By Renée S. Gordon
Some 35,000 years ago nomadic tribes began migrating south, after crossing the Bering Strait, following their food source. It took an additional 30,000 years before permanent settlements began to appear in what is now Mexico. The earliest large ancient cities date from 2,250 BC and peaked 3,000 years later around 800 AD. These urban communities cultivated the land and perfected the crafts of weaving, basketry and stone carving. They erected massive structures, created a series of trade routes both inland and along the Caribbean Coast, established a 20-base positional system of mathematics incorporating the concept of zero, practiced rituals based on their religious beliefs and regulated by their precise calculations of the cycles of the sun and moon and created a series of calendars. The modern Mayans, heirs to this cultural legacy, continue to populate the Yucatan Peninsula.
The Riviera Maya is 125-miles of coastal land on the eastern side of the peninsula, with an average temperature of 77 degrees, where the jungle joins the sea. The area has six ecosystems. the most alluring of which is the aquiferous system that consists of a series of caves, subterranean rivers and cenotes and provides access to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System that stretches 600 miles and contains 65 coral types and 500 fish species including the whale shark, the largest fish in the world. While the Riviera Maya is a world-class destination for outdoor devotees it is even more significant for archeology enthusiasts. There are a number of sites but the remains of the great city of Tulum are arguably the most important. www.rivieramaya.com
Tulum, the most visible of the archeological remains, was called “Zama” or “Dawn” by the ancient Mayans because of its view of the sunrise. A rocky seaside bluff protects the east side while 20-ft. wide, 13-ft. high walls surround the city on the remaining three sides.
Because of its location and prominence Tulum has the distinction of being the first inhabited area sighted by the Spanish, the site of the region’s first contact and the only Maya city inhabited at the time of the conquistadors arrival. Juan de Grijalva arrived in 1518 and recorded that as his ship approached Tulum was so colorful that it reminded him of Seville, Spain. The white-sand beach near the main temple is believed to be where the Spanish first disembarked and a staircase leads modern visitors to that spot where they can swim or simply take in the view.
The Tulum Archeological Zone, though impressive, is only 25 percent restored. The site, the third most visited in the country, is handicapped accessible and has a shuttle that transports you to and from the main area. Tours begin inside the visitor pavilion with a diorama of the entire city and proceed into the park.
The walled city was an enclave for approximately 500 of the elite while the common people, numbering about 800, resided outside. Tulum is entered via one of its five original gates. There are 13 stops on the tour that culminates with a view of the entire city from the Temple of the Wind.
Not to be missed are the Temple of the Frescoes, the Ceremonial Center, the Temple of the Descending God, the House of Halach Uinik and El Castillo. The Temple of the Descending God is renowned because it is the scene of a daily phenomenon involving the god who is depicted there upside down. Each morning the sun’s first beams illuminate the feet of the god and expand until, for a brief period, the entire figure is aglow with the rays of the rising sun. It is a real testament to Mayan architectural skills and knowledge of astronomy. Precisely placed columns and porticos in the Temple of the Frescoes were used to determine the length of the rays of the sun and moon for use in measuring time. The multihued frescoes on the interior are best viewed with a flashlight.
Sian Ka’an, “Where the Sky Was Born,” Biosphere was created in 1986 and one year later it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The reserve shields a 1.3 million-acre, 2,000-sq. mi., wilderness that is 33 percent jungle, 33 percent water and 33 percent savannah. It is home to 103 mammal species, 103 bird species and 23 known archeological sites the most intriguing of which is a small seaside temple that is believed to have been used by ancient mariners prior to setting out on a journey. This is an ecotourism gem and guided tours are offered. www.cesiak.org
The Riviera Maya has a palette of festivals and events from which to choose including the Carnival in February, July’s Expo Tequila, the October Underground Film Festival, the Life and Death Traditions Festival in November and internationally famous jazz festivals. UNESCO has recognized the Life and Death Traditions Festival as a “Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage” and this year the fifth annual festival takes place in Xcaret October 31st – November 2nd. www.eng.festivaldevidaymuerte.com
Riviera Maya’s premier music festivals are an artful blend of culture, creativity and the sheer joy of living and revolve around the musical forms of Latin American blended with the rhythms of jazz, soul and world music. In September the area was host to the Tulum Jazz and Salsa Festival that featured some of the most notable Latin American artists including India who recently inherited the mantle of Celia Cruz. She was unbelievable!
From November 25-28 the Riviera Jazz Festival will take place on Playa Mamitas Beach in Playa del Carmen. It is one of the most eagerly anticipated festivals of its type in the world and, best of all, there is no admission fee. www.rivieramayajazzfestival.com/2010
The Gran Bahía Príncipe Resort is an all-inclusive complex consisting of three five star resorts, Gran Bahía Príncipe Akumal, Gran Bahía Príncipe Tulum and Gran Bahía Príncipe Coba, on 275-acres with ¾-mile beach frontage. It has every amenity imaginable, is ideally situated for visiting sites and attending festivals and offers outstanding rates and economical packages. www.bahiaprincipeusa.com/en
The Mayans created a complex system of writing that was logosyllabic incorporating more than 1,000 symbols, 80 percent of which represented complete words and 20 percent that were used for their phonetic value. Scholars believe that more than 1000 hieroglyphic books were written but only three remain that have been authenticated.
Even more astonishing than their written language was their creation of three Mayan calendars. They predicted the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, “barbaric guests will come from the east with words in which there is no truth. In the final years of k’atun 13 Ajaw, the Itza (civilization) will be swept over and Tancah (cities) will roll.”
Currently the prediction on the minds of many people is found on Monument 6 in Tortuguero. This Seventh Century AD text reads, “when the thirteenth b’aktun, December 23, 2012 AD, ends there will be a descent of a god or group of gods of the Nine Pillars.” One should bear in mind that the Mayans believed that the universe was regenerated every 13 b’aktunoob’ after completing a creation cycle. The year 2012 might therefore be looked at as merely a fresh start for the universe.
I attended the September Jazz Festival and it was wonderful. People moved by the primal beats of drums and the soaring melodies of soulful singers would burst into a spontaneous salsa. The dancers were filled with an exuberance that transcended any thoughts of the sluggish economy, financial woes and even a potential doomsday. They seemed to be saying, “If the world must end, let’s party until 2012.
The Riviera Maya is a family destination with attractions that will interest everyone. It is safe, very affordable and there are daily nonstop flights from Philadelphia. Check it out. www.rivieramaya.com
I wish you smooth and carefree travels!
On May 23-24, 1865 a military parade, the Grand Review of the Armies, was held in Washington, DC to honor soldiers returning from the Civil War and celebrating the Union victory. The US Colored Troops (USCT) from 25 states were denied participation. In response, in November of 1865 Pennsylvania became the only state to stage a march for the USCT. Harrisburg will reenact the event November 4 -7, 2010 with a three day commemoration culminating in a procession, following the original route, with regiments from across the nation. An activity schedule, general information and free tickets are available online. This a once in a lifetime experience. Don’t miss it! www.visitPA.com/GrandReview