Photo of the Day: Colosseum from Palatine Hill

Looking down on the Colosseum from the Palatine Hill above the Roman Forum. From here you can get a sense of how much it once towered over the rest of the city (to a large extent it still does).

Date: 10/19/2011
Camera: Panasonic DMC-FZ40
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You can view more featured photos at my Photo of the Day Collection.

Photo of the Day: Giant Circles of Moray

This is the largest of the famous circle terraces at Moray in Peru. Moray is thought to have been an Inca agricultural station. The steps used to climb down to the center (visible here as zig-zags) were built by the Incas into the sides of the terraces as jutting stones in order to maximize the available farming surface. You can get a sense of the massiveness of the circles by taking note of how tiny the people look.

Date: 8/22/2012
Camera: Panasonic DMC-FZ40
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You can view more featured photos at my Photo of the Day Collection.


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Photo of the Day: Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ

I took a little day trip to Bruceland this past weekend (a.k.a. Asbury Park). Here’s a photo from inside the ruin of the old casino looking out toward the boardwalk. I only had a malfunctioning pocket camera with me, but it didn’t turn out too badly.

Date: 8/1/2015
Camera: Panasonic DMC-FX8
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You can view more featured photos at my Photo of the Day Collection.

Photo of the Day: Patallacta on the Inca Trail

Patallacta was the first big Inca ruin site we came across as we hiked the Inca Trail. This photo was taken from a plateau at the top of our first moderate ascent on Day 1. Unfortunately, the classic Inca Trail does not pass close enough to these ruins for a visit, but there is an alternate five-day hike during which you can camp nearby and visit the site.

Date: 8/24/2012
Camera: Panasonic DMC-FZ40
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You can view more featured photos at my Photo of the Day Collection.

Photo of the Day: Moray

Before my hike of the Inca Trail in Peru I took a couple of day trips into the Sacred Valley of the Incas. One of my stops was Moray, an Inca ruin with massive circular terraces. This photo features one of the smaller terraces at the site, but I liked the way it framed the mountains in the background.

Date: 8/22/2012
Camera: Panasonic DMC-FZ40
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Down in Mexico, Day 6: Chichen Itza

Me at Chichen Itza
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Click on any image in this post for a larger view.

November 3, 2013: The longest day of my Mexico trip began in the morning with a pickup at my hotel in Merida for the drive to Chichen Itza. I would not be returning to the hotel, so I had all of my luggage with me. Fortunately, I had chosen to travel with just a carry-on, so there wasn’t much to lug around. We drove around the city picking up others until the van was full. The entire group would be moving on to Cancun after Chichen Itza, so the back of the van was piled with everyone’s luggage.

After a couple of hours of driving we arrived at Chichen Itza, home of one Mexico’s most famous pyramids, El Castillo (pictured above), but first our guide took us on an extended tour of other buildings in the complex.

El Caracol (aka, The Observatory)
A building in the Las Monjas complex.
Supposedly the hole on the right was blown by an overzealous archaeologist.
Another building in the Las Monjas complex.

Before long I got my first view of El Castillo.

El Castillo

Unfortunately, they no longer allow you to climb this pyramid. They closed it off to public access seven years ago after an elderly woman slipped on the steps and fell to her death. From what the guide was saying, it sounds like Mexican authorities are closing off more and more ruins for both safety reasons and to preserve the ruins from human erosion, so if you want to climb the still-open pyramids in places like Teotihuacan and Uxmal, you might want to get down to Mexico sooner rather than later.

After spending some time at the great pyramid, our guide took us to some of the other nearby structures.

The Skull Platform
Closeup of some of the skulls.
The Great Ball Court.
Mayan nobility would have viewed the event from the tall structure on the upper left.

After the guided tour ended we were given free time to explore the rest of the complex. I headed over to the Temple of the Warriors.

Temple of the Warriors
Temple of the Warriors
Standing among the pillars near the Temple of the Warriors.

I then headed down to the other end of the complex to check out the Sacred Cenote, which supplied water to the city. On a side note, we were supposed to go swimming in a nearby underground cenote after leaving Chichen Itza but that never materialized, bummer. 😦

The Sacred Cenote

Along the way I had to run the gauntlet of vendors. They’re not as annoying as the ones in Teotihuacan because they are set up behind tables, so they don’t follow you around as much. And they’re located on side paths away from the ruins so, unlike Teotihuacan, it’s easier to avoid them, but it still adds a touristy vibe to the place that you don’t get when visiting more remote sites like Uxmal and Kabah.

After walking around the cenote I made my way back to the great pyramid for some more photos.

It was time to leave, so I headed back toward the park entrance. I had 20 pesos left in my pocket so I figured I’d see what I could get from one of the vendors before exiting. I wasn’t expecting much since 20 pesos is roughly the equivalent of $2, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to try, and maybe they’d want to unload some goods since it was near the end of the day. I stopped at a vendor, found what I thought was a cheap item and asked how much. He said, “50 pesos,” so I said, “No thanks,” and started to leave. He followed me and asked me how much I wanted to give. I said, “20.” He said, “Okay, 20.” I handed him the 20 pesos and he said, “No, 20 U.S. dollars.” So he had increased  the price from $5 (50 pesos) to $20 (200 pesos) while acting like he was giving me a bargain because 20 was less than 50. He obviously was counting on my misunderstanding of the currency differences to try and swindle me. I walked away.

When I reached the end of the path I realized I was at the wrong gate, so I had to turn around and try to find my way to the correct gate (Chichen Itza is a large complex). By the time I finally reached it, I was very late. I walked around looking for my group but could not find anyone. Eventually my guide found me and led me to the dining hall where the group was having lunch. I sat near a couple from Switzerland and we had a nice conversation. I told them how much I love Switzerland and it turned out that they were from Basel, which I had just visited on my last Eurotrip.

The observatory from outside the park.

After dinner it was time to head back to the van for the long drive to Cancun. About three hours later, around 8 p.m. on a rainy evening, I checked into my Cancun hotel for the final leg of my trip, which will be covered in the next installment. In the meantime, here’s one more photo of El Castilo:

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Down in Mexico, Day 5: Indiana Jonesing in Uxmal and Kabah

Uxmal
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You can click on any image in this post for a larger view.

November 2, 2013: This was my favorite day of the trip. It began with a morning pickup at the hotel across from mine, where I met a couple from California (I met a lot of California people on this trip). The driver apparently spoke only a few words of English so we had some trouble communicating with him. However, after everyone was picked up and in the van, the driver grabbed the microphone and began speaking in perfect English. Turns out he was actually our guide and was just pranking us. 🙂

So we sat back for the long ride to Uxmal. It was literally in the middle of nowhere, as the road cut through forest with virtually nothing else around. It reminded me a bit of driving through certain portions of the Pine Barrens in New Jersey, but with even longer stretches of remoteness.

We eventually reached Uxmal and had time to do a little shopping before entering. It was a very hot day, and just as humid as the previous day. I considered buying one of those Panama hats to block the sun but instead settled for an Uxmal baseball cap since I have collected baseball caps from most of my other travel destinations. I still hadn’t managed to find any sunscreen on this trip (a store in the ground-floor mall of my hotel in Merida wanted like $35 for a little tube!), so I just used some hand lotion on my face and my Avon bug spray (which includes some sunscreen) for the rest of me. The bug spray has proven to be very effective on my two jungle-ish trips in Peru and Mexico at keeping away the insects, so I was glad I brought it.

Upon entering the Uxmal complex the first thing you see is the glorious Pyramid of the Magician. Unfortunately, this is not a pyramid they allow you to climb.

Pyramid of the Magician
Pyramid of the Magician

I noticed several lizards crawling up and down the pyramid walls (I believe they were iguanas). They were everywhere and had no fear of humans, so you could walk right up to them and take a picture like this:

An Uxmal Citizen

Our guide took us through the entire complex, providing excellent background and commentary. This was easily my favorite of all the pyramid sites I visited. Because it is so remote and peaceful, with far fewer tourists than the more popular pyramid sites (and no vendors harassing you to buy stuff), it’s really easy to imagine yourself as an Indiana Jones-type of explorer stumbling onto a lost Mayan city in the middle of the jungle.

Nunnery Quadrangle (a government palace)
A building of the Nunnery Quadrangle
Looking through the ball court toward the Governor’s Palace.
Governor’s Palace

After our tour, the guide gave us free time that I used to climb the Great Pyramid at the other end of the complex, which has only been partially restored.

The Great Pyramid

The top offers a bird’s-eye view of the entire complex and really gives you a sense of its remoteness as you gaze upon jungle stretching to the horizon in every direction.

Me on top of the Great Pyramid
Pyramid of the Magician viewed from the Great Pyramid

After spending some time at the top I made my way to an unrestored, ruined structure called the House of the Doves. Located in an isolated area of the complex through some foliage, I was the only person there. I love having a place to myself like that; it always makes me feel as if I’m discovering something that no one else knows about. I could practically hear John Williams’ Raiders theme in my head. 😉

House of the Doves
House of the Doves

Soon it was time to leave and head to Kabah. Here are a few Uxmal parting shots:

Looking up toward the Governor’s Palace
Front of the Governor’s Palace
View of the Uxmal complex from the Governor’s Palace hill.
Pyramid of the Magician
Pyramid of the Magician

Kabah is a sister site to Uxmal located about 14 miles away. The two sites are connected by an ancient Mayan causeway, though I’m not sure if you are actually able to hike the whole thing. A grand arch sits at either end of the causeway but I did not have the chance to see this at Kabah since I was unaware of it at the time.

Kabah
In the distance on the upper right you can see the overgrown Great Pyramid of Kabah.

Kabah is even more remote than Uxmal, with very little in the way of facilities, which to me is a good thing because it feel much less touristy than the more popular sites. In fact, we were the only group there, so we basically had the run of the place. It’s a smaller site than Uxmal, but apparently only a portion of it has actually been excavated, so it could prove to be much larger than it appears. As I toured the various buildings I could see excavators working on structures in the woods. We didn’t have a lot of time to spend here, so I never made it to the other side of the road (where the causeway is), but from what I hear, it’s worth a hike to see structures still overgrown with forest (as well as the aforementioned arch).

Codz Poop (Palace of the Masks)
Codz Poop
Closeup of Codz Poop facade.
El Palacio (to the right)
El Palacio
(may also be known as the Governor’s palace, though I’m not sure about that)
Another temple.

After Kabah I was not feeling too well, mostly because I hadn’t hydrated enough to counteract the extreme humidity; I did not bring as much water as I should have, but the California couple was kind enough to give me an extra bottle of water they had. For lunch we went to an outdoor buffet at a charming hotel, though I wasn’t feeling up to eating much. After dinner, we were scheduled to go home, but another couple wanted to see a working Mayan village and the group voted to go. I would much rather have just gone back to my hotel at that point, given the way I was feeling (and the fact that there was an extra cost associated with it), but I didn’t want to ruin it for everyone else, so I went.

I think the village was just for show and that they don’t actually live there, but it was still a neat experience. We saw them make rope from leaves and enjoyed tortillas made right in front of us. We also were able to pick tasty oranges right off the trees and eat them; I had never seen oranges with green peels before.

Me with one of the Mayans. I’m holding a piece of rope he had just made.
Interior of a Mayan Hut.
According to my guide in Merida, many people on the Yucatan still sleep in hammocks rather than beds.

When I finally returned to the hotel that night, I skipped dinner again but found time to enjoy the hot tub, which really hit the spot. In the lobby that night there was a big Day of the Dead corporate party going on, with music loud enough that anyone who wanted to go to bed early would be screwed. Luckily, I’m a night owl anyway, and I had to pack since this was my last night in Merida. In the morning I would be headed to Chichen Itza and then on to Cancun.

View my full Mexico photo album

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