View Cruise Destinations in a larger map

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Kohunlich Mayan Ruins - Mexico

Welcome back! In today’s post, I’ll be showing you around Kohunlich – an ancient Mayan site. As a crew member, we are given the opportunity to accompany passenger excursions for free as ‘Crew Escorts’ in exchange for providing feedback about the trip. So far, I have been on two passenger excursions, one of which was a trip to the Kohunlich Mayan Ruins in Mexico, which I went on in Costa Maya, last week.

Above: One of the temples (Temple of the King) near the entrance of the site

Kohunlich is a large archaeological site of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization, located on the Yucatán Peninsula. The Spanish name does not actually derive from Mayan but from the English Cohune Ridge where cohune palm grew. The site covers about 21 acres, surrounded by dense sub-tropical rainforest, and it contains almost 200 mounds, many of which remain largely unexcavated. The city was elaborately planned and engineered, with raised platforms and pyramids, citadels, courtyards and plazas surrounded with palace platforms, all laid out to channel drainage into a system of cisterns and an enormous reservoir to collect rainwater.

Above: A raised acropolis (or citadel) with the Temple of the King behind

The site was settled by 200 BC, but most of the structures were built in the Early Classic period from about 250 to 600 AD. The city appears to have functioned as a regional centre and stop along the trade routes through the southern Yucatán from Campeche and Rio Bec area to the west, and the cities along the east-coast and to the south, in the el Petén region of Guatemala and neighbouring Belize.

Above: Temple of the King (a palace complex)

Above: Root and stone intertwine in the wall of the acropolis

The road approaches the site from the north and leads into an enormous central plaza ringed by pyramids and temple platforms. To the north there is a massive, raised acropolis, or citadel, with a palace complex (Temple of the King) around a courtyard to the north-west. Further east there is the Temple of the Masks, built in honour of the Sun God.

Above: Temple of the Masks. The thatched roofs are to protect the pigment on the masks themselves.

Kohunlich is best known for its Temple of the Masks, an Early Classic pyramid whose central stairway is flanked by large stucco masks. The temple was built around 500 A.D.. After about 700 A.D., the temple was covered over with a Terminal Classic construction, which protected the masks and accounts for their excellent preservation today.

Above: Masks representing the Sun God Kinich Ahau

Above: A close up of one of the masks showing the red pigment

Originally there were eight carved masks flanking its central staircase; only five remain, three having been looted. The giant masks represent the Sun God Kinich Ahau however they differ in appearance so it is thought that they also represent the various rulers of Kohunlich.

Above: The view from atop the Temple of the Masks

The picture below shows a ball court – the location of a game where two teams aim to hit a target on a wall with a rubber ball using pads on their bodies. After the match, the captain of the winning team would be sacrificed as part of a religious ceremony!

Above: The Ball Court

I had a great time at the Kohunlich Mayan site despite having to get up very early and travel in a coach for 2 hours. We even saw some howler monkeys high up in the trees.

Above: A different view of the Temple of the King

I’ll leave you with another HDR (high dynamic range) photo which I created from three photos of different exposures of the Temple of the King. I hope you enjoyed reading this post. I still have three more ports to tell you about plus lots more coming soon.

Above: Temple of the King HDR

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Cozumel - Mexico

Cozumel is one of Mexico’s largest islands at 29 miles long, and is located 22 miles off the Yucatan Peninsula. A modern beach playground, it is also one of Mexico’s most popular destinations among chilly northern residents seeking a brief escape from winter weather. Most of the hotels, shops, and restaurants are centred around San Miguel on the western shore, which is also where cruise ships dock at one of two terminals separated by about two miles.

Above: The coastal road that runs through San Miguel

The Mayans first settled the island in 300AD and it quickly became an important Mayan trading and ceremonial centre. Cozumel’s first visitor was the Spanish explorer Iuan de Grijalva who arrived in 1518 on a slave hunting expedition. A year later the conqueror Hernan Cortes arrived and attempted to convert the island to Christianity by destroying one of the 32 Mayan temples. Following the visit of Cortes, the island was mostly deserted and became a refuge for notorious pirates such as Jean Lafitte and Henry Morgan. In 1848 Indians fleeing the War of the Castes found their way to Cozumel and by the 20th century the island population grew, thanks in part to the emerging industry of chewing gum.

Above: The shore is dotted with many boats. You can just see the Ryndam behind the Norwegian Spirit.

During our cruises we come across many other ships of various different sizes but the biggest cruise ships tend to be the Royal Caribbean ones. I took this shot a few weeks ago and although the angle slightly favours the Allure of the Seas, the Ryndam really did look like a luxury yacht compared to this monster!

Above: Size matters not

The San Miguel beachfront is lined with shops, restaurants and boat jetties and it is a popular port with crew members particularly as we stay docked there until 7.30pm (we leave most other ports by about 5pm). This has given me the chance to take some night shots, one of which you saw in my last post (Ryndam at night). I also took a few pictures of the Cozumel coastline from the ship.

Above: Cozumel at night

Here are some more pictures I took on my travels around San Miguel:

Above: A ‘town square’. Concerts take place here in the evenings.

Above: Horse-drawn carriages are popular with tourists

Above: Behind the glossy shop-fronts many of Cozumel’s residents are quite poor

Above: Sepia sidestreet

I’ll leave you with this final shot of a pelican which was flying around the beach. I hope you enjoyed this brief tour of Cozumel. Speak soon!

Above: Pelican