Mexico 6. – The Land of Ancient Ruins

SONY DSCAfter our unplanned night in the jungle, my friend Julia and I head out to visit the ruins of Ek’ Balam. After only 10 minutes drive we reach the parking lot next to the complex, and walk up to the entrance. It’s just after 8:30, but the temperature is already in the mid twenties. The sun already hangs high and with the promise of scorching heat and potential sunburn. Yet we have no intention to hurry; Ek’ Balam is the main reason we set out on this jungle trip in the first place.

SONY DSCWe approach the Mayan site from the south through its defensive walls, and the first sight is already impressive. I’m not going to bore you with the history and the archaeological details, if you want to know more about the ruins, click on the name above. I will share one interesting piece of trivia though: Ek’ Balam has been only recently excavated (restoration  started in the 1990s), and unlike Chichen Itza, one of the most visited archeological sites in Mexico not far from here, these ruins are less known and see far fewer visitors.

SONY DSCEk’ Balam is a quiet and serene place in the morning, and I am enjoying the slow walk around the ancient buildings. I also cherish every second of the few minutes I get to spend on my own, on the top of the Acropolis (the tallest structure), while I catch my breath and take in the vastness of the jungle surrounding me. I am taken aback by the magnitude of the impenetrable jungle in every direction as far as my eyes can see. Engulfed by the beauty, and the almost palpable sacredness that hangs in the air, I hungrily try and absorb as much I can through my gaze, like staring at it guarantees I can take it home with me. I think I actually forget to blink a few times.

SONY DSCShouts from the south indicate the arrival of a couple buses, regurgitating more and more tourists. It’s time to go, our time of bedazzlement and silent contemplation is over here. Our next stop is the cenote about 2 miles from the ruins. Cenotes are natural sinkholes where the limestone bedrock (common in the Yucatan Peninsula) collapses on itself, exposing the groundwater underneath. They were sacred to the Maya people, often used as sites of sacrificial offerings. Depending on the depth of the sinkhole (some are between 50-100 meters deep) the colour of the water can range from green to almost black. But when the sun hits the surface, it reveals turquoise and blue tones that are unparalleled. And this is the second time today to be amazed.

SONY DSCRoots and tendrils hug the edge of the rough limestone walls and hang down into the approximately 15 meter deep hole. The water mirrors a playful shimmer on the walls, which makes the scene look like an apparition. Walking down the steep and slippery stairs is slow, but I don’t dare to go faster, since I’m so taken in by the view that I’m not watching my step. The sun is on its zenith now, burning high in the sky, yet I can feel the air getting cooler as I descend. Not much light touches this water, it gets maybe a couple of hours of sun every day; I’m prepared it’s gonna be cold. I welcome the chill as I plunge into the crystal clear water. Apart from the two of us there are only 3 people in the cenote, speaking in a hushed tone. The sound of my slow strokes reverberates from the walls as I aim for a half-submerged ledge opposite me. I sit there for a good part of an hour before we decide to leave.

SONY DSCWe head back to the car sipping coconut water fresh out of the nut. A few hours drive awaits before we see Puerto Morelos again, and for a while neither of us speaks as though still under the influence. I silently promise myself to return one day.

I’ll be back with more next week. In the meantime you can
click here to visit the gallery for more pictures of Ek’ Balam.

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