HERE COMES THE SUN The eyes of 60,000 visitors were peeled to the north stairs of Chichen Itza

's giant pyramid, El Castillo. Suddenly, a crackling of thunder rippled across the darkening Yucatan sky. The Mayan rain god, Chac, was trying to dampen the ceremonies. Was it possible the feathered serpent god, Kukulcan, would not descend the staircase on this Vernal Equinox ? Looking for a different way to celebrate the first day of spring Û,2 what about a pilgrimage to Chichen Itza, Mexico ? Here, every year on the Vernal Equinox, the sun sets in such a way that a giant serpent appears on the north stairs of Chichen Itza's giant pyramid, El Castillo. Then as the sun sets, the serpent appears to wiggle ( チ very チ slowly) down the steps and into the underworld below. It is a spectacular show. On a recent Vernal Equinox my wife and I visited Chichen Itza, traveling from the nearby resort at Cancun. On the four-hour ride from Cancun our bus passed by small thatched-roof homes where the defendants of the early Mayas now live. We saw Mayan women, dressed in traditional embroidered dresses, working in their gardens. The present-day survivors of the Maya civilization are brown, broad, small, tough, and tireless people. earth. They are quick and energetic. The ones not of mixed blood have the highest metabolic rate of all people on They eat gargantuan meals and can run all day. Our guide, Carlos, a young man of age 23, said his mother was a full-blooded Maya Indian and his father Spanish.

I do not speak the Maya language myself," Carlos said, only Spanish and English. When my mother and grandmother want to keep secrets from the rest of our family, they speak Maya." Carlos told us that today 75% of the people on the Yucatan peninsula speak the Maya language. We will be at Chichen Itza shortly," he said after some time. ™He then said that Chichen Itza was the most famous of all late-Mayan cities, and a holy place to the Maya for centuries. The earliest buildings we would see are dated from 600 A.D. and are typically Mayan, while those built after the 10th century are Toltec. The Toltecs were aggressive warriors that invaded Chichen Itza in 950 A.D. and introduced their mystique of feathered serpents, jaguars, and sacrificial rites. The merging of Mayan and Toltec styles is unique to Chichen Itza. The most famous building at Chichen Itza is an imposing pyramid, called El Castillo, that looms over the Yucatan lowlands. It has a total of 365 steps (reflecting the number of days in a year) leading to the Temple of Kukulcan at the top. It would be on the northern stair steps of El Castillo that we would be looking for the feathered serpent god, Kukulcan. Today is a special day," Carlos told us. We are expecting 60,000 visitors at Chichen Itza." Look," my wife says. Looming up ahead through the trees we see what looks somewhat an Egyptian pyramid without the pointed top. We have arrived at Chichen Itza," Carlos announces. Castillo through those trees." We all pile out of the bus. Traditional Mexican music was blaring away on several loudspeakers. I am thinking we had arrived at Woodstock. Already there were already 60,000 visitors lounging around near El You can see El

Castillo. Most of them were local folk, descendants of the early Mayas. In recent years Mayan descendants have come to Chichen Itza on each Vernal Equinox to celebrate a national Mexican holiday. For the next few hours we would explore the ruins of Chichen Itza. Here is the Sacred Cenote where the Mayas made human sacrifices," Carlos told us. We looked down a hundred feet into a huge pit filled with water. Carlos told us that the Mayas would throw children into the If the Sacred Cenote and then fish them out on the following day.

children were still alive it was believed the children could predict rain. The Mayas were always very concerned about rain," Carlos said. It is very dry here." Although the Mayas had many violent customs, they were not as bloody as those practiced by the Toltecs and Aztecs that followed them. The Aztecs practiced the religious ritual of human heart excision. The victims were held down and after their chests were sliced open, their beating hearts were yanked out. These ceremonies symbolized the cycle of life. After making a quick tour of some of the other ruins of Chichen Itza, Carlos says we should now gather around El Castillo. If the sun comes back out, we will see the feathered serpent god, Kukulcan," Carlos tells us. Archeologists believe the purpose of El Castillo has something to do with the serpent god, Kukulcan." Carlos went on to say that Kukulcan was a Mayan god shaped in the form of a feathered serpent and was somehow associated with the rebirth of new life. Possibly having to do with the coming of a new year. Suddenly, a crackling of thunder rippled across the darkening Yucatan sky. None of the 60,000 visitors scurried for cover. People jockeyed for

position to get a better view. Still the serpent had not yet appeared. A man from Denver standing next to me complained,  チ We came all the way down here for nothing." チ The moment he spoke, however, the sun reappeared from behind the clouds and a hushed gasp rose from the 60,000 people Û,2 materialized on the north stairs of El Castillo we saw it. Kukulcan!  ™For the next hour 60,000 eyes were peeled to the north stairs as the giant serpent god slithered its way slowly down to the underground below. It is not clear to Mayan scholars what this descending of Nowadays, to many visitors to Kukulcan" symbolized for the Mayas.

Chichen Itza (especially those from temperate climates) the descending of Kukulcan symbolizes the return of the sun back to the Northern Hemisphere for another six months. An hour later the show was over and the crowd started to disperse. The last time there were this many people in Chichen Itza was in about 950 A.D. at a heart excision," Carlos laughed as we headed back to the bus. Then, the sky darkened and strong gusts of wind and rain swept across the area. I have never in my life seen weather become so threatening in such a short period of time. Then almost as quickly as it began, the weather calmed once more and the sun returned. Possibly a warning from Chac, I thought to myself. - the end -