Saturday, April 14, 2012

Try the Trip to the Ancient Mayan City of Coba

Coba was known, but not explored in any depth, until the 1920's.  It still was not easily accessible until more modern roads were constructed in the 1970's.  Its early history dates back to some time just before or just after the turn of the Christian era. Growth continued for several hundred years and ,at its peak, between 600 and 1000 ACE, the population may have reached 50,000 or more.  Like many other Mayan cities Coba had been abandoned and was receding into the jungle by the time the Spanish arrived in the 1550's.

Settlement throughout the ages was encouraged by the availability of fresh water in five nearby lacoons.
Coba Lake
 The word Coba translated from the Mayan means "water stirred by the wind."   Our guide said that the lagoons were quarries for the rock used to build the city, but other sources I've seen don't mention that. In any case, given the hydrology of the area, an ample water supply would be essential for a city as large as Coba.  Its location also puts it at a communications crossroad for trade moving inland from the sea and north and south.  A notable feature of the city and the surrounding area was a series of causeways or raised roads (Sacbe') that moved outward in all directions.  One of these roads can be tracked over 100 kilometers all the way to the city of Yaxavuna.  

Our Thomas More tour group was comprised of eight people--a mother and her son from Brazil, four people from Kansas, and my wife and I.  Our guide was Oscar Osorio.

Like our Sian Ka'an guide Rob Volker, a German expatriate,  Oscar also had an interesting background. His father was an American Marine, who was killed in Viet Nam, and his mother was Hispanic. They moved back to Mexico where he ultimately married and now has grown children.  He has been guiding tourists for twenty years and having grown up in the US, his colloquial American English is impeccable.

Our first stop inside the grounds was the bicycle rental kiosk.  Coba was a good sized city and is only around 5% excavated.  It can be quite a hike, especially under the Yucatan sun,  between the various ruins. The solution is to rent a bike or,  as we did for ten dollars,  rent a so-called Mayan Limousine. 

As pictured it is a two seat conveyance pedaled by a young man and it is the perfect solution for the older traveler. It moves smoothly on the well packed paths and slowly enough so you can take pictures quite easily without getting off.  Here's our driver/pedaler.

Once in our limos we set off down the path following Oscar in the striped red shirt, who had rented a single bicycle.

We stopped to peek at a number of ruins. 

Oscar noted that the main population would have been low level farmers, artisans, and slaves who lived around  the major compounds and palaces and essentially supported the life styles of the royal families who lived inside
Note the way some of the trees are literally growing out of the stone stairs as you think about the challenge of clearing and excavating these structures.
There was a nicely restored section of a ball court, not as large as the one we saw at Chichen Itza, but still nice.

The scoring ring is even set in place.

Near the ball court was this spooky sculpture that was a reminder perhaps of the fate of the victor captain in the game.

There are numerous carved limestone stelae scattered about the grounds. Some are protected by little sheds, but many just sit in the open.  Because the stone was so soft they are badly deteriorated.

The artist's reproduction below is supposed to represent what is on the carving above.

There was also a jazzy modern rendition near the entrance ticket window.

We also hiked around the so called Round or Oval Temple.

The visible courses show different time periods of construction often over long periods of time.
Of course pictures had to be taken and Oscar volunteered to take over the camera.

The showpiece of Coba remains the Nohoch Mul Pyramid or Coba Castillo.  At 140 feet, It is higher than the Castillo at Chichen Itza and it remains one of the few towers that tourists are still permitted to climb. You approach down a wide path.

The path opens out into a large plaze.

A huge rope is affixed down the center of the main stairs and the adventuresome can climb to their heart's content. 

Some celebrate midway, others

take their bow from the very top.

And of course all climbers can look down on the groundlings.

Our trusty limos carried us back to the entry point where

souvenirs were on display as usual.

  Then we hopped in our van and headed to a lovely 2nd floor open air cantina where we enjoyed a view of the lake and a tasty lunch anchored by a local specialty--Mayan Key Lime Soup. 

 Bon appetite!

And see you after lunch as we arrive at Tulum.

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