wall, built in the 1600s to protect against English and Dutch pirate attacks. Few sections of the wall still stand, above is the Sea Gate, which connects the city to the Gulf of Mexico.
We spent three nights in Campeche at the Monkey Hostel along the central square. The hostel was fairly run-down, but it did have a nice view of Independence Park and the cathedral at the heart of the city. Most importantly it was cheap, the toilets worked, and the internet was fast.
Our last night in Campeche we took a stroll along the waterfront malecon (promenade) as the sun set. It was the first time we've seen dedicated running and biking trails in Mexico - something the locals made the most of.
From Campeche we took a short drive to Uxmal and setup camp in the front yard of a restaurant. Probably the sketchiest campsite thus far - the water didn't always work, the toilets stopped after a day, and Jessica saw more than one big hairy jumping spider the first night.
Uxmal marks the beginning of the Ruta Puuc, a road in central Yucatan that connects six Mayan sites. It is named after the Puuc Mayans and also describes a distinct archeological style consisting of detailed facades and intricate stone mosaics and inlays.
Unfortunately we didn't have the budget to visit all six sites, so we picked the three largest - the first being Kabah. Above, a buzzard welcomes us, perched on top of the central palace. Kabah was established in the mid-third century BC, most of the visible ruins date from the 7th to 11th centuries AD.
The most interesting part of the Kabah ruins is the Palace of the Masks. 250 identical masks of the rain god Chac are carved into this palace, stretching over a hundred feet. Post-conquest this temple was known as Codz Poop, (not a typo) or "Rolling Mat" after the curved noses of the masks - of which only a few remain intact, shown on the right side of the photo.
These two carvings, probably ten feet tall in all, are symbolic of the Puuc architectural style. We haven't seen anything like this in previous ruins. The fact that they are three dimensional figures and still in such good condition after a thousand years makes them very unique.
Here's a shot of the courtyard at Kabah, remarkably free from tourists. This site was much less crowded than Palenque and Uxmal, it was a nice change to be able to stroll around and take pictures without people everywhere.
The round white disks you see on the grass are the remnants of underground cisterns. There are no rivers in the Yucatan, all of the water is underground. In order to stay hydrated the Mayans built large circular pools and harvested rainwater. Water collects in the pools and drains into underground storage areas lined with stone. The white disks in the photo are the remnants of the plumbing that fed rainwater into the cisterns.
Next up on the Ruta Puuc are the ruins of Labna. El Mirador, pictured above, holds a religious temple atop a ruined pyramid. Built in the 9th century AD, much of this site is still under reconstruction with piles of numbered stones lining paths between buildings.
Across from El Mirador is El Arco (The Arch) where we pause for some shade and a photo-op. The arch was built as a passageway between public areas, not as an entrance to the city.
My favorite part of Labna is this carving of Kukulkan on the corner of the 300 foot-long palace. Kukulkan is a Mayan snake deity, and is represented in quite a few Mayan sites as a snake with a human head inside its mouth.
We saved the best for last - after Labna and Kabah it was time to hit up Uxmal. That is, after heading back to camp for some iced coffee and shade. Climbing over ruins is sweaty business!
Uxmal is one of four major Mayan archeological sites on the Yucatan Peninsula, along with Palenque, Chichen Itza and Tulum. This picture was taken atop the Grand Pyramid and shows most of major buildings that have been reconstructed at the site.
By far the most impressive building on the site is the Magician Pyramid, also pictured at the top of this article. It's a bit strange for a pyramid - the front and back have stairs leading to the top (lots of them) - but the sides are curved, flat and rounded. Unfortunately they don't let people climb up it, so we settled for taking photos from the bottom of the steps.
The next morning we decided to pack up rather than staying another night with jumping spiders and broken toilets. As Kobus packed up their tent he found the first tarantula of our trip, just a little guy, maybe 2 inches across. Jessica about had an aneurism, and Kobus and I took it as a sign that leaving was probably a good thing.
Our next stop is the city of Merida. We spent four nights in a very nice hostel near the center of town, recuperating from spider traumas and enjoying our first hot showers in over a week.
Merida is larger than Campeche and is the capital of the Mexican state of Yucatan. It was founded in 1542 by the conquistadore Francisco de Montejo, the photo above shows the facade of his original palace on the central square. It's now a bank, complete with ATM machine. Montejo is famous for conquering half of the Yucatan peninsula by allying with rival Mayan factions.
Up next: Chichen Itza (more ruins!) and Playa del Carmen.