Ancient Cities: Uxmal

In folklore El Adivino (the Magician’s Pyramid) in Uxmal was built in one night by a
dwarf who hatched from an iguana’s egg. The story goes that the King learnt from a
premonition that his kingdom would fall to a little person.
Not wishing to relinquish his throne he sentenced the dwarf to death. The dwarf’s mother
hearing this, pleaded with the king until he showed leniency and gave the dwarf three
near impossible tasks to spare his life.

One of the three was to build the pyramid in a single night.

The enchanting legend played through our minds as we stood at the base and looked
the 115ft (35m) to the peak. Sadly the reality could not be farther from the lore as
it took over three centuries to complete the stunning structure that stood before us.
Construction began nearly fifteen hundred years ago with Temple I and over the
following years four more temples were built on top of the original to create El Adivino.

Standing at the foot of the pyramid we were happier. Entering the grounds of Uxmal was
a much pleasanter experience than Chichen Itza. Uxmal being the less visited, meant
less tourists, less guides and equally less hassle.

Attendance was the first welcoming difference but not the last.

We left the Magician’s Pyramid and headed out to a smaller ruin on the edge of the
ancient city. After several minutes walking it became clear that this attraction was an
unpopular choice as the path was less worn and was becoming increasingly more
overgrown with every step. By the time we reached the ruin, the path was covered in
thick bush. Lacking in horticultural know-how, we pushed and bent the branches back to
get to our destination.

Not wanting to get eaten alive by whatever lived in the depths of the wild foliage we
saw what we came to see then quickly headed back to the more trodden path.

Standing quiet and still for a moment our senses became more attuned with the
surroundings. Hearing a rustling in the bushes and trees would have our eyes dart to the
origin to see a colourful bird flutter or a fat iguana running to bask on a hot rock. Other
iguanas were sitting up-right in the path, their cocked heads looking ominously at us as
we tread cautiously towards them. Some were curious and stayed momentarily
to watch us before scurrying away into the dense undergrowth. Others stood proud on
the roadside by rocks showing their dominance with their chests puffed out.

As our eyes flew around in their sockets at the sounds and movements we missed the colossal six-foot snake camouflaged within the short grass. When Alicia saw it she jumped, when she jumped, I screamed. The poor snake perturbed by the commotion slid away into the thick bushes. Wry smiles were painted on the corpulent faces of the commanding iguanas as we quickly tip-toed back to the beaten path.

The way soon opened up and we were standing with iguanas at the base of the Great
Pyramid. Open to climb for those that are brave and have stamina, the Great Pyramid
gives panoramic views over the whole of Uxmal. We soon found that we certainly had the courage but waned on the steep steps. But upon reaching the top we rewarded with a breath-taking view of the ancient city enclosed by the thick forest.

Going down was more taxing than going up, it required concentration, a sense of balance and über quad muscles. The following morning I found out which one I was lacking.

Across from the Great Pyramid were Uxmal’s palace grounds. Now empty, aside from
the occasional tourist, one can imagine the 25,000 people who once lived in the city boundaries. Now birds roosted where Kings slept, iguanas laid where jesters played and still the carvings stare at the observers.

© John Brownlie 2012


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