Chichen Itza is one of the seven new wonders of the world. This is the Kukulcan Pyramid, also known as Castillo or castle, which cleverly represents the Mayan calendar.
Chichen Itza is one of the seven new wonders of the world. This is the Kukulcan Pyramid, also known as Castillo or castle, which cleverly represents the Mayan calendar. Rae Wilson

Surely thousands have made this joke about Chichen Itza

ONE skinny dollar!

They call me Mister Cheapee!

Almost free!

Cheaper than Wallmart!

Chichen Itza is one of the new wonders of the world.

And so it deserves to be.

But my wondering for a time was on how often the traders at the ancient site caught a sale with lines like that.

That said, I did buy a few souvenirs - who can go past sombrero magnets?

And tablecloths. And masks. Ok - it might have worked a little.

But we were really there for what I fondly call chicken pizza.

On that side note, it's a tragedy the pizza menu at the on-site restaurant does not offer one with the bird on top.

Surely the odd thousand or so people have made the joke?!

Anyway, the main attraction at Chichen Itza is an architectural marvel - modelled on the Mayan calendar.

You know the calendar that predicted the end of the world in 2012?

The sun calendar has 19 months; one of five days, the rest of 20.

That makes up 365 days.

There is a second calendar of 260 days.

It takes 52 years for the two calendars to cycle through all the combinations, which is when the calendar resets.

Well, that's my interpretation of it all anyway - forgive me, or correct me, if I've mixed anything up.

Frosty would have melted into the ground that day.

El Castillo, or the Pyramid of Kukulcan in Mayan, has nine levels, with a staircase down the middle creating 18 separate terraces that represent those months.

Bits across the top platform make up the 19th month of five days.

There are 91 steps on each of the four sides which, again with the five bits across the top, add up to the 365 days of the year.

Each facade has 52 panels, representing the 52-year Mayan calendar cycle.

Even all those years ago, the ancient Mayans knew there was a slight error in their calculations - which we adjust with an extra day in February every four years.

Our tour guide told us the Mayans would use an eclipse every 52 years to add 13 days to the calendar to correct.

Do the math!

We think we are the most advanced culture to exist and yet, one way or another, their calendar basically matches what we have now even though their observatory was somewhat less sophisticated than what we have today.

In case you're not already buying your plane tickets, let me tell you about the serpent.

At the equinox in spring and autumn, the sun aligns perfectly with one of the staircases to create triangles with light and shadows that lead down to serpent's heads.

It gives the illusion of a serpent slithering down the side.

With such cleverness, it's no wonder the priests and noblemen were able to easily control the lower classes.

Our guide told us the priestly class would tell the population living around the central plaza they must pray and sacrifice to the Gods for everything - to make the sun rise again the next day, for rain, for wind, for food to grow...

The list goes on.

While the site was once purely Mayan, it's believed they merged with the more violent Toltecs in the 900s and human sacrifice became common practice.

There's also a ball court with the highest hoops I've seen yet.

The games could go for days before the rubber balls, made from nearby trees, could pass through.

The winner, as depicted in stone along the walls of the court, was sacrificed to the gods for agricultural needs.

A cenote near the main plaza was used to sacrifice objects to the underworld, with some skeletons among the haul when it was cleaned out.

Unfortunately for all their smarts on the astrological front, our guide told us the Mayans didn't realise the cenote was linked to all their other underground water sources and the human sacrificing would contaminate the aqua system beneath their city.

Among all the ruins are a performance temple and the thousand pillars temple which has the story of warriors.

It's my sixth new wonder of the world, with just the Taj Mahal left to still tick off.

It's purely by accident that I've done so many - only learned I was clocking them up when my Jordanian tour leader listed them at Petra last year.

Chichen Itza is truly a marvel. A real wonder.

You're on the net booking already, aren't you?!

GETTING THERE: There are tour companies heading to Chichen Itza from all over the Yucatan peninsula but if you want to avoid the crowds, you'll need to catch an early bus yourself. ADO buses leave Merida at 6.30am and arrive just after the site opens at 8am. They also leave Cancun and Playa del Carmen but not until 8.45am and 8am, respectively.

GETTING AWAY: If you're backpacking through Mexico, you can actually take your packs on the bus from Merida and leave them in baggage storage at the site. Then catch a local bus (four hours) to Cancun or one of the other cities. There's a bus ticket booth at the back of the main guide shop. Or, if you'd prefer first class again, the ADO bus leaves at 4.30pm.

AT THE SITE: There are English guides available that are well worth the money. Allow two hours for the guide and another 1-2 hours to wonder around. It's hot - have the sunscreen, hat and fan at the ready.

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