Last week Bonnie and I had the good fortune to return to Mexico with our friends the Davidsons. As I usually do, I looked for something unique and new to explore and this trip I thought I would focus on an archeological site that I had seen on a road sign when visiting one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, Chitchen Itza. The site I decided to visit this year was called Ek Balam.
While talking to one of our young lawyers at work he told me that he had become an archeologist before becoming a lawyer. One summer he had gone to Mexico to excavate a site called Ek Balam. I told him of my own desire to visit the site and he told me of the size of the site and especially the temple. I knew I had to see this and it was not going to be on a tour bus; I would drive over there from Cancun despite the protests of many friends and family.
My friend Jeff and I got a car at the hotel and we saw the future of urban commuting. The car was known as a Smart Car and appeared to be not much larger than a large side-by-side off road vehicle. That was where the comparison ended. Even though the car was a two-seater, it had very good leg room, an air conditioner that conquered the heat and humidity of the Yucatan Peninsula and cruised all day at 110 kph, about 66mph. The best part of the car was the forty-nine miles per gallon that was registered on the open road.
Enrout to the site I was amazed at the four lane highway that connected the vacation mecca of Cancun to the capital city of Merida. I questioned how few vehicles were on the road. Then I realized what the problem was as I neared a toll booth. I thought the toll would be a couple of dollars. I was shocked when the booth operator held out a hand and declared, “twenty-four dollars”. My return route was via numerous small villages clogged with cars, busses and pedestrians but no toll booths.
After leaving the highway we ventured along a side road for several miles and through a small town with an enormous Catholic church that was probably one of the first buildings constructed in the area. We wound along rural roads and wondered at how people could hack out the impenetrable foliage with hand tools to build an ancient empire. The jungle was so dense that it was almost impossible to walk through it however with use of obsidian and stone axes one the most advanced cultures of its’ time was founded; a culture so complex that its’ understanding of astronomy rivaled anything in Europe. The Mayan’s were masters in stone work and made cement from the common limestone of Yucatan and many structures were mad from stone cement together.
When we arrived at Ek Balam there were far fewer cars than what was experienced at Coba, Chitchen Itza and Tulum. No tour busses could be seen. We went through a modern visitor’s entrance and then walked to the ancient Mayan village. My mouth almost dropped as a massive temple appeared in front of us. This was the huge temple my friend told about and unlike most other sites the visitors were allowed to climb all over the structures. Following a climb to the top of the great temple and a view that was far more magnificent than the sights from the top of the great pyramid of Coba, I realized that my legs felt like jello after I returned to the bottom of the temple.
Following a walk around and over other structures we were amazed at the intricate stone work and carvings that adorned the buildings. How this could have been accomplished without the aid of metal tools is extraordinary. And to realize this all happened during what is known as the middle pre-classic through the classic periods of the Mayan empire was amazing. This was from about 400 BC to about 900 AD or thirteen hundred years of habitation.
If you have the good fortune to visit the Yucatan part of Mexico take a day to visit Ek Balam and then run over to Chitchen Itza. It’s only twenty miles away and be sure to take a road map with you lest you get lost on the return route.


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