Archive for November, 2010

Greenpeace Defies Aluxes, Floats Balloon over Chichen Itza

November 30th, 2010 by ejalbright

The environmental activist organization Greenpeace floated its balloon demanding “Rescue the Climate” over the ancient Maya city of Chichen Itza. The stunt, however, almost didn’t happen. The Diario de Yucatan reprinted a story by Miguel Arguelles that originally appeared on the Mexican Greenpeace web site (although doesn’t appear to be there now — if anyone knows where this originated, please e-mail me and I’ll put up a link). This has been translated from the Spanish.

Friday afternoon

I was meeting with my fellow Greenpeace Mexico members on a busy corner in Cancun; we eat and then quickly line up to go to Chichen Itza, a two-hour drive ahead of us, pulling a trailer with a balloon. It is relatively early, 6 p.m., but there is no daylight … While we are comfortable in the truck there is not much space. A few hours later we are at our destination, where we met with colleagues from Greenpeace International to find out the details of the plan. We are assigned roommates and after talking a while we go to sleep; tomorrow we have to get up early and we expect a hard day.

The hard work of today will not let me sleep, nor the passing trucks, much less the snoring of my roommate. I take a risk by wearing ear plugs to fall asleep. Still, I wake up 5 minutes before sounding the alarm that we have set for 4. Being so early gives me time to go to the store for some dubious coffee to wake up … The morning is covered by a fog that seems to unwind at times and in at other times covers us completely. Shortly after we left for the archaeological site of Chichén Itzá in the hope that the fog clears at some point.

Upon our arrival we find no problems … we have the permission of the authorities … All permits were in order, and the guards could not be better to us. They tell us that the aluxes, goblins of the Maya, do not like the balloons, which have repeatedly tried to fly over the ruins and something always goes wrong. Today we all think positive, and although it is 7:20 and the fog is still here we believe that there will be a moment where everything suddenly clears and click! The photo opportunity will be ready.

But the fog is dense … and prevents us from flying the balloon this day, so we will have to wait until Sunday … the aluxes are making mischief again.

The rain does not stop

Once again an early night. Tomorrow we leave even earlier; the pilot wants the balloon inflated and ready to go at 6:30. The rain continues to fall when I go to sleep. I stop to think that at best all will be waterlogged and will not be easy to deal with the world. I sleep better.

Sunday. Once again I beat the clock, this time by four minutes. It does not rain. I wash my face and head to the store for coffee and which now must have spent a week in that coffeemaker. Bad caffeine is better than no caffeine. We greet the pilot who says, “This is the perfect day to fly, even better than yesterday. ” Silently, I ask the aluxes to let us work this time.

Ten minutes before giving the volunteer team is on top of the truck. Photographers are running around, the coordinator of Greenpeace tells us to go … A car will not start. Do not know why. The passengers are distributed among the other cars and go to the site. We are already a few minutes late, we cannot lose more time.

The sun rises … no clouds in the sky, the pavement is not as wet as previously thought. We reached the parking lot, the gate is chained and oh, surprise! The guard says that they will not let us enter. And no, and no, and no! Yesterday was then; today is different … On the one hand I understand it, he is doing his job; but after call his superior and her saying to let us, we lose another five minutes … Everything is perfect except this.

After a few minutes of exchange, he opens the lock, and we run away and in five minutes we had things arranged, the balloon on the ground ready. The captain has over 30 years flying balloons for Greenpeace, so he knows about racing and how to do things right. We followed his instructions, began to blow air from the burners, and the balloon begins to rise slowly. Four volunteers per line is the minimum required, and so we are ready, we have to avoid getting too high and we have to avoid crashing into the treetops.

The balloon has gone up and down without any problems, the teams of four people begin to sweat. There are no setbacks and heard in the distance is the rotor of the helicopter, a few seconds later we see it passing over us. It flies over the area several times … From the radio we hear that the view is spectacular … Shortly after they say “All is well, you can lower the balloon, the helicopter can leave.” The clock reads 7:30. Everything went well, aluxes gave us permission to take the picture. In my mind thank you very much.

It is the task of the team of photographers and communications professionals to choose the best photos and upload them to the network. Now the balloon is in your hands.

The balloon is already in the trailer, we see as tourists begin to arrive and while we talk we drink water to relieve the intense time of day.

I tell my colleagues, as we go to breakfast, the image has to be in the drafting of several newspapers. The image and the message are clear to everyone. From the Mayan heart: “Rescue the climate.”

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Chichen Itza Museum, Bullet Train Stalled in Mexican Congress

November 20th, 2010 by ejalbright

The Palacio de la Civilizacion Maya, the proposed museum to be constructed near Chichen Itza, as well as the proposed bullet train to the ancient city, hit a funding snag last week when the federal Congress declined to fund the projects.

Yucatan Governor Ivonne Ortega Pacheco submitted 25 projects to the Mexican Congress, including the bullet train and museum, and six received funding.

All hope is not lost, however, as funding for some of the projects, including the museum, can be drawn from existing sources, such as the budget for the federal agency overseeing national tourism.

When a reporter asked a representative of the ruling party PRI about it, the response was, “Su presupuesto no vino etiquetado, pero la SCT tiene bolsas para estudios y acciones para ello,” which literally translates, “Your budget wine labeling, but the SCT has bags for studies and for that.” Translating the translation, the PRI representative said, “It’s budget was not designated specifically for funding, but the SCT (Secretaria de Comunicaciones y Transportes, that is, the federal Secretary of Communications and Transportation) has pockets (of funds) for studies and for that.”


Video Explains Concept Behind New Chichen Itza Museum

‘Fast Train’ to Chichen Itza Report Due in October

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Self Policing by Vendors at Chichen Itza Not Working

November 18th, 2010 by ejalbright

At least as far as this limited piece of evidence suggests, the vendors who invade Chichen Itza continue their controversial practices.

Last month, Silvia Cime Mex, one of the leaders of vendor association New Kukulcan, announced that local children would no longer be permitted in the archaeological zone, where they approach tourists offering to sing the Mexican national anthem in Maya in exchange for coins. “Now the children go to school,” she said back in October.

The above video was shot last week, on Nov. 12.

Selling trinkets to tourists employs hundreds of people from Piste and the other communities surrounding Chichen Itza. However, the pushy practices of a few vendors have given Chichen Itza a bad reputation. Earlier this month the state of Yucatan announced that attendance at Chichen Itza was down by more than 40 percent. If this continues and if the vendors association is unable to police itself, everyone will suffer.

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TODAY’S THE DAY: Yucatan Buys Chichen Itza!

November 17th, 2010 by ejalbright

Unbeknown to the millions of visitors who have visited Chichen Itza, they were standing on private property. Since 1944, the ancient city of Chichen Itza has been owned by the Barbachanos, a family of tourism pioneers on the Yucatan Peninsula.

Until today.

Today, if all goes as planned, the state of Yucatan will complete its $220 million Mexican ($17.7 million US) purchase of the so-called archaeological zone of Chichen Itza, land which has been in private ownership for more than 500 years. The current owner, Hans Jurgen Thies Barbachano, is selling the 200 acres that contains some of the most recognizable landmarks in Mexico: The giant pyramid El Castillo; the Great Ball Court; the Temple of the Warriors; and the ancient observatory Caracol.

News accounts have varied about what will be paid to Thies Barbachano today. Jorge Esma Bazan, the director of the state agency managing the sale, reportedly told the Diario de Yucatan late last week that the property owner would receive $45 million today. It is not clear if this is the last payment. In late March Esma Bazan reportedly said a condition of the transaction is that it must be completed in six months, but that expired six weeks ago.

For the complete story on the sale of Chichen Itza and the history of the ancient city as private property, see the earlier American Egypt story, “Yucatan Buys Chichen Itza for $220M.”

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Restoration of Chichen Itza’s Casa Colorada to Take Decade

November 16th, 2010 by ejalbright

Over the next 10 years INAH, the federal agency that oversees archaeology at Chichen Itza, will be doing extensive work in the Casa Colorada group, a collection of four buildings in various states of decomposition:

The Casa Colorada (in English, “The Red House,” and in Maya, “Chichanchob), the best preserved of the buildings. The building got its name from the walls which still display a reddish pigmentation. There are hieroglyphs carved into the walls which contain the name of a priest and mention the Maya fire ceremony. The glyphs also contain a date, the equivalent of 869 a.c.e, and also provides information on the rulers of Chichén Itzá.

Casa Colorada plans
Elevations and floor plans of Casa Colorada, from Chichen Itza: Architectural Notes and Plans by Karl Ruppert, 1952.

The Casa de Venado (“House of the Deer”), is in fair condition, approximately 6 meters tall, fronted by a stairway of 18 steps. Eastern half collapsed, all the front doorways collapsed. Contains three chambers. The name may have come from a mural that contained a deer that has since faded away.

House of the Deer plans
Elevations and floor plans of Casa de Venado.

There are also two mounds, in complete ruin. One, called the Templo de Maudslay, is named after the archaeologist who explored Chichen Itza in the 1880s. At one time it appeared to be platform with single structure that contained one room.

Templo de Maudslay plans
Elevations and floor plans of Templo de Maudslay.

The other mound apparently does not have a name other than its designation 3C12. It consists of a long and narrow platform with pillars and walls, in all two meters tall.

3c12 plans
Elevations and floor plans of Mound 3C12

According to a report in La Jornada, restoration of these monuments will require 10 years. Earlier this year work on these monuments was halted due to budget constraints. The La Jornada article made no mention of these difficulties.

The work last year consisted of restoring an ancient ball court that abuts the east wall of the Casa Colorada. During excavation, archaeologists discovered an older ballcourt underneath. For a report, see the American Egypt report by Stephen Fry, “The Casa Colorada Ball Court: INAH Turns Mounds into Monuments“).

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Chichen Itza Concerts Earn $5,848.982

November 15th, 2010 by ejalbright

Elton John at Chichen Itza raised $1.9 million

Since 2008, the state of Yucatan has been holding large concerts — Placido Domingo, Sarah Brightman, and Elton John — which collectively have put almost $5.85 million Mexican ($476,000 U.S.) into state coffers.

In all the three concerts $92.1 million Mexican against expenses of $86.3 million, according to a report in the Diario de Yucatan.

While the Elton John concert raised the most revenue ($39.9 million), after expenses it only made $1.56 million; Placido Domingo raised the least revenue ($26.5 million) but made the most “profit” at $2.9 million.

The concerts, while apparently financial successful, were not without controversy. From the beginning they have been criticized by archaeologists from INAH, the federal agency that oversees Chichen Itza, by vendors who invade the ruins every day to sell trinkets to tourists, and by politicians, usually those not of the same party as Governor Ivonne Ortega Pacheco, who has been the driving force behind the concerts.

Her appointed head of Cultur, the state agency that shares custody of Chichen Itza, has declared the concerts a success. Jorge Esma Bazan, according to the Diario, accompanied the financial report of the concerts with the following comment: The three concerts “surpassed expectations” as well as the “political, economic, social, strategic, technical, archaeological, climatologic, artistic, existential, and human risks and was structurally cultural.” It also succeeded as a promotion of Chichen Itza as a tourist destination.

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Video Explains Concept Behind New Chichen Itza Museum

November 12th, 2010 by ejalbright

The state of Yucatan has released a video explaining the concept behind the new Palacio de la Civilizacion Maya (Palace of the Maya Civilization), a museum slated to be built a few miles from Chichen Itza.

The video describes how the architects of the project took the basic design of El Castillo, the large step pyramid at Chichen Itza, and “fractured” it to create a multi-platform museum. It also shows animated conceptions of what the museum will look like, but in the day and at night.

If built out as planned, this will be an impressive structure, by far one of the most modern buildings in the area. The museum will be built in Yaxcaba, a small town some 10 miles from Chichen Itza.

Previously: Governor Unveils Design of Maya Museum Near Chichen Itza

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National Museum to Premiere Chichen Itza Movie Dec. 1

November 11th, 2010 by ejalbright

The Museo Nacional de Antropología (National Museum of Anthropology) in Mexico City will premiere “Chichen Itza — Maravilla del Mundo” (“Chichen Itza — Wonder of the World”), a documentary film on the preservation of ancient city on Dec. 1.

The film is joint production between INAH, the federal agency that oversees Chichen Itza and the museum, and Televisa, the Mexican television network.

The documentary will be shown at 6 p.m. in the Tlaloc auditorium of the museum.

“Chichen Itza — Maravilla del Mundo” is one of a series of films being showed over the next several weeks at the museum as part of a Wednesday evening program called “Noches de Otono” (“Nights of Autumn”). The national museum will also be open until 10 p.m. the same nights and admission will be free.

(I tried to find a clip or trailer for the film, but came up short. I did stumble across this clever little film about Chichen Itza. Enjoy! — Editor)

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Three Years Later, Master Plan for Chichen Itza to Be Unveiled Dec. 6

November 10th, 2010 by ejalbright

Shortly after winning election in 2007, Governor Ivonne Ortega Pacheco promised to develop a master plan for future growth and preservation in and around Chichen Itza. Three-and-one-half years later she will deliver on that promise.

On Dec. 6, the state government will unveil its Plan Maestro de Chichén Itzá e Integración Turística de la Región (Master Plan of Chichen Itza and Integration of Tourism in the Region), which will guide development in the eastern part of the state, according to Jorge Esma Bazan, the director of Patronato de las Unidades de Servicios Culturales y Turísticos (Cultur, Yucatan’s state agency that oversees Chichen Itza).

In an interview with La Cronica de Hoy, Esma Bazan said the master plan seeks to redevelop the site, but inside and outside. He also said that the plan will address the hundreds of vendors who invade the ancient city every day to sell trinkets to tourists.

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Governor Unveils Design of Maya Museum Near Chichen Itza

November 7th, 2010 by ejalbright

Governor Ivonne Ortega Pacheco presents plans for a Maya museum near Chichen Itza

Late last week Yucatan state leaders, headed by Governor Ivonne Ortega Pacheco, unveiled the design of the Palacio de la Civilizacion Maya (Palace of the Maya Civilization), a museum dedicated to the Maya with a special focus on Chichen Itza.

The “palace” will be constructed in Yaxcaba, some 11 kilometers (7 miles) from Chichen Itza and considered one of the poorest communities in the state of Yucatan.

Yaxcaba, where the Palacio de la Civilizacion Maya will be constructed

The Palacio will take advantage of existing features of the community. One end will be anchored by the town’s cenote, a large sinkhole that has provided water for the community for centuries. From there a long, white path (sacbe in Maya) will be the architectural element that ties the museum facility together. This 110-meter walkway will connect an entrance plaza with three individual units, built in a stairstep fashion to evoke the “fragmented structure” of El Castillo, the dominant pyramid at Chichen Itza, according to the company that designed the building.

“Ninety percent of the visitors who come to Chichen have their picture taken with the pyramid,” said Eduardo Gonzalez Cid, lead architect of the firm that designed the project. The pyramid is really a sum of many symbolic parts. There are 91 steps on each of the four sides, which total 364 and when the top step is added equal the number of days in the year. The pyramid also has nine platforms, which are cut in half by the staircases, giving each side 18, the number of months in the Maya year. “We decided to interpret that in the new structure, through a kind of defragmentation of the pre-Hispanic building layers ” said the architect.

The entrance plaza will consist of a box office and a reception area for groups. There will also be a 300-seat IMAX theater and requisite gift shop. From there the sacbe will lead visitors to the main complex, in three sections. The first section will consist of a courtyard, the second will be an outdoor amphitheater, and the third will be the museum section dedicated to the origins of the Maya world.

The final section consists of five exhibition rooms, of which two will be devoted to temporary displays. The top room, called “The Treasures of Chichen,” will be where gold, jade, and other artifacts from the Sacred Well will be displayed.

The first building will be a restricted area where it will store collections, curators, sluice room, loading dock specialized transit warehouses, packing area, warehouses and workshops museum and maintenance.

There will also be a building to house personal services and security, as well as storerooms and curatorial area. Future plans include a two-story restaurant with capacity to serve 300.

Earlier in the week the same group unveiled the design for a larger, more elaborate Museum of the Maya slated to open in Merida, the capital of Yucatan state, in December 2011. That museum is estimated to cost $700 million Mexican ($57 million U.S.).

The Palacio will cost $450 million Mexican ($37 million U.S.). Unlike the Merida museum, the Yaxcaba facility will be constructed in stages, said Jorge Esma Bazan, director of Patronato de las Unidades de Servicios Culturales y Turísticos (Cultur, Yucatan’s state agency that will oversee this project). The first will take six months at a cost of $70 million Mexican. There are two other stages that will be completed as funds become available, although the plan is to have the museum finished by 2012.


Construction on New Maya Museum in Merida to Begin Dec. 21

More Details Emerge about “Palace of the Maya” Near Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza Gold Going to New Yucatan Museum, Gov. Says

Museum Dedicated to Maya to Begin Construction

Both Chichen Itza and Merida to Get Maya Museums

BULLETIN: Proposed Maya Museum Moved to Chichen; Expropriation Seems Doubtful

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