So what exactly are the 7 Wonders of the World? Once upon a time they were a number of ancient pre-Roman Empire sites that were spread around the region known as the fertile crescent and Mediterranean (modern day Turkey, Israel, Lebanon, Iraq, Greece, The Balkans, Syria).
As the paradigm finally shifted (I spent a lot of time in the 90s in college talking about this happening but it really didn’t until recently) and we wake up to the world being more than European/Alexander the Great inspired civilizations both current and past, the idea of the 7 Wonders of the World expanded. A few years ago an internet popularity poll was undertaken to name The New 7 Wonders – also focusing on structures that were actually still standing, versus ones long gone and only mentioned in ancient texts. Of which, when this happened, Chichen Itza was named one of those Wonders and became a world heritage site. It also locked the doors to seeing the inside of its temples as a normal tourist forever. Sad. But good on Mexico for preserving these sites – and for filling their tour guides in tour guide training school with a very full cup of propaganda about the Mayan people and the structures they left behind.
From the time I was little girl who could read and learned how to use an Encyclopedia – I would research and cross reference the 7 Wonders of the World in every new or old set of Encyclopedia’s I could find. As this was before the internet, I had to read things on paper. I was obsessed with the ancient world and Pyramids – and I never stopped being obsessed really. The first time I left the United States it was to go to Rome for a trip with the Macalester College Classics department where I stood in fields of ancient ruins at Ostia Antica and knew that I was supposed to do something bigger than staying on the soil of one continent. I also just enjoyed the vibration of old and ancient things. As I dug in the dirt of a former mine field in Israel two years later, as an archaeology student, I knew this exploration of the past was definitely something for me, I loved having my hands in the soil and pulling out history in a disciplined manner. I also realized at that time that I enjoyed the energy that came from the stones, the oil lamps and the pottery. My travels in Israel woke me up to several aspects regarding spirituality, religion and warfare. But that is another story.
I share all this because as I stood touching the vibrating stones of the temples and structures at Coba this joy in the exploration of the ancient all came flooding back. But it also came way stronger as I really felt the Coba stones vibrating – it was literally electric. Like being zapped by some generator stone bigger than I could ever imagine.
We wandered the entire expanse of the Coba site, which is one of the few sites where you can still touch the pyramids and structures built by the Maya. We opted out of paying for a guide and just self-guided and explored the tactile and visual wonders of the place. I promised myself I would do deep internet research later so this blog could be filled with facts and stats about Coba vs Chichen Itza vs Tulum. Full disclosure, I never did this research, I got really into reading my non-fiction beach book The Lost City of the Monkey God which was about scientists, archaeologists, writers and film makers work to discover a lost city (Cuidad Blanco) in the middle of the Honduran Rainforest. And turns out it wasn’t a Mayan city. Anyway highly recommend the book for those into jungle adventures and the science of finding lost cities and the risks that go along with it.
I’m very curious how Coba was “re-discovered” and it is an example of a very old site. (AD 600-900) per Wikipedia. In its heyday it had around 50,000 inhabitants and was eventually abandoned likely as the native populations were being eradicated by small pox. Many sources say “when the Spanish conquered the peninsula in 1550” but we all know the Spanish were helped by microbes to lay waste to the civilization that preceded their colonization of South America. Archaeological data suggests that the site was maintained and added to by indigenous peoples all the way into the 14th century and the arrival of the Spanish.
Chichen Itza on the other hand is now a very curated location complete with tour buses, assigned tour guides and ropes that will keep you at least 10 feet away from touching any part of this world heritage site. Our “tour guide” was a lovely person, but he was cloying in his herding of us to particular locations and the babbling brook of propaganda that came out of his mouth from Mexico’s Tourist Guide School about the Maya was yawn-worthy. He had pictures from inside the pyramids when he was “little” and able to go inside them. But I honestly wondered if those came with the script he was supposed to tell us white ladies gawking at the structures and asking questions like me “How much $ will it cost to be able to tour the inside? and who do I pay?” He actually acted semi-offended that I believed that it was possible to buy your way into a sacred heritage site. You can do it in Egypt, why not Mexico? Money talks. He recommended I make friends with some archaeologists – which I will look into before I return to this particular site.
I get it. We are tourists and if everyone was left of their own accord to walk and climb all over things it would not be good for the integrity of the site. But it felt like the connection to the stone was cut off somehow here. It was theoretically an “off season day” monsoon rains falling, Covid temperature taking stations before entry, yet it was like I was at Universal Studios again – a certain mood hung over it that separated me from the energy I felt at Coba.
Yet there were wonderfully fascinating and well preserved structures with great detail that didn’t exist at Coba. Like these skulls, and the gaming fields, and the ability to see certain alignments across the site.
Finally – but not finally, as we went to Tulum on the same day as Coba – there was the hippy beach version of Mayan ruins. We didn’t actually get to see the ruins because they close at 3pm and we spent a lot of time at Coba, and our blood sugars were dropping for failure to properly pack snacks. So we found a creative parking spot in the beach area after being yelled at by multiple parties in Spanish. We understood that the ruins were closed, but we couldn’t communicate back to people that we were going to just walk the beach and take pictures from far away and get a snack at a cabana. So we just shrugged and wandered down the road to the beach slogging through giant mud puddles.
Meanwhile, on the beach, we watched tourists being herded onto boats that were bouncing in the pre-summer storm surf. I felt seasick just watching them, their orange life jackets bouncing like fishing bobbers in the waves on white boats. We walked the white sand beach that was covered in seaweed. It was very clear that our resort worked very hard to make the seaweed disappear, because here in the chill low cost bohemian zone everything was “all natural” and the green brown gobs of fermenting sea plant life spilled all over the sand as families, hippies, and people of various different backgrounds relaxed on the sea shore of the Gulf of Mexico.
It was definitely not a day to swim. And within 30 minutes of our arrival and our sitting down at a nice little beach restaurant with hammocks and tables, the wind picked up and the rain came in like a herd of elephants. The tourists viewing the ruins from the boats were still out in the water. After the squall subsided, and the rain stopped, we all dispersed from the tiny shelter of the covered bar, a boat of them landed on the beach in front of us. Multiple persons jumped off and vomited, and other people kissed the ground. It was definitely not the day to see the ruins from the water.