Chichen Itza

 If you read my last post you know that I went to Chichen Itza recently, as a part of my journey through the Seven Wonders of the World. I am sitting at 2 out of seven and feeling pretty good about getting tot he other five eventually.

However, I want to expand on my journey through Chichen Itza as it was a really remarkable day and I highly recommend spending the time to visit if you find yourself in the Yucatan or Mayan Peninsula.

I never truly understood why Chichen Itza was considered a wonder of the world until we visited it, and we made the right decision in getting up stupidly early and going with an archeologist as a tour guide.

 

This helped with several parts of our day. First, we beat the heat by getting there early. Second, we beat the general public crowds. Third, we missed some of the harassment from vendors that set up all over the city grounds. Finally, and most importantly, it gave us historical and cultural backgrounds we would have not otherwise learned.

If you have an interest in this tour, click here, it’s through Viator and well worth the price.

We started the day with a somewhat late pickup from our resort, this was the only real issue on the tour, which I am unsure of what happened with it, but it was a minor hiccup that was fixed with a quick phone call.

One downside for my husband was that the van from Playa del Carmen was pretty small for his 6’4″ body, but we survived. However, do note that this will be up to three hours in the van/bus each way. Also, you may bring a hoodie just for the cool weather and/or air conditioning on the bus. This is also a great time to nap! Don’t worry about needing a restroom of food/water, there will be about two stops going and coming back for any needs you may have.

At the complex we met up with our guide/archeologist, Marco, who took us on what felt like a SHORT two hour tour of the main part of the city.

As you walk into the city complex you are met with the grand pyramid, or Castillo Temple that is so iconic. This is where we learned about the sounds that bounce through the temple creating a whistling like a bird, which changes in pitch and volume from where you stand and listen or clap. To the east of this is a remarkable temple that makes a rattle snake noise (tail rattling) when you clap at a certain angle.

All of this is meant to represent and celebrate Kukulkan, the feathered serpent man-god that meant so much to the Maya culture. They also, at this time in the culture, practiced human sacrifice to appease the god(s) through blood offerings where hearts were ripped form chests while still beating, and  backs were broken before being drowned. (This really isn’t so different from gladiator games, public hangings, warfare etc.)

From there we toured buildings set up for the king of this specific city-state and the intricate measures that were taken for the rulers and nobility. For instance, a king was never allowed to touch the ground, so there are no steps from his throne room at the ball field and other areas that reach the ground. Instead, the noble was transported on a Litter.

In addition to being blown away by just the scale of the buildings more auditory wonders came into play. For instance, at the ball field, for the Mesoamerican Ballgame, they had an auditory system set up where the King could hear conversation from the opposite side of the field.

Maybe you remember it from this movie:

Traditionally, visitors from other tribes and cultures would be placed here, so that the king could listen for any treasonous information or gossip and it’s likely that the visitors had no idea they were being spied on.

Finally, our tour was wrapped up with some free time, around an hour, where we were able to see other buildings that made up the city. We also had to note we were only seeing about 30% of the entire city as much more was closed off for restoration and research. However, it was exciting to explore the city and imagine what it would have looked like with thousands of people milling around. People that were praying, working, selling, cooking, talking and living their lives as people around the world do.

In the other areas of the city we saw what is believed to be an astronomy tower, additional pyramids, and royal complexes that housed people and worked in tandem with their beliefs and rituals.

We learned other snippets as well, like that the Castillo or main pyramid has several pyramids built inside of it and that the Maya would build new things, and burn the old every 52 years or so as a rebirth cycle with their calendar. Additionally, the majority of the city would have been painted in lush, vibrant colors, specifically red made from paprika or cochineal.

While many people jump on the bandwagon that the Maya were supernatural or even in touch with a greater power, I have to encourage additional research and thought. It’s easy to come up and write off ideas as beyond this world, it’s harder to do the research and actually learn where, what, when and how things came together. Pretending that an alien or outside entity must have created these marvels writes off people that fall into a minority as somehow unable to build such remarkable things. Which is complete garbage. These empires and cultures from the Americas lived in the same complex cultures and identities that Europeans held onto. While they looked, spoke, and existed differently, their mores, taboos, and livelihoods were very similar and equally important. There are also endless wonders in the Americas, some of which are just being discovered.

Anyway, get out, explore, be amazed!

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Seven Wonders of the World

The “new” Seven Wonders of the World are not exactly “new” in any sense of the world. In fact the list makes up wonders and beautiful creations from cultures and peoples in the past. Which maybe makes them more impressive and engaging than if it were a list of mega stadiums and mansions from today. Not that engineering feats from the last 100 years are not important or impressive, but there is something whimsical and magical about those buildings that were created for a purpose centuries before we had cranes, automobiles. trains and other modern technologies that make building significantly easier.
What inspires me is that I am slowly, but surely, marking locations off of the list and I currently stand at two out of seven in my 26 years on planet earth. With two being seen in the last four and a half years! #killingIt
The list is as follows:
1. The Great Wall of China- China
2. Christ the Redeemer- Brazil
3. Machu Picchu- Peru
4. Chichen Itza- Mexico
5. The Roman Colosseum- Italy
6. Taj Mahal- India
7. Petra- Jordan
 
So far I have been able to visit 4 and 5 on my adventures and they have been nothing short of remarkable!
My first visit was in the summer of 2013 to The Roman Colosseum on my study abroad in Italy, where….well when in Rome, I had to take an absurd photo.
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The Colosseum was one of those odd locations where when you are fully aware of the blood and sacrifice that went into the stones you are standing on, it’s kind of eerie. This is also true for location five…
However, The Roman Colosseum is a fantastic gateway int the history of the region, especially when paired with the Roman forum which offers a full explanation on the life and times of the nobility in Rome. Besides the fact that the Colosseum was used for a bloody display of “sport” it is also an engineering marvel. Beyond that, did you know that the majority of the damage has nothing to do with time and wear over two millenia? Instead it is a reflection of thievery and people stealing materials in the middle ages, renaissance and into the 19th century for new buildings and moments. Which is pretty damn cool, and impressive that their skills and abilities have stood so greatly through the test of time.
Additionally, it is a part of Rome that is impossible to miss, a testament to the vastness and power of the Roman Empire, and the eternal city, showing the strength of the empire at its height. 
However, like all great things, they come to an end eventually. Which also brings us to Chichen Itza. 
Chichen Itza was found by Western explorers in the 19th century covered in jungle and abandoned for centuries.  Here it is in the 1890s:
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Due to being covered oh so romantically in greenery, some believed that the Maya people had lived “as one” with the planet and had a somewhat Utopian society. However, upon further research going into the next 100 years it was learned that they in fact had been a society that utilized slash and burn techniques and other methods to clear forests. This meant land for growing crops of corn and beans along with building an extensive road network that connected places like Chichen Itza with the rest of the Maya Empire.
Anyway, not to bore you with too much history, but the reality is that this city and subsequent cities in the area were home to a vast and powerful society. Additionally the use of sound techniques for spying, entertainment, religion and building the entirety of the area with the solar system, equinoxes, and celestial events in mind make it even more exciting. 
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Chichen Itza circa 2017
Naturally, the list of “wows” go on. Such as depictions of North American tribes that were visiting the area, such as the Mohicans. Then, there are mysterious pieces such as a man depicted with a long beard (most Native peoples don’t grow facial hair) and others showing a Star of David. Additionally, the auditory nature of the buildings is still somewhat puzzling and no one is positive how bird whistles and rattle snack sounds could be replicated. These aspects leave more questions than answers, that I look forward to hearing about in the future. 
To wrap up on the Maya, it’s important to remember this city also acted as a sacrificial area to the gods and especially Kukulkan. Many times slaves, prisoners, and even the “strongest” warriors and gamers were sacrificed for the benefit of all people in a bloody removal of organs, or sometimes drowning in a cenote.
Anyway, I’ll share more on Chichen Itza shortly, but I want to mostly say, it’s always a thrill to work through a list of exciting places in the world.
I do believe my next stop will be Peru and Machu Picchu where I am planning to hike the Inca trail and walk in the foot steps of another great civilization.

Honeymoon Planning for Opposites

Ryan and I are a classic case of opposites attract. While we have a lot in common, we also seem to balance one another out. While I think we should go hiking for a month in the Amazon, Ryan more practically suggests a weekend camping trip and a tropical resort. Less chance of Malaria that way.
So when it came to planning our honeymoon my adventurous nature thought something along the lines of backpacking or hiking for a week seemed like a great vacation. Ryan disagreed.
Ryan’s idea of a great honeymoon meant another cruise like we did two years previously, with all of our needs met and no need to go anywhere or do anything.
While I didn’t hate our cruise, it would not be my first choice in travel again. I wasn’t keen on hoards of wealthy Americans being dumped off to gawk at poor foreigners that moved chairs for pennies and had minimal rights. This is an argument for another day, but long story short, I wanted something more engaging and more cultural.
To find the happy medium, we needed to narrow down a world of choices. In retrospect I don’t know many people that would find camping for four days, hiking 30 miles, and not showering in that time to be particularly romantic.
At one point we talked about Japan, but when we realized the cost associated and the jet lag that would be involved in a week we knew that it wasn’t the best option.
So we had a lot of extremes and needed to find a middle ground. For me, in many ways, the honeymoon was almost the more important part. We wanted an adventure to really remember and we wanted something we could realistically ask for presents for.
This opposite thing actually comes in handy, as we tend to be able to find a healthy blend in our lives. I want to fly off to Madagascar, and Ryan reminds us that we really only have the money for Mexico.
Which brings us to Mexico. Where we will be headed to in about a week, and where we will get to stay for a week. We have picked a resort in Playa Del Carmen, all inclusive. Meaning Ryan has the ability to sit all day, read a book, eat, and sip margaritas. While I have the ability to explore some history, culture, and a chance to really embrace one place. We both love the beach, and outdoor adventuring such as snorkeling, swimming, ATV’s, and jet skis. Which the resort and our excursions will cover. There are cenotes and resort performances that embrace the Mayan culture of the region. All around, it gives us the chance to get something and everything we actually want.
Ultimately, it means compromise, and though that word is tainted, it meant trying to combine our interests into one perfect trip. My advice is the following:
1. Research what is available, and keep looking for the best rate and things to do.
2. Make a list of “musts” and decide how to hit all of those points.
3. Find what you both have in common and find somewhere that you can hit those and that also has something for each of you.
4. Ask a travel agent, read magazines, shop for deals, and see what you find. We found our resort through Southwest Vacations at a great price and with fantastic reviews for what we wanted.
5. Ask friends and family where they have been, what they liked, what the options are to customize a vacation.
6. Finally, if you can’t decide somewhere, ask for money and save it until you can figure out where to go. There is no harm in waiting a month, 6 months or a year or two until you can take the best trip possible.
 
Happy Travels!

Travel the World- Without Leaving Denver

Denver is a city that has no lack of things to do. If you love museums, there are plenty to see. Want architecture? no lack of unique designs from decades of inhabitants. Native American History and art? We have you covered.
Perhaps the best way to experience a mix of old and new, western and global is at the Denver Art Museum.
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My favorite statue in the Native North American art section- I remember them building this in 2011!
I know….art museum…. it’s an intimidating term, yet you don’t have to be an art geek to enjoy what the DAM has to offer. DAM is a unique blend of classic art museum with the joy and enthusiasm of modern delights. Currently, they even have a costume display from the original Star Wars movies!
However, if you don’t have time, or the exhibit is sold out, there are plenty of options and things to see in the permanent exhibits and ones that are included with general admission.
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Trade Canoe for Don Quixote- Jaune Quick-to-see Smith
When I say it’s a chance to see the world, I don’t mean it lightly, they literally have floors of art from around the world and each floor is like another continent waiting to be seen.
While I have taken many trips to the Denver Art Museum, I always find something new. S
Sometimes, it’s when I explore the thousands of pieces of pre-columbian South and Central American art. Often it’s a wonderful and exciting sculpture or pottery piece. This time it was a variety of pins from Peru that were made out of silver spoons, (Manta Spoons) originally brought by the Spanish. They even offered a craft project to make a plastic version for visitors.
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Manta Spoon Pins from Peru, used for hooking cloaks together in decoration and function
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Lily making her own plastic manta spoon
In fact, the entire museum offers craft projects for art fans of all ages through the entire museum. In the Northern Native American art section it was putting together puzzles based on beading designs, and in their fashion displays it was pinning together fashionable designs. All of which my 9 y/o travel buddy loved.
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Casta Painting collection from the Spanish-Colonial period. Casta paintings list what status one had in Latin America based on their ethnic background and skin color. 
If you like asian art, you won’t be disappointed, I am personally always impressed by the sand-art from a group of Buddhist monks that has been preserved. Along with centuries of stone sculpture and pottery. They section off each area to provide cultural context and experience. China, Japan, Middle East, India and Southeast Asia are all represented through natural and historic materials.
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If you love modern art the most, do not despair, because they have constantly rotating and changing displays that inspire through modern methods and art forms.
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Finally, my favorite permanent display is the European art pieces including paintings of nobles, and classic pieces by some of Europe’s most famous painters. Currently they are displaying Treasures of British Art which included “Anthony van Dyck, Benjamin West, Angelica Kauffman, Thomas Gainsborough, Thomas Lawrence, George Stubbs, John Singer Sargent, and Adam Birtwistle.” They also had a Canaletto on display that had been recently restored and to round it out, their main floor display of Venetian artists was to die for.
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Sir Thomas Lawrence- Portrait of a Lady
Titled the Glory of Venice this display showed the progress of Italian art and its significance in combining Danish and Italian and Eastern art for some of the most influential pieces in classic art.
All around if you want a wonderful experience in the mile high city, where everyone will enjoy, love, laugh and be inspired, check out the Denver Art Museum! What is your favorite piece?

Travel Hacks No One Actually Tells You

There are a ton of videos and blogs on this subject. But welcome to my take on the situation. I have only found a few things to be true when travelling and the rest to be crap.

I don’t put necklaces through straws so they don’t get tangled, because I only take one set of jewelry with me so I lessen the risk of losing something (or having it stolen). I don’t take much shampoo in little bottles because it’s far more logical to “buy it when you get there” and in small quantities.

Perhaps this sounds a little rugged and I know we have favorite hair products, BUT the reality is that one exploded bottle of shampoo or lotion in your suitcase can make a mess that’s way worse to deal with than messy hair. And unless you are going somewhere where you know they won’t sell cosmetics, then just buy something when you get there. You often can find better products in places like Europe, that will work better in the water/sun/humidity in that location.

For instance, a pharmacist in Rome noted how pasty I was, and insisted I buy some SPF50. “Blanca, blanca, come here” she told me and shoved the bottle in my hand with some tampons. This was the best sunscreen I have ever used and I wish I could find it here in the states! It didn’t cause me to break out, it was light and it worked to keep “blanca” from being “rosso”.

Continue reading “Travel Hacks No One Actually Tells You”

Land of Enchantment Part III

The final day was spent starting the day with a trip to the last two museums on my list, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture and the International Folk Art Museum. 

The first was home to a massive amount of history and artwork dating back to prehistory and into modernity. It not only showcased the long story and history of native peoples but also the current conflicts and issues that exist. I especially appreciated a section that called out cultural appropriation and stereotypes in modern american culture.

The plaza outside of the museum was equally impressive and an enjoyable visit all on its own. Full of life-size and larger statues it paid testament to native culture, struggle and existence, a story that often is overlooked and misunderstood.

The folk museum provided a great blend of other stories, and the fact it had a folk-art element meant that it reflected the tale of the average person and not that of another identity. Rooms were filled to the brim of a variety of cultural expressions including miniatures, needlepoint, dolls and much more.

After musuem land it was time to PARTY!

We started the events with a surprise mass, and wedding for my great aunt and uncle. We finished with food and sangria at their home in rural Santa Fe. I got to see cousins that live in Germany and England that I don’t usually see and talk with other cousins I didn’t know too well. All around it was a success and very enjoyable for all involved.

And sadly the next morning ment driving home…until next time Santa Fe!

Part I, Part II

 

Land of Enchantment Part II

The second day was an early start to the day and driving to downtown before the tourists invaded. I also wanted to talk to the Native American artists that sat outside by the Palace to sell their goods to locals and tourists alike. This was a great opportunity to learn how the system worked and how it provided artists the chance to make money directly and control their art.

I ended up buying a small pottery egg from a woman that had a turtle and fish on it, representing life and sustainability. The price was great and it felt awesome to support local and small artists. As an artist and from a family of artists, this direct connection meant a lot.

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I talked to others about their goods and how they made things. There were silver workers, pottery masters, jewelry makers, weavers and everything in between. If you want to REALLY shop native goods, then this is the place and the best way to do it.

I then hit a few more shops looking for a thank you to the neighbors for loving on our cat while we were gone and I found a small place that sold local arts such as tin work and jewelry made from dried corn. All of these made great little souvenirs and it was enjoyable to be shopping so early and away from the crowds and chaos.

Before it was too hot I also walked the few blocks around the center of town, photographing and enjoying the soul of the city. One that dripped with art and culture and history. The entirety of it brought me a sense of peace and joy that I miss living in a newer city. The sensation reminded me of the same sensation I receive when I’m in Europe. Traversing ancient pathways and soaking up centuries of movement.

Late that morning some other relatives arrived for the celebrations, so the afternoon was spent eating, talking and doing some more sightseeing.

We spent a significant part of the afternoon looking at the old and famous churches of Santa Fe, including the Loretto Chapel, known for its staircase. Gothic in style the church has a classic charm to it.

Then we visited the OLDEST church in the United States, San Miguel Chapel. Which not only has the claim to being the oldest, but also is home to a 14th century bell from Spain, and some beautiful old art from the colonial time period.

We finished the day at the OLDEST home in Santa Fe, which was perfectly sized for someone short like myself and was a darling walk in the lifestyle of early Europeans that settled in the area.

Finally, we returned my aunt to the hotel and Ryan and I were able to have a date in Santa Fe. Which, naturally,deserved being full of tacos (American-Mexican) and margaritas. We ate the most amazing fish tacos I have ever had at Bumble Bee’s Baja Grill (that also had an awesome Gluten-Free menu. Then we finished with a quick visit the art museum and a walk around the old part of town.

Part I, Part III