Progreso, Mayans and Chichen Itza
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
Thursday, February 19, 2015
Once again, another blustery morning greeted Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Freedom as we sailed into Progreso, Mexico. Unlike our evening departure from Cozumel, our arrival into the port at the northern tip of the Yucatan was bathed in brilliant sunshine that illuminated the water that glistened like sea-glass buried in some forgotten tropical beach.
Today, I participated in Carnival’s massive 7-hour long tour to the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza. Priced at $79.99 per person, the tour was supposed to kick off at 9:15 in the morning, but ended up being moved ahead by over an hour to 8:00 a.m. Guests were notified of this change at 7:00 a.m. via a phone call to their stateroom. In my case, I was up having breakfast and only discovered the change at 7:45 a.m. when I returned to my stateroom.
We then proceeded to the Victoriana Show Lounge on Deck 3, where we sat for approximately 40 minutes while the ship completed maneuvering procedures in Progreso. By the time I was sitting on the motorcoach pierside, the time was approximately 9:00 a.m., which left me a little baffled as to why the tour was moved ahead in the first place.
Be that as it may, Carnival did a fabulous job with their Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins Tour. A 2.5-hour long drive away from Progreso, Chichen Itza (pronounced che-chen-eetsa) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site noted for its historical and cultural importance. UNESCO lists it as the most important example of Maya-Toltec architecture, influence, and historical record from the 10th to 15th century that remains in the world.
A fusion of both Mayan and Toltec cultures, the most famous site at Chichen Itza – and the one you’ve probably seen without realizing it – is El Castillo, also known as the Temple of Kukulkan. This is the massive pyramid-shaped structure topped with a large square opening instead of a more Egyptian-style point.
El Castillo dominates the center of the Chichen Itza complex, and dozens (if not hundreds) of tourists visiting the site stop to take multiple photographs in front of it. But there are some truly impressive monuments here that don’t get photographed nearly as frequently.
Take, for example, the spacious (and acoustically-sound) Great Ball Court, an ancient sporting arena not so dissimilar in nature from the Coliseum in Rome. Here, dueling teams would battle to the death.
Death is a recurrent theme in Chichen Itza. When the Toltecs took the city around 967, they did so with such force that five centuries later, books and historic carvings still told of the viciousness in which the conquest happened. Assimilating the Mayans to their own traditions, the Toltecs began to impose their penchant for human sacrifice upon the Mayans which had, until that point, never been known for doing anything of the sort. To put that in modern perspective, imagine your neighbour comes over and annexes your house. Then, he tells you to go kill your other neighbour because he says so, and because it will please his God.
But, it is this blending of Mayan and Toltec cultures and traditions that give Chichen Itza the appearance it has today. Just outside of the Great Ball Court is the Tzompantli – or Skull Wall, which was used for a purpose that is exactly what it sounds like. A wall of skulls mounted for the purposes of human sacrifice.
Over on the northeast side, the Group of the Thousand Columns is endlessly impressive, as is the Temple of the Warriors. In fact, the entire site – which is spread out over 600 hectares – is filled with architectural marvels that are so well-preserved, it’s almost difficult to believe the site sat in ruins following its abandonment in the 13th century. It went largely undiscovered until 1841, when the first excavations began.
If the site is enormously impressive, the procedures for getting in are not. Visitors are required to have two tickets to enter, and I barely was able to get a ticket despite clearly being part of our group thanks to a red “1” sticker affixed to my shirt. The one gentleman handing out the second ticket refused to give me one until I had the first ticket, which was being distributed by our guide. So, I had to fight my way through the throng of people to the guide, get the ticket, battle my way back to the old guy with the second ticket, who reluctantly gave me one. Amazingly unorganized.
Then, you walk all of five feet with your two tickets and hand them to a guy standing at the front of an amazingly long line. He rips your ticket, and you proceed five more feet to another guy, who pops a hole-punch into your second ticket.
Following this, you run a veritable gauntlet of vendors selling masks, Mayan calendars, and other trinkets. My personal favorite: the jaguar noise-maker, which, when you blow into the Jaguar’s tail, makes a noise like – you guessed it – a jaguar. So, if you were to hear the soundtrack for Chichen Itza, it would sound a lot like jaguars constantly screaming as every other vendor continually puts the thing up to his lips.
In this competitive environment, you almost have to give credit to the last vendor I saw as I was leaving the park, who was making not Mayan calendars but was instead whittling large wooden penises on a lathe. Which you could buy and take home. Good luck going through customs with that.
So, with one last jog through the vendors and their jaguar noisemakers, I headed to the bus in time for the doors to shut and our journey back to Progreso to begin.
Was the excursion worth the long drive? Absolutely. You can’t put a price (or a time-duration) on seeing something like Chichen Itza. It may not be as immediately appealing to some as the beach, but it’s a one-of-a-kind experience that is well worth visiting if you’re docking in Progreso. Not to be missed!
When we returned to port, Carnival Elation had berthed next to us. The wind was still as ferocious as ever, but our new friend helped to shield us from the worst of it. We pulled away from the pier in Progreso just after 5:20 p.m., setting a course for the Gulf of Mexico as the last rays of light glittered off the oddly-coloured sea and the wind whipped whitecaps into misting showers of salt.
Tonight, as we sail along at 19 knots, Carnival Freedom will begin her journey back to Galveston, Texas, where we will disembark on Saturday. Fortunately, one more Fun Day At Sea stands between us and the end of this inaugural Western Caribbean voyage.
I think it’ll be a good one!
Our full journey:
Carnival Freedom, Western Caribbean
|February 14, 2015||Galveston, Texas||Embark Carnival Freedom in Galveston; pre-cruise event for Operation Homefront.||Overnight in Galveston|
|February 15||Galveston, Texas||Overnight||4:00 PM|
|February 16||Fun Day At Sea|
|February 17||Costa Maya, Mexico||1:00 PM||8:00 PM|
|February 18||Cozumel, Mexico||8:00 AM||4:00 PM|
|February 19||Progresso, Yucatan, Mexico||9:00 AM||5:00 PM|
|February 20||Fun Day At Sea|
|February 21||Galveston, Texas||8:00 AM||Disembarkation|