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Ancient Mayan Ruins – the City of Tulum

When people think of the Mayans they likely think of two things: ruins and apocalypse.  If you came across this post hoping for apocalypse news, I’m afraid you will be disappointed.  Apocalypse will just have to wait one more year.  In the mean time, I did decide to get off my ass and leave the luxury (and drinks) of my all-inclusive resort to check out some ruins – more specifically, the Mayan city of Tulum.

The Walled City

When you see Tulum, it is not hard to understand why someone would want to live there, with its absolutely stunning views of the ocean.  Of course, the Mayans weren’t necessarily in the market for a summer home.  More likely, they chose Tulum for the water access, as the city was an important trade port.  Still, I’m pretty sure they didn’t mind the view…

Not a bad view

Even with a storm approaching, the view is fantastic!!!

Storm approaching, but I'm still enjoying my view

Beyond the incredible beauty, Tulum is a very smart place to set up camp.  Perched atop a cliff and surrounded on one side by water, Tulum has an awesome natural defense.  If that weren’t enough, there is also a reef in the water, allowing ships to enter the bay through one narrow passage only.  Watchtowers dot the border for defense and to spot incoming ships bringing in or picking up goods.  These buildings also served as lighthouses to help the sailors navigate the water and beaches.  According to our guide, they also had conch shells set up that acted as bad weather and hurricane “alarms”.  The wind needed to be of a certain strength to force the conch to sound the alarm.  Pretty cool.

Watchtower along the shore

On the landward sides, the city is encircled by a high wall, which gave it the name Tulum, meaning wall or fence.  Originally, the city was called Zama, or sunrise.  It seems the name was changed by explorers that “discovered” the city; but, both names seem fitting to me.  Anyways, the wall not only served as a defense, but also separated the rulers and priests from the common people.  Commoners…ugh.

Ryan breaching the perimeter

Inside the wall, was a very advanced society, especially when you keep in mind that the city was built around 465 AD and peaked in the 13th-15th centuries.  The Mayans had their own system of writing, very clearly were advanced in math and architecture, and invented the zero.  In addition, their astronomers were obviously ballers.  The things they were able to figure out were amazing.  For example, the building below was meticulously planned and constructed so that the sun would shine through the window during the spring equinox.  People still gather at Tulum to see this.

Equinox through the building on the left

Here’s a closer look:

Even the buildings that aren’t perfectly aligned with an equniox are still fascinating.  This building below is the Temple of the Frescoes that was used as an observatory.  On the corners, the faces of Gods are carved.

Temple of the Frescoes

You can sort of make out the face carved in the nearest corner, but here they are a little closer up:

Face of the God

Overall, it’s pretty damn impressive that they were able to build these structures without the help of machinery or modern technology.  It is obvious when you look at them that it took a lot of effort to erect these.  Plus, they are still standing after all this time!!! (I doubt that a lot of our modern buildings could pass this test of time)

© Heather Freitag 2011

Reverence to the Gods

The Mayans, like the Greeks and Romans, worshiped Gods.  Worship was not only part of their spiritual life, but also had a big effect on many other aspects.  For example – construction.  Stairs going up the temple were purposely constructed to be very shallow, forcing the people to walk up and down the stairs sideways.  In doing so, you could never turn your back on the Gods, nor could you look at them directly (suggesting that you are equal).

Similarly, the doorways to the building below, The Temple of the Descending God, were made to be very low so that you had to bow to enter.

Low entryway to show reverence

Though human sacrifices were performed in other Mayan cities, Tulum celebrated the God of Life, and so people were spared.  Instead, they sacrificed animals such as jaguars, animals that were easily captured…  While human sacrifices may seem barbaric, Tulum shows that the Mayans also celebrated life and appreciated it.  In reality, it’s not all that different than the modern day willingness to sacrifice lives for the cause of war.  It doesn’t show a disrespect or devaluing of life, but an understanding of a greater purpose and belief that the life is being given for a cause.  People in Mayan civilizations actually battled it out through games to compete for the opportunity and honor of being sacrificed.  I would lose on purpose.

So, how can you beat Tulum?  Awesome ruins, great beach views, no human sacrifices and lots of history – I highly recommend it!  One tip – it can get pretty hot.  I would go early and bring water.  Also bring your suit because the beach is open for swimming!

 
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Posted by on August 8, 2011 in History, Photography, Travel

 

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Picasso & Cafe Con Leche

“Painting is just another way of keeping a diary”

            ~Pablo Picasso

Picasso had paintings, I have this blog!  I’m sure my blog is just as relevant and game-changing 😉  Anyways, last weekend I had the opportunity to see the Picasso exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond.

VMFA

The collection is a rare traveling exhibit from the Musee National Picasso in Paris and is comprised of many pieces that Picasso kept until his death, at which time his family donated them to the museum created in his name.  It is unique in its size and in that it spans throughout his life and various styles and mediums.  I’m not a huge Picasso fan, but I felt like I couldn’t pass this opportunity up!  If you have a chance to see this exhibit before it leaves (last day is May 15th), I would recommend it; but, word of warning – the wait line was a little ridiculous, especially considering you get timed tickets.

Still, the collection was really interesting and had two of my favorite Picasso pieces – Two Women Running on the Beach – and a painting of Marie-Therese, one of his mistresses who hung herself after his death.

A portrait of Marie-Therese entitled Reading

Ryan also found something that he really dug – a bull head formed out of an old bike seat and handlebars.  After making our way through the exhibit, we popped in to see some of the Greek and Roman art, a Faberge collection, some Japanese woodblock prints and Ice Man, a sculpture of the ancient natural mummy found in the Alps (Ryan called this out from across the museum – impressive!).

While in Richmond, we also took the time to explore some of the vintage shops along Cary Street.  I do wish we would have had more time, because I know I would have spent hours exploring!  Ryan looked quite fetching in this top hat:

Hitched My Bonecrusher up so I Can Look for Some New Tweed

Hahahaha.  Why nobody rocks a top hat anymore is beyond me.  Ryan’s gonna bring it back.

We also had the awesome experience of Kuba Kuba while in Richmond.

This place is the best – tiny, intimate restaurant, good-natured singing waiter and absolutely yummy food.  Ryan and I shared the black bean soup to start and then it was time to get serious.

Ryan had the Cubano

My GIANT Bowl of Paella - Clams, Mussels, Shrimp & Chorizo

You can only kind of see in the photos, but plantains come with both dishes.  Mmmmmm – the best plantains I have ever had.  The one small downside to Kuba Kuba was no mojitos – they don’t have liqour; however, Ryan did have a refreshingly tart limeade.

Shelves of Cuban Espresso for Sale

Despite the fact that the buttons on my dress were literally popping open if I breathed out too deeply, we got two iced cafe con leches to go.  BEST DECISION EVER.  Cafe con leche starts off with a strong coffee, sometimes even espresso, and then adds condensed milk and sugar into a delicious little cup of coffee.  I have had cafe con leche once before and really liked it, but iced brought it to a whole new level.  Unreal.

As we walked through town sipping our delicious beverages, we were window shopping the houses, which are beautiful and old – in a good way.  Some of them even had the old coal chute doors.

Old coal chute

We also came across this awesome vintage, two-seater moped.  I would love to scoot around on this thing!

Vintage Moped with Double Seats

Overall, Ryan and I both really liked Richmond. The shops are very cool and interesting, the museum was great and the city is very walkable.  Definitely a city worth visiting, even if just for Kuba Kuba.

 
 

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Photoblog: Blue Mass – Honoring Law Enforcement & Fire Service

On Tuesday, Ryan participated in the 16th annual blue mass at St. Patrick’s in downtown DC.  The mass is in honor of law enforcement and firefighters and recognizes the fallen, the retired and the current people who serve.  Before the mass is a processional in which the DCFD Pipes and Drums Band plays.

St. Patrick's

Law Enforcement Line-up

Truck 6 Holding up Old Glory

American Flag Hoisted High

Flying Over Downtown DC

Ryan Before the Processional

DCFD Emerald Society Pipes & Drums

Circling up to play for the rest of the processional

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2011 in Photography

 

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