Yucatan, Mexico: Land of pyramids and fiery macaws

On the road

The sky was bright and restless, a royal blue canopy unfurled between the horizons like a vast imperial banner. Dedicated to the deified sun at its midday zenith – an aspect of solar energy embodied by a giant fiery macaw called Kinich Kakmó – the crumbling Mayan pyramid beneath my feet was overgrown with parched grass and flowers, wiry shrubs and shady trees.

Below, the soporific city of Izamal was sprawled with its grid of cobblestone streets and alleyways, grandiose colonial churches, plazas, and townhouses, all painted a blazing sunflower yellow. Clambering to the summit where once sacrificial offerings were laid, I paused to reflect on the phenomena of syncretism, the mysteries of the pre-Columbian universe, the Mayan concept of time, and the destruction of worlds.

Dividing the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico, the Yucatán peninsula has been the stage for numerous apocalyptic dramas, beginning 66 million years ago when it was struck by the giant meteor that is believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs. Beyond the cataclysm of ash and fire, mammals survived and flourished, and at the end of the last Ice Age, humans arrived in the Americas.

Today, the Yucatán's sprawl of jungle-shrouded palaces and abandoned acropolises recall a succession of luminous civilisations, commencing in 2000 BC when the first Mayans laid the foundations of pyramids. But from the 16th century, Yucatán was a point of first contact for early European explorers, and thereafter, the birthplace of Mexico's first Mestizo child.

The conquest brought persecution, not least from the Catholic church. In Izamal, visible from the pyramid of Kinich Kakmó, the Franciscan monastery complex boasts the second largest atrium in the world after the Vatican, and was once the residence of the notorious Diego de Landa who, in a single day of fervour, obliterated thousands of Mayan artefacts. "Works of the Devil," he raged. "I burned them all …."

But the conquest was neither complete nor entirely successful. Today, on the streets of Izamal, Yucatec Maya is as widely spoken as Spanish, and throughout the peninsula's network of stoic villages, the belief persists that Mayan civilisation will one day flower again.

Just as the pyramid of Kinich Kakmó was too gargantuan to dismantle, the fiery macaw it exalts is simply too vivid and enduring to die.

Footprint Cancún & Yucatán Peninsula Focus Guide is out now (£7.99). See footprinttravelguides.com

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Content Assistant / Copywriter

    £15310 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has arisen for a...

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

    £24000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Situated in the heart of Bradfo...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reception Manager

    £18750 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Hotel in Chadderton is a popular ch...

    Guru Careers: Marketing and Communications Manager

    £Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing and Co...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence