After the 45-minute bus ride from the port of Costa Maya, we finally arrived. My dad and I had had a front row seat for the tour guide’s lecture and were ready to discover the ancient civilization for ourselves.
But dismounting the bus, all I could see were towering trees. Though beautiful, they were not what I had signed up to see this morning.
The tour guide informed our group that reaching our destination involved a short hike. We followed him down the dirt path under the cruel Mexican sun. The previous night’s New Year’s Eve festivities aboard our cruise ship, the Regal Princess, had fatigued me. If I had known this excursion would be so taxing, I might not have exhausted my feet dancing.
For several minutes, we trudged behind, continuing our history session from earlier. The facts fascinated me, but already I learned in school. Specificities, the tour guide had announced, would begin once we reached the site.
Sweat dripped down my face. Though I originally agreed to this excursion to bond with my father, I yearned to learn about these people and their home and my excitement grew on the bus ride. Now, I was just impatient.
To the relief of my aching feet, we finally stopped walking. The real tour was about to start. “Welcome to Kohunlich Archaeological Zone”, the guide exclaimed, gesturing to the clearing behind him, “the home of the ruins of La Maya!”
We trekked over to a series of stacked-stones. The tour guide informed us that these once belonged to Mayan elite. My dad and I climbed the steep stairs to the top of one and explored the sun-exposed rooms. Though crumbling and plant-covered, I could imagine the house’s grandeur centuries ago.
Our group continued, visiting the leader’s house and the city center. The sun beat down, the shade of these ancient structures no match for its intensity. However, the stifling heat could not discourage us. The climax of the tour was just ahead.
We followed a stone path through a field where Mayans played sports. Our tour guide taught us about their games and the mythological stories in Mayan culture that inspired them. We passed a small gazebo that housed a newly-discovered carving and a stone-lined pond once used for chores. Then, we hiked up a steep hill to the ultimate destination: the temple.
The pyramid was enormous. A stone staircase covered its face and intricate carvings flanked either side. A thatched roof had been built over the temple to protect the architecture from the unforgiving natural elements. At the top, my father and I peered inside a narrow room, where, according to our guide, the Mayan priests would offer sacrifices and pray to their numerous deities. This was the most important structure in a Mayan city. Then, we turned around.
The entire settlement sprawled out before me. I studied the city center and the homes of the Mayan aristocrats off in the distance. Little birds perched on the tips of the trees. Other tour groups, the sizes of insects, were beginning their exploration. Hundreds of years ago, an ancient people found and stacked every stone I had touched. They walked where I had trod. They had played games, made art, and told stories. People prayed for their greatest desires and thanked the gods for their fortunes. Where I stood was sacred. Countless had lived and died here, and I was fortunate enough to visit. I may have come with the intent of growing closer to my father, but, instead, I became friends with the ancient Mayan people.
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