The archaeological zone was a bustle of activity. INAH-directed work crews were digging around the Temple of Venus. Every stone overturned was examined by hand, then thrown into a dump truck. Some were set aside, although from my perspective there was nothing to distinguish them.
For the first time I got to try the Yucatecan version of â€œno.â€ When a vendor is being a pest, extend your hand toward them with your forefinger raised and wag it. Stops them dead in their tracks. They may give you a dirty look, but they go away.
I’m on the road for the next few days, but managed to get to a Internet connection to report that the the Christian Science Monitor has tumbled to the ongoing tussle over the land under the monuments at Chichen Itza.
Sara Miller Llana, the Mexico City bureau chief, has summarized the conflict in only a few hundred words. For those who have not been following the issue, Chichen Itza, like almost all archaeological sites in Mexico, is private property. With its naming as one of the wonders of the world, the Mexican government has found renewed energy in its occasional battle to expropriate the land from its current owners, the Barbachano family.
Yours truly is quoted in the piece. Llana interviewed me at length and used a lot of background material I provided. I was tickled to talk to her, because back in journalism school a million years ago, the Christian Science Monitor was one of the greatest and most balanced newspapers in the nation. It didn’t sell a lot of copies, but was respected throughout the journalism world.
Even though Chichen Itza is 50 kilometers from the ocean, there is a tide. Over the past 20 years, vendors selling crafts invade the archaeological zone, many of them peddling trinkets that look more like they come from China than Yucatan. And every few years, the government brings in the military to drive them out and keep them out.
On Thursday, the rumor floated amongst the hundreds of vendors currently selling within the archaeological zone at Chichen Itza that the police would be arriving in a few days to sweep them out. Over the past several weeks, INAH, the government agency that manages the zone, has been stepping up pressure on the salesmen, most recently locking a gate that once served as the major entrance used by the sellers to get into the zone.
An entourage representing the vendors delivered a letter to the Yucatan governor warning that they would not be intimidated.
I just got back from a week in Yucatan, including some time at Chichen Itza. My son, a chess player, purchased two chess sets supposedly carved by locals. In that vein, here’s an experimental computer animated film in which the creator makes a Maya chess set.
Almost 20 years ago, Chichen Itza served as the setting for the US soap opera “Days of Our Lives.” Deidre Hall and other cast members wandered around the ruins in search of what Hollywood screenwriters call “the Macguffin,” something to propel the plot along.
The person who posted the video of the cast’s visit to Chichen does not allow me to embed it. So you’ll have to click one more time to see it yourself HERE.
INAH, the Mexican agency that oversees the nation’s patrimonial assets, says it has cash money in hand to buy Chichen Itza.
While the monuments belong to the Mexican government, the land under them belongs to several owners, primarily members of the Barbachano family, which purchased the land in 1944.
The agency has 16 million pesos ($1.5 million US) available to apply toward the lands under the monuments of Chichen Itza and another famous ruin, TeotihuacÃ¡n, said the director of INAH, Alfonso de Maria y Campos. He made these comments at the Encuentro Internacional Turismo Urbano y Cultura (Symposium of International Urban Tourism and Culture), part of the FÃ³rum Universal de la Culturas in Monterrey, Nuevo LeÃ³n.
The government assessed the value of Chichen Itza at 8 million pesos, an estimate based on its value as “agricultural land.” As a tourist attraction, however, Chichen Itza generates more than 50 million pesos annually in admission fees, and untold millions spent in gift shops (privately and publicly owned), walking vendors and restaurant.
According to de Maria y Campos, INAH has been negotiating with the current owners of the land, but no agreement has yet been reached.