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The Student News Site of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student News Site of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student News Site of DePaul University

The DePaulia

Study abroad diaries: Merida, Mexico (part five)

Soaring about 100 feet from the ground and accompanied with 90 or more steps on all four sides, El Castillo, also known as the Temple of Kukulkan that thrived between the 9th and 12th centuries, provided a dominating presence as we walked into Chichen Itza, but that wasn’t all.

With our first extended excursion set up for the weekend of Jan. 31st – Feb. 3rd, the entire group was anxious to get away from the confines of the city and venture a bit further than Uxmal to see what else the Mayan people had left for us to admire. First on the agenda was one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Chichen Itza. As we pulled into the parking lot and approached the entrance just shy of 10:30 a.m., excitement filled the air and everyone was eager to get through the gates.

Passing through the gates was only the first obstacle, as a wide variety of vendors lined the pathway hoping to coax anyone and everyone who walked by into buying some of their art. Once beyond that first barrier, El Castillo glowed in the distance while the sun shone down brightly on its magnificent architecture. In sheer size, the entire site of Chichen Itza was huge, stretching almost two square miles around. I won’t lie, though, amidst all the beauty and impressive temples, I couldn’t help but think that Uxmal was the better of the two. After having experienced that type of intimacy, to be followed by a crowded site packed with tourists (the second most-visited site in Mexico) was certainly different. With a few hours of tour under our belt, it was time to hit the cenote.

By definition, a cenote is “a deep sinkhole in limestone with a pool at the bottom.” Although simply defined, words can’t begin to describe the pure impressiveness of this kind of wonder. Chichen Itza had two of them, one that was only for observing, which the Mayans used as a sacrifice well, and the other open for tourists to swim in. Trying to tread water in a giant pit that stretched more than 150f feet below me is just too unique for words.

Night one was in the books after a very long day of sightseeing and exploring. On the agenda next were the Ruins of Tulum and the beautiful city of Puerto Morelos, located south of Cancun in the state of Quintana Roo. This particular site was especially interesting since it served as a major port for the Mayan people, being that it is bordered by forest on three sides and the fourth side is protected by the Caribbean Sea. With access to both land and sea trade routes, the impact of this site was quickly recognized and explained by our loyal tour guide, Lwisi. This was our only plan for Saturday, so the rest of the day was left for the group to explore the small beach town and take in the attractiveness of the seashore.

Aside from the white, silky-smooth sand, the crystalclear blue water that stretched endlessly and the warm touch of the cool breeze in the morning, Puerto Morelos is also home to the fourth biggest coral reef in the world, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. Luckily for us, Lwisi and Susana had set up a snorkeling tour that was set to last the entire morning up until lunch. From the moment I dunked myself into the sea, I instantly regretted not having an underwater camera with me. The reef seemed to stretch for miles and miles and the amount of sea life that was visible was remarkable. From stingrays to sea turtles to barracudas and countless species of fish, we saw it all. Despite being one of the toughest workouts I had endured in recent months due to the restless current that pounded against our faces, I would recommend anyone with the opportunity to explore this spectacular reef.

Ek’ Balam was our last stop on this first weekend of venturing around the Yucatan Peninsula. Although it was the smallest of the ruins that we had seen so far, it sure didn’t lack in impressiveness. Surrounded by two concentric walls that were utilized as a defense mechanism against attack, the craftsmanship of the Mayan people and their intelligence was on full display. After an hour-long tour, another cenote awaited our arrival at the end. Again, it’s hard to verbalize how impressive these features are until you step foot inside them.

A spectacular sunset of burnt orange and red disappeared behind the darkening horizon as the group closed in on what we had all grown to call home in the past month, Merida. Initially, it’s hard to believe that you’ll be able to get so close to a new environment in such a short period of time. However, after having completed one month here, Merida is very much a comfort zone now. With two weeks separating us from our biggest trip down south to Chiapas, it will be nice to relax and enjoy all that Merida has to offer before we leave this home to see what else Mexico has in store for us.

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