Governors, Turtles, and Tourists

A segment of a panorama from the ancient Maya ruins of Uxmal — covering the Governor’s Palace (left) and the House of the Turtles (right), along with a few scattered tourists:

Governors, Turtles, and Tourists

I initially didn’t expect this image to be of much account. It’s part of a panorama I made for later reference, one of many I made at a number of sites on my last trip to the Yucatán, primarily so I can double-check the quality of the maps I draw for my eBooks.

But in the process, I discovered that a modern iPhone (!) can make surprisingly good panoramas.

Magically purple

This past autumn, when I returned to the ancient Maya ruins of Uxmal, I had the opportunity to spend a night in a nearby hotel and so could watch the evening light show at the ruins.  The main action takes place in the Nunnery Quadrangle, but as you can see here, the Pyramid of the Magician isn’t left out of the fun.

Magically purple

Granted, the colors can get a bit… garish… but the show as a whole is pretty impressive.  And if you know a little Spanish, you get to hear a concise history of the site while watching the colored lights splashing on various buildings.

In our case, as happens pretty regularly (I’m told), we also got drenched right after the part of the show in which recorded voices (portraying plaintive inhabitants during the site’s historic drought) chant the name of the Maya rain god Chaac.  Interesting coincidence, that…

Offerings

A few years ago, we were fortunate to be able to visit the Actun Tunichil Muknal (Cave of the Crystal Sepulchre, a.k.a. ATM) cave in Belize.  It’s a 3-mile long wet cave (i.e., there’s a stream flowing through it), and a pretty “tough ticket” in that only a few guides are permitted to take tours through it — and the number of groups passing through on any given day are strictly limited.  It’s a physically demanding visit, too — you wind up climbing over and under boulders, swimming a significant part of the way, etc.

Offerings

But the restrictions are all for good reason.  The cave was used for sacrificial offerings by the ancient Maya, largely during the classic period (roughly 250 - 900 AD).  As the classic period wound down and the local situation worsened, increasingly dear sacrificial offerings were made increasingly far into the cave.  Tours extend as far as “The Crystal Maiden,” the calcified skeletal remains of a teenage girl sacrificed near the end of the classic — but she is only one of 14 individuals whose remains have been found in the cave, and less macabre offerings predominate anyway.

The Crystal Maiden

Sadly, in 2012 a tourist dropped their camera on one of the 1,000 year old skulls in the cave and fractured it – the skull was repaired to some degree, but as a result of that one tourist’s inattention, visitors are no longer allowed to bring cameras into the cave.

The Great Ball Court

One of the iconic sites at the ancient Maya ruins of Chichén Itzá, seen from its north end looking to the south:

The Great Ball Court

For some reason, this view doesn’t show up as often as does its opposite from the south end of the field.  Still, you can really get a feel for the ball court’s size — particularly since those are two people just to the right of this two-frame panorama’s center.

House of the Cenote, revisited

A straight-on frontal shot of the House of the Cenote, in the ancient Maya ruins of Tulúm in Quintana Roo, Mexico:

House of the Cenote

No, it’s not the most artistic angle on this structure — but it does give you a good feeling for its size and design.  This photo was shot from roughly the southeast — from the point of view of the sea, basically — and shows the face of the original part of the structure.

Some years later, a small shrine was added to the back of this building, directly over a small cenote that gives the whole construction its modern nickname.

The two faces of El Castillo

The “marquis” structure at the ancient Maya ruins of Chichén Itzá, El Castillo (a.k.a. the Pyramid of Kukulkán):

The two faces of El Castillo

What most tourist brochure photos don’t show you, though, are its two faces.  The pyramid’s north and west sides have been fully restored (so, look as close to “new” as we can get), while the south and east sides have just been consolidated and stabilized (and so, look rougher).  In the shot above, north is to the right — the pyramid’s north face is what you’ll most often see on postcards and such.

The Queen’s Bath, revisited

Along with all the amazing ruins, the ancient Maya site of Palenque also offers some really nice waterfalls not too far from the site center.  Dubbed the “Queen’s Bath,” it’s actually a series of waterfalls with terraces.  It can be a really amazing thing to see and photograph.

But can it ever change its appearance with the seasons.

Our most recent trip to Palenque was timed to fall just after the end of the wet season, in early December.  Enough water was flowing in the Otolum creek to give the Queen’s Bath some life:

The Queen's Bath

Note that this is a 1/13 second exposure, so you can see that you can get some nice blurring of the water without a tripod (note that you can’t use a tripod in the ruins without a permit requiring paperwork in advance, etc.).  At least, an exposure like this will work if your camera or lens offers image stabilization.

For comparison’s sake, here’s a shot taken from nearly the same spot two years earlier (but at the end of the dry season, in mid-May):

Queen's Bath (dry season)