The half-arsery witnessed in the early closing of everything in Mérida extends to the local bus services. After midday, you have stuff-all chance of getting a bus to anywhere, in between cancellations for the day, and total cancellations of routes. So, on our second last day in Mérida, after trying to get to get the bus to the Mayan site of Uxmal, and finding due to cancellations there wasn't an bus for another 3 hours, and that would take 1 3/4 hours to get to the site, which closes at 5, and that the next day's bus to the Puuc Route of 5 little sites was canned forever (though I've since learnt it was a woeful bus tour of this great attraction), I chucked an unbecoming wobbly right there in the bus terminal, scaring off some nice German man to whom Nae had been speaking. Not my finest moment, granted.
After my eye stopped twitching, we gathered our stuff, headed to yet another bus terminal (there are three, I believe) and caught a bus to Mayapan, harshly considered the ugly sister of the big sites in the region, but still far more elaborate and appealing than many near to Mexico City. In general, the Mayan sites seem to be far better preserved, with their intricate stone work still in place, where elsewhere in the country the buildings are more just rebuilt piles of stones.
And so, with the exception of a family that left within a quarter hour of our arrival, and some French-speaking rubes insistent on being in every photo, we had the place fully to ourselves until the sun went down.
As context for you, when Quetzalcoatl took an army of Toltecs and left Tula, heading to the Yucatan peninsula, he eventually conquered Chichen Itza and built it into the giant city the remnants of which are famous (i.e., swarming with gringos) today. But, when that went pear-shaped, he founded Mayapan to the north west. This means that the city is indeed very Mayan, but with strong Toltec influence.
This illustrates something I thoroughly enjoy about Mexico – the history is so layered and interwoven that still, after a year and a half, I am still connecting things I have learnt across the country together. I believe it would take years of reading and travelling and speaking with people to be able to walk down the street and understand the significance of all of the imagery around you.
In the same vein, in Mayapan for the first time I saw the face of Chaac, the Mayan rain god (equivalent to Tlaloc of the Aztecs). Or rather, the first time I understood it. Before going to Yucatan, I had been to the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts) in Mexico City, built in the early 1900s, and had noted it was beautiful, but not understood the imagery. Returning there this weekend passed, I noticed high in the foyer the visage of Chaac. I really do feel fortunate to visit Mexico for a period of years, as there would be so much missed in days, weeks or months.
Mayapan had some features we had not seen before – the Mayans were more interested with geometry and space than the other cultures of Mesoamerica, and more advanced than most, so they have nice buildings where their version of the arch has been rotated in space to form ring-like rooms. This site also had a cenote (water filled sink-hole), and the main pyramid still has, preserved on its sides, stucco sculptures of human sacrifices, with niches where the head should be, so a real head could by placed inside. Interestingly, there are also no ball courts.
As the sun was setting, and the frogs had left, Nae overcame her flu long enough to climb to the top of the main pyramid, and we looked over the canopy of forest stretching out unbroken in all directions.