On our fourth day (I believe it was the fourth. Maybe it was the fifth or sixth--I lost track of time in paradise), we grew weary of lounging under our palapa, gazing at the turquoise Caribbean between intervals of reading/napping/swimming, reading/napping/swimming,
reading/napping/swimming. Truth be told, we'd probably never weary of this peaceful rhythm, which was perfectly synchronized to the lapping of the waves, perfectly synchronized to the rhythms of our souls.
But when you're in the Yucatan, you're supposed to check out the Mayan ruins, right? So we rented a car and ventured into the interior. Our destination: Chichen Itza, home of one of the Mayan pyramids, the Templo de Kukulkan.
On each of the four faces of Templo de Kukulkan are 91 steps. Consider the top platform a step and do the math: 4 X 91=364, plus 1 platform. There are a total of 365 steps, one for each day of the year.
At the base of the pyramid are snake heads, their huge mouths gaping at passers-by. At the spring and fall equinoxes, thanks to the angle of the sun in relation to the edges of the steps on the north side, light undulates down the steps, yes, like a giant serpent crawling down the side of the pyramid. To this day the snake heads appear to come to life twice a year. With their slithering bodies of light, they usher in the spring. Then they usher in the fall. Clearly, the people who built the Templo de Kukulkan were highly attuned to astronomical rhythms.
And they took their ballgames very seriously. We saw this enormous ball field, about the size of three football fields. If you enlarge the image, you'll be able to make out two tiny rings, one attached to the walls on either side of the field. Apparently, balls were kicked through these teeny-tiny rings.
Remember what I said about the Mayans taking their ballgames seriously? At the end of the game, either the winners or the losers--the scholars haven't decided which--were beheaded and offered as sacrifices to the deities. Such sacrificial heads are depicted as impaled skulls on the walls of Tzompantli, the Platform of Skulls.
I must admit that seeing all of this death imagery in person was bothersome. I tried to fathom a culture which seemed to be so attuned to the rhythms of nature, and yet saw fit to offer up its own to gruesome sacrifices. A culture that created stunning architecture and art, but with the labor of enslaved people.
But what really haunts me is the knowledge that in our own time, hundreds of years later, we still live with such contradictions.
And that, my friends, is why we all need to take a break from contradiction once in a while. We need to go on vacation. We need to be quiet and submerge our tired selves in the rhythm of the waves. In that rhythm and warmth there is no contradiction. Just one languorous wave slapping against the shore, then the next, and the next, and the...
...yes...that's more like it.