Impressions of Yucatán, Mexico
The ten odd archaeological sites we visit on the Ruta Maya in the Yucatán Peninsula are only a fraction of what is there to be seen of the Mayan past, as the influence of Maya culture and civilisation obviously did not stop at the current borders of Mexico. The Ruta Maya reaches deeply into Guatemala and Honduras indeed. But for now, we will concentrate on what the peninsula of Yucatán has on offer.
Next to the magnificent pre-Hispanic temple complexes, the colonial cities of Valladolid, Mérida and Campeche may not be as grand and overwhelming as the Spanish colonial cities in Central Mexico, but they are cosy, pleasant and equally full of history. They constitute yet another interesting dimension for us to explore in this region of Mexico. Add to that also the Caribbean coastline at Cancún and Tulum, and the dense forest near the border with Guatemala, and the picture is complete.
But apart from the 'pretty' and 'interesting' things, travelling through the peninsula of Mayas also makes one think. Is it not a phenomenon of all times that quarrel and mini-wars among clans from different cities or States, which fundamentally share the same culture and to a great extent also have common interests, often trigger the decline and eventual ruination of all involved? The arrival of Spanish conquistadores was decisive but definitely not the only factor which weakened and finally ruined Maya culture. Constant fighting, war and trouble among Maya tribes themselves did a lot to prepare the field for the Spanish conquista.
This said, we cannot and should not forget that an immense amount of knowledge, science and culture had been gathered and developed over centuries by the pre-Hispanic Mayas. And neither should we brush aside how it was all brutally demolished, heartlessly burnt and irreversibly annihilated on the obscure and preposterous altar of superiority pretended by some people and some institutions. What happened then and there should keep awake in us the flame of consciousness that the same pretension of superiority continues to this day to finish off, on that same kind of altar, so much beauty and magnificence, created by both nature and mankind. The Maya descendants are not mind-poisoned with rancour, but they have not forgotten. Neither should anybody else, out of respect for the past and concern for the future.
Before visiting the place of your choice:
The Río Usumacinta marks the border between Mexico and Guatemala and flows into the Caribbean Sea some thousand kilometres from its source in South-East Mexico. For centuries this wide river has been an important artery for trade between Maya settlements and a natural border between distinct Maya Kingdoms: the one centred around Yaxchilán on the Mexican side and Tikal in Guatemala. Lanchas ferry people to the archaeological site of Yaxchilán and across the river to Guatemala.