Joined: Sep 2011
Location: Somewhere in Latin America
33. Tonina Ruins, A Childhood Dream Realized
It’s just now sunrise and I’m already on the road. Early bird gets the worm right? I’m bundled up in thick riding gear, I can’t feel much of what’s around me, but the air that passes through the front vents in my helmet tastes crisp and cold. The sun is cresting over the surrounding hills, sending light crackling through the tree branches and onto the road. At a leisurely pace I roll my bike into the smooth corners, one after the other waking my body up and smoothing out the pace of the motor. I pass through wisps of smoke, the smell of wood burning fires cooking breakfast fill my helmet. It’s beautiful here in the Yucatan. Peaceful and quiet.
As a little kid I grew up on National Geographic magazines. Sitting crosslegged on my grandparents floor I would pour through the endless volumes, dating all the way back to the very first editions. I would skim the bindings which contained the topics of that volume, waiting for interesting words to jump out at me. “polar bears”, “the serengeti”, “redwood forests hidden secrets”, etc. Without fail several times a year there would be a topic on the ancient civilizations of Latin America. If I was lucky it would be a special print with big flip out charts and maps of their ancient cities. I loved these volumes and would spend hours late into the night enchanted by the information they dispelled. To this day the childhood fascination of everything that involves these ancient cultures is just as strong. Today, I was up and on the road early, excited to see one of those ancient places first hand.
The scenery along the way is green and there are many farms and small forests dotting the landscape.
In between the farms and forests there are small pueblos.
Some, as with many other small towns, have a central sculpture signifying something important from the past.
As the sun was heating up the countryside I stopped for a pee and to take a couple layers off. I assumed it was too early for people to be out and about so didn’t go further than right next to my bike.
Should have known that people work very hard here, as right then 3 guys came out of the forest hauling big slabs of wood and stacking it next to where I was. Judging by the size of the pile they had been working for several hours. We were mutually interested in the oddity of each others random appiration and spoke for a bit. They told me about the Yucatan and good places to go see before heading back into the forest to haul out more wood.
I kept on riding, pushing northeast towards the town of Ocosingo, where I would find the Tonina ruins.
About an hour later I found the town then veered south east 10 miles out to the ruins.
The road out was perfect, not for riding, but for the scenery. I like these slow paced backroads through farms. Maybe it reminds me of where I grew up? Or maybe I just like the smell of cow shit.
There is no pomp and circus here. I came to these ruins because I heard that they are very under populated because of their relatively remote location, yet still a great medium-large sized representation of an ancient Mayan civilization. To me this means that there will be less rules, less people, and a much more powerful experience to hit you right in the feels. As I rolled up to the entrance, I felt like I was entering someones farm. Maybe they would ask me in for some mescal before seeing the ruins?
I paid my 46 pesos (~$4) and walked down the lane that lead to where the ruins where. Here I got my first glimpse of them.
I walked through a small forest, crossed a little stream, and then found myself on the footsteps of an ancient powerhouse for the Mayan people.
The site was very quiet with only 3 other tourists milling about. The only sound being the faint stacking of rocks as workers cleared and reconstructed areas of the ruins. At the base of the central plaza there are two ballcourts. This particular Mayan site was the home of a particularly powerful group of mayans that were notoriously violent and at war constantly. Sculptures of the torsos of 6 captured rival king's vassals are used as markers for the ballcourt.
Looking up at the ruins you can see the workers on the left for scale.
This is at the base as you I first began to climb up.
The steps are steep and no rails exist. You can see the workers on the left clearing debris.
There are a series of terraces each with differing significances and uses.
As I work my way up I find different spaces with different items to see. All are approachable and it’s remarkable how open and accessible this place is to the average meanderer. What if I was drunk and took a wrong step? You could easily tumble to the bottom, or decide to bring a brick back home. Guess that’s the perk of going to an underdeveloped site.
As I get towards the top I find another asshole (said with love) perched on top. Hey Russell!
Looking down from the top you can see in every direction. This city used to be immense, it’s people and surrounding towns spreading far into the valley. They think they have only uncovered about %20 of it.
Looking behind the peak that I’m standing on, you can see lots of jungle. The entire ridgeline in this picture, is actually other ruins that they haven’t uncovered yet. They say the Yucatan is full of places like this, just waiting to be dug out of the jungle that has consumed them.
I climbed up on the highest point that I could and sat there in awe. I couldn’t stop saying “wow…..” to myself. Over and over again I was kicked in the head with the reality of this drastic place, the sheer awe of the culture, and the fact that I had finally made it here after all these years and on my own accord.
I soaked it all in for as long as I could. I feel lucky enough to have had a couple brief moments in my life where I had hoped to experience something for many years and then finally was able to do it. This goal was a long time coming, from childhood until now, and today, at this place, I was able to add it to the list. It’s a great feeling of accomplishment, one that leaves me feeling very satisfied, yet as with all accomplished goals, also looking to what’s next.