Sunday, January 15, 2012

Kohunlich - Mayan Ruins

Kohunlich - Mayan Ruins

On our recent cruise to the Western Caribbean we visited two Mayan sites. The first was Kohunlich, about a two-hour bus ride from Costa Maya, Mexico. Here we visited the usual homes, temples, and ball field and were entertained and educated by our guide about the uses and purposes of each of the buildings. Kohunlich is not one of the big sites on everyone’s list to visit like Chichen Itza or Tulum. It is a bit further from the main tourist areas and not as well known, having been discovered only 34 years ago. We chose to tour there because it was one of the few interesting excursions from Costa Maya, a rather small village recently added to cruise ship itineraries. The only other people we saw during our three-hour stay was another cruise ship tour and a couple from Germany in their rental car.

One gets an idyllic sense of the place even before entering the actual ruins. The road leading to the entrance is though a lush growth of Cohoon palms which give the site its name. Cohoon is a word of Belizean origin Mayanized as the name of the site. Once in the ruins the idyllic feelings continue amidst the palms, bushes, and grassy landscape. Most of Kohunlich has been lightly excavated and little has been rebuilt to its original condition. 

When rebuilding, the workers begin with dark cement to delineate the difference between original and rebuilt. That shows clearly in the apartment house.

The ball field is usually a big highlight because of the game’s association with human sacrifice. In at least some instances in the later years of the civilization, losing team members appear to have been sacrificed. It also may have been used as a surrogate for war or boundary disputes. Playing the game must have been tough since the ball weighed nearly ten pounds and in some games had to be advanced by using the hip. 

The Temple (Pyramid) of the Masks is the big attraction here with its six giant stucco heads. Built around 500 AD, the masks were covered around 700 AD so they are still in excellent condition. The only way to get a good view of them is to walk up the uneven steps.
 I was surprised upon reaching the top that the room was so small and had no back door. I had expected and hoped to be able to see the view out the back. Evidently used only by the priests, the room would hold no more than ten people. We were not allowed to enter. 

We did get a pretty good view of the surrounding countryside.
 The second site we visited was part of a jeep tour we took from Cozumel. The main attraction was the snorkeling at the end of a road on the less-developed southern tip of the island. After some nice smorkeling, we stopped at a Faro Celarain, a lighthouse with a nice little seafaring museum. 
 Of most interest, however, was the nearby Mayan hurricane early-warning system. As you look at the photo, note the holes in the mini-tower. When the hurricane winds hit the island of Cozumel, the holes (there were four originally) would create a horn-like sound loud enough to be heard on the mainland giving the residents about 15 minutes of warning. In some ways this is even more remarkable than their calendars.

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