1) looking across to Structure III at Calakmul from atop Structure II
Time for an adventure!
We flew from Mexico City 2 hours further south to the city of Campeche in Campeche State in Yucatan Peninsula. Campeche is on the opposite side of the peninsula from the tourist-riddled destinations of Cancun and Cozumel and as such, is very much a city and area forgotten in time. More a place for travelers than tourists. Aeromexico flies twice/day here and provides a great in-flight service complete with hot meals and complementary drinks. From Campeche Airport we rented a car (a little PT Cruiser in fact with a cautionary yellow engine light that remained on throughout our journey, rather disconcertingly I thought) and drove 4 hours further south towards the border of Guatemala.
2) a map to help orient you
Our destination was the Mayan ruins at Calakmul (its original Maya name was Ox Te’ Tuun). The site was discovered by air in December 1931 by biologist Cyrus Lundell. He named the site ‘Calakmul’ which in Maya translated to ‘ca’ meaning ‘two’, ‘lak’ meaning ‘adjacent’, and ‘mul’ meaning – more or less – pyramid, so Calakmul is the ‘City of the Two Adjacent Pyramids’, which is what Lundell would have seen from the air back then – two enormous pyramids poking up above the jungle canopy. While some onsite investigations occurred from 1932-38, all archeological work stopped from then till – amazingly – 1982. As such, visiting Calakmul is probably akin to travelers who visited Angkor Wat upon its initial discovery. The site is enormously difficult to get to; has few supports in terms of accommodations; and is eerily (beautifully actually) wondrous to visit as you are the only visitors there. This, no doubt, will change as the secret of Calakmul continues to emerge. Get there while you can!
After leaving the town of Escarcega (your last petrol fill-up is here along with, rather strangely, a Burger King!) you’ll drive another hour and a bit to reach the gate to the Calakmul Biological Reserve. Just off this turn, you’ll come across the only accommodations for miles around – the very rustic, ecologically-friendly Hotel Puerta Calakmul. From here, you’ve another hour drive down an increasingly narrowing and winding (and dangerous) road to the parking lot and from there a hike of about 20 minutes to the ruins. Bring plenty of water, some snacks and plan a (very) early start.
We loved our stay at Hotel Puerta Calakmul – we had a little hut to ourselves and enjoyed our meals in the ‘restaurant’ hut where, honestly, we had some of the best food we ate in Mexico (hundreds of miles from anywhere and in the middle of a jungle, go figure!).
3) reception at Puerta Calakmul; 4) I managed to get up close to a bird while wandering the trails here
5) G wanders the compound; 6) there was even a swimming pool
7) a pretty much perfectly done omelet in the middle of nowhere at Puerta Calakmul; 8) the view from our hut
9) here’s our little hut; 10) and our beds inside – rather rustic and no tv, no phone, no radio
11) I’m ready for bed in the mosquito net; 12) the bar inside the restaurant at Puerta Calakmul
Archaeological documentation at this site is still in its infancy but archaeologists believe the site served as a city for up to 50,000 people from circa 411AD through to about 800AD (more or less). Its height was during the reign of Yuknoom Che’en II, sometimes called Yuknoom the Great, 636-686AD and it ruled over several smaller cities that spread out some 150 miles distant. In this time, it was the capital of what has come to be called the Kaan (or Snake) Kingdom.
13) we’re getting close; 14) you pass this swampy area as you hike into the site – it is VERY buggy during the season and I can’t imagine that people lived here all the time
15 & 16) suddenly, hiking in, there was a tremendous rush overhead and viola, an entire family of Howler Monkeys wandered by
17) G hikes up to the first ruin; 18) there are hundreds of stelae at the site like this one
19) the site is truly eerily quiet like this shot implies; 20) up G goes
21) G stops to ponder the ball court and what games may have been played there 1500 years ago
22) in the main city square, g heads off to explore; 23) me in front of Structure III
24) G heads up; 25) across the way – using my telephoto lens, other travelers!
26) me atop Structure III enjoying the view above the canopy; a view only the royals would have enjoyed at the time
27) me atop Structure II, with Structure III in the background
28) looking across to the main square of the city; 29) Structure III taken from Structure II
30) again, the quiet rules; 31) one of the stelae – how’s your ancient Maya?
32) a direct on shot of Structure II – or, the lower half of it at least … it goes up beyond the sight-line
33) to finish, a video from the top!