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State of Yucatan: Chichen Itza.

State of Yucatan: Chichen Itza

A crowd of Mexicans and Anglos at the Temple of the Jaguar edged forward, waiting for the mystical appearance of the ancient Mayan serpent god, Kukulcan (Quetzalcoatl to the Aztecs). Many of these people had previously encountered the serpent god only in a 1982 film, in which Quetzalcoatl arrives in New York City to wreak havoc.

But as the sun set this past March 21, the first day of spring, Kukulcan would "appear' once again as he has for ten centuries in the ancient Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, located in the jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula. Scientists believe the structure's alignment and dimensions are linked with the movement of the sun and the measurement of time.

More than 30,000 people had gathered in front of El Castillo (Kukulcan) pyramid. At 4:30 p.m., the Mexican dancers who had been entertaining the crowd stopped. Everyone turned toward the pyramid, where Kukulcan was materializing.

The god's appearance began with one triangle of light after another on the side of the pyramid's staircase. When they linked up, the onlookers could clearly make out his long tail, then his body, edged in brilliant, yellow sunlight, slithering down the steps of the pyramid to link up with the serpent's head the Mayans had carved centuries ago in the bottom of the balustrade.

Photographers blazed away as the setting sun made Kukulcan's shape sharper and sharper. By 5:15, the sunlight began to wane. Kukulcan disappeared from the bottom up, one triangle of light, then another and another, until finally, he was gone.

Kukulcan made his latest appearance, as he does every year, on the first day of autumn. If you want to travel to Chichen Itza to make his acquaintance, Aeromexico flies to the Yucatan from various points in the United States. The travel time from major gateways in the Northeast is 3 1/2 hours to Cancun. Then it's only three hours by bus or car to Chichen Itza.

Cancun, on the east coast of the Yucatan, features luxurious hotels with waterfalls in the swimming pools. The sunny beaches are populated by bikini-clad guests taking an occasional dip in the warm, turquoise-colored Caribbean.

As an alternative or addition to a stay in Cancun, try Merida, the capital of the State of Yucatan. It's situated on the northwest end of the peninsula, near the Gulf of Mexico, two hours by car or bus from Chichen Itza.

Merida is the sort of place you've seen in any dozen Hollywood films: expatriate, Margarita-drinking Americans on verandas overlooking elaborately tiled swimming pools; beggars on the streets; and such old hotels as the Merida Mision, where the maintenance men carry a tool kit consisting of pliers and a screwdriver. Still, the hotels are clean, the restaurants excellent, and the prices mucho cheaper than Cancun's.

Photo: Twice a year, a precise shaft of light joins Kukulcan's head (lower left) to his "body,' the patterns formed on the pyramid staircase.

Photo: The east and west segments of the Pacifico railroad meet deep in a gorge.

Photo: On our continent, not far from our borders, 20th-century people live in caves. A few of the bolder Tarahumaras welcome tourists to their abode.
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Title Annotation:all across Mexico
Author:Rosen, Fred
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Oct 1, 1987
Words:537
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