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Let’s Go Exploring! Chichen Itza: The Scariest Place in Mexico

Let’s Go Exploring! Chichen Itza: The Scariest Place in Mexico



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Pop quiz: If you were captain of the basketball team and your team won the season, you should:

a) Get a butt load of money because you kick ass.
b) Get promoted because you kick ass.
c) Get beheaded because you kick ass.

If you picked C, you’ve clearly been to Chichen Itza.

But for those who haven’t, let me give you some background.

Long before basketball was invented, the ancient Mayans played a game called “Pok-A-Tok”. It’s kind of a cross between soccer and basketball, except much MUCH harder (and scarier). Instead of nets, you have rings–made of SOLID ROCK and you’re only allowed to touch the ball with your thighs or hips.

Now a days, we like to think of our athletes as badasses who could outlast their competitors in an multi-hour game, but back then, Mayan players used to play not just for hours, but DAYS, and sometimes even MONTHS.

And you know how all-star players whine about how they’re not getting paid enough, and get poached by other teams for a bigger payout?

Well, with “Pok-A-Tok”, you don’t get a high pay-out for being a great player. In fact, you don’t even get a payout for being a great Captain. You get this:

If you can’t quite make out what’s going on in that relief, that’s a captain getting his head chopped off, and his blood spurting out and turning into serpents. Because that’s what happens when you lose your head. You turn into a 6-headed serpent monster and somehow that means you’ve become a God.

The Mayans actually believed being sacrificed to the Gods is an honour. That’s why they reserve holy sacrifices like this only for their best warriors and athletes.

Why in God’s name (no pun intended) would anyone want to play a game in which their reward for leading their team to victory is a beheading? No idea. But as it turns out, when it came to the Mayan’s strange, murderous belief system, I had only touched the tip of the iceberg.

As we walked around Chichen Itza, we saw other evidence of their obsession with death and murder.

For example, this wall here with all the skulls?

That’s not them professing their love for Goth and heavy metal. The skulls are there because they literally used this wall as a display case for severed heads. That way any enemies who try to invade their city will get a preview of what’s in store for them (though, if you’re a Pok-A-Tok captain, wouldn’t that make you happy rather than scared?)

As fun as the Murder Relief and Beheading Wall were, it turns out the scariest, most terrifying relic of all was this:

What’s that you ask? An innocent little stone house overlooking a serene, little lake?

Nope. Nope. And nope. Our first clue was when they refused to let anyone swim in it and said this Cenote was completely off limits.

That’s when we found out this “innocent” little house was used to “purify” children with hallucinogenic drugs before they were toss into the cenote.

Remember how I mentioned how much I love Cenotes? Well, I didn’t know it at the time, but Cenotes were believed by the Mayans to be pathways to the underworld, where the Gods live.

So whenever there was a drought, farmers would pray to their God, Chaac, to bring rain and save their crops.

photo credit: By see description ((Original text : Dresden Codex -)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

But in order to appease the Gods, they would need to sacrifice something really really precious. And no, your latest iWatch or Tesla wouldn’t cut it. The only thing deemed good enough to sacrifice to the Gods in those days was…their kids.

When the “lucky” sacrificial offspring was chosen, an elaborate ritual would be held, where the kid would be bathed, massaged, and fed purifying water (basically hallucinogenic drugs) over a couple of days. Once they were “ready” (aka drugged enough that they wouldn’t know what’s going on), they would be tossed into the Cenote with a rock tied around their feet. Nowadays, this a practice knows as “murder”, but back then their parents didn’t actually believe they had died. Instead, they believed that the kids simply travelled to the underworld via the Cenote and were now serving the Gods.

Ah-huh. I’m starting to see why the Mayans were so easily conquered by the Spanish Conquistadors now. Oh no! Foreign invaders! Quickly, murder all our children and athletes! That should ward them off!

And THAT’S why of all the places in Mexico, Chichen Itza was the scariest of all. Boy, am I glad I wasn’t born during that time period.

Luckily, this all happened over 1000 years ago, so if you’re worried about swimming in Cenotes, don’t be. They only let you swim in the ones that have been cleared out of children corpses.

Here’s how much we spent visiting Chichen Itza:

Category Cost in CAD/couple Notes
Accommodations: $19/night We stayed in an AirBnb in Merida which is only a 2 hour drive away. The place only cost us $530/month for room with private bathroom. It also had a swimming pool and a weekly maid. We shared the kitchen with the host who gave us a ton of good tips about places to go in Mexico.”
Food: $11/day Food was only $11 because we grabbed a sandwich instead of eating at the overpriced, touristy restaurant on site. I also cooked dinner instead of eating out because Airbnb gave me the use of a kitchen.
Transportation: $42/day The ADO round-trip bus ticket was 314 pesos per person, or $21CAD each.
Entertainment: $33/day Entry to Chichen Itza was 242 pesos a person, or $16 CAD each. A bit pricey as far as Mexican attractions go. We didn’t bother getting a guide. Having had a guide for Uxmal earlier, who spent way too much time telling us about boring buildings, I didn’t find the cost worth it. My favourite guides, the most gifted storytellers, were in Europe. Instead we just downloaded an audio tour from the apple store for $1.
Total: $105 CAD/couple/day ($79 USD/couple/day)

So as far as attractions go, Chichen Itza was pretty touristy and somewhat pricey by Mexican standards. To be honest, I loved the Teotihuacan pyramids near Mexico City WAY more. That being said, Chichen Itza was spacious enough to spread out the crowds and had enough “interesting” stories to keep you entertained all day. Though you might encounter a nightmare or two at night…

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