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Mayan Magic in Calakmul

We are starting to add articles written up by different people and magazines on this area for you to get a better feel of how important this area is and why it is important to visit these different zones.

Extracted and translated from an article appearing in Columbus magazine in Holland

At 2 am, deep in the jungle of Calakmul, we climb the tallest pyramid of the ancient Maya civilisation. Around us, the calls of a group spider monkeys mingle with the jungle symphony of crickets. Tonight, the full moon is at its brightest – there is no need for flashlights.

As we climb the stone stairs, the magic starts to take hold of us. Fifty kilometres and eleven centuries removed from civilisation, fifty-five metres up in the air. At the summit, it’s not exhaustion that takes our breath away; it’s the view over the moonlit, silver canopy, an ocean of foliage that meets the milky way at the horizon.

Among the tree tops appears the silhouette of a vast ghost city, covered under a green cloak of thousand years of oblivion.

Ecstasy knows no time. I’m not quite sure how long I’ve stood there, mouth open wide, taking in the spectacle of nature and history, when Luis calls us to join us at a stone slate at the base of the piramyd.

Earlier in the day, we weren’t able to distinguish much on the heavily eroded surface. But as Luis shines his torch at an angle across the relief, the game of light and shade exposes the outline of a fierce Mayan ruler which seems to jump at Luis, as if he recognises him as one of his subjects.

Luis is a Maya, his features are carved the stone reliefs around us. He is as proud of Calakmul as an Italian is of Rome. And for good reason. Calakmul was, along with Tikal (100 kilometres to the south in present day Guatemala) one of the largest Mayan cities in what is known by historians as the Classic Period. Estimates of the population at its heyday range from 200,000 to a million – in either case, it was one of the largest cities on earth at the time.

Luis is a very well spoken and informative guide who speaks English as if he has spoken it for the better part of his life, but in fact, he tells us, he has only been studying it for a few years. He is young, bright, funny and laid-back. We have met him at the jungle-chic resort Puerta Calakmul, a beautiful congregation of wooden villas at the park entrance. The Canadian manager, Gary Ness, speaks with a contagious love for this little visited part of the Yucatán peninsula, and introduces us to little known temples and piramyds of other nearby Maya sites. Take Balamkú, a site at a mere five minute ride from the resort, whose bas-reliefs are so well preserved that you can still see traces of paint on them. Very unique, but so far off the beaten track that it’s virtually unknown to mass tourism. When we visited, we were alone. Just like we would be in the ghostly city of Calakmul later on that night.

Jurriaan Teulings
Freelance Travel Writer and Photographer