I stumble over the most amazing things when I travel.
Earlier this year, on a very touristy getaway to Cancun, friends talked me into visiting Chichen Itza.
I’m ashamed to say what little I knew about this world wonder was from it being the setting of a Dresden Files novel. While the book was good, it wasn’t a preparation for the scale and wonder of the ruins of this amazing city.
We splurged to get a private tour, and it was worth every penny as our guide brought history to life, explaining what is known, what is supposed and what yet remains a mystery about this ancient culture – her culture really as she is a descendant of the Mayan people.
All these months later, I’m still struck by the strange juxtaposition of mathematics and magic that seemed to infuse Mayan culture. Their architecture was not merely symmetrical, but precisely aligned with the stars and the sun. Everything, from the number of steps, to the placement of a window, was a careful mathematical calculation.
One of the more striking examples of this is that, on the days of the equinox, the sun hits the side of the main pyramid in just such a way that a whole side of the pyramid looks like the feathered serpent god Kukulkan.
All of that calculated, painstaking effort, to create, in effect, a magic trick to keep the masses in line. All of that beauty and care in a culture that also celebrated human sacrifice.
We can shake our heads in wonder, or we can ask ourselves hard questions.
Where do we rely on math or science to measure or prove what is, at its essence, unknowable?
How are we so enamored with our technology that we fail to notice the rot and
destruction happening around us too?
When do we use science and math as tools of discovery, and when do we use them
to prove our worldview and keep the status quo?
Heady thoughts for a beach vacation, I know. But more than the frothy drinks or warm ocean water, I remember this city which, centuries later, is still faithfully tracking the movement of the sun and stars, telling a story of wonder and mystery to the masses who still stand gaping in awe.
Photos were taken by me with an iPhone.
Yes, I was there on the spring equinox.
No, I did not stay to see the reveal of Kukulkan.
Yes, I know. I suck.