Day 31: Calakmul
Calakmul Travel Blog› entry 39 of 120 › view all entries
We got up at the crack of dawn to drive the 120 kilometres to Calakmul. We were hoping to see some animals in the jungle. Well, we got them! We had gone less than 20 kilometres when a giant bird hit our car with a loud thud.
Car was less impressed than bird, I hate to say...
The road to Calakmul was a very narrow, twisting, but smoothly tarred road through the jungle. I didn't want to think of meeting oncoming traffic on this road, but I figured chances of that would be slim at 6 in the morning.
Calakmul is the largest Mayan city ever discovered. In an area of more than 100 square kilometres over 6500 buildings have been identified, although very few of them have been excavated and restored.
Because the city lies so deep in the jungle it was not discovered until 1931, but it wasn't until much later than they started restaurations and the site has only been open to public since 1990. As you can imagine the site does not really lie along the gringo route through the Yucatán peninsula, so we had the place almost to ourselves. When we registered at the visitor's centre we saw we were only the 11th and 12th visitor today, and apart from the Canadians we had met yesterday, and four Americans, we didn't see a single soul all day.
An advantage of late discovery is that the city has never been plundered, so archaeologists have found countless masks and jade jewellery amongst the ruins. Most of these can be seen in museums around Mexico. Unfortunately not in Calakmul itself, but we had seen quite a few of those masks in the museum in Campeche.
The ruins were fantastic. It was a long, but nice walk before we reached the first buildings. Along the way we saw many birds flutter between the trees, including a toucan - the first time I've seen one of those in the wild.
Just too bad these animals are so camera shy. As soon as I tried to grab my camera it flew off.
Not much of the jungle in, on, and around the ruins has been cleared, so you couldn't really see much of the ruins until you walked right in front of it. So it really felt like exploring. There were a few squares where the undergrowth had been cleared, but the trees were left standing, so everywhere you looked you could see the steps of temples, palaces and pyramids in between the trees.
At one of those squares I looked up because I heard something rustle high up in the tree, and to my surprise there was a whole colony of monkeys in that tree.
A dozen photos later we continued and so we reached the end of the path. At least, so it seemed. We found more ruins of residential houses (which are not as impressive) and we reached a map of the site, where we could see that we were now at the complete opposite end of where we had started. It was a bit of a downer that we now had to walk all the way back the same way.
I was also surprised that we had seen so many residential houses and that so few temples had been restored. At most other sites it had been mainly the temples which had all been restored, as these are simply most impressive. And I would have imagined in a city as important as this one there would have been more big temples.
Back at the 'square' with the monkeys we did one more round past all the buildings. There were no more arrows to follow, except for the road we had come in, which seemed the most obvious way back.
Then Robbel discovered a tiny pathway in between two of the larger buildings. Wonder where that leads?
And so we came to another 'square' which was completely full of trees, so you couldn't really see more than some vague outlines of what could be another building. We came to a ruin which looked higher than anything we had seen so far, so I decided to climb up. It was really steep, there was even a sign saying that climbing was dangerous and for your own risk. Robbel, not the most active of the two of us, stayed below until I reached the top and could tell her whether or not it was worth the climb.
Once at the top I turned around and stood completely flabbergasted by the view. “Is it worth it?” Robbel asked from below, but I couldn't say anything, I was speechless, so I just motioned her to come up.
The top of the pyramid was higher than the jungle canopy and from the top you had a great view of the area. And right in front of us a frigging huge pyramid was towering above the trees. And a bit further another one, and another one, and even further another one which seemed the biggest of the lot.
And this was so unexpectedly after we had spent almost two hours walking in between many not-so impressive (though very picturesque) ruins. You just don't expect to find such huge buildings in the middle of the jungle. I truly felt like Indiana Jones discovering a lost city.
And all of a sudden I understood how this place could have been found in the first place. I mean, in an impenetrable jungle, how do you find a lost city consisting of overgrown ruins? But this place was first discovered in 1931, when more and more planes started flying around this area. I am sure the place was first discovered by a pilot flying over the jungle, seeing these huge temples protruding above the jungle canopy.
We sat down at the top of the temple for a while, just admiring the majestic view. Then we climbed down again, to go to the huge pyramid which lay opposite (which you just can't see from the ground) and we climbed up that one next. This one was a lot higher, and actually had two tops, built on a large base.
From here the view was slightly less impressive, because you were looking down on the smaller pyramid, rather than the other way.
Back on the ground we searched for another pyramid we had seen from the top, but unfortunately this one was still being renovated, so we couldn't climb up.
Altogether we spent more than four hours in Calakmul, which is the longest we'd spent at any ruin so far.