Mexico: Back in the Spotlight
Whether you think the world will end or a new era will begin, 2012 is the year to head to Mexico.
Now is the time to go to Mexico. In 2012, the country is celebrating the Mundo Maya (Mayan World) and there is no place we’d rather be leading up to this historical event. Whether you think the world will end or a new era will begin, the action happens at the ancient archeological sites scattered throughout Mexico.
The Mayans ruled the area until 900 AD and one can explore and learn about their history when visiting one of the many abandoned cities still standing majestically over the land.
In the far south of the Mexico lies the state of Chiapas where you can explore one of these cities in near solitude. Toniná is a Mayan Ruin that has yet to be overrun with tourists and it is magnificent. Be sure to hire a local guide to truly enjoy it to the fullest.
The grounds span 2 km but only the main temple complex has been excavated. The hills and forests that surround the area may be yet to be discovered pyramids. As you stroll the grounds taking in the sights, you may be walking atop an ancient structure that is waiting to be unearthed.
Following our trusty leader, we explore the ball court where we learn that competitors fought to their death. The winner had the “honour” of being sacrificed to the Gods and nobody mentions what happened to the loser. Something tells me it’s not a pleasant occasion for them either.
With the mid day sun burning overhead it’s a welcome relief to enter the next building, The Labyrinth. We walk through 50 metres of total darkness running our hands along the stone walls to find our way. Dave lags behind to take some photos and I wonder what he is doing back there. I’m feeling the stress of waking through the thick black air and think to myself, what on earth is worth photographing in here? I wait for him to catch up and when I hear him turning the corner I flash my camera and catch him off guard. Now that’s worth a photograph.
While the labyrinth is fun, it is the Grand Plaza that makes Tonina so special. Sitting atop a hill, Toniná has more vertical gain than any other Mayan Ruin. Walking up its seven levels allows you to explore structures and temples, and some of the most well preserved stucco sculptures from the era. It is a fascinating tour but its the toilets and bath tubs that catch our attention. They look remarkably civilized.
The Mayans made everything in harmony with nature. The irrigation and air conditioning systems were advanced for their time. A cool wind comes in from all directions while exploring the interior of the temples and yet when we walk outside, there is barely a breeze.
When we finally make it to the top of the pyramid we are treated to a remarkable view of the valley below. Standing atop the highest point, we could see why the Mayan Kingdom chose to build here. There has rarely been a moment that we have witnessed such beauty. Looking out to the fields I envisioned a King speaking to his people and how grand of a moment it must have been.
Toniná may be one of the lesser known cities of the Mayan civilization, but it is no less impressive. It was an aggressive and powerful kingdom and eventually defeated its rival, the ancient city of Palenque to become the dominant city of the west of Mexico.
We have visited several ruins during our travels but there was something special about having Toniná to ourselves. It is a place that hasn’t seen the masses of tourists yet making the experience more personal. Our guide is a local rancher that comes to the site to share his knowledge, and when the day comes to an end, he picks up his horse and pops me on for the walk back to the gate. When we say our goodbyes, he mounts his steed and sets off through a field towards his ranch. The ride wasn’t a tourist gimmick to get us to pay more money, it was just a man picking up his horse who thought it would be nice to give me a ride.
It was a perfect day in Mexico.
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