Exploring the Yucatan
Fifty-two structures have been found to date, and include many that were believed to have been used for religious purposes, while others were for administration, daily living, or games. The outside of these buildings were plastered and painted red, and the interior walls were painted yellow and decorated with frescos painted in a palate of colors. One of the two ball courts excavated has been restored to its original splendor. Juan explained the significance of the ball game, which had both religious and gambling aspects to it. At the far end of the historical site sits the building known as the Acropolis. This spectacular building is the second largest of its kind in the Yucatan. The largest is in the “yellow city” of Izamal.
As is typical in other Mayan ruin sites, there is evidence that structures were built upon structures. There could have been as many as six layers built, and rebuilt over the 1,200 years the city was inhabited.
In 2000, the royal tomb was discovered behind the imposing open mouth of the monster that resides half-way up the structure called the Acropolis. In the past, this image was believed to be a jaguar, as the name Ek Balam means black jaguar or bright star jaguar.
With further study and investigation, archeologists know that the coxox or witz monster at the entrance of the tomb is a mixture of all the creatures that inhabit the earth. It has combined qualities of a feline, a serpent, and a human. The tomb is guarded by a winged human-like creature on either side of the opening that was believed to lead to the underworld. We know the Mayans did not believe in angels, hence another mystery. These winged creatures may have been ancestors, as they have club feet, and other deformities that were a sign of royalty. The deformities were a result of the inbreeding between members of the royal family, and were considered to be special. The Ceiba tree (sacred tree of life) is carved into each side of the giant opening, along with wavy lines connecting the trees together at the bottom with a fish and lily pad carved in the area representing water leading to the underworld.
The statues guarding the eyes of the monster were very similar to statues found in Cambodia. Juan, the principal guide, however, believes that the connection between these two distant cultures is only a myth. He personally did not discover any remnants of pottery or jewelry from the Eastern culture inside the tomb, and he will vouch for the fact that the stature is a young man, not a woman as in the Cambodian statues.
The human remains of a royal person, Kulh Nal, were found inside the mouth of the monster. He was believed to have been between 55 and 65 years old when he died. Buried with his bones were over 7,000 treasures including jewelry, shells, clay vessels, knives, and jaguar claws. Three objects had the name of the royal king on them and the elongated shape of the skull found in the tomb indicated indeed this person was of royal linage. Juan, and the other archeologists who excavated the ruins, are convinced that under the piles of stones there are other kings buried, but only time will tell if money will be allotted for further investigation.
To the right of the tomb you will see a set of small stairs going up to an open room. On the side of the entrance there are perfectly preserved drawings and glyphs that indicate that merchants were present in the area. Under the steps was written “The White House of Reading.” What were they reading? Why was this entire area, including the mouth of the monster, buried behind a sealed stone wall and filled with broken stones between the wall and the inner chambers?
Perhaps you will be lucky enough to hire Juan as your guide to find out more about the ancient civilization that was or wasn’t directly connected to the sacred site of Angkor Wat. It is a story that is still emerging and we learn something new every time we visit Ek Balam.
After touring the ruins, you must be ready to relax your mind and body, so hook up with the Mayans at the entrance of the ruins who will take you on a one- mile bike ride to an amazing cenote where you can rappel by rope to the bottom of the deep cenote 60 feet below to swim in the cool, sacred water.
For the faint of heart, there is now a set of stairs where you can enter and exit the cenote. The people of Ek Balam are working each day to improve this area and soon the masses of tourists will arrive, so plan a trip to visit this area of the Yucatan without delay.
Driving out of the cenote car-park about 100 meters down the dirt road on the right you will see a small open air restaurant. Stop for some delicious ceviche and a cold beer or soda with plenty of lime slices before driving back on the highway toward the city of Valladolid.
Throughout the state of the Yucatan, colonial cities with their churches and convents stand as testimony to Spain’s 16th century efforts to convert the indigenous people to Christianity. This blending of the cultures changed the face of the Yucatan forever.
On your way, back to La Selva Mariposa, your home-away-from-home in the jungle, why not stop in Valladolid, the second largest and second oldest city in the state. This colonial treasure has kept its country charm and flavor. In the main plaza, the Mestiza women sit in a row in front of the church adding final stitches to their traditional huipiles. Glance up at the majestic San Gervasio Church that dominates the plaza. It was built, like most churches in the area, with the stones from ancient Mayan ruins. Above the portico, you can see the body of a sculpted serpent incorporated into the Franciscan architecture.
At the end of the Calzada de los Frailes (Friars Promenade),
a beautiful cobblestone street with restored colonial facades, the Convent of San Bernardino de Siena, with its own cenote, rises majestically in the middle of the vast open plaza. Some of the altars that decorate the church still have their original paint, but I have yet to see the inside of the church because it is usually locked. Stroll around the massive stone wall that surrounds the Convento and admire the courtyards guarded by iron gates, the flaming bougainvillea vines, and the shaded colonnade along one side, all tempting photo opportunities.
Valladolid has one more charm: its fine Yucatecan cuisine. Stop at El Meson de Marques or other restaurants around the zocalo, the main plaza presided over by the San Gervasio Church and sample the lime soup, pork loin, or chicken cooked with bitter oranges and pumpkin seeds accompanied by a frosty margarita or Mexican beer.
Let the mariposas lead you back to your oasis in the jungle, La Selva Mariposa, in Macario Gomez where your cenote style plunge pool awaits you for a moonlight swim before retiring for the night.
Article written by Mari Pintkowski, author of Embarking on the Mariposa Trail, buy here from Amazon or local bookstores or visit the web site www.laselvamariposa.com