Land of the Maya, Land of the Spaniard
I had no idea of what to expect from Mexico when the possibiliy of a trip to Cancun,Mexico and surrounding areas arised. I had blurred images of western movies of desert, drinking, sleeping and bandits. I remembered the revolutionery stories of Zapata. I remembered the Cinqo Mayo (5th May) celebrations I witnessed in California, I remembered Cozumel and diving, I thought of south American civilizations Aztecs, Incas. I thought of the Quetzalcoatl, from the D.H Lawrence novel "The Plumed Serpent". I thought of Cortés. I thought of 1492,Colombus. And lastly, as a citizen of another developing country , I thought of Latin American economies.
And now I am back at home and have much more and much less to think .
The region has a legendary history. The Maya civilization was the dominant culture in Yucatan peninsula. I was surprised to hear that Maya's were larger in terms of population and land than Aztecs. Aztecs were living further north, around Mexico City. So it was the land of the Maya at the time. Even the names today reflect the culture Riviera Maya, Costa Maya.... Maya's had build a complex culture. They have developed different calenders one of them being a 365 days calender, which was used for daily life. Another surpring fact is their numbers. Mayas were using a base 20 system. If you remember your high scoll days that means 11 in Maya (of course they were using different symbols in that case (:) is equal to 21 in decimal system. Please refer to box Mayan Calculus 151 box for further information.
|In the Maya world "" is 1 and " _ " is 5. So you would write 3 as " " and 7 as " ". The base for Mayan numerical is system is 20 so "" "" is 21 is shown as ":". The digits are represented from top to bottom. .|
And it is the land of Pok-ta-pok. (Does the name pota come from here?)The Mayan ball game. Which might be the grandfather of today's basketball. I have always wandered how this game was played. How players are supposed to pass their ball through a stone circle hanging on the wall. I had the opportunity to watch a demonstation game and partially satisfied my curiosity. Just partially because the demonstration was performed on a newly built arena. The walls were heavily inclined. When you see how difficult it is to play even on these inclined walls. You wonder how people were playing in the arena with 90 degrees walls and the target circle is very high as is the case in Chichen Itza.
After the Maya's it was the land of the Spaniards in the early 15th century the Maya land was invaded by spaniards. However the Maya rebellion lasted very long and in some places it never ended. The spaniards controlled most of the land and built colonnial cities. And in the later years the Maya coast was home to many famous pirates including Henry Morgan and many others, adding to legendary history of the area.
I have left probably the very first reason to visit the area last. And which probably was the reason Mayas used to live here. It is the Caribbean coast, with white sandy beaches, lagoons with crystal clear waters and mixing with ocean, it is the coral reefs from where the life succeded to get out of water and breathe.with colourful corals and many varieties of fish, sea creatures. It is the ocean with turtles, barracuda's, Manta's. It is the sky with flamingos, egrets, parrots, toucans. It is the jungle with jaguars, monkeys, snakes. It is the swamps with crocodiles. It is the nature.
Land of the American
Cancun is situated on the north east of Quintana Roo state which is the easternmost state of Mexico which lies along the Carribbean coast of Yucatan peninsula.
The city has only developed after 1970's and you would be surprised to hear that when you see the development. Cancun is founded around a lagoon and divided into two parts downtown and the hotelzone.
The first thing strikes you in Cancun is the nature. The turqoise waters along the white sandy beaches, the lagoon with blue waters, coconut and palm trees and a hot, humid tropical climate. And the very next moment you see big hotels all along the coast, the hotel zone. The region has developed as a result of a carefully developed and executed project. And as of today Cancun is the largest tourist resort in Mexico. By combining the nature, well developed infrastructure and the proximity to major US cities Cancun attracts millions of American tourists every year.
The city and the hotels offer their customers, majority of them being American spring and summer breakers, almost everything. Air conditioned hotels next to each other and next to a very beautiful beach, modern shopping malls, where you can run away hide from the hot and humid wheather to dive into the delights of shopping in a relaxing and cool atmosphere. You can also find many agencies offering tours to other attractions and activities in the area.
Isla Mujeres is a very nearby island and offers you very nice retreat from the crowd and pressure of the Cancun. The island also hosts a nature park "Garrafon" offering you various activities such as sea trek, snuba besides the classical offerings such as snorkelling and SCUBA diving.
|Wet Activities 101|
Snorkelling: Swimming with a mask and ... Normally you can dive by breath holding but on most of the reefs you are required to wear life jackets. So it requires strong will to dive. And the reason for the jackets is to protect the reef.
SCUBA: Diving a la Jacques Cousteau . With a tank, mask, etc.
SNUBA: In between snorkelling and SCUBA. You and some (1-3) other divers are connected to an air supply floating on surface, You can stay underwater longer but can not go on your own too far.
Sea trek: You only wear a astranout like head cover. (Only the head a la Captain Nemo). The air flows in from a tank on the surface. You climb down a ladder , reach the bottom a few meters down. Enjoy whatever around by sticking to a predefined path.
Land of the European,
Riviera Maya is further south of Cancun. And as my experience shows the further south (away from US!) you get closer to the nature. And Riviera Maya, being just in the middle of highly developed areas (Cancun) and totally undeveloped areas, offers you a very good base. Playa Del Carmen is the center of the region. Playa del Carmen is more preferred by european tourists compared to Cancun. The buildings are not very high and night life is more limited. Do not expect Las Vegas style buildings here.The beach is very nice and you can stay either in the center or in the resorts along the beach.
The area has many attractions, some of them being Xel-ha, a natural park, Xcaret another natural park including butterfly and underwater pavillons, Mayan traditions reanimation, including pok-ta-pok, the ball game. Many archeological sites are also in Riviera Maya such as Tulum and Coba which hosts the second largest pyramid in the Maya world. Tulum is a must to see as it s location just next to the beach and sea offers splendid views. Other than these places there are many small beaches such as Akumel and Paamul, and on almost all of them turtles are laying eggs. The goverment has developed a program which incorporates volunteers, that watch for the turtles, keep people away so they can lay eggs and mark the nests for protection. LAter when the eggs hatch they also make sure that the baby turtles reach the sea. We were realy lucky and watched a 1mlong turtle lay eggs and return to sea.
Cozumel, the world famous diving island is also reachable from Playa del Carmen either by ferry or boat .
Land of ...
Go further south of Riviera Maya and you reach empty beaches and you can go until Xcalak when you reach sea and you can almost see Belize, the southern neighbour of Mexico. All along the way there are very few developments and only 1-2 hotels on the beach. If you prefer it quiet and away this is it. And if you like diving Banco Chincorro may offer you many sunken ships and underwater beauties.
Very close to Belize border is the Chetumal, the Capital of Quintana Roo state. Chetumal was almost totally destroyed by a tropical Storm (Janet? ) in 1955 and rebuilt since then.
Chetumal is very close to many archeological sites Kohunlich, Dizibanche and unexlored jungle in which you can search for trouble, your faith, beautiful cenotes or whatever.
Rüçhan Ziya, RZiya@RuchanZiya.Com
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