Remnant of the Past

Thimble-shaped structures like this dot the island of Jamaica and most people probably see them but don’t notice or don’t know what they are.  This is the base of a windmill that was used in the production of sugar.  These mills were all over the island when Sugar Plantations fueled the growth of the British colony that thrived here.  The mills were used to grind the sugar cane to produce granulated sugar and molasses.  Molasses is what Rum is produced from and this is the other big product of the colonial era.

At one time, Jamaica was the top producer of sugar in the world.  Today, it is still a major producer of sugar and rum but tourism is the biggest source of income.  It was very neat to learn a little of the island’s history when we were on our tour going from Falmouth to Montego Bay.

Jamaican Sugar Mill ruins

Nikon D7100
Tamron SP 16-300mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC
44mm @ f/14 – 1/50 sec – ISO 200

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Kukulcán the Feathered Serpent

On the great Plaza, between El Castillo the main pyramid, and the Great Ball Court, are several smaller structures. The Platform of the Eagles and Jaguars and the Temple of Venus are two very similar structures with steps on each of the four sides and a flat platform at the top. The top of each staircase is flanked by images of the winged serpent, the God Kukulcán.

Chichen Itza-082
The walls of the Eagles and Jaguars platform are carved with Eagles and Jaguars gruesomely grasping human hearts.  The story here is that there were two groups of Toltec warriors responsible for capturing sacrificial victims. Eagle Knights, who attacked the enemy using bows and arrows and Jaguar Knights fought using clubs fitted with obsidian knives.

 

The platform was likely used for religious and ceremonial purposes and may have been a sacrificial site.

The Platform of Eagles and Jaguars
Chichén Itzá, Yucatan, Mexico

Nikon D7100
Tamron SP 16-300mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC
44mm @ f/16 – 1/250 sec – ISO 200

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Ancient Observatory

It is amazing to realize how advanced the science of the Maya culture was centuries before our modern calendar even started.  One of the chief areas of scientific study was astronomy, which linked into their most famous creation – the Mayan calendar.

In order to study the stars, there was a need for a place that would be elevated above the canopy of the forest that covers the Yucatan plain where Chichen Itza is located. The observatory is built on a multi-level plateau with a cylindrical tower atop it.  The building is known as “El Caracol” (the Snail – in Spanish) which is a reference to the circular stairs that lead from the lower tower to the upper observation tower.  The upper tower has slit windows that are specially aligned to observe the planet Venus and the summer and winter solstice of the Sun.

Looking at the partially ruined tower with its domed roof, makes you think of a modern observatory with a high-powered telescope poking out.  Though the Maya did not have telescopes, they had a fantastic knowledge of the movements within the heavens and were able to calculate astronomical events with great accuracy.  Seeing these sites and thinking back on what this civilization was capable of is truly awe inspiring!

El Caracol (The Observatory)
Chichen Itza
Yucatan, Mexico

Nikon D7100
Tamron SP 10-24mm F/3.5-4.5 Di II
10mm @ f/10 – 1/2000 sec – ISO 400

Lucky number 13

In Mayan culture, the number 13 was considered to be of special significance and many of the structures at Chichen Itza feature repetitions of images in this number.  This building, the largest of the Classical Period (600 – 950 AD) architecture is known as “The Nunnery”.  The early Spanish explorers gave it this name (Las Monjas) because the building has many doorways that reminded them of monastery cells.

This structure is actually not believed to be a temple but a royal palace.  The face of the building is covered with intricate carvings with a focus on the Rain God “Chac”.  The side entrance shown in this image  includes 13 images of Chac, 8 on the bottom level, 4 on the top and the whole side is a huge face with the door representing the mouth.

Las Monjas (The Nunnery)
Chichen Itza
Yucatan, Mexico

Nikon D7100
Tamron SP 10-24mm F/3.5-4.5 Di II
11mm @ f/16 – 1/500 sec – ISO 200

Dance of the Flyers

Hurricane Irma has given us some bonus cruise time while we wait for the storm to clear.   Last night, we made a move about 100 miles south from Cozumel to the port of Costa Maya, Mexico.

This port was built for the exclusive purpose of attracting cruise ships to stop along Mexico’s Mayan Riviera.  There is no major city here but it’s actually not a bad place to stop.  The port area is quite touristy but not over-run with people hawking cheap stuff at every corner like some other places.  Everything is pretty new and clean with a beach area, swimming pools and lots of little shops.

At the center of the shopping area, there is a tall pole where a demonstration is done on days when ships are in port.  This is described as a Mayan rain ritual which ties in with  the local history but the ceremony, known as  the Danza de los Voladores, is a centuries old tradition practiced by numerous indigenous peoples of Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

The ceremony involves a dance of 5 participants with music and chanting followed by a climb up a 30 meter pole.  Once the “voladores” have climbed to the top, four of them tie themselves to long ropes and launch into the air, spinning around the pole 13 times (a magical number to the Mayans) until they reach the ground.  In this demonstration, there are only 4 flyers but the original includes a fifth person who stays standing atop the pole while the others spin their way down.

This was a neat display which was only diminished by the fact that it took a fair amount of time to complete which made it hard to watch looking up all that time with the hot, Mexican sun beating down on you.  I am glad we got to see this as it added to our Mayan history lesson.

Danza de los Voladores
Costa Maya, Mexico

Nikon D7100
Tamron SP 16-300mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC
16mm @ f/10 – 1/800 sec – ISO 200

Predicting the Weather

This column is believed to represent the four seasons of the year – one on each side. The images on the closest side show a representation of the rain god – Chac shown with the nose of an elephant.  Chac is one of the most frequent images that we saw throughout Chichen Itza.

Obviously, rain was extremely important to the Maya culture.  I assume this was primarily because the Yucatan peninsula is very hot and they would have been highly dependent on rain for drinking water and agricultural irrigation.  On our visit, we have been more concerned with the over-abundance of rain related to hurricane Irma.  Either way, it is obvious that predicting the weather has been a chief concern of people for a very long time and we still don’t quite have it figured out.

Nikon D7100
Tamron SP 10-24mm F/3.5-4.5 Di II
10mm @ f/10 – 1/800 sec – ISO 400

Chichen Itza

Our one pre-planned land excursion was a trip to see the Mayan city of Chichen Itza.  This was an all-day trip leaving from the port of Cozumel early Friday morning and not returning until around 6PM.  We took a ferry across to Playa del Carmen and a 2 hour bus trip out to Chichen Itza which is in the middle of the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.

We were worried that the weather might not be good since hurricane Irma was passing by this area of the Caribbean but it turned out pretty well. There were puffy white clouds in the sky making for interesting photography but no rain until we were half-way home on the return trip.

Chichen Itza itself is amazing.  Our guided tour gave us so much history and background on the Mayan culture and interesting details about the architecture.  One of the neat things they kept demonstrating were the acoustics of the pyramids and other large buildings.  They produce echoes to allow the priests and leaders to make announcements and speeches to the people from atop these structures.  At the main pyramid – dedicated to the snake-bird god, if you clap your hands, you hear an echo that sounds like a bird.

This was a fabulous trip and our tour guides were fantastic.  Thanks to Diego and Hermondo for getting us there and teaching all about the Maya and the history of this site – one of the wonders of the modern world.

Nikon D7100
Tamron SP 10-24mm F/3.5-4.5 Di II
11mm @ f/16 – 1/500 sec – ISO 200