Dzibilchaltún and the Temple of the Dolls

Temple of the Dolls

Try saying that when you have had a couple of glasses of Mexican Rosé…  Dzibilchaltún, (Dzeebeelchaltoon is the pronunciation and it translates as ‘the place with writing on the walls) is a Maya archeological site close to the city of Mérida in Yucatan, Mexico.  Seven small clay or stone figurines were found at the Temple of the Dolls which led to the name and it is built under the ruins of a previous pyramid.  The city has been continuously occupied for 3000 years.  It was exciting walking towards the Temple along the ‘sacbe’ or white road wondering what type of religious processions took place there.

The white road

The cenôte is likely the reason why the city was situated in that location and it is one of the largest, deepest in the Yucatan.  Dzibilchaltún was a wealthy port, close to the Caribbean and local salt production.  Archeologists have studied just a portion of the site and have found up to 8000 structures – it must have been a buzzing city with a peak population of about 20,000 to 40,000 people, even larger than Mayapan.  Dzibilchaltún was not as remote or quiet as Mayapan but still relatively quiet with many local visitors, some expats and non-tourists just like me!  Throughout the ages Dzibilchaltún has changed from a city to a town to its current status as a village.  It began to decline in popularity after the rise of Chichen Itza.

Dzibiltchaltun Cenote

water hyacinths at cenote

When the Conquistadores arrived they used the local stone from previous structures to build a 16th century chapel which is now also a ruin.

remains of 16th century chapel

Eight stucco masks of the Rain God Chaac were found in the Temple of the Dolls.  The Yucatan has no natural lakes or rivers so rain is still much needed to fill the cenotes and water crops.  My upbringing in Scotland has given me enough rain to last a lifetime…  At the equinoxes the sun shines right through the entrance to the Temple of the Dolls creating a fantastic effect.

Remains of a pyramid at Dzibiltchaltun

Tunnel into Pyramid

Little flash of red in jungle

On a final side note, my Mexican Rose wine was quite delicious and went well with the food in Yucatan, which is hearty.  The Spanish brought wine-making to Mexico and most of it comes from Baja, just below California.

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Mayapán Ruinas – sshhh!

Temple of Kukulcan

Although I have been to the Yucatan area of Mexico a few times, I have never visited the famous pyramids. I have visited Tulum, the youngest Maya site, as you can read in an older blog. As much as Chechen Itza fascinates me, my almost phobic fear of too many tourists, has made me avoid it. Before this rapidly organized trip to Merida, I researched travel blogs to see how easy it would be to hire a driver to reach some of the more remote archeological sites. Apparently it was as easy as negotiating with a taxi driver, especially since I only wanted to go for 4 hours at a time.

Plaza

After I arrived at my newly renovated hotel, I asked the receptionist about a driver. She told me that a driver had just handed in some cards. I said that websites had indicated that 800 pesos was reasonable for 4 hours. When she called him, he counter offered 1,100 pesos which is about $60. That seemed fair and he arrived very promptly in a very clean new red car. He was a charming young man, perhaps in his late 30s, rejoicing in the name Angel Ku. Ku is a native name meaning frypan. He had a little English and I had bad Spanish but we communicated perfectly well. I explained that I didn’t like crowds, so off we went to the Mayapán Zona Arqueológica, not to be confused with the town of Mayapán.

Carving detail

The archeological ruins were in excellent condition, it cost just a few pesos and there were about 20 other visitors in what was once a city of 17,000 people. Between the 1200s and 1400s it was the capital of the Maya, situated about 30 miles south east of Merida and 70 miles west of Chichen Itza. Mayapán had about 4000 structures within the city walls and many more outside, presumably for workers and farmers. One of the most attractive temples is the Temple of Kukulcan – it is the light version as the temple at Chichen Itza is more intricate and structurally sound. The limestone used at Mayapán is an inferior grade, perhaps all that was available in that location? It is believed that the founder of Mayapán was King Kukulcan (aka Quezalcoactl) after the fall of Chichen Itza.
There are some unique elements to the site with so many rounded buildings and no ball courts. This is the Temple Redondo –

Temple Redondo

View from Redondo to Pyramid

There were 26 cenotes (sinkholes providing water) around the city which perhaps explains the high population or vice versa. It has a central plaza which was surrounded by government buildings and houses of nobles. Other houses within the walled area encircled patios. Mayapán has a rather bloody history with shafts filled with sacrificial victims but at some point it was an important center of trade all across Central America. A wide range of foods were eaten and grown; there is some evidence of slaves which suggests wealth of the nobility. There is some evidence that there was a death cult. I mused if a large population and perhaps a catastrophic weather change might have contributed to the fighting with other tribes and the ultimate demise of Mayapán but that is pure supposition on my part. All great empires fall eventually, take note USA.

Inside the round tower

It was utterly magical to be in a pyramid city, almost alone with endless acreage of jungle right beside the site. If I had walked into the jungle, I might never have been found again. The photograph below shows how steep the pyramid climb was but it was so worth it! You really had to go up on hands and feet. On the way down I sat on my bottom and climbed down that way. If I had stood up, the steepness would have terrified me. It amused me that the teenagers just copied what I did (and they were a tad slower).

Vertigo!

It was blissfully quiet with no signs of any current habitations. If you visit, there are no facilities at the sight – no restrooms and you can only travel by car, bus or local bus. Please don’t tell too many people… La belleza estaba en la tranquilidad – the beauty was in the tranquility. There are no vendors, just some staff and it is still being excavated by archaeologists.

panorama of Mayapan

Kerry musing

Huehuecoyotl is my new best friend…

My gorgeous four poster bed in Merida…note the mosquito net

Doesn’t it look gorgeous?  The tiles are original from the 17th century mansion.  The French owners have recently created this boutique hotel and coordinated everything with the tiles.  The back wall is the palest dove gray as is the new futon beside the bed.  The lamps were made of local limestone and I am taking the photograph from the stairs (yes two levels) in my suite leading to the brand new bathroom.  It was exquisitely designed with local stone in the huge shower.

So far, so good, eh?  The bed was rather hard but the bedding was lovely.  The mosquito net was not for decoration and the fumigator turned up on the second day (it smells of roses, Senorita…).  I look like I have had measles.  Eventually I caught one of the little f***ers and my blood oozed out of it.  The exquisite shower had only cold water.  On one fortuitous occasion I had a tepid shower – yay!  I was offered three other rooms which barely had a trickle of still cold water and realized I had the best room.  My French fellow guests had a trickle of cold water for their whole stay. Dirty froggies…🐸.  I know that is terribly un PC but it’s one of my resolutions.

The menu was translated by French people into English and they need not have bothered.  There is a local Maya language spoken and I have no idea what the menu said.  I ate dessert and breakfast with unidentifiable fruit.  I rarely spoke English to anyone.  Everyone at the hotel spoke French including the staff.  My driver’s English was as good as my Spanish and yet we talked for hours each day.  Google Translate helped with certain words until we were out of cell phone range.

THIS WAS THE BEST VACATION EVER!!!  I don’t know why but I loved every second of it, even my Eco toilet which means no paper down the drain (there was a little lidded bucket for the poo smeared paper).  It felt like glamping or glhostelling.  The day before I left I had received bad news about four friends with health and other problems.  I was so upset that I momentarily considered not going.  The saddest news was the death of our fellow blogger Pan otherwise known as Linda, beautifully memorialized by John Ray and Osyth. If you click on John and Osyth’s names you will see their posts about Linda. My head still has an image of her dog guarding her dead body for two days.

My mental health must be stronger than I imagined and I decided that life really was too short.  I compartmentalized all my bad news, got on the plane and prayed at every church that I saw in Merida.  I got lost twice in the pitch black but kept finding churches so perhaps Huehuecoyotl had an auspicious plan.  The beauty of nature and the kind, warm people of the Yucatan soothed my soul and provided much needed balm.  I have many stories to tell but I have a busy week helping friends and doing paid work so it may be a week or so before I share more.

I climbed a pyramid!


This is a shot from Mayapan, a huge Maya city that has NO tourists! My various DNA tests did not show that I am part mountain goat…all those years hill-climbing with my school friends, Katharine and AnneMarie have left me with a core strength. There was a small group of local school teenagers who struggled to keep up with me…

Most importantly, may Linda rest in peace. She was a loyal, funny and delightful blogger friend that I will miss.

Are your DNA results correct?

Before beginning a series of posts about San Diego, I wanted to share a recent revelation about my original DNA test results from Ancestry.  Many of us are surprised at how diverse our ancestors were but I already knew, from census records, how varied my ethnicity was.  My results just didn’t make sense although I am aware the DNA is still a mystery with varying estimates even from siblings.

These are my original results which I featured in a previous post Our Ancestors.

A shameless excuse to show off my new winter boots courtesy of DSW and my torn jeans…

Africa (north) 2%
Middle East 2%
Europe east 1%
Europe west 3%
British Isles 19%
Iberian Peninsula 5%
Italy/Greece 2%
Asia east 1%
Native American 4%
Ireland 60%
Scandinavian 1%

Since then, I have excitedly tried to find out more about my ancestors but could never understand why I had so little Spanish given my maiden name was de Ortega and I can trace my ancestors from California via Mexico back to Spain.  They were conquistadors.  Spaniards rarely have 100 % Iberian DNA which includes Portugal.  So many invaders and immigrants from Italy, Greece and North Africa left their mark.

My British cousins have created family trees on a European website, MyHeritage  and I read that I could download my original DNA results from Ancestry and upload them to MyHeritage.  There is no cost but you do have to subscribe to MyHeritage.  A few days later, I had yet another exciting reveal and the results are below –

Irish/Scottish/Welsh 53.9 %
Scandinavian 9.1%
Iberian 26.8 %
Greek 1.2%
Italian 0.9%
Balkan 1.1 %
Baltic 1 %
Central American 4.4%
North American 0.8 %
Chinese/Vietnamese 0.8%

Now we are talking – 25 % Iberian – yay! Even more exciting, they can now differentiate between North and Central Native American. I am mostly Mestizo native described below courtesy of MyHeritage. The largest population of Central America, spanning from Mexico to Colombia and Venezuela, is of Mestizo descent – a mixture of Spanish, Native American, and African ancestry. Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, interestingly, have a greater Caucasian population, representing European migration. In contrast, indigenous Central Americans are Mayans, the descendants of the advanced Mayan civilization of pre-Colombian times. Ancient Central American civilizations produced many important innovations, including pyramid construction, complex mathematical and astronomical observations, early forms of medical surgery, accurate calendar systems, and complex agricultural methods. In contemporary society, many people with Central American ethnicity have settled among the nations in South America, reaching as far south as Uruguay and Argentina.

This now makes more sense because although I can trace my North American native ancestor, Mourning Dawn, it is many generations back. When I was tracing back my family in Mexico, I found an ancestor with the name of Xoptoval Ortega born in 1626 in Celaya, Mexico – a Maya name I suspect? Mestizo is sometimes used as an insult in Latino Spanish, meaning mongrel, but I could not be more proud of my 57 varieties. Now I know I am genuinely of Mexican descent. On a funny side-note I recently got a call from one of my first cousins on my father’s side. We have only spoken once but he fascinates me because he looks most like my Dad and even sounds like him. As we were chatting, he mentioned that he had asked one of our great aunts from the Ortega side if we were Mexican. She had a fit and insisted we were 100% Spanish… I mentioned my recent DNA results to my cousin and he hung up on me!!! He really did and I doubt he will ever speak to me again. Mexicans are feisty…

So what other mysteries were revealed.  I am Viking!  Teddy would love me to look exactly like Lagertha in the Vikings series.  Sadly for him, I just look like the Viking Irish – fair, blue eyes and a distinctive short nose.  Did you know that Scandinavians still call outlanders, “long noses”?  Much of Ireland was invaded by Vikings who settled for generations, trading Irish slaves to the Scandinavian countries.  Yeah, there were plenty of nasty human traffickers before America.  I have only inherited Celtic DNA (Irish/Scottish/Wales) but I know I have English ancestors.  God is good –  I am just kidding, English friends! The little bit of Baltic makes sense being so close to Scandinavia but the Balkan DNA is curious – the Balkans stretch from Turkey to Greece incorporating the former Yugoslavia.

My vintage Calvin Klein coat is back in fashion but no matter what I do, I still look as Irish as a potato!

 

So, why are my DNA results so different?  Time has passed and DNA analysis has evolved with more information on the databases.  I believe that my previous Western European DNA should really have been Iberian and that some of my Irish DNA should have been Scandinavian because my family came from a Viking area in Ireland.  That said, I might be wrong and who knows which results are correct?  The only way to test it would be to use a third company to take a DNA test and I might yet do that.  If you are curious it is very easy to do what I did.  Just subscribe to Ancestry and MyHeritage, download your raw DNA from settings onto your computer and then upload it to whichever company is the opposite.  You might get a nice surprise like me.  Maya maiden, Celtic warrior, Conquistadora and Viking – Kerry is kicking ass!

PS In case you wonder about the location, my hairdresser took the photos this morning.

It was so bloody hot, I went to Mass…

St Ildephonsus Cathedral, Merida

In my fresh outfit, I went off to further investigate Mérida and pray that the electrician was able to fix the power.  I walked past the beautiful Cathedral pictured above I heard the sound of hymns sung in Spanish.  There was no air conditioning in the church but the large airy limestone building was naturally cool.  There were fans up and down the aisles to prevent us from fainting…  It was so comfortable and reassuring that I decided to stay for Mass.  Most of the parishioners were indigenous Maya descendants.

There is a fascinating history to the Saint Ildephonsus Cathedral (Qué?)  It is one of the oldest cathedrals in the Americas.  The Cathedral was initiated in 1561, finished in 1598 and was built on the ruins of a Maya temple in the city of Tiho renamed Mérida.  Some of the original Maya stones were used in the construction.  How cool is that?  The gigantic crucifix above the altar is Christ of Unity – a symbol of reconciliation between Maya and Catholics.  I’m pretty sure they just forced them to become Catholic… The diocese of Yúcatan and Cozumel was granted by Pope Pius IV in 1561.  One of the reasons for my trip was to see some of the lesser known Maya ruins close to Mérida (that have less tourists).  It was becoming clear that it was just too damned hot to visit ruins in an area with no shade but at least I have now been in one that is posing as a church.  St Ildephonsus was born to a Visigoth family in Toledo around 607, who knew??  His fame was spread by Portuguese navigators.

Once the nuns started preying on us to give money, I slipped out the back door.  That’s a sin, isn’t it?  I promise to give money when I don’t have heat stroke…  Finally the regular shops started opening even though it was Sunday and one department store was blissfully cold.  The streets and buildings were so enticing that I just kept walking for a few hours, stopping just once to have a drink in a café (that was not enough and I must have been severely dehydrated).  I watched in horror as one of the municipal workers drank from a hose on the ground.  The water in Merida is NOT potable!  It has to be one of the few places were you really cannot drink the water even if you are local.  Regular drought, no rivers or lakes and then flooding means that the water is full of bacteria.  I read some reports that the pristine blue cisterns that everyone swims in are not really that safe.  There was a documentary some time ago that suggested that one of the reasons that the Maya empire may have disintegrated with increasing ritual sacrifices was because of a long period of natural drought.  The population had soared during their glory days but now the crops, animals and people were dying.

My companion on the flight was a charming young man who commutes from Houston to Merida and he had mentioned the Grand Boulevard, otherwise known as the Paseo de Montejo.  I felt like I was back in Spain with a marked difference to the old town with narrow, cobbled streets.

A newly renovated yellow building on the Paseo de Monteja

After I had walked the length of the Boulevard I had to admit defeat and returned to the Hacienda.  The staff greeted me at the door with the news that the power cut was municipal and probably a small substation had failed.  I foolishly asked them when it might be fixed knowing that there was no correct answer.  When the last hurricane came through Houston, most people had no power for weeks…  I looked at my beautiful room pathetically and they came to my rescue with an offer of another room at their sister hotel just two doors down.  I could use both rooms if I didn’t want to pack or they would pack for me.  How kind they were!  My spirits perked up again but not for long…

Bah humbug

Krampus, courtesy of AV Club

Krampus, courtesy of AV Club

Nothing I do can get me in a festive mood – I am so grumpy that it is funny.  Every year I love decorating my 7 foot tall, expensive, fake tree decorated with ornaments from our childhood and from all over the world (but not this year).  I create a snow village under the tree that occasionally a cat has peed on or wrecked.  One year our little Egyptian terrorists (cats) raided Bethlehem and the nativity scene.  I used to say that I was spiritual or an atheist depending on my snarky mood but now I know I am a lapsed Catholic doomed to spend eternity in Purgatory or worse…

Most years I host a Christmas party in the house but this year Teddy said ‘No’!  He was quite right – that would have tipped me over the edge.  While he was in Scotland on business, I decorated ‘somewhat’ with my best ornaments hanging from our chandeliers.  I even painted our outside furniture and adorned the porch with some discreet fairy lights and decorations.

As most of you know, I volunteer at an airport which is a hub for Latin America, in particular.  I love it or I wouldn’t still be doing it after 8 years.  I wore my regulation Santa hat (apparently my reindeer antlers don’t cut it??) and my red and black banded tights, with my non regulation miniskirt…  The first person that irked me was another staff member – I was racing across the terminal to help someone and I said, “Ho ho ho!” to him.  He responded, “Or something” with no smile, looking at me as though I was a ‘Ho.  WTF!  This was balanced by another staff member who stopped me on my return to ask me if the elves were still on strike – the kids loved that.

I often work in the international terminal when the Central American flights come in.  This week it was something special, with Abuela’s (Grandma’s) in full traditional clothing coming in from Guatemala and El Salvador.  Many families had traveled with their whole family from other states just to meet their precious relatives who they may not have seen for many years.   Children from this region look entirely Maya and one little poppet who looked adorable in a little white furry jacket.  She looked like a little Maya angel tree-topper.  After three hours, I wondered if the Maya gods would reward me for sacrificing one of their precious children…who were now screaming and kicking my door (I am jesting, of course).  To my credit I kept smiling and reassuring everyone in bad Spanish that their relatives would be out soon – (hopefully not from holding cells).

It was perhaps all the Christmas social events leading up to now that provoked this Krampus spirit within me.  I am feeling very sensitive and every thoughtless comment bothers me.  You will love this one, “I preferred it when you were the happy, smiling Kerry”.  Really, really??  Guess what, me too!! “Your hair is getting a bit long”.  Are you my stylist?  Poor Teddy said, “You have spilled something on the floor”.  Biting sarcasm ensued regarding my qualities as a serf to his Highness.

Driving is always bad here but right now there are demons at the wheel.  Why don’t you all go through the red light – it’s only there for decoration?  What terrible gift are you going to buy that’s worth racing for – just use Amazon like a normal person.  They employ demons to drive their trucks…  Now the weather Gods have turned on us.  It has gone from freezing to about 80 degrees – everyone is sneezing, wearing fleeces with sandals.  Today, I tried to turn the tide.  I went to my favorite coffee shop to speak Arabic to my Palestinian friend.  I can tell he is missing Jerusalem – it’s colder there.  Then I went to the Salvation Army kettle and chatted to the old man about the stupid weather.  I asked him if he needed a cold drink because it was so damned hot!  I passed by the pet store and bought Toffee a knitted toucan filled with catnip.  Katniss got a knitted dog because I thought she would love to savage one…

On a more serious note, I am deeply saddened that road rage or any bad mood could make someone fire a gun and kill a child.  Even worse, kill innocent shoppers at a Christmas market or attack fleeing evacuees in a war zone.  It is within all of us to find our inner angel and love our fellow man.  Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a Super Solstice to all!

 

 

 

Yucatan

Yucatan I had always wanted to visit Maya ruins, particularly in 2012, and would have been happy to go to any of the Central American countries where they remain but Mexico was cheapest. There have been a couple of State warnings about American travelers to Mexico and some areas are very dangerous especially on the Texas border. There was a terrorist incident in Cancun but generally that area is safe. As A. dropped me at the airport, I turned and shouted, “Don’t pay the ransom!” I decided to fly into Cancun and travel down to the coast to a resort called Playacar which was about 50 miles south. Another 50 miles south are the ruins of Tulum, a UNESCO heritage site, and one of the youngest Maya structures. As you can see above it was situated on the Caribbean for trading and it was well fortified. Read the whole story by clicking on the red link POSTCARD FROM YUCATAN 2012 – click here