By Lupita Peimbert
(Travel) – Located 120 kilometers South of Cancun in the state of Quintana Roo, Tulum -the archaeological site, is one of the three most visited places in Mexico. The moment one sees the Caribbean sea, a 12-meter cliff and the ruins of a Mayan Castle on top of it, one understands why. The minute I saw Iguanas showing up from the ruins and by the stone wall quietly, pretending they weren’t looking at us, I understood something.
Immensely beautiful and rather small, Tulum was one of the latest Mayan cities by the time the Spaniards arrived in the 1518. Tulum means “walled-city,” depicting a small wall made of stones, 3 to 5-meter high, built to protect the area where Mayan governors and priests lived, and sacred ceremonies took place. Before Tulum it was called Zama, the city of dawn. The Mayan Empire was powerful for centuries, and it is said that they disappeared by 1000 AD.
The ruins of Tulum I visited in early September 2016, were once upon a time an area for a Mayan higher class and a trade hub for obsidian, limestone, and quetzal feathers. Tulum was one of the latest cities abandoned by the Mayans after the arrival of the Spaniards.
El Castillo (the castle) stands out not only because it was a temple, but because it can be seen from and by the sea, making a statement.
The Mayans are considered one of the greatest civilizations, excelling at agriculture, pottery, mathematics, astronomy and tracking days and nights accurately to create their calendar. They published books on paper, and understood the meaning of “Zero – 0,” before the Europeans did –just to add a few more things.
When the Maya Empire declined in 900 AD and apparently they left the area by 1000 AD –their magnificent buildings covered by the jungle, only a few Mayans were seen in small, rather simple villages. Experts have not been able to point out exactly the main cause of their decline and disappearance.
Why the Iguanas abound in Tulum I do not know, but they abound, inhabit, protect Tulum and look at us visitors in interesting ways. I observed. From the ruins and within the structures one and another Iguana stealthily show up, crawling into the outside, perceiving you and their surroundings while looking to the other side, their eyes unpretentiously intense, their whatever senses activated fully.
I had this thought all the time while in Tulum: “The Mayans are here, inside of the Iguanas. These are not regular Iguanas, each one has a Mayan inside their body.”
I am not the only one who thinks this way. Alejandro Ramirez Anderson, a Guatemalan film director and photographer who lives in Cuba, had similar thoughts when he visited in 2012.
“Nowadays, when one visits Tulum, the ancient city is inhabited by Iguanas, as if the founders of this city had metamophorsed to continue protecting it, clandestinely.” He wrote on his blog, in Spanish.
The Iguanas are not too small and not too big, but they impose on you pretending they aren’t, staying within the limits of each Mayan structure, as we visitors stay within the limits allowed for viewing the ruins.
The iguanas don’t come closer or follow or try to bite us; they don’t make any sound but they are alert, ready to do something. As I was walking alone, exiting Tulum, I came across a small stone-wall and there they were, first one, then another, and maybe other Iguanas my eyes didn’t see.
The Iguanas in Tulum are not your regular Iguanas. They are bearers of the Mayan spirit, messengers of something waiting to be communicated in languages and forms we’d understand.
Sources: History.com (2009), Mexican Department of Tourism, and yes Wikipedia (you guys are the best starting point); Tulumruins.net, and Tania the tour-guide of Mayan descent who shared her knowledge while walking throughout Tulum.
When visiting Tulum, it is best to be with a tour guide, as their explanations help you understand the Mayan Empire. As amazing as Tulum and the Riviera Mayan are, they are super commercialized. Although it is important for tourists and travelers to contribute to the local economy, one must be be careful not to be overcharged by taxi drivers, tour services, or at stores. If you are staying in Cancun or Playa del Carmen and want to visit Tulum on a budget, take the “colectivos,” the small white vans or buses that charge about $40 to $60 pesos to take you to Tulum versus the $500 pesos or more a taxi may charge and other larger amounts tour companies can charge for taking you to Tulum and other amazing places. Do your research. Compare prices. Negociate. Your money is yours, and you as consumer are not to be taken advantage of. Just my two cents. Take it or leave it.
Content. photos and videos by Lupita Peimbert. Ok to share.
Lupita Peimbert is a former television news reporter turned into digital writer and bilingual PR and communications professional who understands the difference of being a journalist, a writer, and a storyteller –or none of that.