Saturday, June 8, 2013

Chichen Itza, Piece by Piece

by Pa Rock
Traveling Puzzle Master

One of my teachers in elementary school, way back in the 1950's, always had a large jigsaw puzzle in progress on a card table in the back of the room.  It was something students could work on when they had finished their assignments or during recess on days when it was too rainy or cold to play outside.  Jigsaw puzzles didn't appeal to everyone, of course, but there was something about the process of matching shades of color and patterns to re-create the picture on the box that appealed to me.

Over the years I have gotten away from the hobby of putting jigsaw puzzles together, primarily because it takes so much time and concentration to complete one.  A few weeks ago I started a new one, perhaps the first in over a decade, and have been wasting vast amounts of time examining almost identical small pieces of puzzle ever since.  The new puzzle is a painting of the main pyramid in the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza.  It shows the pyramid closely surrounded by jungle, a Mayan youth with a blowgun, a leopard, and a couple of colorful parrots.

It is also proving to be a thousand pieces of hell!

I visited the archaeological site at Chichen Itza in February of 2004 while my friend, Millie Crossland, and I were vacationing in Cancun.  She had decided to spend the day at the beach, and I got on a bus for a full day trip out to  and back from Chichen Itza.  The ruins themselves are in the center of a couple of hundred acres of land cleared of jungle in the middle of the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula.  Even though it was technically winter, it was a sweltering day, and one of the most common sights was large, wild iguanas (two or three feet in length) sunning themselves on the rocks throughout the ruins.

(Although I am sure that there were parrots in the nearby jungles, I didn't see any.  Nor did I see any leopards.    But with the ubiquity of the iguanas, I had to wonder why one of two of them had not been included in the painting from which my jigsaw puzzle was made.)

The excavated portions of Chichen Itza contain several major monuments in addition to the giant pyramid.  There is an area with several standing columns that were once part of a temple, and a large ball field where a type of soccer was played.  I remember the guide explaining that the captain of the winning team received the "honor" of immediately being beheaded at the end of the game.  There was also a space reserved for the accumulation of human skulls.

The pyramid itself was nothing short of amazing, both due to the amount of man hours that went into its construction, and also due to its intricate design.  It is actually the third pyramid constructed on the site - and it was built over the second which, in turn, was build over the original.  I was able to go inside of the outer pyramid and climb to the top of the middle (second) one.

And I was also free to climb the outer pyramid, the one that is pictured in my puzzle.  I fell into the company of a pair of young Catholic priests who proved to be a lot of fun.  As we climbed up and down the Mayan monument, one of those priests would occasionally declare for the amusement of other tourists, "A slinky!  A slinky!  My kingdom for a slinky!"

I understand that people are now banned from climbing the big pyramid at Chichen Itza.  That is sad, but I will always have my memories of running down those ancient stone steps.  Today I don't do much running anywhere, but I can still snap those puzzle pieces together!

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