Walking into the area of the ruins, you enter the main plaza. It is literally so big that it wouldn´t fit into a single picture, from any vantage point. While the ruins are of course amazing, the rather shocking thing was the size of some of the trees that were there! Take a look at this:
That´s a man there on the ground, not an insect. A picture just can´t do it justice. The temple is about thirty feet high.
Since we were there so early, there wasn´t hardly anyone else around. Actually, there was a film crew that was let into the ruins early, and they were still filming while we were inside. Apparently it was a Discovery Channel documentary, but we aren´t sure...that´s just what we heard. The entire main plaza sits lower than the land around it and has just a single drain. It seems that on occasion, the Mayans would plug the drain and let the entire basin fill with water. For what purpose, they´re not sure, but it was interesting to also imagine it as a reflecting pool or pond as we were walking around...
Here is a detail of one of the stelae in the plaza:
And this is a detail on the stelae at the base of the Hieroglyphic Stairway:
From the main plaza, we hiked up this stairway to the upper level, the acropolis they called it. While waiting for the filming crew to finish, we walked around the back of the ruins, down to the river. Along the way, right near the river, were the former residences for the rulers. You could still make out individual rooms, see the steps to the central courtyard...and with the sound of the river not too far behind us. Walking all the way around, we came to the area where they´ve excavated around the temples and even got to briefly talk with some of the workers there.
Up above, we came to the Plaza de los Jaguares. Wow! Watch out for the jaguars! If you click on the picture on the left (below), you´ll see where they´ve dug a tunnel, the Tunel de los Jaguares! Entering it was like going down into a cellar, with a big metal door and concrete stairs that led below. After making sure the man wasn´t going to close the door on us, we went inside.
Look at the jaguar Susan spotted in the middle picture! Wow! They dug underneath one of the temples until they hit the wall of the structure that was underneath. When they hit a wall, they then excavated all the way around and discovered an entire temple. It was covered in stucco and also painted. Rulers would generally knock down structures from their predecessors and build new ones on top, using the same stones, it seems. This temple was so revered that they didn´t knock it down, they just built over it. We got to see it, although it´s only visible behind glass, to keep people from touching it and so it won´t deteriorate any further.
Here is a reconstruction that they made inside of the museum that´s also on site:
They also had quite an extensive collection of pieces that they´d recovered in other digs and they were all very impressively displayed. What a treat it was! The museum was just fantastic, and we were also impressed to see that the Japanese goverment had donated the $2 million to build it. The archaeologist we saw was also Japanese.
The whole day was just amazing. We´re so glad we got to see this, but it made us realize how much we needed to learn about the Mayans. We´ve been traveling through their former domain this past week, from literally one end to the other, and it´s incredibly beautiful. The interesting thing is to see the people that still live here, and how much they look like the carvings!