Through a character's eyes

by Frances Moritz

Winter Break

I had a great vacation! I decided to do a quick tour of the Yucatan after Christmas so I could meet up with Dad near Tikal. I started in Mexico, flew into Cancún. The city is way too touristy, but it's only an hour away from Tulum, which is a rather nice Mayan ruin on a beautiful beach. In other words, if you forget your bathing suit, it's well worth stripping for. (Sorry, guys, I was too busy to take photos.)

After a couple days in Cancún, I moved further inland to Mérida, which I used as my base to visit Uxmal, Chichén-Itzá and some smaller ruins. The city itself is wonderful – it's a standard colonial layout, with the Cathedral at the center and tons of old convents and churches to explore. I managed to catch a ballet one of the nights I stayed in town.

Then I went on to Guatemala. Dad was leading a group in El Petén for some rugged camping, so I hooked up with them there for a couple nights and went on to a cozy night at one of the hotels at Tikal. ("Cozy" only in that it was more comfortable than the ground and provides a roof over my head. The hotels run on generators, so they turn off the electricity during the night, and the hotel restaurants are awful. But there are other restaurants on the grounds run by some locals, and a couple people selling fresh coconuts.) That was wonderful, as always.

I decided to end my trip in Copán, another Mayan site in Honduras. If I had scheduled some extra time, I would have gone riding, but I only had half a day to visit the ruins and town before flying out. Copán has a ball court, similar to Tikal's and Chichén-Itzá's, but they each have different rules.

At Chichén-Itzá, the court is huge and you have whole teams playing against each other. There are these tiny little hoops (anybody see Road to El Dorado? Like that) that you're supposed to get the ball through, but you're not allowed to hit it with most of your body. It was so rare for someone to get a ball through that they got to take all the jewelry from the audience when they did. Mostly, points were scored from penalties on the other team, when someone touched the ball with the wrong body parts (arms, legs, etc.). And the losing team was sacrificed. At Copán, it was also considered a privilege to play, but it was a smaller court and they sacrificed the winning team.

At Tikal, it's a much smaller court, only meant for two players. They pretty much just pitted prisoners against each other in it, with the promise of freedom for the winner (and death for the loser). Of course, when freedom means you get to stumble through the jungle to try and find your way home, it's not that great a promise.

Take a look at the photos I put up! Anybody want to go down with me over spring break? I'm thinking of at least visiting Tikal, maybe doing a boat trip up the Rio Dulce, and maybe down to Cobán (in Guatemala) and visit Copán for a bit longer.

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