Chichen Itza or Senor Frogs?


Overlooking Key West

I love to travel. To celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary, my husband and I were fortunate enough to take a Western Carribbean cruise. Strong believers in the mantra, “Work Hard, Play Hard,” we vacationed with gusto. We listened to live bands in Key West, savored local foods and water sports at a Cozumel beach resort, and ziplined through a Belizan rainforest. For our stop in Playa del Carmen, we were tempted to join many of our shipmates at Senor Frogs for a day of partying. Being a history buff, I had signed us up for a tour of a Mayan pyramid instead. I’m so happy I did!

We rise early for our tour. The tender ride to port is short and smooth. We are herded through the busy town to the waiting bus with forty other tourists. As we ride inland for three hours, our Mayan guide, Humberto, makes the time fly–entertaining us with interesting facts about the Yucatan Peninsula.

El Castillo at Chichen Itza

The grounds at Chichen Itza are tremendous. We only have enough time to focus on three sections of the ruins today, including the main pyramid, known as El Castillo. Humberto tells us the ninety-five foot tall El Castillo has ninety steps on each of four sides, equalling 364 days plus one platform for a total of 365. Nine bump-outs on two sides of it represent the eighteen months on the Mayan calendar and five statues on each of four sides equals twenty, representing the number of days in a Mayan month. There’s more, but all this math is making my head spin. If you want to learn other details about this feat of Mayan architecture, click here.

Humberto explains Chichen Itza’s pyramid is hollow, with a smaller pyramid inside the larger. Like Egyptian pyramids, one purpose of El Castillo was to serve as a burial site for their royalty. The adventurous side of me is disappointed we’re not allowed to see the crypts surrounded by protective stone figures or climb all those steps to the top.

Building of One Thousand Columns

Skull Etching in Stone Wall

The gruesome aspect of Chichen Itza’s history centers around the ball court, where Mayan teams competed using a rubber ball about the size of a softball. We learn that the “winning” team’s captain would be decapitated as a sign of honor to the Mayan gods. No wonder a game could last for days, no one wanted to win! The captain’s head would then be displayed on a low stone wall etched with skull heads across the many rocks. I’m not creeped out so much as interested in the heiroglyphs located at either end of the ball court walls. They include an etching of Quetzalcoatl, whom Humberto says the Mayan believe to be Jesus Christ.

We have some time to wander around on our own. I’m overwhelmed by the sheer size of everything here. When I approach the base of El Castillo, I realize how steep the steps are and why the rumor we heard about tourists accidentally falling to their deaths while attempting the climb may be true. The official reason Humberto has given us for no one being allowed to climb it is to “prevent the ruins from being ruined.”

The last area we explore is “The Building of One Thousand Columns.” There must be at least one hundred columns, if not more as its name suggests. I’m impressed by the architectural precision. Before we head back to the bus, we experience one of my favorite parts of the trip–bartering with the on-site vendors. We purchase silver items, an embroidered top, and carved figures. The shopping is fun, but chatting with these native people and getting a peek into their daily life is priceless.

A Yucatan Roadside Store

On our relaxing bus ride back to port, we realize by traveling a little off the beaten path we experienced more than a place, we experienced its people. We hope to return to the Yucatan for a longer stay and learn more about the Mayan culture. Oh, and we may have to stop at Senor Frogs, too. I hear they make a heck of an ice blue margarita!

Have you ever explored a place, only to find what fascinated you most were the people? I’d love to hear about your experience.

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28 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Christine Ashworth
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 09:41:11

    Jolyse, everyone I know who goes to Senor Frog’s barely lives to talk about it, lol…if you do end up going one day, promise yourself only ONE margarita with food, and walk away after you’re done. Trust me – cruise ship patrons in Senor Frogs often get way too drunk. (NOT that I’ve ever participated…but I’ve got the photos!)

  2. alicamckennajohnson
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 10:40:49

    Sounds like a great time!!! I have dreams of doing trips like that someday- right now I have children who suck the money right out of my bank account LOL!

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Aug 15, 2011 @ 11:03:35

      Hi Alica! Thanks for stopping by.

      I know what you mean, kids are wonderful AND expensive. Before you know it, though, they’ll be all grown up. Make that travel list now, and dream big. 🙂

  3. Catie Rhodes
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 10:50:11

    We used to go to Mexico a good bit, but we never went to Senor Frog’s. We’d paid to drink for “free” at the hotel, and we intended to get our money’s worth. I’d really like to go bck to Mexico and visit the Mayan ruins.

    Yesterday, we went the Houston Museum of Natural Science. They had a film on the 2012 doomsday prediction. It featured all the Mayan ruins and told about their societies. Very, very interesting stuff.

    I wonder if there’s lodging near the ruins where you could stay and do a thorough exploration. Great blog. 😀

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Aug 15, 2011 @ 11:42:07

      Hi Catie!

      From the little research I’ve done, there are resorts in Chichen Itza. We are considering Merida, a lovely city in the Yucatan, as a good place to stay. I’ve heard the people are very friendly and there are many activities/attractions within the city limits as well as within a reasonable driving distance, including the ruins. If you go, I’d love to hear your impressions.

      The Mayan calendar ends 12/12/12, correct? I find all that doomsday prediction interesting, too.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  4. Doree Anderson
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 11:10:24

    My husband and I traveled a while back to Mexico and we did explore the rumors of Senor Frog’s. Might I mention that Mexico and their margaritas can be quite the experience. The food was good, the ambiance was interesting, and my husband swore that he would never drink another margarita – yeah, that didn’t last long. I shiver, the worm at the bottom of the bottle, yeah, fun stuff. Sounds like you are enjoying the wonderful memories and interesting information from your trips. So Fun!!!

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Aug 15, 2011 @ 11:16:03

      Hi Doree,

      So you’re one of Senor Frog’s survivors…great to hear from you!! So, the ambiance was interesting, huh? Makes me think there’s a story or two hidden somewhere. Thanks for sharing, and for taking the time to comment.

  5. jayne ormerod
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 12:01:00

    Joleyse, what a great way to escape the rainy Monday here in Newport by enjoying a quick trip to Chichen Itza, even if it was a cyber trip! Beautiful pictures and a fabulous post. I don’t know why my high school history never touched on the fascinating stories of our neighbors south of the border!

    I meet interesting people everywhere I go. My husband always says, “everyone has a story.” And it’s true. I love to listen to them!

    “Work hard, play harder…” Do you have that on a t-shirt somewhere? Great life philosphy.

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Aug 15, 2011 @ 14:40:43

      Hi Jayne,

      Here’s hoping your rainy day washes away soon so you can get back to the beach. So true that everyone has a story. I look forward to hearing yours.

  6. Angelique Armae
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 13:17:27

    I love the Mayan Pyramids. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Sandy Rowland
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 20:56:51

    I want to go!
    My son is planning a trip like this. Lucky pup.
    Thanks for letting me tag along through you post.

  8. Jolyse Barnett
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 22:37:53

    Hi Sandy! I’m happy you enjoyed.

    After finishing this post, I remembered many wonderful things about the people I met that day. I guess I’ll have to write about that another time. The Mayan people we met were friendly and innocent. At first, I’d felt badly for them, living so simply and isolated from the world. Then I realized they may look at us and feel the same way, us poor busy souls, consumed by our consumption.

    I guess it all depends on one’s perspective. I wouldn’t want to be without advanced medical care, I’m thankful for the many comforts of my home, and I love learning about the world. But I do feel as if sometimes my house and schedule own me rather than me owning them.

    I wish your son a safe, enjoyable trip. 🙂

  9. Jennette Marie Powell
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 23:30:49

    I skipped Senior Frog’s when we went to Cancun. But I did go to Chichen Itza, and this was back in ’02 when they still let people climb it. Such an awesome/creepy experience, my new release begins there. Thanks for sharing!

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Aug 16, 2011 @ 10:45:38

      What an incredible experience that must have been, climbing to the top of those ruins!

      What’s the title of your new release, Jennette? You’ve piqued my interest. 🙂

  10. Julie Glover
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 08:31:15

    I loved this! My husband and I have considered a cruise for an upcoming anniversary as well, and we would definitely do the historical ruins over a little shopping and a margarita in town! I’m fascinated by such sites. Thanks for sharing.

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Aug 16, 2011 @ 10:47:50

      Hi Julie! Thanks for stopping by.

      I agree. Margaritas are great, but we can have one any old place. We don’t often have the chance to explore one of the “New Seven Wonders” of the world.

  11. Jeannie Moon
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 11:35:14

    Your blog is giving me all kinds of travel ideas! 🙂

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Aug 16, 2011 @ 12:44:51

      Thanks, Jeannie! I cherish our family and couple holidays away from the reality of work, schedules, and responsibilities. I’ve never regretted the time and expense involved in making a vacation happen.

      Enjoy your travels!

  12. Gwen Hernandez
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 22:37:43

    I love to travel too, Jolyse. And we were just down in the Caribbean on our first-ever cruise. In fact, I was wondering if your header photo was of Scott Key. I took a very similar photo from the cruise ship when we were docked in Key West last month.

    Great photos, and it looks like a fabulous trip!

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Aug 17, 2011 @ 00:11:40

      Hi Gwen!

      Thanks for stopping by. Isn’t the Caribbean lovely?

      My header photo was, in fact, taken from our cruse ship when docked in Key West. The little island just west of KW is called Sunset Key. There’s a ferry available that connects the two islands. I dream about one day having a romantic dinner at their famous Sunset Key restaurant, or better yet, being able to afford a stay at Sunset Key “cottages”, otherwise known to regular humans as four- and five-bedroom houses. 🙂 Absolutely beautiful!

      Happy travels, and feel free to share your stories and photos here as well. 🙂

  13. Piper Bayard
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 13:09:36

    Sounds like you made the right choice. I’ve been to Senor Frogs, and I’ve been to Chichen Itza. Senor Frogs could be in any American city you go to, but there’s no substitute for Chichen Itza.

    Interesting that they wouldn’t allow people to climb El Castillo. My husband and I were there in March, 2002, and he went to the top, along with a long line of tourists. There were ropes to hang onto, and many people came back down on their touchases, but it was allowed, and even encouraged. I’m suspecting a few VIP tourists had butts too wide to fit on the steps coming down and rolled to the bottom. Ah, the good old days.

    Thank you for adding me to your blogroll. I’m honored.

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Aug 19, 2011 @ 15:41:17

      IHi Piper,

      It’s possible that we weren’t allowed to climb it, being part of that particular tour group, although I didn’t see anyone else climbing either. I bet your husband got a beautiful view and some great photos! Thanks for stopping by and I look forward to reading more of your blogs (I loved Anne Hathaway’s rap. She’s too cute.)

  14. Tuere Morton
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 05:49:52

    Beautiful pics, Jolyse! I keep thinking of how many great ideas for stories lie in those ruins…especially Mayan with the D-day dates coming up 😉

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