Saturday, March 21, 2009

Springrise Mayan Style

Sunrise at the Temple of the Seven Dolls at Dzibilchaltún, Yucatán, México, March 21, 2009.

Yesterday, March 21st, was the day of the Spring Equinox. In Mayan culture, there are two famous phenomena taking place every spring and autumn at two ruin sites, Dzibilchaltún and Chichén Itzá. At Dzibilchaltún, the sun rises directly in the door opening of the Temple of the Seven Dolls. At Chichén, the shadow of the snake god Kukulcán descends the Great Pyramid at sunset.

Last March we went to Chichén Itzá to see Kukulcán, but after I saw what I think may have been 5,000 tour buses, and a queue for purchasing tickets a mile long, I looked at Pablo and said, "No f****** way!!" We had seen Kukulcán ascend the pyramid at Palenque on the day of the Winter Solstice and I figured I got the jist of it. "Let´s just go right to the Reggae Concert!" And so we did.

Last September we attempted to see the light at Dzibilchaltún. I was aware of the fact that you can see this phenomenon the day before, the day of, and the day after the 21st of these months. So when I read in Lonely Planet Guide that the best viewing date was Sept. 22nd, off we went in the middle of the night to see the spectacle. Unfortunately they only opened it to the public for viewing on the 21st. We were disappointed, to put it mildly, to know it was happening yet we couldn't see it. At that time I decided that we would wait six months and make sure to have all our facts straight and get there on the right day at the right time.

Friday night, the 20th we went out for dinner and I had a few tequilas. When we came home, I set the alarm for 4am to make sure we'd be up in time. In what seemed like twenty minutes, the alarm buzzed us awake. Pablo jumped up, started the car, did his bathroom stuff, and said, "Let's go!" Meanwhile, I was still tequila high and I did my bathroom stuff, fed the cats, made coffee, had to rescue Busmo who accidentally got himself locked up in the upstairs room all day and night, and filled the water bottles.

"Ok, I' ready." I hate to be rushed in the middle of the night. We were a little grumpy, and on the road, and Pablo looks at me and says, "¡Linda! Son las 3:15 de la mañana." In my slightly inebriated state I failed to notice that the clock was saying 4am when it was actually 3am. Oops! As it turned out it was a wise time to depart. When we arrived we were the 8th car in line to enter into the ruins where the parking and all the action is. There are police and security guards posted outside the main gate managing the influx of visitors in the middle of the night. We only waited half an hour and they opened up the gate. We found excellent parking spots and were one of the first people to enter the ruins.

Walking down the sacbé (raised causeway the Mayans used as walways within a city as well as to and from cities located as far as 100 kms away) in the dark of night I felt like I was in a time warp. I felt the Mayan spirits' presence more during the time we spent there that night, waiting, in the dark, than I felt exploring the ruins during the day time. Listening to the owls, watching the moon slowly drift over the star studded sky. Watching puffy clouds passing over, changing the giant sky scenery every few moments. It was inspiring.

There were over 2,500 sleepy people from all parts of the world wanting to see the sunrise, and apparently plenty of aliens arriving in bubbles preparing to land for the occasion.

Pablo maintains his cool while the woman behind him shoots us hate daggers. Just thought I would point out something we constantly deal with.

The temple at about 4:30 am from our first vantage point, about 100 meters from the temple. Note that you can only see the spirits or aliens in the night sky. (It certainly cannot be the photographer not knowing how to operate the camera.)

Here comes the sun. We are standing one football field back. The sun is rising in the doorway. From this angle you can also see the sun through the windows.
This temple is one of the best examples of the understanding of astronomy possessed by the early Maya. Dzibilchaltún has a structure unique in the Mayan world. The top platform of the temple has an unobstructed view of all points east to west. When the sun rises in the center of the portal twice a year we see how they incorporated this understanding into their architecture.

Once we saw the phenomenon from a 100 yards away, we moved up and stood in front of an unrestored platform with a clear view of the portal of the Temple of the 7 Dolls. We were about 20 ft. away. The sun rises a few minutes later from this angle, and the full effect of the sun in the middle of the portal envelops you (and blinds you). The doorway from this angle appears to be the size of a window. We are actually looking through four doorways, two of them inside the temple. Because of that, our viewpoint of the opening appeared much smaller than it did when we were looking at the temple from farther away. I like this shot because you can see the size of the opening, likely caused by my standing slightly right of center. The effect of the preciseness and the brilliance of the sun shining through is priceless.

Looking at the temple platform behind us, the light shining through the portal glows against the ruins. It was amazing to watch this large beam of light moving toward us. It gave me that feeling of being at the end of the rainbow.

The brilliant glow of the phenomenon. The experience was reminiscent of seeing a total eclipse of the sun. In our haste to leave the house we forgot our sunglasses...and we saw lots of green. There seemed to be a lot of people there that were similar to eclipsophiles, would they then be ruinaphiles? It was quite the international group of spectators.
That was it for this equinox. This is what the temple usually looks like.
I took video, and I think the direct sun in the middle of my subject was overwhelming for my digital camera. There is a horribly annoying vertical stripe in the center of the event, but you can see the sun rise in the door and you can hear lots of chatter from the spectators. My favorite is the vertically-challenged Italian woman behind me who harrassed all the tall people standing in front of her. "Take off your hat, Sir." "Please put the camera down, Ma'am." "We short people cannot see. Please step off that rock, Sir." And on it went. You can hear her whining. Then you hear me respond, "It's not gonna happen. It's just not gonna happen. Everyone's trying to see it," as people pushed me into the rocks and then into the little Italian lady.
I decided to post some more information about the temple's unique qualities on the site with some of the other photos we took. I want to fulfill a promise I made in September. If this subject interests you, check it out.


Theresa in Mèrida said...

This is awesome! Very well written and the photography is first rate! I love the shot of Pablo smiling (I choose to ignore the ignorant person behind him), it captures his happy spirit so well.

Anonymous said...

Love it, thanks for posting.
the glow balls were wild!
not gonna happen...

Linda Dorton said...

Thanks for the comment. If you haven't seen this phenomenom, make this trip one day! It's worth it.

Glad you liked the glowballs. That is the sign of an incredible photographer who can pick up invisible aliens in the sky.

Now. Here is my question. WHAT IS NOT GONNA HAPPEN?