(242) Pyramid Climbing

In 1987, Jim was given a special bonus for raising sales at his company. The bonus was a trip to Cancun, Mexico for the two of us.

This was a wild adventure for me. First, I had never been much of a beach goer, so I wasn’t sure how to cope with that. And second, it was a foreign country! But, Cancun was the new, up and coming vacation spot, and we were very fortunate to have a week there, all expenses paid.

I will never forget when we got off the airplane onto the tarmac at the Cancun Airport that October day. The heat and humidity hit me like a brick — I had never felt anything like it before. It was then I knew I was someplace very different.

On the van cab ride to our hotel, we were talking to other people. One couple had been to Cancun a few times and talked about renting a car and driving around. I thought they were CRAZY. I had no intentions of ever doing such a thing.

Checking out the water and sand, first day in Cancun October 1987

Our week in Cancun was great, of course. We took a few interesting tours, spent time at the beach and pool, attended a couple of fiestas — it was all a blast. We also bought into a vacation club while there, assuring our return.

One of our trips was to the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza. It was on that bus ride we learned about the Mayan people who live in the Yucatan. In fact, most of the people we were meeting in Cancun were not of Mexican descent — most were Mayan. On the two lane road our tour bus took, we passed many Mayan villages. Some had electricity, some did not. It was made clear to us that the Mayans love their life. It is only when the young people go to work in cities like Cancun they become unhappy without refrigeration or television. This was a new thought to me, but one I embraced. Not everyone has to live like Americans.

One of the most stunning buildings at Chichen Itza is the El Castillo, the Temple of Kukulkan (a Maya feathered serpent deity similar to the Aztec Quetzalcoatl).  This four-sided pyramid has 91 stairs on each side. When the platform at the top is added in, that comes to 365 — same as the number of days in the year. The serpent god is represented by the stairs, and during the spring and vernal equinox, the sunset lights the pyramid in such a way it appears the serpent is moving down the steps. We were not there for that, but it is a huge event twice a year at Chichen Itza.

Anyway, what I noticed was that people were climbing the pyramid stairs, which were extremely deep and steep. It  terrified the part of me with the lifelong fear of ladders, and I wasn’t having any of it.  What I also noticed was that a lot of people were sitting on the steps, or coming down backwards. The whole thing struck me as unnecessarily risky. Besides, our tour didn’t allow for much time to take the steps, unless we gave up seeing other things. We visited the other temples, the observatory, the ball court, the sacred well.

This Mayan city was active 600-1200 AD, and was very cosmopolitan for the time; I don’t recall everything, but I do recall they knew about seven of the planets. The city was eventually abandoned for reasons unknown. So much knowledge that got dispersed mysteriously.


By the time we made our fifth trip to Cancun in May, 1992, we were pretty used to getting around. We had pretty much abandoned taxis, and instead used the local transport for most of our adventures. This particular year we rented a car with the express purpose to do one thing — I wanted to climb El Castillo.

In the years in between, I had become a business owner and was active in a lot of local clubs and organizations. My life had opened up quite a bit from the days of sitting in a room operating a computer and doing data entry. I was ready for a challenge.

Jim and I made the two hour drive to Chichen Itza, driving through the various Mayan villages, where children would be standing by the road trying to sell newspapers or orange slices. When we stopped at a rest stop/market, we were approached by a hoard of kids looking for money. There was a large sign in the parking lot begging tourists not to give the children money; the Mayan people wanted their children to go to school.

Pyramid Jim
Jim pointing the way to El Castillo, my big challenge that day.

We arrived close to lunch time, so the sun was hot and bright. Of course, I was no longer a wimp about the weather, having been there many times. Jim and I climbed those stairs! He took pictures of me along the way to document this minor feat of mine. I had overcome a very intense fear to make it happen.

Pyramid up
That’s me on the steps. I think you can tell how steep they are. The serpent god’s head is in foreground.

On top of the pyramid was quite a view.

Pyramid top
I made it! On the top platform.
Pyramid view
View of Temple of the Warriors and across the Yucatan Peninsula

Coming down — well, I could see how people found it easier to go backwards.  At first it isn’t too bad, but the height of the steps increases as you get closer to the ground. The steps were each so deep and a bit uneven, so that to step down directly could be painful if your foot landed wrong. We took plenty of breaks going up and down. There was no rush.  Instead, it was something to savor.

We visited Cancun about four more times, and then finances no longer allowed for these trips. It was good for the time we had it, and we went on to other adventures in the mountains of North Carolina and moving to Florida. But we will always have great memories of our days in the Mexican sunshine.

Always looking forward!

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