The other morning I woke up next to Kinich Ahau, the Maya Sun God, and it was hot (and a bit buggy).
It was 5:15 in the morning. I was comfortably sitting cross-legged on the summit of a Maya temple, as the rays peered through the early morning mist. With the exception of the waking howler monkeys in the distance, the air around me was still and peaceful. And as I sat there, surrounded by the Belizean jungle and the pastel-colored sky, I became overwhelmed by a feeling that felt so foreign in my crazy life…absolute serenity.
Let me take a step back….
Three days earlier, I was in the office eating pineapple from Esperanza’s, when my colleague informed me we had videographers coming. They needed a tour guide for the mainland, and I was the “chosen one.” As I browsed through their itinerary, I noticed Altun-Ha, the Mayan ruin site in the Belize City District. Let’s just say I wasn’t jumping out of my seat with enthusiasm. Let’s be honest, Mayan ruins more or less look the same, and I had my fair share of visits in the region. However, after a few years of enjoying Belikins, I was looking forward to seeing the Temple of the Masonry Altars – the legendary Mayan pyramid depicted on the beer label. I accepted the game plan and was off to Belize City to meet the videographers.
The three of us met outside the airport and decided to retreat to our hotel for an early night in. We had big plans for the following morning and were eager to get started….
4:15 A.M. The alarm went off. I quickly washed up, threw on my clothes, and headed towards the van to meet the videographers and the driver. We assembled the equipment and began down the rocky, potholed dirt road…
Thirty or so minutes later, we were greeted at the ruins’ entrance by a sleepy groundskeeper who nodded us through. We unloaded the van, and with our packs (and cans of bug spray) we began down a jungle-lined path, guided only by the setting moon and stars overhead. After a few minutes of walking, the path opened up to an expansive green area with ancient rubble and ruins lining the perimeter. We tiptoed through the dewy morning grass to the middle of the arena and did a standing 360 to take in this extraordinary piece of history. Seeing a world wonder such as this is so much more significant when you are one of the only people there.
Dusk was upon us, and in the backdrop the moon was retreating as the sun was starting to rise. The videographers disappeared to set up their equipment by the Temple of the Green Tomb, and I stood at the bottom of one of the 54-foot structures, craning my neck to look up. If there was a staircase to heaven, this was it. The steep, crumbling stone staircase continued into fog, and I took a step onto it. There was no rope, no “enter at your own risk” sign, and certainly no security guard telling me to keep off. I continued up until I reached the plateau, positioned myself towards the east, and sat down.
I took a deep breath in, rested my head on my bent knees, and just listened. In the distance, wildlife meandered through the canopy of the jungle. The videographers’ drone buzzed overhead ever so slightly. The sun was slowly starting to peer through the clouds, and gentle colors filled the sky. It was so peaceful. It was so far removed from chaotic life.
A few moments later, our driver appeared and sat next to me. We sat in silence until I asked about the structure we were perched upon. He informed me that the Temple of Masonry Altars, where we were sitting, was where the ruler of the commune would sit and oversee his people. Furthermore, it was the focal point of the society where thousands of Maya people would congregate for religious ceremonies, including human sacrifice. It wasn’t seen as a punishment, but rather a noble act of proving one’s loyalty to his gods. Mothers, children, husbands alike were chosen to demonstrate their allegiance. Also in this pyramid was where a jade head of the Maya Sun God, Kinich Ahau, was found.
Wow. It was truly incredible to fathom. Imagine a vast, 30-acre civilization, once home to thousands of inhabitants, that today has become a deserted, overgrown jungle attraction. This is where many people have perished, yet their contributions to modern day society are still present as ever.
An hour later, our job was done and we congregated in the center arena. Doing a final spin to take in the lost society, we were on our way.