Monday, July 16, 2007

A Day at Uxmal

At Uxmal I bought my ticket and passed through the turnstile into a ghostly world of incised rock and creeping wildlife.

I strolled up the broad path towards the Sorcerer's Temple, a slapdash pyramid rebuilt four times (dang contractors). Okay, I thought, that´s kind of cool. Coming around the back of a squared-off structure I caught sight of a few Chaac masks plus the ubiquitous criss-cross pattern I call the Purina Cat Chow motif. Yeah, those are cool too, I thought. But it wasn't until I rounded the corner and stepped out into the Nun's Quadrangle that it hit me square in the eye: four massive buildings covered in patterns and figures. Rows of doorways leading into mysterious chambers. One facade crawling with giant, intertwined snakes. A monumental arch revealing more pyramids in the distance.

"Oh my God!" I said, momentarily forgetting the following:

1. People think it´s weird when you talk to yourself.
2. If you´re going to be weird in Mexico, at least be weird IN SPANISH!

I heard the German tourist behind me sniggering softly, his lens-bedecked camera temporarily sliding down from his eye. I didn´t care. This was extremely cool. I visited Uxmal once many years ago. I remember enjoying it, but I didn´t retain any mental images.

It´s different this time -- I understand more of the context. Besides I'm on a mission: I'm taking photos for my students. I want them to see what amazing builders the ancient Mayans were. I want some of the photos to include ME so they'll understand these ruins are real places they could visit themselves, some day.If (as I see it) the Yucatan is a kind of Disneyland for archeologists, then Uxmal is the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. As I walked through the giant arch, marvel after marvel unfolded before my eyes. I tramped through the Ball Court with its huge lifesaver-shaped hoop: I climbed the ornate Governor´s Palace:
Then I went higher still to the Great Pyramid where a broad expanse of stone edifices spread below me, islands in a sea of jungle green.
Everywhere I walked, giant ring-tailed iguanas basked in the sun. They matched the pink-gray masonry perfectly; I nearly stepped on a couple of them. This caused them to bob their heads up and down threateningly, and eventually, reluctantly, make a run for it. Chubby and wrinkled, I came to think of them as the fat old men of Uxmal.
Birds and insects filled the air with buzzes and squacks. Swallows haunted every vault of every structure, and came out shrieking when disturbed. A metalic blue-striped bird crowed and flitted nervously from tree to tree, switching its paintbrush-like tail back and forth.

I had gone early in the day. There were only a few other visitors there. I explored it all by myself, even wandering off on a narrow trail through the bushes to see the Estructura de los Falos (this I had to see). But I was never alone, no. The original inhabitants gone, Uxmal is now a beautiful backdrop for a diverse range of new tenants.